The last time we spoke to William Monahan we got him in a bit of Internet trouble. The author and filmmaker, who won an Oscar for writing “The Departed,” slammed ’70s movies for their lack of craft, saying things like John Cassavetes films were just he and his friends springing “a 16mm camera around an apartment while making up crappy dialogue.” Some, as you can imagine, were displeased.
Monahan remembers this, and he says he was joking. “Got to watch out for that,” he tells us. “Because I’m always ironic and everyone always take me seriously. Unless I say otherwise, I’m always being ironic.”
So take at least some of what he says here with a grain of salt. We’re talking again, this time about “Mojave,” the second film he’s directed after 2010’s “London Boulevard,” in addition to those he’s only written, like “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Body of Lies” and “The Gambler.” His latest follows a young Hollywood player (Garrett Hedlund) who, during a drunken trip into the desert, encounters a stranger (Oscar Isaac), who winds up tormenting him after an accidental murder.
Some of my friends were angry about what you said the last time we talked. Do you tend to get involved with social media?
I weened myself off of any kind of online warfare and commentary when I was in my 30s. I just had to stop. I realized, “How much time am I spending on this? Fighting with an associate editor at some jackass magazine, dealing with the topics of the day.” So I stopped doing that, and the next thing I knew I had a novel and a film career. Any fans of Internet activity should remember that one.
How did this come about?
I was in Los Angeles. This was before I’d written “The Departed.” I was feeling a little uneasy on having recently gone from a guy who’d just adapted his own novel to being — apparently, as far as I can tell — Hollywood’s top screenwriter. [Laughs] So I drove out to the desert. I was thinking, “Do I really want to stay in film? Should I just write novels and write one screenplay a year? What am I going to do with myself?” Major existential moment.
I was lying on the hood of my car, in the desert all by myself, and I turned my head, and I looked up at the mountain, and I thought, “Well, that’s a pretty f—ing good camera position.” [Laughs] And then I was sitting by the campfire. It’s frightening out there. I imagined, “What if there was somebody standing out there, outside the circle of firelight? And what if he came in? What would happen next?” And what I imagined happened next is what “Mojave” is.