The year has been full of surprises from some of our biggest stars. And yet, no one could’ve anticipated Taylor Swift sitting across from Martin McDonagh and pondering the symbolism behind Brendan Gleeson’s dismembered fingers in the director’s latest film The Banshees of Inishnerin. (Spoiler alert: There is none.)
This unintentionally funny conversation took place during the first one-on-one sit-down for Variety’s Directors on Directors series featuring Swift, for her All Too Well (Short Film)—and seemingly everything else she’s worked on this year—and McDonagh, for Banshees.
When it was announced that these two filmmakers with, let’s just say, varying levels of experience would kick off the series, Twitter seemed equally perplexed and annoyed by the Grammy winner’s inclusion.
On one hand, Swift’s aggressive Oscar campaign for Best Short Film is arguably ridiculous, when the film could be considered a glorified music video. (Not mention that, Swift has never even gotten a nomination for songwriting, despite several bids.) On the other hand, some folks thought that Variety should’ve given her slot to a more deserving female director, like legitimate Best Director contender Sarah Polley, who helmed Women Talking. (I’d argue that a conversation between Swift and first-time director for Aftersun Charlotte Wells would’ve been delightful.)
However, awards campaigning is inherently rigged and driven by money, and Swift’s inclusion brings with it lots of attention, article clicks, and views of the conversation on YouTube. I’d argue that they could’ve swapped out Tyler Perry, Joseph Kosinski, and James Cameron for female directors, as well, but I digress. Let’s get back to the crossing of these two brilliant minds!
While these two auteurs claim to share a mutual connection through Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge—and are studio mates, as Searchlight, which distributed Banshees, will produce Swift’s just-announced feature directing debut—they seemed, on paper, an odd pairing. So what did they have to say about each other’s work? Shocker: They both think each other’s films are brilliant!
Of course, Swift, who loves telling other artists how much she admires them, seemed well-versed in the McDonagh Cinematic (and Stage Play) Universe. Maybe the most surprising revelation from this almost hour-long chat is that Swift is apparently a huge McDonagh fan and “loved” his 2017 film Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri—which is bonkers. Not just because that film is (in this writer’s opinion) bad, but because it’s hard imagining Swift, an avid lover of fairy tales, enjoying something so cynical and grim. But maybe she walked away with a more optimistic take from all the police brutality and white people screaming at each other. On the other hand, she is notably a fan of revenge…
The “Anti-Hero” singer was certainly struck by Banshees, an arguably sweeter movie, except for the plotline about Gleeson cutting off all of his fingers with a pair of sheep shears. So much so, that in conversations with her friends, she wondered whether his disembodied fingers had a deeper meaning.
“I talked to a friend of mine who’s a therapist,” she said. “And she was saying, ‘If someone brought in this dream to me and said that ‘I’m wanting to cut my finger off,’’ she would say, ‘You feel like your aliveness is being cut off by a part of your life and this art represents the fingers.’ What do you think the fingers are a symbolism for?”
“I don’t know,” McDonagh responded quickly. “I just thought it was funny.”
It certainly was not a totally dumb question, but it was indictive of Swift’s obsession with planting Easter eggs throughout all of her visuals.
Equally telling of Swift and McDonagh’s creative differences and approaches to depicting violence was when Swift brought up the music video for Anti-Hero where she bleeds glitter.
“It’s sort of a metaphor for how I don’t feel like a normal person,” she explained. “I must have something wrong with me. And it’s all the examples of disordered thinking.”
That’s exactly what I think is going on with my insides when I think wrong with me. Glitter! Anyway, what else happens in this fairly boring conversation that seemingly took place on a Nancy Meyers’ set? The two mention the other famous Phoebe—musician Phoebe Bridgers—when Swift brings up actress Sadie Sink and her preparation for All Too Well.
“With Sadie, it was a very similar thing, where I had a few conversations with her about how she likes to work in those kind of intense, emotive scenes,” Swift said. “And I think she does a lot of prep work on her own. But she also had this song that she says always makes her cry, which is ‘Savior Complex’ by Phoebe Bridgers, which your partner actually directed the video for.”
“Yep,” McDonagh agreed. “Phoebe did. The two Phoebes.”
“So there’s another tie,” Swift said.
Riveting stuff! Aside from Swift’s normally well-spoken insights about her creative process and her love for The Souvenir films, this conversation wasn’t giving fans much to chew on. Swift and McDonagh are not exactly the strange, fun pairing I was expecting. These are simply two friends who have a sincere understanding of one another’s work and who have gone to dinner at least 5 times. The end goal of this is clearly for Swift to ingratiate herself to cinephiles and get that Oscar nomination she craves. However, like most of Swift’s ventures, her filmmaking aspirations in this interview come off more like an extension of her branding, which might not impress awards voters.
I highly recommend watching Banshees star Colin Farrell speak passionately about the stand-in donkey he worked with on the set to Jamie Lee Curtis in the Variety’s Actors on Actors series instead.
Post source: TDB