Shepard on Matador

In writer-director Richard Shepard's dark comedy “The Matador,” Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) is a hit man who's very good at what he does. He's in Mexico City doing another job but sadly for Julian, he has reached a low point in his life—the murder business has all but killed him. Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) is also in Mexico City on business, although a decidedly different kind of business. Danny lives in Denver with his wife Bean (Hope Davis), and while they may have troubles financially, there is a youthful lust between them that belies ten years of marriage. Danny finds himself in Mexico City for a business opportunity whose outcome could be the difference between solving all his financial problems and falling even deeper into debt.

One night, at the hotel bar, the two men meet, and before long, they find themselves involved in a strange friendship, built on the dark and drunken honesty shared among strangers who believe they will never see each other again. Spanning four countries, six months, and many margaritas, “The Matador” takes the hit man film and spins it on its head, creating a character-driven story that's full of surprises.

Hotel Lobby Bars

Hotel lobby bars and the encounters in them have been the setting for several of my short stories and movie scripts. My initial impetus was a story about two complete strangers who meet in a bar. The thing about hotel bars is that you can tell the absolute truth about yourself with the safety net of knowing you are never going to see the person again. It's the perfect set-up for a good story.

The Story

The story takes two disparate men, one an average businessman abroad and the other, an international hit man, and crossing their paths to see where the characters went. The goal was to take a frequently clichd character, the hit man, and make him “off kilter,” much the way the film “Sexy Beast” took the heist film and made it a character-driven story.

The Influence of Sexy Beast

I was very inspired by “Sexy Beast. It took the “one last heist” genre and re-invented it by stressing character over action. After I saw that film, I thought, “Hey, maybe there's a way to tell a hit man story without falling into the clichs of that genre as well.” While there's action and suspense and hopefully a lot of tension involving the hits, this film is also is at its heart a comedy. And a warm one at that.

The Film's Title

The film's title, “The Matador,” was inspired by Julian Noble, a burned-out killer. I, by a rule, hate hit man films. I know where they are going. I know all the beats. But I love them as well, because I happen to enjoy an international story involving guns. My goal with the script to “The Matador” was to write a hit-man film Id actually like to see.

The Characters

I wanted to create someone who had the best values, the most decency I think people have in them. Danny loves his wife, he's honest and struggling, at a real crossroads in where Julian could help him succeed. The Wrights are at a point where a lot of couples are, where their money is drying up, their hope is drying up and they need some good luck. So when Danny and Julian meet, Danny allows himself to think Well, this could be the answer to my problems, if I am willing to go there.' I was interested in doing a movie about good people who are just pushed to the point where to save their marriage, save their life, what would they do

Danny (Greg Kinnear)

Danny is the catalyst for Julian to actually feel something, which he has not been able to do for about twenty years. Anyone who kills for a living has to turn themselves off emotionally and that's deadening. A very simple friendship, which starts by accident, awakens some of Julian's emotions.

With Danny, it plays to the comedy because Julian is so far out there that Greg's character becomes our eyes and ears, reacting to Julian as we might. It's the darkest version of a man like Bond. It's the complete opposite end of the sort of smooth and perfect superhero. Julian is a man who has no one, he's lonely, sad, a real mess. While he's audacious, it's because he doesn't have normal relationships, he doesn't know how to act in those social situations. The tragedy of Julian is definitely something I'm interested in.”

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce completely jumped into Julian and has gone into places that I've never seen him do before. He's so funny and dark, so smart as an actor and he brings it all to Julian. Julian's a strange, dark, off-kilter guy and Pierce has achieved more with him than anything I had imagined. He gives Julian such twists and emotional comedy. There's a vulnerability that's refreshing.

Brosnan's Look

I wanted Pierce to have a mustache and a crew cut, and in Cat's first meeting with me, she said, “I think he should have a mustache,” and I'm jumped “youre hired.” The best part was when we had a rehearsal in Los Angeles two weeks before shooting, and I had not seen Pierce in months, and he shows up with a crew cut and mustache. If you could have seen my smile that day, “cause I knew he was totally going to go for it.”

Greg Kinnear

Kinnear was right there from the start. Greg fit everything. He is an everyman. He's easy to relate to, likeable, and has a lot of heart and soul. He has been great in everything he's done, and he fit perfectly into this movie.

Hope Davis

Hope became involved in “The Matador” early on. Hope came to an early script reading to play the part of Bean and about halfway through the read, I think we all kind of looked at each other and it became clear. From then on it was Hope and only Hope for the role. She's one of the best actresses working today. When I think about this cast, I have to pinch myself.

Rest of the Cast

Besides our principal actors, we've got Philip Baker Hall, Dylan Baker and Roberto Sosa. We've taken advantage of the enormous talent in Mexico and the grace and posture of these guys.

Mexico City as a Character

Another key character in the story is the location of Mexico City, where Danny and Julian meet. This is the second film that I've done in Mexico. I feel very at home here 'cause I'm from New York and Mexico City reminds me of New York City. The city's art scene, cultural warmth and diversity were all factors in making Mexico so compelling. It's the size of Los Angeles, but with the population of New York Times four. It's huge and that vitality of the city, you can see it in our film, you can feel it; the actors felt it on the streets.

Richard Shepard's Biography

Shepard was born, raised and lives in New York City. He attended NYU's film school but did not graduate because he failed his required science class; he's still awaiting his honorary degree. Shepard has written, directed and produced five independent features, written numerous screenplays for the studios, directed Emmy-winning television and once fired Shelley Winters.

In spring 2005, Shepard directed the TV pilot “Criminal Minds” for producer Mark Gordon. The show, starring Mandy Patinkin, was subsequently picked up by CBS for the 2005 fall season. Prior to that, Shepard wrote and directed the indie thriller, “Oxygen,” starring Adrien Brody and Maura Tierney. He produced the 2001 Sundance Competition entry “Scotland, PA,” directed by Billy Morrissette. The film starred James LeGros, Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken, Amy Smart, and Andy Dick. Along with producing, Shepard also appears nude in the film as a streaker.

For TV, Shepard won the 1996 Monitor Award for single-camera directing of twelve episodes of AMC's “Remember Wenn the Royale,” a children's television special he directed, was nominated for an Emmy Award. “Class Warfare” produced by Neal Moritz aired on the USA Network in 2001. Variety called it “a guilty pleasure”, Shepard calls it something else. Shepard is currently writing “Spring Break in Bosnia” for Warner Independent Pictures and producer Mark Johnson, which he hopes to direct next year.