Troy Duffy Celebrates ‘All Saints Day’
by Matt Fagerholm
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When LA bartender Troy Duffy witnessed the aftermath of a crime that hit all-too-close to home, he decided to vent his outrage and frustration into his first film script. The result was 1999’s The Boondock Saints, about two Irish brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) on a mission from God to rid the world of evildoers, especially those who the justice system fails to imprison. Miramax purchased the film before it went into production, but “creative differences” led Duffy to take the film to another studio, Franchise Pictures. Though the film barely received a theatrical release, it found a huge devoted fan base on home video. In 2004, the notorious documentary Overnight claimed to expose Duffy’s true nature, depicting him as egomaniacal drunk while making the first Boondock picture.
In the sequel, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, the brothers are back in action, as they smuggle themselves back into the United States, upon learning that their priest has been murdered by the mob. Film Monthly spoke with Duffy about his experience reuniting with cast and crew members, the lessons he’s learned about the business over the last decade, and his response to the filmmakers of Overnight.
TROY DUFFY: Sure, it’s kind of an exorcism of sorts, you know? If you want to pick up a gun, you instead act like a real man and pick up a pen. [laughs] A lot of it is about exorcizing demons. There was a lot of crime back there [in LA] in the day. The other day I asked this whole group of fans to raise their hands if they’ve been a victim of crime. Everybody in the room raised their hand, and I was like, “Drop your hand if the crime was solved.” Not one hand went down, and that’s the recourse we’re all left with when a crime is committed against us.
QUESTION: Which has always been your passion, first and foremost: music or film?
TROY DUFFY: At the time, it was purely music. I wrote the script out of frustration. I had never written a script before, and there were some ideas I was kicking around. It was just a creative thing to do. I’m that type of dude, I always need to be doing something creative, and it’s not always film or music, it’s all kinds of things. For those particular months, I was focused on writing a screenplay. I borrowed a buddy’s script and copied the format. Then I ran into a buddy of mine who was working as an assistant at New Line Cinema, and we got together on it and the rest is history.
QUESTION: Since you were a member of the band “The Brood” before you got involved in film, how has your passion for music influenced your filmmaking instincts?
TROY DUFFY: Remember that old adage, ‘you write one film, direct a second and edit a third?’ I would almost say, ‘you musically mix a fourth.’ The addition of music magnifies whatever emotion you’re aiming to hit. I put a lot of focus into that, and although I’m not playing in a band anymore, my musical leanings are now satisfied through film. In the sequel, we went one level deeper than we did on the first one. We didn’t have any money for music, so I found all-new, unsigned acts in bars. That’s how we found Ty Stone, as well as The Dirges, which was an extremely talented Irish rock band. My brother Taylor is a brilliant songwriter and we shipped him out to LA, and forced him into a studio to record his song, “Plastic Jesus,” which I’ve always loved. So we “super-indied” out the second soundtrack and put a lot of the same focus you saw in Boondock I in there, except we were able to spend a little more time on it.
QUESTION: How have Boondock fans influenced your approach to the sequel?
TROY DUFFY: My relationship with the fans helped the sequel quite a bit, because at least one aspect of the film was a direct response to the fans. After Boondock I, a really strange and unexpected thing happened. On the Internet, all these kids were so interested in this character called Il Duce, played by Billy Connolly, who ends up being the boys’ father. Connolly’s a comedian, but there ain’t nothing funny about Il Duce. They had all these questions like, “How’d he get in jail, what’s his backstory, how did he know these were his sons?” The sequel answers all those questions about his history. As a matter of fact, we flash back to 1950s New York, in order to show how he became this huge badass killer.
QUESTION: What was the experience reuniting with cast and crew members?
TROY DUFFY: Aw man, it was like a fraternity. You know how you have parties in college, and then you have a reunion ten years later? Everybody really pulls it out because we don’t need to study the next morning. It was really like riding a bike, man. People ask me all the time, ‘how’d you get them all to come back?’ They never went anywhere. All these guys—Sean and Norm—these are friends of mine. We’re always hanging out with each other. I’d send every draft of the script to them and ask them for notes. They tried to help get the movie made, and we were all in this together, so by the time the deal was done, and we were going to shoot Boondock II, it was just a phone call. I’d call these guys up and it was like, “We’re on, great, high five, send me a plane ticket.”
QUESTION: What inspired you to write a part in the sequel for Clifton Collins, Jr.? He’s certainly one of the most sought-after character actors of the moment.
TROY DUFFY: Yeah, he’s terrific isn’t he? Clifton’s in everything these days. He was in Star Trek recently, Sunshine Cleaning…he was in like nine films this year. Clifton’s been a buddy of all of ours—myself, Sean, Norm and Billy’s for over a decade now. I wrote the part for him because his personality is fairly close to what you see in the sequel. He’s one of those charismatic dudes with a smile that lights up the room. He plays the “third saint” Romeo, who the brothers stumble upon on the way back to the US. Clifton was luckily available and graced us with his presence. And what’s really fun about this is Clifton’s never really had a comedic performance. He’s always been a dramatic character actor, but this time there’s a very big comedic leaning to his character, and he nails it.
QUESTION: Was there an effort to make Julie Benz [as Special Agent Eunice Bloom] evoke the qualities of Willem Dafoe [FBI Agent Paul Smecker] in the original?
TROY DUFFY: She was her own character, but since she’s Smecker’s protege, you had to be able to tell that he trained her. I needed Boondock fans to watch her while she was investigating a crime scene and just sense that Smecker must have trained her. But she does it all in her own way. She’s a very different character than Smecker was in the first one, but she’s definitely his protege, and you can tell by watching the film. I always looked at her character as sort of the female Doc Holliday: very good with a gun, ten steps ahead of everybody else, super sexy; a woman in a man’s world who doesn’t lose her femininity; just a strong female character. We were sick and tired of women being portrayed as victims onscreen. On “Dexter,” Julie plays Rita—Dexter’s love interest—and she’s this mousy, co-dependent single mom type of character. In every single role that she’s had in movies, like Rambo, she plays a victim. That was one of the things that attracted her to the role of Eunice Bloom. She is nobody’s victim.
QUESTION: I’m sure female Boondock fans will appreciate that.
TROY DUFFY: It’s funny—you can hire companies to do these studies to find out exactly what your fan base is. The studio did it [for Boondock Saints], and we’re fifty-fifty male-female. Right down the middle, man. I couldn’t believe it.
QUESTION: Had your experience in bartending helped strengthen your “people skills,” in order to successfully network in the film industry?
TROY DUFFY: I think you sort of have that “working with people” thing or you don’t. Bartending or bouncing may help you showcase it a little bit and use that skill to your advantage, but I don’t think you become a bartender and suddenly you develop a personality. You need one going in, you know? But yeah, I’ve always been able to motivate large groups of men to do ridiculous things. All the way back in high school, I was that kid who all my friends’ parents would single out. They’d tell them, “You’re not hanging out with that Duffy kid.” I would always get their kids into trouble [laughs]. We had all kinds of stupid things that we used to do, and I used to be able to talk guys into doing almost anything for fun. So in terms of going to do a film, you have to be a football coach sometimes to motivate your players.
QUESTION: What have you learned over the last decade about the film business and how to navigate it properly?
TROY DUFFY: I learned that there’s a politic in the business that needs to be played out, which I hadn’t known the first time around. The thing I needed to do was reserve my passion for the creative side of things—actors and producers love that. When you’re onset, the cast and crew wants to see a passionate director who knows what he wants. But on the business side of things, financial people don’t want to see passion in any way, shape or form. They want to know that they’re getting their money back and making a wise investment. I suppose if I were in their shoes, I’d want the same thing. If I’m about to risk 6, 8, 10 million dollars on the unproven talent of this kid, I should be able to feel good about that. So I basically learned to play the politics in this business. The other thing I learned was, ‘if you build it, they will come.’ If you make a good movie, it doesn’t matter if everyone in Hollywood turns their back on you, or if the film is blacklisted from US screens and you can only throw it out there on video. It doesn’t matter how bad you get treated. It doesn’t matter if you have a red carpet with cameras flashing or a theatrical release. If you make something good, the fans will find it.
QUESTION: When Willem Dafoe came to Chicago for last month’s film festival, I saw him jump to your defense when someone asked about the documentary Overnight. He agreed with you that it was a “smear job.” Can you elaborate on that, and was the behind-the-scenes documenting on the sequel an effort to counterbalance that footage?
TROY DUFFY: The documentary feature on Boondock II wasn’t an effort to counterbalance it, and you can’t really counterbalance a lie. [Overnight] is nothing but a deception from front to back. There’s very little truth in it at all, if any, and it’s kind of disappointing. When this all started up, two of my friends [Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith] came to me and pitched this whole idea for a documentary. They asked permission to follow us around with video cameras and document what we were doing. We granted them the permission they requested and I let them shoot to their heart’s content for three years. A sense of entitlement ensued, and then out comes this thing. Every friend and family member I had that was there during this thing warned me about these guys, and I kept going, “No they’re my friends, they’d never screw me,” which is what they said to me all the time, “Don’t worry, we’re your friends, we’d never screw you.” They basically took their footage and turned it into a complete smear job. All these people who were in their documentary called me up angered on my behalf, and they wanted to get a huge class-action lawsuit against these guys. I was the dude that shut it down. I was like, “No, these guys want to play this little game, just let them play it and sooner or later people are going to know the truth.” But my friends and family know that it’s crap, so I really didn’t see the need to go fight it in court.
QUESTION: Dafoe said that they interviewed him for three hours, and only used a few seconds of the footage.
TROY DUFFY: Yeah, they made it look like he was saying something bad about me. He called me right up when he saw it and he’s like, “Those sons of b—ches! I can’t believe what they did!” He was so pissed off. He was one of the guys that was like, “Let’s sue ‘em.”
QUESTION: What scripts are you currently planning to direct, and would you consider directing a script that you didn’t write?
TROY DUFFY: I’d consider directing something that somebody else wrote if it spoke to me, so I can’t really cut that off. But over these last ten years, I’ve written five scripts, Boondock II being the most important one, which we finally ended up making into a film. I’d like to knock the other four down like dominoes. I’d prefer to direct the things I’ve written, and the next one would be a film called The Good King. It’s basically a black buddy comedy set in the 1500s about a king and a duke who are nothing but womanizing drunken recalcitrants who virtually destroy and resurrect the British Empire through their chicanery.
QUESTION: How has the audience response been so far to Boondock II?
TROY DUFFY: I’ll tell you man, we watched it with a bunch of fans in South Bend and we watched it with a bunch of fans in Minnesota here today, and I already know we did it. I’ve seen it with a bunch of fans and they fully approve. So anybody that’s out there who’s thinking of going to see Boondock II, all I can tell you is I could not have scripted a better reaction to this film from an audience.
Matt Fagerholm Matt Fagerholm is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and critic in Chicago.
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