Born in 1970 in London to Irish parents, Martin McDonagh’s mother is from Sligo while his father is from Connemara, Galway. His nationality is therefore a mix of Irish and British. The Anglo-Irish playwright has one brother John Michael McDonagh who is the director of The Guard, Calvary and War on Everyone.
As a playwright, screenwriter, and film director, Martin McDonagh has achieved considerable critical acclaim. McDonagh is the winner of four Tony awards, including Best Play, in 1998.
McDonagh’s repertoire is expansive. The Leenane Trilogy is as follows: The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996), A Skull in Connemara (1997) and The Lonesome West (1997). The Aran Islands plays: The Cripple of Inishmaan (1996) and The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001). The Pillowman (2003) was produced by the Royal National Theatre and A Behanding in Spokane (2010) was produced by Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway.
Films include: Short film Six Shooter (2005) (Oscar Winning). Feature films include: In Bruges (2008) (Academy Award/BAFTAs) and Seven Psychopaths (2012).
His most recent film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) was nominated for seven Oscars and won Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell). At the 75th Golden Globe Awards it won Best Motion Picture/Drama, Best Actress /Drama (McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell), and Best Screenplay. It also won three SAG Awards, including Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and five BAFTA Film Awards, including Best Film and Outstanding British Film.
While still in his twenties, the Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh filled houses in New York and London, was showered with the theatre world’s most prestigious accolades, and electrified audiences with his cunningly crafted and outrageous tragicomedies. Though McDonagh grew up in London, all of these acclaimed productions were set in the west of Ireland and were written in the Irish idiom. The combination of rural Irish forms and a displaced urban sensibility gives his work a dark, violent, and very funny edge.
Where did this cold, savage, and brilliant imagination come from? According to the playwright, it was the effect of childhood summers spent in his father’s hometown in Connemara. Oscar Wilde described Connemara as “wild mountainous country… in every way magnificent,” and W.B. Yeats saw it as the repository of a simpler way of life, untainted by modern vulgarity, industry and decadence. McDonagh has continued this rich vein of reflective Irish playwrights and it is commonly agreed that his startling works have added, even further, to our island’s rich deposit of theatrical ore.
However, McDonagh’s works are not only accessible to academic Irishmen and Brits alike, they have also turned into global commodities, successfully translated and transported onto many stages around the world. Andrew Flynn, Decadent Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, can bear testament to this fact having been invited to speak at a Martin McDonagh festival in Perm, Russia in late 2014. It is evident that scholars and critics all over the world are still trying to dissect the “McDonagh enigma.” John Waters encapsulated the problematic nature of the McDonagh enigma, saying that McDonagh is “like Synge, a creative tourist, a visiting dilettante, an intimate outsider.”
After fully baffling and awing critics, audiences and academics worldwide, Martin McDonagh felt he had conquered theatre. He then turned to film with the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter. After this he made his feature directing debut in 2008. With In Bruges, a riotous black comedy, he earned himself a BAFTA, as well as an Oscar nomination, for Best Original Screenplay. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hitmen on the loose in the sleepy Belgian city of Bruges, it showcases McDonagh’s trademark blend of humour and violence. Commenting on this signature blend, McDonagh said:
“Some of the jokes are kind of outrageous. I like to have a dark sad thing, and then the next line as a funny one-liner, and then the next another dark, sad thing. My background is in writing plays and they’ve all been that way. It can’t be defined as to what it is: it’s not just comedy, but it’s not really tragic-comedy. It’s some weird, different thing.”
Since then, Martin McDonagh wrote and directed Seven Psychopaths and most recently the critically acclaimed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. After years of success as a playwright, an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter, then Oscar nominations and a Bafta win, McDonagh is confident and comfortable enough to make his films the way he wants to make them, or not at all – utter carnage (including the shooting of dogs) is this man’s favourite ingredient.