AUSTIN DAZE: What was your experience in going from making low budget films to your first big feature?
RICHARD SHEPARD: I live in New York and had done a series of these million dollar or less thrillers. I raised money for these little million dollar movies from dentists and the air freshener king of Long Island–he was one of the investors in my movies. I was able to have this very odd career not living in Hollywood and not doing those things and actually making movies and it was pretty cool.
And when I wrote this movie. I actually thought no sane actor would want to play the part that Pierce ended up playing so I actually thought of making it as a digital movie like I had been making other movies for under a million dollars. Pierce got hold of the script and suddenly wanted to do it and it became a much bigger movie. I mean it is the most amazing thing in the world when a big star suddenly wants to be in your movie. You get a lot more money–I mean it just happens.
AD: You’re not going to say no.
RS: Well if I would have said no if he was wrong for the part I mean he was so right for the part. He saw in the script how it would be perfect for him to do it and he came to me and said “hey, can I star in this movie?” And I was like, oh my god this is great and so suddenly we did have more money and that gave the opportunity to be able to get Greg Kinear and Hope Davis and be able to do the movie…correctly is the wrong word because we would have done it correctly for a million dollars, but to do it in a bigger, maybe better way, where clearly more people will see it and all that other stuff.
And for me as a director, I’ve been making these movies where I was always the most experienced person on the set and on this movie I was the least experienced person on the set and that was kind of cool because I got to work and I learned a sh**-load. I mean there were a lot of really great people and they were so wanting me to do the best that I could and so they were kicking my butt all the time and they were saying , “hey do better”, and when you hear that from someone who has done really well it’s a good motivator.
I also didn’t want to screw up. You know, this was a huge opportunity for me and I didn’t want to you know, f**k it up. So there was a lot of pressures but you know it was a great experience I mean I feel incredibly lucky.
AD: Where did the premise of the film come from?
RS: There was this British film a few years ago called Sexy Beast that Ben Kingesly was in– do you guys know it? I thought it reinvented the heist movie genre which seemed a little tired. You always see Robert Dinero in one last heist. it’s always these same stupid movies and that sort of reinvigorated it and it felt fresh and I thought about it and was like, wow, it’s fresh because they went at it from a character point of view. So I said, I wonder if I couldn’t try to reinvigorate the hit man genre because that’s sort of a little tired too. You here hit man and for me, I think like Steven Segal and the USA Network or something that sounds like sh**, and so I was like how do I rethink this? So I said, well, instead of looking at some sort of cool hit man lets look at the guy who is a mess. The guy whose birthday it is and the only people he knows in his phone book are hookers and lock pickers. Maybe there is a way to look at differently. So that sort of was the motivation for it.
I also liked hotel bars. Because of what I do, I travel a lot–like I’m here for two nights. I mean in Austin you don’t stay at the hotel bar, you go out, but there are a lot of cities that aren’t as cool as Austin and you’re like freak, I’m here for 24 hours, and you go down to the hotel bar and get a beer or whatever and you talk to strangers and one of the great things about that is that you can have a real conversation
with someone knowing you’ll never see them again. Ever. But I thought what happens if two people have a conversation and do see each other again? I thought that would reveal something intimate. So the two of them combined, that’s how I got this story.
AD: And how about the name, “Matador”? There seems to obviously be a more complex meaning.
RS: Well “matador” means killer, and Pierce obviously plays a killer in the movie. Bull fighting, which plays a part in the movie, is a sort of a dying spectacle–it’s sort of something from another time and another way and Pierce’s character is not dying physically but he’s sort of dying emotionally and he’s sort of from another time too. So there is a lot of meaning to the word, to the term matador.
AD: I saw Pierce’s character as maybe the bullfighter–a killer who doesn’t show any emotion for his kill. And Greg’s character as more of the bull. And they form this unlikely relationship.
RS: Yes, assassins don’t have emotion. If you have emotion, how can you kill someone? He meets Greg at a time when he’s realizing, God I have no one, I’m totally alone,and then he suddenly finds someone and he couldn’t have picked a better person because Greg’s character is so decent and nice. He’s such a good guy that he would actually talk to this bastard, you know? Most people would just say get the hell away from me, man.
AD: That was a nice twist at the end
RS: I mean how many movies have you seen at the end where you just know what the hell is going to happen. You know 20 minutes in where’s it’s going to go.
AD: I loved how you used surrealism to convey what was happening in Pierce’s character’s mind. That lobby scene was sweet.
RS: And that scene was not in the script. We were shooting in the hotel that they were staying at and there is this great lobby and we’re not using it, and I was like, hey Pierce, do you have any interest in walking through the lobby in your underwear ? And he says, “well, can I wear my boots?” and I was like, sure. It was one take and four extras and everyone else in the background are real hotel guests checking in for real . It was a one take thing. And then he walks in and jumps in the pool.
Later, when we were cutting the movie and it’s a very funny visual, obviously, but it also emotionally makes sense with where he is in in that part of the movie. But he’s jumping in the pool and it wasn’t quite working. We got a big laugh when he walked through the lobby but it was sort of like, huh. So in the editing room we were trying to think well, maybe he sees something in the water and then we were talking about what could you see in the water, and someone said, “well what if he saw a shark?” and I said “Rent Jaws! ” So someone rented Jaws and we cut in just a shot of a shark (from another source). And it does throw people off you know, is it a pool with sharks in it? Did he see the shark? But to me it’s the same thing–either the pool has a shark or he imagined a shark, but either way, he’s f****d. He’s screwed. That’s where he is emotionally at that moment. There are other little touches of surreal-ality all over the movie. I mean he’s in a cheerleader outfit all of a sudden and he sees himself as a kid or he sees himself through the light bulb. So these are just little things to try and get into pierces coming undone.
AD: Ultimately, what do you want people to take from this movie?
RS: Well, I hope people have a good time. I hope it feels to them like something fresh. There is a lot of stuff that seems the same out there. It’s a movie that’s not going to be what you’d expect. Hopefully you’ll laugh. People seem to find a little bit of an emotional connection to these characters and they enjoy these guys.
I want people to see the movie. You know, I’m a filmmaker. I do an art form and any artist wants people to see their art whether you’re a writer, painter, or whatever. I saw this documentary about this performance artist who dances in the desert and he dances by himself. He goes there and he spends like four or five hours dancing just for himself. Well that’s fine, he’s the only artist maybe in the world that only does art for no one. But I think people that do art, they are doing it for themselves, but they want people to see it. They want to show and share what they think and believe me this movie is very much me. I’ve got this same weird sense of humor, I’ve got the same weird outlook on life.
I want people to see the movie. You know I’m a filmmaker. I do an art form and any artist wants people judge themselves. I’m lucky that people seem to be responding and that it’s going to get released and all this other stuff. You never know if anyone was ever going to see the freaking movie but you hope so…