Michael Fassbender, James Marsh & ‘Night Boat To Tangier’ Producers Talk Upcoming Cannes Market Project: “The Men Are Lost And The Women Are Calling The Shots Throughout This Story”

EXCLUSIVE: As all of the Cannes packages start to trickle through ahead of the big event on the Croisette next week, an early frontrunner in the hot package game is Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson and Ruth Negga starrer Night Boat to Tangier. Oscar-winning director James Marsh is directing the project, based on the novel of the same name from Kevin Barry’s New York Times Top 10 Book of the Year.

The story follows Maurice (Fassbender) and Charlie (Gleeson), a colorful pair of gangsters from Ireland who are drug smugglers and partners with a long history of violence and intertwined personal lives. They’re back in southern Spain revisiting old haunts, old flames and dangerous local criminals all the while searching for Maurice’s estranged daughter Dilly.

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Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment is shopping the package to buyers next week and in advance of that, Deadline spoke with Fassbender (who is also an exec producer on the project), Marsh and producers Andrew Eaton and Conor McCaughan to get a first-hand account of why they’re so passionate about the project. The quartet talk about how they’re positioning the $18M indie film in Cannes next week and why the story is not just about Irish gangsters but rather a more layered exploration of modern masculinity driven by strong female characters. 

DEADLINE: So, what drew each of you to this project?

MICHAEL FASSBENDER: Kevin’s [Barry] incredible writing was the starting point. He is just one of the finest writers we have and his characters are so textured and compelling. It was irresistible.

ANDREW EATON: I’ve always been a big fan of Kevin Barry’s works and when I read Night Boat to Tangier I just fell in love with it. It was a real joy to read and it seemed very cinematic. But also when I was reading it, I kept thinking of Michael as Maurice. Conor [Fassbender’s producing partner] and I have known each other for some time and I immediately sent it to Conor and he had Michael both had the same response to the book I had, which was great.

One of the real joys of developing this has been how smooth it has been. I think it’s harder to adapt a book that you really love than it is something that you quite like because you’re trying to capture all of the things you love about him. But throughout it, there’s never been a disagreement between any of us about what we love about it. 

JAMES MARSH: I was familiar with Kevin Barry’s short stories and when Andrew got in touch, I was about to start shooting a film and I had to abandon what was very intense preparation for the shoot to fully engage with this script. When I read it, it had become much more active and became more of a road movie. To be honest, I couldn’t believe my luck – it was such a joy to read. Kevin’s dialogue is pleasurable to engage with and his dialogue and the way he expresses the characters – you’re seduced immediately by the style of his writing and the emotional complexities of it all. 

DEADLINE: Explain what you mean by emotional complexities. 

MARSH: Well, it may seem like a man’s film but it’s actually driven in part by the female characters and their choices and decisions and the relationships they have with the men. So, on the surface, it looks like it’s these two Irish gangsters getting on but that’s really a Trojan horse because it’s more of a multi-dimensional love story between these three characters [Maurice, Charlie & Cynthia, to be played by Negga]. Because Maurice and Charlie are on this quest for Dilly [yet to be cast] and we’re not sure who the father is and neither are they, it becomes this paternal love story, or fantasy of it, which is being worked out in every scene. The power shifts between them and the baggage they’ve left behind is catching up with them.

It’s about people running out of options and so what they are trying to do is to try and reach the only good thing they ever had in their lives emotionally which is their daughter.

FASSBENDER: The men are lost and the women are calling the shots throughout this story and I think it’s so important, especially now, that we continue to examine and interrogate our traditional notions of masculinity. The complexity for me is in these familiar ‘gangster’ characters being revealed as having much less control than we realize at first.

CONOR MCCAUGHAN: Yes, on the surface level it looks like a gangster film but what you’ve got going on is the layers between these two guys and because it is a love story and they are on this quest to find the daughter, it evolves into the most beautiful study of modern masculinity and what it means when violence is removed from it.

EATON: They’re crappy Irish gangsters who really failed but it’s also a deeply emotional story in a sense that it’s about men getting to a certain point in their lives and realizing they’ve fu**ed it up.

DEADLINE: Michael, you’re an exec producer on the project. How does this change how you approach the film? 

FASSBENDER: The main difference is getting much more involved in the development of the material and getting a chance to collaborate with the writer rather than joining the process much later. 

DEADLINE: What’s different about this role of Maurice compared to other characters you’ve played before? 

FASSBENDER: Every role and each director is a different experience. With Maurice the distinction for me is playing a man who is aware of losing his power and fearful of losing the last prospect of love in his life.

EATON: Maurice is a character who is struggling with mental health and he’s quite funny in the script. Michael is so funny in real life, I think it will be nice to see him playing a funny character in this project. 

MCCAUGHAN: Maurice has a dangerous exterior but then there’s a real softness to him and melancholy there so I think there will be a lot for Michael to play with. 

DEADLINE: This is Kevin’s first feature film script and he’s adapting from his own novel. What has it been like working with him? 

EATON: Sometimes you get a novelist who adapts their own book and it’s dangerous because they try to rewrite the book and think they can do better. But Kevin has been great because we kept trying to go back and distil the essence. And the book is full of flashbacks and then time changes and so I think he’s been a real trooper by sticking to what we’ve learned and the strict rules to sort of abide by. 

MCCAUGHAN: I think we’ve really benefited from the fact that he knows who his characters are so when we needed to broaden out the screenplay in certain areas, he knew exactly how they behave in any given scenario. 

DEADLINE: So what’s the plan for the shoot and timeline? Will you shoot in Ireland and Spain?

EATON: We did a schedule that is looking like seven weeks in Spain and a week in Ireland. It is, mostly as James said at the beginning, more of a road movie in Spain. There’s a chunk in Ireland but the majority takes place in Spain. We’re still trying to pin down our dates but we’re hoping to start shooting before the end of the year. 

DEADLINE: How are you and Hyde Park positioning this film in Cannes? What’s the budget?

EATON: It’s an $18M budget, dependent on how we do on pre-sales in Cannes, but largely we see this as a really commercial project because it makes you laugh and it makes you cry in a good way. So when you have a cast like this and James has proven himself in the commercial sector before, you know you think, why not? I am a big fan of Martin McDonagh but to me this feels more commercial and accessible than The Banshees of Inisherin because it’s a little less weird and more believable. 

MARSH: I do think this is the best project I’ve ever encountered. It’s come my way as a piece of writing and the potential of it, with the actors we’ve got, is just so exciting. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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