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'Boondock Saints' creator Troy Duffy talks of his fortuitous rise to Hollywood

BY TIMOTHY RABB
Daily Arts Writer
Published March 7, 2010

Following a series of unfortunate delays due to legal issues and other extenuating factors, the long-anticipated film “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” was finally released last October. In spite of the 10-year gap between the first and second “Boondock” movies, the cult following remained steadfast in devotion to vigilante crime-fighters Connor and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus, respectively). But far more captivating than even the iconic pair of civilian law-givers is their creator Troy Duffy. The magnitude of the controversy surrounding him is matched only by his fervor for a subject that has frustrated him since the onset of his career.

“I recently talked to a bunch of fans in Dallas, and I said, ‘Raise your hands if you’ve had a crime committed against you,’ and nearly everyone raised their hands. Then I said, ‘Put your hands down if your crime was solved,’ and not one hand went down,” Duffy said in an interview with the Daily. “I think there’s a certain element of injustice in America these days, and I feel as if we don’t know what to do, like we’re left without any recourse.”

In the mid-1990s, it was this sense of hopelessness that prompted Duffy — then a bartender and bouncer in Los Angeles — to put his feelings to paper.

“I sat down and wrote 'Boondock Saints' to give a bit of fantasy, a little release to those people, to represent what they might like to do if the world were a more just place.”

The story follows the McManus brothers, Irish fraternal twins inspired by a divine goal: brutally kill all of the wicked men in Boston, one thug at a time. Along with their semi-psychotic companion Rocco (David Della Rocco, “Jake’s Corner”), they embark on a spree of violent bloodletting to rid the streets of criminality, all while being pursued tirelessly by an FBI agent (Willem Dafoe, “Antichrist”) and a hired hitman (Billy Connolly, “The Debt Collector”). Since Duffy had absolutely no experience in developing fictional characters or writing for the screen, the origins of his success were all the more impressive.

“That was the first script I ever wrote, but I never had to pitch ‘Boondock Saints’ to a studio exec. A buddy of mine that worked at one of the production houses actually gave me a script that had been made into a movie and I copied the format, but I still had no idea what the fuck I was doing,” Duffy said. “My producer was an assistant at New Line Cinema, and he kept feeding the script to his network of relationships. Pretty soon, this little fire started, and it became so wide in scope that at one point I was in Starbucks and I saw two guys reading my script. Weird, weird stuff.”

Though the transition from bouncer to Hollywood hustler may seem overwhelming, Duffy took it in stride.

“You know, it’s like, ‘How did winning the lottery change your life?’ It’s fuckin’ awesome, you know? I just embraced the shit out of it and put forth a considerable effort to make the best movie possible.”

In spite of his humble beginnings and lack of industry experience, Duffy has been known to espouse the attitude and prowess of a seasoned director with an extensive repertoire. As a result of this entitled demeanor, his methods have been the subject of heated debate among critics and industry magnates alike. After the unexpected success of Duffy’s first screenplay, he was the target of a documentary that lampooned his antisocial behavior: “Overnight” — a film that was originally intended by personal friends Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith as a dedicatory chronicle of his rise to fame — eventually morphed into a tragic portrayal of an alcoholic egomaniac whose ceaseless racial slurs and abusive conduct alienated both close friends and business partners.

Unfortunate as these personality flaws may have been, they appear to have been considerably tamed by 10 years of experience in film; moreover, they are easier to overlook when one observes Duffy’s overwhelming conviction and the passion with which he speaks of his fan base. The cult following of "Boondock" is the most compelling impetus driving Duffy’s career, and it’s the singular factor he considered in retrospect to expedite the process of crafting his brainchild’s sequel.

“You wouldn’t believe the jovial atmosphere we had on the set of the first movie — actually, the second movie, too. A lot of fun was had," Duffy said. "But the difference between the first and second ‘Boondock’ movies is that the second time around was a bit more serious because we were making it for people who know the movies in fucking minutiae.

“These are people who know every word, every frame, where every ‘fuck’ is. They’ve seen it a hundred times, so I knew that the fans would call me out on it if I treaded on the sacred ground of the first film. Naturally it had to be an extremely tight script that was examined by the experts. The first time, we were just kids in a candy store — the second time around, we were adults in a candy store.”

As for future plans, Duffy was eager to address rumors of a possible sequel.

“I’ve got some ideas percolating on a possible ‘Saints III,’ but let’s face it — we all know that the vast majority of sequels suck. The tiniest percentage of them turn out to be any good, and we believe we made such a sequel. But it was a maximal creative effort, like walking through a minefield, like cracking a code. A third movie would be like cracking the code to the safe of fucking Fort Knox,” Duffy said. “The sequels we love — 'Rocky II,' 'The Terminator II,' 'Aliens' — they all give the fans everything they love from the first movie, plus a brand new story they couldn’t have possibly seen coming.”

Several respected critics may have dismissed the intense popularity and high DVD revenue of “The Boondock Saints” as a fluke. But it’s easier to criticize an artist from the outside looking in than to admit that the path to a filmmaker’s popularity is oftentimes paved with raw emotion and unpleasant candor rather than affluence and refinement.