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Traveling salesman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) had no idea his life was going to change when he met Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan), "a facilitator of fatalities," in a Mexico City bar. Although they have nothing in common, they are both facing life-changing decisions, and become bonded forever as the twists and turns of a fickle fate are revealed. Writer/director Richard Shepard spins the hit-man film around and turns it on its comic head, mixing genres and spoofing everything from buddy films to our expectations of hired killers. Co-starring Hope Davis, Phillip Baker Hall, Adam Scott and Dylan Baker.
 

 The Matador

It started with a mustache. I make drawings in the notebook that I write my screenplays in, and my first sketch of Julian Noble had him with spiky hair and mustache. His hair was graying, his skin leathery. He had gold chains and wore a Members Only jacket. Julian was, as I saw him, a sexual animal. Sleeping with women, men, whoever was available. He was a scoundrel. A bastard. He was completely irredeemable. And then Pierce Brosnan called.

I was all set to make The Matador as an ultra cheap DV movie. Thought a dark comedy about a scoundrel and a bastard could only be made that way. But then Mr. Brosnan called me in the middle of the afternoon while I was doing what any self-respecting unemployed writer does in the middle of the afternoon, watching Oprah in my underwear, and said “I want to produce and star in your movie.” Most would be doing a jig at that point. River-dancing in their boxers. I was happy, make no mistake. I had toiled in the nether regions of barely released independent movies for a long time. I needed a break, and this was it. But I was also worried. In my script, Julian Noble was one rough customer. Funny, sleazy and rude. There was a heart of gold under Julian’s gold chains, but it was buried deep. Pierce Brosnan on film was slick and handsome and devilishly charming. He could definitely find and exploit the heart of gold aspect, but he wasn’t, at first blush, an obvious choice for a character who tells little kids to “fuck off,” screws whores of dubious gender in Manila brothels, and parades drunk through hotel lobbies in only a black Speedo and cowboy boots. So Pierce and I met. We talked. Pierce is as charming in real life as on screen, and he convinced me that he was at a point in his career where he was ready to play Julian Noble, warts and all. And then I mentioned the mustache. I mentioned the mustache and got a long, silent reply from the man who was now starring in, and producing, my movie. I mentioned the gold chains. The gray in the hair. The skinny body with a pot belly look I saw for Julian. Pierce sat poker-faced. Charming, of course, but poker-faced nonetheless. I left the meeting shaken, not stirred.

A few days later his producing partner called me. She suggested that the mustache, the gray spiky hair and sleazy sexual attitude all might be a bit too much for Pierce’s fan base to handle. He was Pierce Brosnan after all. He could still be sleazy, she suggested, but in a non-sleazy way. “Kinda like The Thomas Crown Affair,” she offered. I held my ground. I told her to read the script she had bought and championed again. “This concept for the character shouldn’t come as a shock to you guys. It’s all there on the page. It’s what you responded to,” I reminded her. “But it says nothing about a mustache,” she replied. It wasn’t that Pierce didn’t want a challenge. He definitely wanted to break out of his Bond-type roles. He wanted to stretch, impress and have fun. But he was surrounded by very smart people who made their livings by Pierce playing it safe. Those safe movies paid him a lot. Ours paid him nothing. Those safe movies were directed by experienced hands. I was just a schmuck who watched Oprah in his underwear. He wanted to change his image, that’s why he responded to the dark comedy and weird heart of my script, but he was surrounded by people scared of him actually doing it. Resistance came from all fronts. His people secretly hoped that I was going to make a Pierce Brosnan movie that was not a Pierce Brosnan movie in any way, but would make as much money as a Pierce Brosnan movie if one were to make a Pierce Brosnan movie that in no way was a Pierce Brosnan movie but still felt like a Pierce Brosnan movie. Somehow they thought that this was possible if Pierce looked his usual slick self, wore tailored suits, and did not have a mustache on his million dollar face. I thought that was impossible. The mustache itself was secondary. It was the point of view. The vibe of what kind of movie this could really be. It was New York versus Hollywood. It was punk rock versus Thomas Crown easy listening. In my mind it wasn’t about the actual mustache anymore. It was whether this was going to be a “studio safe” movie, or something more interesting. Whether Pierce was going to really go for it, or not. Whether it was going to be my vision or theirs.

Two weeks before production was to start I flew from location scouting in Mexico City to L.A. for a rehearsal of the script with Pierce and his co-stars Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis. Everything was coming to a boil. In my mind, the tone, the ability for the film to go from novelty item to piece of art was resting on whether Pierce was going to find it in his heart to let everything go and trust me. Then he walked in.... Walked in with a spiky crew cut speckled with gray, and a particularly sleazy mustache. He had done it on his own. Against advice from his producer, from his agents and managers. I smiled and hugged him. Our movie, I knew at that instant, was going to work. Pierce, god bless him, had decided not to play it safe. Later, at Sundance, Roger Ebert would write that The Matador was “Funny, quirky and sad, and wonderfully well-acted.... Everything centers on the best performance Pierce Brosnan has ever given.” Ebert did not mention the mustache, but I hear the furry little thing has signed with CAA and has a two picture deal at Sony. Just a rumor.