By Gary M. Kramer.
The Bachelor Weekend is a genial Irish comedy about a groom named Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor), his best man Davin (Andrew Scott), and the quartet of other men taking to the great outdoors for a Stag party. The guests include Fionnan’s gay brother Kevin (Michael Legge) and Kevin’s partner, also named Kevin (Andrew Bennett), as well as Simon (Brian Gleeson), who is a bit uptight. Then there is the unwanted arrival of Fionnan’s trouble-making brother-in-law to be, known as The Machine (Peter McDonald, who co-wrote the film with director John Butler). As the weekend gets underway, The Machine teaches the other guys to “roam free,” but he also loses Simon’s car keys, burns down a tent, and strands everyone naked in the woods in the middle of the night. The Bachelor Weekend has good fun with these mild hijinks, which are all about teaching these guys on the brink of adulthood valuable lessons about the choices they make in life. Film International sat down with Butler, McDonald, and O’Conor to talk about their experiences with stag parties and making The Bachelor Weekend.
What was the wildest stag party you’ve ever been to?
Peter McDonald: Mine was Ronnie Carroll’s in Vegas. We stayed in the Luxor. It was fun. I’ve had some really good times with bachelor parties when I look back. I’ve had very few nightmares. It’s all friends—mainly guys who have known each other for years. This was about 12 years ago, when I was young enough to enjoy them. There was one casualty, Carl. That was probably the wildest…
And when you say casualty, do you mean…death?
Peter: We lost one guy, so it was pretty tame. Only one fatality…. [joking]
And what was the lamest?
John Butler: They are always boozy. I don’t think I’ve ever been to stag party that wasn’t rivers of booze. I think as you get older, your interest in going on those kinds of events just kind of wanes. That’s where the idea for the film came up.
That you were going to have a non-boozy, non-stripper stag party?
John: The guys who didn’t want to go on a stag party going on a stag party was the idea.
Hugh, what about you?
Hugh O’Conor: I think I’ve only been on three, and one of them was Peter’s and that was shit. [Everyone laughs]. I haven’t really been on any terrible experiences. I think the thing to do now is to apologize and say that you are not around.
John: We wanted to do a winter wedding. The idea was to reinforce the coldness of the exterior so people would feel that exposure. Because Fionnan was a theater set designer, he was not going to have it in a hotel conference room, and that gave us carte blanche to have white walls, and that helped drive the budget down a notch. It was a practical decision, but it informed the characters too. Fionnan would design a wedding that would look different.
Peter, you excel at physical comedy in the film. How did you do the “stunt” work—wrestling with an electric fence, for example?
Peter: That’s just pure instinct and collaborating with the director. It is true that comedy comes down to the timing of it, but at the same time I was very much inhabiting the character in the story. What makes the film work—outside of it being a stag comedy—is getting the audience invested in the relationship between these men and their friendships. Where is it going to go, or are the wheels going to completely come off particularly between the best man and groom? Once you are rehearsing with the other actors, and interacting with them, it starts to crystallize. It’s an unspoken thing, and any timing I have comes out of that creativity together.
There are a lot of comic set pieces in The Bachelor Weekend, but there are some small, powerful, emotional scenes, such as one between Fionnan and Davin in the woods. Hugh, how did you balance the humor in a scene like this confrontation?
Hugh: Well, we were in the middle of a really intense moment, and the next minute he is slapping my bare ass. It’s a fine line. [Laughs] It’s a really good scene because you know the characters, and they are being silly and open, and you see how they get to that point.
Were any of the scenes or dialogue improvised?
John: We didn’t need to improvise very much because the script was great, though we did a little bit here and there.
Peter: We as writers, and John as a director, were keen that this was not one of those comedies where you got the feeling that there were extended improvisational takes. It was more about character development.
The aggressiveness of The Machine is great for getting the other guys to open up, but he also shows his vulnerability. Why did you develop his character?
Peter: He’s overbearing and very intense. He has no edit function. What we said when we were writing it was that The Machine is the Id, and the other characters are the Ego. The Machine doesn’t second guess himself, or worry about whether something can be misinterpreted. He says what he thinks or feels. When they sit around the campfire and unpack, and ask The Machine about his personal life, he’s completely honest about it. He doesn’t sugarcoat it in any way. He just presents the facts as they are. The Machine works as a character because he’s able to be vulnerable, even though he’s the most masculine character.
Hugh: The guys are a single collective ego. They are extremely verbal and physically contained guys who use words as weapons. Their performance level is obviously going to be counterpoint to The Machine’s.
John: I love that word milquetoast. We don’t hear it in Ireland. It’s superb, a beautiful word. What is interesting to me, is that Fionnan is us—all of us. We have to consider ourselves as milquetoast as well. All of those parts were written for a place of deep empathy and affection. Peter and I were never sitting in judgment of them at all. They embodied all of our attributes. I think that’s an important place for comedy.
Hugh: We were not laughing at the characters at all. I had so much of the character in me that I was kind of, “I’m offended at that!” But it was fun, and in terms of the story, Fionnan is very comfortable in his knowingly nerdy, milquetoastiness.
You know each other well. How did you all bond on set? Did you play off each other’s personalities?
John: We wanted to confound a few stereotypes: an Irish stag weekend with hardly any alcohol consumed is an interesting part of these characters’ story…
Peter: …We just consumed MDMA [in the film]. We all have worked together before and have been friends for a long time. Most of the cast knew each other. There was a nice company feel going into the film, and we had rehearsals beforehand. Then, on the first day, we had an 8-page naked scene, which was great in terms of getting everyone on the same level.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.
The Bachelor Weekend is currently playing in theaters on a limited release and is available on VOD.