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Thematic Simplicity: An Interview with 'Boon' Co-Writer and Actor Neal McDonough

Neal McDonough speaks with Script about stepping back into Nick Boon's shoes, this time from a writer's perspective, creating films he's excited about with a nod to old-school filmmaking and storytelling from films like 'Rocky' and 'Unforgiven,' and what's next for him in his career as a screenwriter.

Mercenary Nick Boon (McDonough) is trying to atone for his life as an enforcer for a ruthless syndicate. Running from his past, Boon moves to a remote area in the pacific northwest where he meets a struggling widow (Seidel) and her son. When he finds the pair living in fear of a criminal kingpin (Flanagan), Boon realizes the only way to protect them is to do what he does best: Kill.

Western overtones are making a comeback, and that's certainly the case in Boon, co-written by Neal McDonough, who also stars in the titular role. Relatable thematic elements come into play about redemption and doing what's right in times of despair and grieving. I had that wonderful opportunity to speak with Neal McDonough about stepping back into Nick Boon's shoes, this time from a writer's perspective, creating films he's excited about with a nod to old-school filmmaking and storytelling from films like Rocky and Unforgiven, and what's next for him in his career as a screenwriter. 

Neal McDonough as Boon in the action film, BOON, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

Neal McDonough as Boon in the action film, BOON, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Neal McDonough’s excitement and love for his new film Boon is palpable from our first hello –

Neal McDonough: I can't talk enough about my joy of making Boon, it's not possible. Literally, it's not possible. I got to make a movie with my wife, and the story that I've always wanted to tell that I haven't been able to do because I haven't been able to do the hero films. I'm always the villain because I won't do sex scenes. So now, I get to have a romantic lead opposite in Christiane Seidel, who was just phenomenal. And get to do these action films and do movies that talk about God and our beliefs and religion and such without shoving it down your throat. It's really talking about a guy grappling with his faith and grappling with who he is and his past. And can you have a relationship with a woman after his wife and kid were killed? Can he go there? Or is it better to just run away from the world and become a hermit for the rest of his life?

I got to produce it with my wife and write it with Derek Presley, whom I adore as a writer and director and we joke that we're the DeNiro-Scorsese team now of Westerns. [laughs] They started small with Taxi Driver. We started small with Red Stone they blew it out with Raging Bull, we're starting to blow it I was Boon and maybe Boon three or this other Western that we're writing right now about Cain and Abel in the West. We just keep on building upon these relationships and building a family like the Mercury players like Orson Welles. If I can keep producing movies with Ruve and having the backing from Cinedigm, which is such an amazing company with Chris McGurk and what he's doing over there, and then Derek Presley, myself, and Jason Starne our line producer, my gosh, I could do this forever. That's the goal.

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I don't necessarily need to go back to being the gun for hire on anyone else's films anymore. I would much rather just do one or two films a year, our way and entertain people the way that I think people want to be entertained. They want to see films where the good guy grapples with his conscience. And then he has to take down the bad guy because he's the only one brave enough to stand up to these guys. These are thematic things that have made movies great since the beginning of movies and you don't have to overthink it. You don't have to be so dark; you don't have to be so macabre; you don’t have to be so angst-ridden as the hero; you have to be human - you have to show those flaws, We all make mistakes. So, we're all in it together as God's children. Let's talk about those issues and make movies about it - it's simple and that's what we're doing now and it's just the time of my life.

(L-R) Jake Melrose as Elijah and Christiane Seidel as Catherine in the action film, BOON, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

(L-R) Jake Melrose as Elijah and Christiane Seidel as Catherine in the action film, BOON, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

Sadie Dean: And speaking of great stories and that simplicity factor, we don't have enough of that it seems. I've just been re-watching some great classics on TCM, movies from 40-50 years ago, the storylines are simple, and the character is the driving force, they tend to have relatable setbacks, but you're there to root for them. Like, I was just watching Rocky – it’s such a brilliant and simple story.

Neal: Oh! You couldn't make that now, it’s too corny. He's gonna be a heroin addict. He’s gonna be something else, right? I mean c’mon, can a normal guy have a chance to rise to the top? And see how he does it and can he do it? The reason that Rocky is so great, it’s because of the relationship that he has with Talia Shire. Without Adrian, there's no movie. He’s just a guy who's hitting ribs in a frozen meat locker and gets a shot at the title. But it’s the love. And for me, I finally get to do that with Christiane Seidel. I get to build a relationship with a woman on screen which I've never done before. Here I am in my mid-50s, and I've been the villain for 20 years. And now I get to do the movies that I've always wanted to be in and I'm doing it with my wife backing me. This is awesome.

Sadie: What was it like having this opportunity to further develop a character that's your own, both as an actor and now a writer?

Neal: It's the easiest thing I've ever done, literally. In Red Stone, jumping Nick Boon's skin, with that fedora and the rosary around my neck, and can I off' this 14-year-old kid in the middle of the field? What the heck am I doing? And then boom, I kill one bad guy, boom and kill another bad guy and protect this kid. And I'm willing to die for this kid that I don't know. But I see myself in this kid. And then when I was dying at the very end of the film, I said to Derek, ‘Maybe we should shoot this with my eyes open,’ - he goes, 'What do you mean?' ‘Well, then we can make this a series of films or TV series.’ I think it's going to resonate with people because he's real, he's human, and he stood up to do the right thing. And then we started writing and we came up with this idea. And then my wife, Ruve jumped on, and then she found the financing. And then we took a million-dollar film, for the first one made a $2 million film for the second one and we'll make a $3 million film for the third one. She called Tommy Flanagan and called other people and before you knew it within a calendar year I was cast in Red Stone and we wrapped Boon during COVID. I'm like a dog with a bone. If I want something done, and if I have faith from someone, like Cinedigm, I'm going to run with that thing and I'm going to run hard and fast because I just want to keep doing it. And I don't want anyone to say, ‘OK, time's up.’ [laughs]

When I was in college playing baseball, I was playing first base and on my own team, there’s this one guy, ‘McDonough, I want your job!’ It's stuck in my head to this day that I don't want someone else taking my job. I'm going to do movies that give glory to God. And I'm going to make them entertaining for people and make people think, ‘What if this guy stood up to these things, maybe I can do a better job at standing up.’ I couldn't have made these films six or seven years ago because I was too busy playing bad guys and eating craft service and drinking lots of beer. I was 25 pounds overweight, I'm a chunky bad guy, and then when I stopped drinking, everything in life just got clear and made me think, ‘Holy smokes, I don't have to wake up with a hangover? I don't have to drink?’ And I became a much better husband and much better dad and much better Son of God. ‘Well, let's go make some movies about this new clarity that I have.’ And all of a sudden everything's just gone from really good in my life to exceptionally fantastic because God's got my back because I'm working hard to do glory for him. And I've got the greatest wife.

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Sadie: That’s wonderful. And there's that sense of hope also through Boon. The dialogue and how these characters interact and move around each other, it feels like it could be a stage play. Was that intentional on the page?

Neal: I like old-style films. I'm not, ‘Cut-cut-cut-cut-close-up-close-up,’ I need Dramamine when I watch television now, I get dizzy. [laughs] If you have a really great set designer, you want to show off the set designer’s work. John Huston used to leave the camera static and just let actors do their job and every once in a while, would punch in for dramatic reason. It makes the days go by faster and it makes the acting fresher. We'll get a shot from first take, move on to the next scene. Or if we have to, we’ll have the second camera coming in for a close-up while the master is working on a long lens or we'll have two cameras on a long lens while we have a master cooking and then we're done with that, it seems really fast. And you get to see, ‘Wow look at that cool stuff on the wall.’ There's pictures there for a reason. ‘Oh, there's a cross over there for a reason.’ I like that filmmaking and Derek's great at framing things so there's life to a scene, not just close-ups. It's old school, beautiful filmmaking and that's what we're doing.

(L-R) Neal McDonough as Boon and Tommy Flanagan as Mr. Fitzgerald in the action film, BOON, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

(L-R) Neal McDonough as Boon and Tommy Flanagan as Mr. Fitzgerald in the action film, BOON, a Cinedigm release. Photo courtesy of Cinedigm.

Sadie: It helps amp up to that third act of the final shoot-out that is very reminiscent of a Western standoff.

Neal: Yeah, you go to Unforgiven and the close-up of Clint Eastwood in his pigpen with that bottle of whiskey and he stares at it and takes that big chug off of it; that high angle looking down - it's on that close up. That close-up was shocking. It made you realize, ‘Oh no, he's back.’ When you have that moment when Christiane talking on the couch about her husband, and then when I come back and smash John Patrick Jordan in the face with a shovel, that close-up of my face is, ‘Uh oh, Nick Boon is about to kill everybody.’

It's those emotional moments of the close-up. When it's really used correctly, that makes cinema so entertaining, and that's what we're dealing with in Boon and that's what Derek and I will do with all of our films. When it's time for that close-up, 'Uh oh!' Here we go, get that popcorn ready because it's coming!’ And I love that about Boon. So proud of it.


Sadie: Did you also have a hand in casting the other rolls along with your wife Ruve?

Neal: That's where really Ruve and I came in; Ruve in particular. She called Tommy Flanagan and he jumped on and she said, ‘What about Gabrielle Carteris?’ And she was great. And then James Madio from Band of Brothers and JPJ [John Patrick Jordan] was great. And then Christiane Seidel was Ruve's choice Pat Monahan who was the lead singer of Train, whom I've been buddies with for so long goes, 'I want to be in a movie with you.' I'm like, 'Hey, I got a scene for you want to do it?' ‘OK.’ And that was it and everyone that we asked to be in it jumped on board and Ruve's very persuasive because people know that we're putting the money on the screen. No one made a fortune making this film for sure, but that's not the point of making films - everyone's all in it for money. And when you do that, you don't make the right film. When you're in it, because everyone's in it, we're kind of like socialists almost in filmmaking [laughs] that everyone's going to make a decent amount of money. We're going to make something great for the greater good. And there we were on Saturday afternoons or Sunday afternoons, inviting the cast and crew over for 10-hours of eating and wine and me drinking non-alcoholic beers and kids running around and music and Shakespeare and it was just that old school filmmaking where we're family. ‘Let's go out Monday morning kick some butt.’ That's what we did. It was simple.

Sadie: Do you now have the writing bug, and writing movies and characters for yourself?

Boon Poster

Neal: It's the only thing I ever want to do. I don't care if I ever worked for anybody else ever again. I've already written three movies with Derek. We wrote this movie, Cain and Abel, in the West, and it's one of the best Westerns you will have ever read. It goes back to all the themes that I just talked about. I really want Jim Caviezel, we talked about it a few years ago, I want him to come on and play the evil Cain in this and it's all the themes that I love. I just want to keep writing and producing with Derek and my wife and Jason Starne and Cinedigm, and that's all I really want to do for the future.

Cinedigm will release Boon in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on April 1, 2022. 

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