Colin Farrell has a great new movie under his belt and couldn't be more contented with a life far removed from his earlier hellraising days
NOT all actors are stars, and not all stars are actors. Rarely do the twain meet. But they do in Colin Farrell. That the 36-year-old Dubliner is a star is beyond debate, but he is also one of the most talented actors on the big screen today. When he walks into the room, the atmosphere shifts. There is little doubt that you are in the presence of a bona fide celebrity – all eyes are drawn to him despite the fact that when he walks through the door it is without pomp or fuss. When he sits down to talk to me, we have a proper chat; although he is a huge star he is ordinary, unassuming and friendly – it's like meeting some nice bloke (albeit a very good-looking one) at a cousin's wedding. In simple jeans and a T-shirt, clean-shaven and with short hair, he could be any guy, and it's this ability to appear average that sets him apart and lets him fully inhabit the characters he plays.
I met Farrell primarily to talk about his latest film, Seven Psychopaths, a comedy in which he plays Marty, a boozy screenwriter with writer's block (he's trying to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths). The movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh and this is Farrell's second collaboration with the award-winning writer, (the first was In Bruges in 2008). Farrell says that working with McDonagh "is so much fun on so many levels ... from the language to the way he shapes voice and characters, it's very distinctly different from any other writer's work ... there is a deep emotional current that makes it more significant and more profound than just a trick of smarter better writing. There's nobody like him really."
Seven Psychopaths has an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. Farrell was somewhat star-struck meeting Walken, whose films he grew up watching. "I've been at this racket (acting) for 13 or 14 years but it's not like you get on set and it's like (he adopts a dismissive tone) 'there's Christopher Walken', you know there's a kid in you that always stays there and it's f***ing mortifying to be on a set with him, but in a really lovely way. I loved working with him, he's such a f***ing cool man, really sweet, really kind and really ... " Farrell pauses for a few moments before finally saying "different" and laughing.
"He's really uncommon, all of us are kind of versions of each other in greater or lesser form and we all rub off each other in certain ways. I don't know who the f*** rubbed off him and what made him what he is, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. More than anyone, he's like nobody I've ever met."
In 2000, the relatively unknown Farrell, who had previously had some small parts on film and in television (including Ballykissangel), exploded into the public consciousness in Joel Schumacher's Tigerland. With his undoubted talent and his strikingly handsome looks, the 24-year-old became hugely famous.
Fame was quickly followed by infamy, as Farrell became notorious for partying, boozing, taking drugs, sleeping with scores of glamorous women and appearing in a sex tape. The man who sits in front of me could not be more different from the tearaway who conquered Hollywood. After making Miami Vice, Farrell checked into rehab in December 2005 and has been sober since. Healthy-living suits him – he looks far younger than his 36 years and I tell him he looks fabulous. "Thanks," he says, looking delighted, "I feel good. I'm genuinely so happy that I don't do it any more, I really am," he says smiling. "Everything in my life, every experience be it fear or joy or upset or pain or uncertainty or excitement, all the good, all the bad, it's all fully experienced and I love that. I get off on it big time."
Recalling his days of wild abandon, he says: "I stayed in that ring for too long."
These days, he has little time for partying as his schedule is filled with work and time with his two sons James, 9, and Henry, 3. "I've learned from other actors who went before me and I try to be as much part of their lives as I can so that neither of them can say at the age of 18 'ah he was good fun – when he was around'. To be around enough to be considered a pain in the arse by the boys – that would be brilliant." Farrell, the youngest of four, was born in 1976 and grew up in Castleknock, Dublin. As the baby of the family, he admits he had things easier than his older siblings who, unlike him, were "as good as gold".
"By the time I was grown up, the rules that dictated certain behaviours within the Farrell household were being cast aside," he says with a smile. After attending three different secondary schools he was "f***ed out" of the final one, Bruce College, a few months before the Leaving Certificate.
"The first two years at Castleknock College, I wouldn't say I was a perfect student, but I think I gave it a go," he explains. "Then third year, fourth year and fifth year were a f***ing disaster." When he was eventually asked to leave Bruce College for threatening a member of staff, he was relieved rather than anxious.
"I took to Sheehan's (pub) and had a couple of pints," he recalls laughing. "It was great, it was a long time coming, I thought 'At last! Thank f*** that's over with'." In retrospect, his attitude appals him.
Again, there is a contrast, for a man who was not academically inclined he is obviously highly intelligent, articulate, a voracious reader and shows a keen curiosity about a variety of subjects. During our conversation he demonstrated his wide-ranging interests by referencing subjects as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and the pop culture reality show Celebrity Big Brother. (I don't know why, but the idea of Colin Farrell sitting at home watching Celebrity Big Brother seems utterly bizarre, though far less bizarre than the idea of him reading a literary classic.) It's easy seeing why Farrell cuts such a swathe through the opposite sex.
Not only is he ridiculously good-looking (yes, that old cliche, he is even better looking in real life), famous and rich but he's innately charismatic and charming. During the time I spent with him he was quietly solicitous, making sure to fill my glass before his own (we were both on the water) and appeared to be genuinely interested in my opinion.
At that point he hadn't seen the final cut of Seven Psychopaths and quite nervously inquired "Is it any good?" He appeared both relieved and genuinely thrilled when I said it was brilliant. (It is brilliant; I wasn't just trying to keep in with the star).
There are quite a few references to heaven and hell in the film; does Farrell believe in these concepts?
He takes a moment to consider his answer, then says: "I don't know about such things but I believe there's very little that could be experienced in another realm that can't be experienced here with enough focus, determination and patience. I'm sure there are people who are experiencing a veritable hell on the planet right now and there are those who are living in great peace and happiness and great joy that's not necessarily dictated by their economic or monetary status or even by their health."
Speaking of hell on earth, I ask him how he would feel if either of his sons followed him into 'the business'. Surprisingly, he wouldn't mind.
"Whatever they want to be," he said, "In an ideal world they'll find something that they apply themselves to because they have interest, curiosity or passion for."
When I express surprise and say that the movie industry is a very cut-throat business, he laughs. "Being a human being is a very cut-throat business – check any school yard. Trying to find your place in society, trying to find where you fit in ... "
He's not gone on Facebook or Twitter either. "It would be too easy to get lost in. I have such an addictive personality, although I would have had worse addictions in my life," he laughs, but then adds: "I think it's too easy to say things you don't mean (on the internet). It's too easy to be negative because you're not responsible or culpable. I'm over bullying. I'm over people saying mean things. I'm over cynicism. I am really f***ing tired of it, sick of it; I just want everyone to have fun. I know it sounds puerile and innocent and naive, but f*** me, I'm glad I have no time for meanness."
In Seven Psychopaths, Farrell's character Marty is a bit fond of the jar and there are several references to alcoholism being a particularly Irish disease. Farrell laughs: "If alcoholism was sole property of the Irish people the world would be a lot more of a nice place. But it's not. You can fly to any country in the world and within 20 minutes of arriving find yourself in an AA meeting if you so desire." He has no regrets about sobering up when he did.
"I literally can't believe how much freedom I have in my life now that I'm not chasing it (alcohol). I was a 'divil', I'm not boasting because I can look at it now like it's someone else. It's a very distinctive chapter that the page got turned on."
I ask him if he feels sorry for 'that guy', the old Colin, the drinker, partier, carouser – the wild man who was trapped by his addictions and compulsions. "No," he replies emphatically, "that's dangerous. I feel for that guy and I'm glad I'm not him. He was awful sad and confused and felt like a worthless piece of shit. I don't claim to be the king of anything," he says with a wide smile "even my own thoughts, but I'm OK with myself, and to be OK, truly OK with yourself, is a pretty big deal".
'Seven Psychopaths' is due to be released on December 7