"It's not that I don't respect theatre. I'm intelligent enough to know that a play can completely inspire a person as much as a film...[but] theatre isn't something that's connected to me, from a personal point of view, I can't appreciate what I'm doing."
A play following Harry Wade, England's second-best hangman, after the abolition of hanging in Great Britain in 1965. The play premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in September 2015. The play was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2016.
McDonagh was born in Camberwell, London, to Irish parents. His mother (originally from Killeenduff, Easky, County Sligo) and his father (originally from Leitir Mealláin, Connemara, County Galway) moved back to Galway in 1992, leaving McDonagh and his brother (writer-director John Michael McDonagh) in London.
The story of the dysfunctional relationship between a spinster and her domineering mother, during the course of which the former faces her last chance at love, and the latter faces a rather grim end. The play was well received on its opening night in Galway in 1996 and was next produced Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company in 1998. The play transferred to Broadway in April 1998 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.
A dark comedy in which a crippled teenager schemes to attain a role in Man of Aran. The play opened in 1997 at the Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe) in London. It opened in April 1998 Off-Broadway at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, with Ruaidhri Conroy in the title role on both occasions. Also in 1998, Frederick Koehler played the title role in the Geffen Playhouse production in Los Angeles, California.
McDonagh has stated that he prefers writing films to plays, as he holds a "respect for the whole history of films and a slight disrespect for theatre." In a 1998 conversation with Irish drama critic Fintan O'Toole in BOMB magazine, McDonagh further explained,
Two brothers bicker in the aftermath of the supposedly accidental fatal shooting of their father. The play ran on Broadway in 1999 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 1999.
McDonagh's first non-Irish play, The Pillowman, is set in a fictitious totalitarian state and premiered at the Royal National Theatre in 2003, after a reading in Galway in 1997.
A Writer in a non-specified totalitarian state is interrogated over the content of several of his Brothers Grimm-style short stories. The play was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2004 and received a 2005 Tony Award nomination for Best Play.
In an interview in 2005, the New York Times Writer observed that McDonagh "now seems more comfortably resigned to the storytelling powers of drama, if still dismissive of its inherent elitism. 'It's kind of weird working in an art form that's not, well ...,' he stops and starts again. 'It's strange to be working in an art form that costs $100 to participate in.'" In an interview with Sean O'Hagan of The Guardian, McDonagh said theatre "is never going to be edgy in the way I want it to be", when discussing his absence from London theatre and promoting his new play Hangmen.
In 2006, McDonagh won an Academy Award for his short film Six Shooter (2004), which is his first film that he wrote and directed. Six Shooter is a black comedy (as are his plays) that features Brendan Gleeson, Ruaidhri Conroy, David Wilmot and Aisling O'Sullivan. It was shot on location in Wicklow, Waterford and Rosslare. In the short film, Gleeson's character encounters a strange, and possibly psychotic, young man during a train journey homeward following his wife's death.
McDonagh entered into an agreement with the Focus Features film production company to direct In Bruges, a feature-length film based on his own screenplay. Two Irish hitmen hide in the Flemish city of Bruges after a problematic job. Released in the USA in 2008, the film features Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson. In Bruges was the Opening Night film for the 2008 Sundance Festival and the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, and McDonagh received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 81st Academy Awards.
A play in which the character of Carmichael has been searching for his missing left hand for a quarter of a century. The play opened on Broadway in March 2010. The play was nominated for the 2010 Drama League award, Distinguished Production of a Play.
In a 2008 interview with Stop Smiling magazine, McDonagh said, "I've got a couple of film scripts that are ready to go. I'm not going to do anything with them for a couple of years, until I've travelled and had some fun. But there's one called Seven Psychopaths; if I do another film, that'll be it. I hope you like it." The production of the film was confirmed in May 2011 and it was eventually released in North America on 12 October 2012. Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits star in the film.
In August 2013, The Pillowman was staged at Arasbaran Cultural House in Tehran. Directed by Mohammad Yaghoubi and Ayda Keikhai, the play received a warm welcome by Iranian theatre-goers. In December 2014, The Lieutenant of Inishmore was staged at Tajrobeh Theater, Tehran. The play was directed by Morteza Meshkat.
McDonagh wrote and directed his drama-dark comedy film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on 4 September and won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival on 17 September 2017. Three Billboards won four awards at the 2017 Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay for McDonagh.