Writer-director Richard Shepard filmed the entire movie in Mexico City, helping keep production costs under the $10 million budget. At different times the city stood in for Colorado, Budapest, Vienna and Arizona.
The Matador addresses the unlikely friendships that develops between an aging assassin, Julian Noble (Brosnan), and a struggling salesman, Danny Wright (Kinnear), who meet in a hotel bar in Mexico City.
Julian Noble would never be confused with James Bond, but since the two characters handle guns and live dangerously, comparisons are bound to be made.
Brosnan, who also produced the movie under Irish DreamTime, insists he did not latch onto the script hoping to erase his Bond persona.
"I thought it was very play-like and I liked that it was a kind of ensemble of three people. I love the twists and turns and the flamboyance, the sheer vulgarian way of Julian Noble’s mouth. I thought it had good character and I thought it had good heart," he says.
A matador is the main bullfighter who is given the task of killing the bull. There is a bullfight in the movie, but thanks to some skilled editing, Brosnan did not have to witness one for real. "I don’t want to see it. Didn’t go near it. The mythology of the bullfighter and the metaphor of it, I thought it was well used in the film by Richard, [but] to actually see one go down, no desire," Brosnan says.
The production had to take safety precautions while filming because kidnapping is an issue in Mexico City, says Shepard, who had filmed there before. The actors had bodyguards and were discouraged from exploring the city on their own at night.
"It’s a dangerous city in terms of it’s not like you can just walk down the street in the middle of the night and feel free," Shepard remarks. However, according to the director, the vibrancy and energy of Mexico City had an intangible impact on the set.
"I mean this honestly, I don’t think the movie would have been as good if we shot it in Hollywood, because of the proximity to the press and the actors’ agents and managers," he says. "We were down in Mexico. No one wanted to visit us," and that isolation gave the cast a sense of freedom. "And it was also a story about loneliness and when you’re on location in a strange city it helps," Shepard adds.
"It’s only a three-hour flight, but it feels like a far away place," agrees Kinnear. "It’s a beautiful, beautiful city, and it’s really a great character in the movie the way David Tattersall shot it, but I think that it felt like, while we were doing it, anything was possible down there," Kinnear says.
Being in Mexico City certainly had other advantages for the actors.
"By the end of the movie, we didn’t even deal with the margarita mix or any of that stuff anymore; we were just down to the tequila. A couple of Irish guys in a movie together – that’s combustible," Kinnear says.
While Kinnear and Brosnan were sampling different varieties of tequila, costar Hope Davis – who was eight weeks pregnant – was just trying to keep her food down.
"That part was really rough. Thank God I had Greg and Pierce who were so … they made me laugh so many times and really took me out of myself," she says.
For scenes in Colorado, Shepard had to create a snowy landscape in a suburban neighborhood.
"You try getting snow in Mexico City in April," says Shepard, who had a snow-making machine driven in from L.A. "We used all the ice in Mexico. You couldn’t get a margarita in Mexico that night," he adds. One night the whole neighborhood and the local mayor came out to watch the actors film in the snow, recalls Kinnear.
"All these kids were just looking at us in our big fur coats with snow everywhere, and they must’ve just thought Mars had landed on Earth," he says.
The Matador is currently in theatres.