How often do you get a second chance at making a first impression? In Hollywood, it’s likely never.
“The joke, of course, is that you’re either a first-time filmmaker, or a last-time filmmaker,” says Richard Shepard, hoping his own career will be resurrected with The Matador, which he wrote and directed.
Pierce Brosnan stars in the film as a boozy hit man (an anti-Bond, if you will) who is losing his edge until a fateful meeting in a Mexican bar with a depressed businessman (Greg Kinnear) changes their lives in ways that neither could have imagined.
Shepard, as it turns out, knows what it’s like to lose your edge. “When I was 24, I was given this incredible opportunity to make a movie — you may have caught it at four in the morning on the USA Network [1991’s The Linguini Incident],” he says. “It was a romantic comedy starring Rosanna Arquette and David Bowie that was neither romantic, nor funny. As a result, at age 25, I found myself completely unemployable.”
So, how did a broke New Yorker, only recently fired from a scriptwriting assignment he had spent six months on, end up directing the retiring Bond?
First, he returned to New York, where he raised $60,000 and made the thriller Mercy (1996), starring Sam Rockwell. Next was the million-dollar Oxygen (1999), featuring a pre-Oscar Adrien Brody and Boston native Maura Tierney. “I clawed my way back and, ultimately, Pierce didn’t give a fuck what I made when I was 25,” Shepard says.
Now 37, Shepard was working on a black comedy “with a character that I thought no sane Hollywood actor would ever want to play” and preparing to make it for $250,000 when Brosnan’s production company was looking for a writer for The Thomas Crown Affair 2. “So I met with them, and halfway through the interview, they were like, ‘You know, you’re not going to get this writing job,’” he recalls. “And the topper was, ‘But we’d like to give this script to Pierce,’ which is code for: ‘We’re never going to speak to you again.’
“Two weeks later, I was doing what every unemployed writer does at four in the afternoon — I was watching Oprah in my underwear — when the phone rang. It was Pierce. He said, ‘Look, I’ve read your script. It’s totally twisted. I’d like to produce and star in it.’ And he was the first actor to read it!”
In the end, The Matador could change not only its characters’ lives but those of its creators in ways they never imagined. “I had my second chance, and I’ll never get a third,” says Shepard. “Pierce not only gets to skewer his perfectly put-together image” in the Golden Globe–nominated performance, “but he’s like a stray puppy by the end; he’s pathetic. And it’s funny! Fuck, it’s an acting showcase for him.”