Looks To Top His Blockbuster Action-Comedy
by Dawn Taylor
(read the print 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.”
So your actual, full name is Joseph McGinty
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, California?
Largely, yes. 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?
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 you girls?
Not really. (laughs) I would go and
do a version of Marvin Gaye’s “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 ten million records.
So is that what you would call your personal
stroke of luck there, working with Mark McGrath?
I have been best friends since
we were eight. We went through all our phases together – break-dancing
and being in bands, playing basketball and just being infatuated
with any culture other than our own, the inherent culture
of suburban communities and planned tract housing. So I
was very 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 video.
We went out and stole a bunch of locations
and shot the video on 35mm film for about three or four
It ended up in the hands of Doug Morris, who was heading
up Atlantic Records in New York at the time. It was one
of those Cinderella stories – he just said, “Get
those guys out here, I want to give them a record deal.” 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.
At what point did you start thinking about
Always! I’ve always been a feature film fanatic,
I’ve always had an active Walter Mitty-sort of dream
life. I mean, I never really got the girl or was the big
strapping masculine guy, you know what I mean? So I lived
a lot through fantasy. I’d be my sisters’ dance
partner to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and rockin’ out
with my brother to Led Zeppelin. I always dreamed of my
favorite rock stars who were larger than life and my favorite
screen stars. And the movies that made me feel so much
emotion from E.T. to Star Wars, the Godfather series to
the Rocky movies – all those movies are the fabric
of who I am.
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
Being a music video director carries
an unfortunate stigma. 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 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 start and
stop and complete project after project, it’s a great
way to establish your voice. You get a lot more hands-on
experience than any film school. So if you can make that
transition, it’s a great way to develop a filmic
As far as the pure mechanics of making a
big movie, the nuts and bolts, how do you think that background
The first Charlie’s Angels was big show, there were
a lot more eighteen-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 before
time. 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 experience.
I understand you approached Drew Barrymore
Yeah, I knew she had Charlie’s Angels and I knew
she was a rock-and-roll fan. At the time I was very much
involved with the rock-and-roll community, she was sort
of hanging out with a lot of bands – we had friends
in common. I thought, I’ll bet if I could speak to
her 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 they 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 sort of 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?
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
at the helm of a serious enterprise.
So there must have been
a fair amount of trepidation on your part, I’d
imagine, your first feature film being such a huge project.
a lot of stress in a lot of areas in my life, but that
was not stressful for me.
I had such a clear vision
of what I wanted the film to be, and was so comforted and
supported by Drew – and by Leonard and Nancy, and
son after by the studio – that I just went forward
and went for it. When Cameron agreed to come on, Bill Murray
came on, everything started to come together, we knew we
were sitting on something special.
understand you’re a big fan
of Hong Kong action flicks?
So working with Yuen Woo Ping and his crew
must have been a dream come true.
Yeah – we worked with Woo Ping, but we worked more
directly with Cheung-Yan Yuen, his brother. Cheung-Yan
did the first and second Charlie’s but they’re
a team – it’s one big team.
How did the three Angels take to the martial
The girls just dove into it ands 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.
The girls were getting so banged up, but the adrenaline
rush was so exciting and they were so thrilled with the
way the dailies looked day in and day out that they just
kept bangin’ and making it happen. They did even
more in the second one.
Were there notable differences in the way
they approached their fight scenes?
It was great – they always wore the harnesses, they
wanted to be flown around by the Chinese wire team for
all the kung fu stuff, and 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
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?
can’t believe what an athlete she is! She’s
as fast as you can imagine, 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. I look at her and I go, “Are
It’s been said that the martial arts
for first Charlie’s
Angels film were even better choreographed than The Matrix.
Where was the decision made that you were going to, for
lack of a better term, “martial-arts up” the
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, like
you said, of 70’s 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 it we brought that to these girls, it’s
really original and no one’s ever seen it.
If you’re going to
have anyone teach you about Hong Kong cinema, I imagine
would be the guy.
Oh, but be careful! You better have four
How is the stunt work different in the second
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 to quit.
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 ten 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
The first film wasn’t lacking in that sort of variety,
though. It seemed that 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. I like
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.
That embodies the dream of a life more extraordinary
than the one most of us live, where we spend the night
night in the same spot and go to work every day in
the same spot, reside in mini-mall culture and eat in chain
restaurants. The Angels go to Mongolia, they get to
mascots in heavy furry suits, they get to dance around
in their underwear, they get to jump off buildings.
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?
and Robert Patrick
in "Terminator 2".
very intense where the martial arts are concerned.
You can’t imagine the intensity. He’s committed
100 percent. If you’re supposed to train from nine
o’clock in the morning to five o’ clock at
night, he’ll be there from 8:45 ‘til 5:15.
If you want to talk about wardrobe or physicality, if you
want to talk about voice – any nuance you could possibly
imagine, he is there to spend as much time as he needs
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 brought in by nuns and through a series of bizarre
haircuts he evolved a hair fetish.
And he came up with this?
It was, ah, a collaboration.
You mentioned Robert
Patrick – he’s
in the film, as well, isn’t he? Playing a marshal
saved by the Angels at the top of the film?
He’s one of my favorite guys in the world! All we
did was talk about old Camaros, what we were doing to take
the engines higher and how we wanted to go out and race
around the hills of Malibu, zipping through the canyon.
He was such a joy to be around, he’s such an earnest
actor. He’s just a guy who’s really part of
I understand John Cleese
plays Lucy Liu’s
Well, naturally, you look at nearly seven-foot-tall,
Anglo-Saxon John Cleese and immediately
you think – that’s
Lucy Liu’s dad. (laughs)
How did that casting come about?
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 a prostitute.
So you’ve set him
up for some of that great Basil Fawlty-like befuddlement.
This is kind of a comeback for Demi Moore,
after being away for awhile.
What can I say? Here you have
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 cool – we felt like
we were in the presence of somebody pretty doggone special.
Did she gel well with the other actresses?
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 ten minutes. I hang out
with Drew, Cameron and Lucy and ten 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, and I think that comfort levels comes across on the
screen and makes people want to get involves in the picture.
And yet … when the first film was made there was
a lot of 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.
You know, Bill Murray not being in the second
picture really has nothing to do with any friction. I just
wanted to add
more cultural reference to the picture, and I thought it
would be fun to send a message that says, hey, you don’t
have to be white, WASP-y Anglo to reside in Charlie’s
Angels world. Lucy Liu is of Chinese descent and Cameron
Diaz is actually half Cuban and Bernie Mac is African-American,
and it’s saying that everybody’s invited. Young,
old, male, female, of any ethnicity – get in the
back of this convertible and let’s kick ass.
So Bernie Mac is Bosley’s … brother?
And the Bosleys are actually African-American, and Bill
Murray was brought in sort of like Steve Martin in
"The Jerk". The Bosleys are a family of detective geniuses,
we learn that from this new Bosley. And they come to adopt
a new little Anglo white kid, and we suspect that he will
become the next Bosley generation.
So how is it working every day with Bernie
Mac? Because he is insanely hilarious.
He represents a life
I can fairly say is totally foreign to everybody else
in the picture. Bernie’s
bringing a Chicago energy, a more gritty, urban energy.
He’s had personal tragedy in his life that he’s
had to overcome, he’s very, very spiritual and he
inspires on a great many levels. His whole platform is,
get your house right and then your life will get right,
and it all grows from your home life.
What can you say about Bernie Mac? Ask anybody
ever come across this guy – he’ll have you
shooting macaroni and cheese out your nose from laughing
so hard, then he’ll flip it and go into an emotional
place where you want to be next to him and talk until the
sun comes up. He’s a rare guy.
You’ve got some interesting cameos – Sam Rockwell’s
let it slip that he’ll be showing up. Even though
his character’s dead.
Yeah, but he doesn’t reprise his role as Eric Noxon.
Unless we find out later that he was doing some secret
recon on the Angels (laughs). He’s there, and the
Olsen twins show up.
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.
You watched the show when
you were a kid …
So who was your favorite Angel?
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 an Angel.
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
Jackso. Darryl Hannah. Sandra Bullock.
I didn’t realize
they were all Angels, too.
They were all Angels. That stuff just happened
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 and roll single, and we
have 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?
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?
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
So when you do music videos to tie in to
the movie. Do you oversee that as well?
To some degree.
Drew and I try to be
as creatively hands-on as possible in regards to the
outdoor campaign – what
the music videos will be, what the soundtrack cover art
looks like, what the poster will look like, what the TV
spots look like. There’s a great team that we work
with here at Sony. Drew has a deal here and I have a deal
here and everybody’s very collaborative. We all try
to be the beneficiaries of everybody’s great ideas.
At least that’s the intention.
So, what about other projects?
I understand that at one time, before the Angels sequel,
you were developing
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 made 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 decided to come back we’d all come back,
all for one and one for all. Now they’re making it
with Dominique 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 that which makes the individual
behind his or her ultimate undoing. The 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 in it.
You were up for the Superman
film that’s been in
development, like, forever at Warner’s.
and I worked together on the script. Then the film got
greenlit – you know, I’m talking
to them about that still. It’s probably inappropriate
to say that’s either moving forward or not, because
we’re just talking to each other about it right now.
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?
the story I want to tell is founded
in the Bible and Shakespeare and the great myths. It’s
a very, very dramatic undertaking, about fathers and
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 re-written 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