Management ‘Charlie’s’ McG
Looks To Top His Blockbuster Action-Comedy
by Dawn Taylor
(read the uncut Web-only version here)
If you think the big-screen
incarnations of “Charlie’s Angels” are simply feel-good
roller-coaster rides … well, according to Joseph
McGinty “McG” Nichol, director of both movie “Angels,” you’re
missing the progressive message behind all the flash.
“One thing we want
to do, without preaching, is to kick down the walls of
convention in regard to what women can
and can’t do. We’re saying, ‘Look at
these girls who can be as sexy as they want to be, as fun
as they want to be, and when it’s time to focus they
focus and get the job done.’ I just think it’s
a very positive message that’s in the subtext, it’s
not overt and preachy.”
“Charlie’s Angels” as feminist filmmaking? Definitely,
says McG, who describes himself as a “stereotypical
male” who grew up in a patriarchal family watching
football every Sunday. His horizons were broadened, he
claims, by working with a predominantly female cast, female
producers and even a female studio head on his big screen
“I learned a lot
on these pictures – how to be a much
better listener and just the colors of being alive – because
I was interacting with women on a regular basis. And extraordinary
women at that.”
The Angels have not gone
all weak and girly since the first movie. Originally
called “Charlie’s Angels:
Halo” – a play on words referring to a computer
program that the Angels attempt to retrieve in the film – the
sequel’s title was changed to “Full Throttle” because,
McG says, “It just felt a little soft. We needed
something that expressed how bang-up raucous, how full-out
crazy this picture is.”
A self-professed fan
of ‘70s kung fu capers who describes
his storytelling style as “classic” (“I’m
very interested in the Bible, in the great myths, in Shakespeare”),
McG takes the message of the Angels more seriously than
the film’s light-hearted tone might suggest.
“If I can reach
one girl – or, for that matter, boy – in
Kansas or in Ireland or Singapore and make them feel like
they can do anything if they just stick with it, that they
can feel comfortable in their own skin and own their own
individuality, then I’d regard the film as a wild
The director managed to escape from the editing
room long enough to talk to us about “Angels,” his decades-old
friendship with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath and why
Cameron Diaz is “gonzo.”
To the MULTIPLEX!
I understand you approached
Drew Barrymore with “Charlie’s
At the time I was very much involved with the rock & roll
community, she was sort of hanging out with a lot of bands – we
had friends in common. I thought, I’ll bet we’d
have a similar take as to what to do with this. It was
a time when a lot of films were coming from old television
shows and were failing to deliver. So I tried to meet with
her and she canceled on me, like, seven or eight times
because she’s so busy and who am I, after all? Nothin’.
Finally she agreed to sit down and meet
and we didn’t
get more than two or three minutes into our conversation
before we were building a collective enthusiasm because
we connected on so many levels. Before we knew it we were
jumping up and down on the tables and ripping our clothes
off and screaming about how we wanted to have a great time
making a movie that felt like no other. From that point
she just threw her arm around me and helped me navigate
through the labyrinth of studio Hollywood.
Anything you want to share about that labyrinth?
Yeah! You should have seen it the first time I came in
to see [Columbia Pictures chairman] Amy Pascal. Drew
had her partner, Nancy Juvonen, there, and Leonard Goldberg
who created the show. I had their support, but Amy and
all her executives were sitting there with their arms
crossed, all but shaking their heads with frowns on their
faces. But I acted out the whole movie in real time and
did the dance numbers – basically gave them a real-time
pitch, an exact view of what the film was.
That’s really quite a visual — you standing
in front of a table full of studio executives, doing Cameron
Diaz’s butt dance.
That happened! [laughs] They reluctantly went with it and
I built a relationship with Amy, who’s kind enough
and brave enough to take a chance on a first-time knucklehead
at the helm of a serious enterprise.
II. ESCAPE FROM ORANGE COUNTY
So your actual, full name is Joseph McGinty Nichol?
That was my birth name and my parents called me “McG,” short
for McGinty, from the day I was born. It’s my mother’s
maiden name – my uncle’s name was Joe and my
grandpa’s name was Joe, so they wanted to make some
separation and it just kind of stuck. It’s funny
because people think it’s some sort of Hollywood-style
nickname and it’s really not.
You grew up in Newport Beach, Calif.
I went to school in Newport and got very involved with
the music scene in Orange County at the time, which had
No Doubt, Social Distortion, Sublime, Rage Against the
Machine, Stone Temple Pilots — and my friends in
this band called Sugar Ray. That’s how I got started,
I made an impromptu music video with them ‘cause
they happened to have this good looking, charismatic
lead singer and they needed a video. So I kept making
those and honing my filmmaker skills.
Were you recording bands then as well?
Yeah, I was a record producer. I’ve always written
songs in failed efforts to win the affections of young
ladies that I would chase after. When I graduated high
school I was 5’4”, 100 pounds with an orange
Afro, braces, Dolphin shorts and shoe-skates. I mean, I
was a disaster.
So you decided that being a record producer would get
Not really. [laughs] I would go and do a version of “Let’s
Get it On” and get my friends who could play their
respective instruments, try to sing it to the best of my
ability. You know, poke around the studio and turn the
knobs until I thought I had it something like I wanted
it to sound. We just loved music and just got more and
more involved and put this band together that became Sugar
Ray and those guys, well, they’ve gone on to sell
over 10 million records.
So is that what you would call your personal stroke of
luck there, working with Mark McGrath?
He and I have been best friends since we were eight. We
went through all our phases together – break-dancing,
playing basketball and just being infatuated with any culture
other than our own, the culture of suburban communities
and planned tract housing. I was focused on being the best
record producer I could be but I was a still photographer – so
I was the de facto choice to man the camera and make the
We went out and stole a bunch of locations
and shot the video on 35mm film for about three or four
I produced their first record for Atlantic and shot videos
for another band that came down to Orange County to get
their start, Korn – I shot their first six or seven
videos. Then I hooked up with the guys in Cypress Hill.
There’s a trend right
now with music video directors moving to feature films,
and David Fincher and
Spike Jonze. It seems to be the new breeding ground for
Some of the most exciting filmmaking going on today is
coming from guys who cut their teeth doing music videos.
You have Jonathan Glazer, who made “Sexy Beast,” you
have David Fincher, an auteur and an artist of the highest
level. Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze – all of these guys
have an original imprint and distinct style, and they all
got it together while making music videos.
That said, there’s a lot of music videos out there
that are void of any artistry and completely impoverished
of any aesthetic. But it’s a great place to say,
hey, I’ve shot during the day on the desert, I’ve
shot at night, I shot in the rain, I shot at the top of
the mountain. When you shoot every week, you complete project
after project, it’s a great way to establish your
voice. You get a lot more hands-on experience than any
As far as the pure mechanics of making a big movie, how
do you think that background affects your approach?
The first “Charlie’s Angels” was big-show,
there were a lot more 18-wheelers, craft service was a
lot bigger and so were the costume trailers, the whole
nine yards. But it was basically everything that I’d
seen beforetime. There was no intimidation factor. It’s
not like being a writer and all of a sudden you’re
a director and you don’t know your way around the
camera or where you’re supposed to sit or where you
want your video playback guys or how you want the sound
to be captured – you really get a lot of hands-on
III. CRISPIN, DEMI,
JOHN CLEESE and
the BERNIE BOSLEY
Let’s talk about the cast – I know you’ve
got Crispin Glover returning for the sequel.
Yeah, he’s so cool. Who else can steal a movie without
saying a word? Crispin Glover and Robert Patrick in “Terminator
I imagine he’s very
intense where the martial arts are concerned.
You can’t imagine the intensity. If you’re
supposed to train from 9 o’clock in the morning to
5 o’clock at night, he’ll be there from 8:45 ‘til
5:15. If you want to talk about wardrobe or physicality,
about voice – any nuance you could imagine, he’s
there to spend as much time as he needs to.
He wrote a manifesto on his character! A
top-to-bottom manifesto on the character of the Thin Man.
We get involved
in his back story in the sequel. He was the child of
a Romanian circus troupe that was lost in a tragic forest
fire, and he survived for years on roots and insects.
was taken in by nuns, and through a series of bizarre
haircuts he evolved a hair fetish.
I understand John Cleese
plays Lucy Liu’s dad?
Well, naturally, you look at nearly 7-foot-tall, Anglo-Saxon
John Cleese and immediately you think – that’s
Lucy Liu’s dad. [laughs] I kid about the physicality,
but I look at Lucy Liu’s character, Alex, and the
screen presence that John Cleese brings and I do understand
the synergy of those two personalities, how one could
be the offspring of the other. It just makes for some
great humorous moments. He thinks his daughter’s
a neurosurgeon and through the misguided explanation
of her boyfriend he comes to believe that she’s
So you’ve set him
up for some of that great Basil Fawlty-like befuddlement.
This is a comeback for Demi Moore, after being away for
Here you have a woman, she’s got three children and
she goes toe-to-toe with Cameron Diaz in a bikini. She’s
got a lot of guts, and she’s comfortable in her own
skin. I can’t speak highly enough about her. She’s
so committed and such a joy to be around. She has such
respect for me and the three other Angels, and it was really
Did she gel well with the other actresses?
You can’t not gel well with the other actresses!
They all have this gift where you feel like you’re
best friends if you hang out for 10 minutes. I hang out
with Drew, Cameron and Lucy and 10 minutes later I feel
like I’m at home. I can say anything, I can do anything,
I can be myself and don’t need to put on any false
airs. I think that comfort level comes across on the screen
and makes people want to get involved in the picture.
And yet … when the first film was made there was
talk about friction between Lucy Liu and Bill Murray, your
original Bosley. And Murray’s not in the sequel.
So what happened there?
I … well, the problems weren’t really what
people made them out to be. It was just more a function
of passion for the project. You don’t want anybody
walking through their performance, phoning it in. And we
would get into some heated conversations about what way
the scene should go and that was one of my growing experiences
as a director. As director, you need to inspire the confidence
of the actors and by any means necessary make sure your
vision is fulfilled.
And so Bernie Mac is Bosley’s … brother?
The Bosleys are actually African-American, and Bill Murray
was brought in sort of like Steve Martin in “The
Jerk.” They’re a family of detective geniuses,
we learn that from this new Bosley.
And Jaclyn Smith – you’ve
finally got a classic Angel on board.
Jaclyn is an amazing lady – that was the most emotional
day of the whole shoot when she showed up. We felt very
honored to have her in our midst. I’m convinced that
she’s Dorian Gray because she looks so beautiful,
so young and healthy. She’s just fantastic.
VI. SECRETS of
How did the three Angels take to the martial arts training?
The girls just dove into it and insisted on doing all their
own stunt work, taking all the bruises and the bang-ups
that go with that. You can’t believe how uncomfortable
it is to get into these harnesses and fight with other
actors and stuntmen – the level of contact is incredible.
Were there notable differences in the way they approached
their fight scenes?
We designed fight choreography to reflect their respective
styles. Lucy Liu has an extensive yoga background, so she
has a very elegant stance, and she brought an almost Eastern
mysticism to every movement that she does. Drew’s
whole thing is more tough, gritty street girl, and Cameron
comes at it from Olympic athlete capabilities.
Drew and Cameron, after the first movie
wrapped, they went skydiving because they felt like it!
That’s who they
are – they’re nuts!
Cameron Diaz is Olympic athlete material?
You can’t believe what an athlete she is! She’s
fast, she’s strong and powerful and very, very fit – she’s
very focused on her fitness right now, I know she sees
a trainer regularly. She plays tennis, she climbs rocks – she’s
just very much into challenging herself.
And the skydiving? Cameron mentioned that
she was disappointed because she wanted to experience more
fear when she was
skydiving. She’s so gonzo.
It’s been said that the martial arts for first “Charlie’s
Angels” film were even better choreographed than “The
Matrix’s.” Where was the decision made that
you were going to, for lack of a better term, “martial-arts
up” the “Angels”?
Drew was very passionate about not using guns and I thought,
well, in the absence of guns we’re going to need
an exciting fighting style. And I’m a huge fan of ‘70s
Hong Kong cinema. “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and “Drunken
Master” and all those great movies. “Once Upon
a Time in China.” I was making music videos at the
time with Quentin Tarantino at his company, A Band Apart.
He educated me to a large degree on the greatness of that
period in Hong Kong and I thought, hey, wouldn’t
it be great if we brought that to these girls, it’s
really original and no one’s ever seen it.
How is the stunt work different in the second film?
We just went for a lot more grit in the second film. The
fighting style’s a lot more reminiscent of “Raging
Bull” than “Crouching Tiger.” The bad
guys they confront in this one can really hurt them and
the girls pull themselves up by their bootstraps and
keep on tickin’. That’s where I think the
charm comes from – they don’t just dish it
out, they take it, too. They’re just too tough
V. NEW OUTFITS,
It seems that there’s two ways you can go with a
sequel – you can go bigger and more bombastic, or
you sort of deepen your exploration into the characters.
So which way did you go here?
We chose to get much more involved with the personal lives
of the girls. Everybody in this picture has a secret and
we reveal what those secrets are. It’s the sort of
thing that happens in life, where you have a best friend
but then 10 years into your relationship you find out something
about them you never knew – and your jaw hits the
ground because you’re shocked to hear it.
Naturally we’re going to be a little bit bigger with
the action and the fun and the whole cinematic experience.
But how do you top a film that featured nubile women climbing
around on helicopters?
By having nubile women in burlesque dance numbers and dancing
to M.C. Hammer, jumping from trucks that fall off 2,000-foot
dam faces, flying down in Batsuits from the top of Hollywood
high-rises chasing a very, very committed Demi Moore!
The first film wasn’t lacking in that sort of variety,
though. You went out of your way to put the girls in as
many different environments as possible – race tracks
and dance clubs and all sorts of different costumes, very
much in the spirit of the TV show.
I think that sort of movement is critical. I like to tell
stories through movement rather than exposition, using
untraditional vehicles to propel the story forward, and
I think the key element is that the Angels are virtually
never in the same place twice. With a new environment you
get to have new outfits and new adventures, new fun. The
Angels go to Mongolia, they get to be mascots in heavy
furry suits, they get to dance around in their underwear,
they jump off buildings.
VI. CHARLIE’S MUSIC:
The ULTIMATE MIX TAPE
The soundtrack for the
first film was really impressive – what
can we expect to hear in the sequel?
We’re trying to have three singles go into the marketplace
at the same time. We have a rock & roll single, Kid
Rock and Nickleback doing “Saturday Night’s
Alright for Fighting,” and then Pink is doing an
original song that’ll be the lead single, and we
want a hip hop single as well, and I’m trying to
talk Dr. Dre into doing a song for us, but he’s so
How do you choose music for the movie?
I can see scenes with music playing in my head! I love
the idea of a movie sounding like your favorite tape
that a friend gives to you. That you and I can go out
on a Saturday night and just listen to it in the car
and enjoy every song. This time, there’s everything
from the Beach Boys to the theme from “Born Free,” to
the theme from “Ice Castles” to Prodigy to
Rage Against the Machine. It’s all over the place.
So do you just pick the music you want and then just throw
it at someone else to try and get the rights?
Sort of, yeah. That’s the headache of the music supervisor.
Sometimes it’s difficult – you can’t
always get what you want and I’m very particular
about the music I put in. We treat music as a character.
I want you to be able to just turn your eyes off and listen
to the movie, and have it have perfect storytelling clarity.
VII. EVEL, WHEELS & THE
MAN OF STEEL
So, what about other projects?
I understand that at one time, before the “Angels” sequel, you were
developing a Navy warship film called “Dreadnought”?
I was circling that film prior to “Charlie’s
Angels” with producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher,
very close friends of mine. But I had to make the choice
between that and “Charlie,” and I had to choose “Charlie” – the
girls and I had made a sacred midnight promise to each
other that if we decided to come back we’d all come
back. Now they’re making it with [“Swordfish” director]
Dominic Sena and Vin Diesel, and I hope it’s gonna
be great for them.
But I am attached to an Evel Knievel movie,
very excited about – I want to make it kind of like “Raging
Bull.” I’m infatuated with stories about human
lives where what makes the individual great is what’s
behind his or her ultimate undoing.
Then Sony and I got together and we’re going to make
a film version of “Hot Wheels.” We’ve
got a deal with Mattel. It’s going to be in the spirit
of all the great car movies of yesteryear, the ones that
Steve McQueen and Paul Newman made famous. And we’re
gonna have a lot of “Mad Max”/”Road Warrior” stuff
You were up for the “Superman” film that’s
been in development, like, forever at Warner’s.
J.J. Abrams [creator of TV’s “Alias”]
and I worked together on the script. Then the film got
greenlit – you know, I’m talking to them about
that still. Warner Bros. and I are trying to figure out
if it’s right for them, if it’s right for me,
and we’re talking about it.
Any idea how your version might differ from, say, what
Brett Ratner was considering doing with it?
Well, the story I want to tell is founded in the Bible
and Shakespeare and the great myths. It’s a very
dramatic undertaking, about fathers and sons, strangers
finding family in non-blood relationships.
When you come on to a project
like “Superman” that’s
been in development with so many people, are you saddled
with a script that’s been rewritten a hundred times
or do you bring in your own writers?
I was very strong early on in bringing on J.J., because
I’m a big fan of his. He came on board and delivered
beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. We developed
the idea of three films, told in three equal installments,
splitting time between Krypton and Earth, which is very
exciting. He’s still on the picture and if I were
to move forward with that, I’d be delighted to work
VIII. TANYA ROBERTS
WALL OF FAME
You watched the show when
you were a kid …
So who was your favorite Angel?
I don’t think I can say that, in all fairness. But
I did have a favorite Angel, like the next guy.
I always thought Tanya Roberts was very underrated as
Tanya Roberts was fantastic! But don’t discount Shelley
Hack! [laughs] Tanya Roberts, what a beautiful woman. We
have a “Angels Hall of Fame,” a wall of honor,
and the picture of Tanya Roberts on it is extraordinary.
We also have other Angels from the ‘80s and the ‘90s,
like Sharon Stone and Whitney Houston and Jodie Foster.
Janet Jackson. Darryl Hannah. Sandra Bullock.
I didn’t realize they were all
They were all Angels. That stuff just happened off screen.