Colin Farrell: 'You don't want to be making s***'
The Irish actor has settled down and, he tells Ross McDonagh, is now embracing roles which pack an emotional punch
Published 23/02/2014 | 02:30
Whatever happened to Colin f***ing Farrell? That hot young Irish tearaway who dated Playboy models and popstars, dined on drugs and drink between vacations at rehab, and wouldn't star in a film unless he was shooting, stabbing or punching someone?
Different time, different man. These days, he is more likely to be snapped with his two sons, his roles pack punches of the emotional kind, and the gossip surrounding him is of potential Oscars.
In his new film, 'A New York Winter's Tale', Farrell plays Peter Lake, an orphaned thief who falls in love with a dying girl he encounters while robbing her house ("What's the best thing you've ever stolen?" she asks him in the trailer. "I'm beginning to think I haven't stolen it yet," he replies).
The teaser also shows Colin fleeing from Irish baddie Pearly Soames, played by Russell Crowe, whose accent is, well, what did Colin think of it?
"[Laughing] Em, d'you know what, man? It's good actually. Did you see the trailer? There's a bit of Pikey in there and there is no doubt he'll get the piss ripped out of him for sure.
"But I was watching 'Scarface' a few months ago for the umpteenth time, and I mean, Pacino's accent in that – good luck. There's nothing Cuban about it at all.
"But you do find something – and this is not a waiver or a disclaimer – but you find that if an actor is committed, if what they do is complete and if there's a totality to its vision, and the experience of realising that vision, it doesn't matter so much if it's on the money
"What Russell did is complete. For me, for what I saw – and I haven't seen the film yet – it doesn't waver. It's consistent. And there's a lot to be said for that. It's bold and it's extreme, and as I said [slips into his best Pikey accent], there's a bit o' Pikey in it, yeh know? Oi been crushin' souls, yeh know?"
So why does Hollywood struggle so much with the Irish accent? "Because of Lucky Charms," Colin says. "I think that for the foreign ear, there is a quintessentially Irish sound. And it is overly lyrical to anything that exists now in Ireland.
"It's also just easier to travel west from Europe to America 'cause we grew up with American television. I had from 'TJ Hooker' to 'The A-Team', to 'The Muppet Show', you name it. I grew up with American accents in television all around me.
"The Americans really do grow up with, 'You're not stealing me Lucky Charms' and 'diddly-dye' type of stuff. I think the trap people fall into is, they make it more musical than it may be, you know?"
There is a conception in Hollywood that Farrell has a tough guy persona because all Irish guys are tough – they grow up wrestling giants and farming with our bare hands, apparently. But that's not how Colin remembers it.
"I didn't grow up with tough guys around, to be honest. There's tough guys everywhere, but when I was 12, 13, 14, I grew up in a middle-to-upper class background, so I was known as a bit of a poshy.
"Me and the lads that played football for Castleknock Celtic, we were kind of snobs. I didn't feel like that, but that's what we were told we were by other teams.
"We would go into what would be termed more working-class areas and we'd insult them for where they were from, and they'd insult us for where we were from. There were some pretty tough kids, but I certainly wouldn't be a tough guy.
"It depends on your definition of strength, I suppose. I see strength in different places now, at 37, than I used to see it. I see it less in posturing or in the need for combat. I see walking away from trouble or violence to be a greater and more difficult act of bravery."
It's easy to see where the tough guy view of Farrell comes from – he's almost typecast as one. From Jesse James in 'American Outlaws' to Bullseye in 'Daredevil', and from conquering worlds in 'Alexander' to punching checkout girls in 'Intermission'. He also filled Don Johnson's shoes in 'Miami Vice' and Arnold Schwarzenegger's in 'Total Recall'.
"I don't know why I've done so many films that have me chasing people or people chasing me," he says, "because I'm not a fan of guns, I don't like them at all.
"When I read 'A New York Winter's Tale', it was just beautifully written; a moving story. So I'm delighted I got to step away from 'revenge' and the quest to find one's identity set against the backdrop of world war – it's been more fun."
So when did he realise he had tired of movies with guns? "Probably short of about three or four more movies with guns. I've been saying to myself for about three or four years, 'I just don't wanna do any more films with guns', and then I end up doing a film and [sighs] f****** putting a clip in and [going to] the shooting range – not to get into a debate about movie violence and the effect it has on society 'cause that's a longer conversation than any of us have time to get into. But I just, you know, guns and violence just turn me off more and more.
"Maybe my taste is becoming a little more refined. Maybe, just more and more, I'm okay with finding human interaction and the status of a person's emotional and mental wellbeing, or lack thereof, far more interesting than plot contrivances or devices that inherently have good guys against bad guys.
'A New York Winter's Tale' does, of course, have good guys and bad guys. Russell Crowe is certainly in the latter category with all his "crushin' souls" antics, but as the film's tagline tells us, "This isn't a true story, it's a love story".
Set in both 1916 and modern day New York, it is love (and a very Tir na nOg white horse) that allows Farrell's character exist in both timelines, a power Colin very much believes in.
"If somebody passes away, the love that is felt or has been generated by that person while they were here remains in the people who survive," he says.
"If you listen to the words of Martin Luther King, the love he had for the potential of humanity to coexist in peace, understanding and compassion still remains. So his love still remains, like various other poets and artists. Me as a common person, us as common people, the love remains and survives our physical passing."
This is a different Colin Farrell but, despite his more serious roles, he doesn't take the job too seriously.
"I try to stay away from the grandiose ideas about film and the power it can have in society," he insists. "But I do think that film sometimes informs the way people think and feel about things in their lives.
He cites 'Saving Mr Banks', in which he played the alcoholic but loving father of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers.
"To see the reaction from people after seeing that film, and how moved they were – some guys I know who are kind of tough guys came out hiding their eyes.
"I think that's a good thing. I think feeling is a good thing as a human being. I was brought up to feel that emotions were weaknesses, that little children should be seen and not heard, all that kind of stuff. But feeling is good, whether it's anger, sadness or joy.
"What we do with emotion can end up being not such a good thing sometimes – particularly what we do with anger. It can end up being horribly destructive, but I don't think anger by itself has to be a destructive force. You can transmute anger into something else, into some form of self-learning."
'Saving Mr Banks' tells the story of Walt Disney's attempts to persuade the author to sell the Mary Poppins film rights, and Farrell had been tipped as an early Oscar contender for his performance.
How does that make him feel? "I dunno, it's cool to be in those conversations," he says. "I've been in plenty of conversations that haven't been as pleasant. I much prefer a pat on the back to a kick in the arse. If I need a kick in the arse, I've got two size 10s and I'm well able to give it to myself.
"I'm more proud to have been a supporting player in 'Saving Mr Banks' than I have been of a lot of the films that I've been the lead actor in. It's not about the size of the part or the ownership of the piece, it's just nice to be in something that people react to in a positive way.
"I really have respect for people who go to the cinema. Sometimes, they spend $30 on a nanny, $25 on tickets and $10 on candy. They're spending $70 or $80 on a night that's two or three hours away from the kids. So you don't really want to be making s***. I've nearly wanted to apologise for some of the stuff I've been in!"
One might think that when you get to Farrell's position, it doesn't really matter what you make because there will always be offers. Not so, he insists.
"How each film performs critically and commercially informs the level of opportunity you get. If you come off the back of something like 'In Bruges', you get some good opportunities, some interesting scripts. But then coming off the back of something like 'Total Recall', which didn't work commercially so much, and didn't work critically, the phone doesn't ring as much, or the scripts that come by might not be as interesting or as eclectic. I do get a lot of hero-gun type stuff, it's funny. Do I seem like a hero with a gun to you?" he asks. "I really don't.
"It's weird, I think the clearer I become in realising who I am as a fella, it helps me be more aware in making decisions.
"It's not that I won't do another film with guns ever, and it's not about a hard line in the sand, it's just down to what I find more interesting at the time."
One of the most interesting projects Colin has been attached to is 'Love/Hate'.
According to recent news stories "sources close to the star" revealed he is a huge fan of the Dublin crime series. "I got the box set, but I still have to check it out," he says. "I believe it's amazing."
But has he heard the rumours online that RTE is pitching it in the US, and that he is apparently interested?
"Oh really? Would I? Brilliant. Let's go with it then if that's what the internet says. I've no clue, man, genuinely. As I said, I haven't seen a lick of it, but I heard it's brilliant."
If the series makes the trip across the Atlantic, Colin hopes they keep the Irish angle. "That would be amazing," he says. "That would be incredible. I mean, there are Irish gangs here. Maybe that would be an interesting angle in New York?"
The internet rumour mill has linked the actor to a film version of the online fantasy role-playing game 'World of Warcraft', but it seems this rumour has legs.
"It's a great script," he enthuses. "I have no idea what they are doing with it, but Duncan Jones [director of the critically-acclaimed sci-fi film 'Moon' and son of David Bowie] wrote an amazing script. I don't know what the story is with funding. [Work has since started on the film.]
"Duncan, he's really bright, he's a f****** good writer. What he did with 'Moon' for £3million, or whatever, was amazing. If that film was to look the same but shot in Hollywood, it would cost $25million. His capabilities as a visual artist and as a narrative storyteller are incredibly impressive.
"And I saw a bit of artwork – it doesn't look that dissimilar to 'Lord of the Rings'."
It seems bizarre there could be all these rumours about a person online and they are oblivious to them. Doesn't Colin have any relationship with social media?
"I have very little relationship with social media," he replies. "It probably has more of a relationship with me than I have with it, not to be big-headed though, it wouldn't be hard to be honest with you.
"I don't Tweet, no Facebook. I try my best to keep up with email, but I fail miserably."
A New York Winter's Tale is in cinemas now