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Monday 18 December 2017

Colin Farrell: Total rebirth

Colin Farrell
Colin Farrell

Paul Whitington

Wow, look at that, man, that's beautiful." Colin Farrell is admiring the sudden, almost sub-tropical, deluge that's currently pelting the neo-Georgian windows of Dublin's Four Seasons Hotel. When I tell him he might not be so inspired by constant rain if he still lived here, he laughs and says: "Yeah, I'm glad it didn't rain like that last night."

He's referring to the previous night's red carpet screening of his new film, Total Recall. A moody remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi hit, it stars Colin as a futuristic factory worker who becomes involved in an underground uprising against a monolithic super-state.

It's a big-budget action film, and the first such vehicle Farrell has fronted for some time, a clear sign that his career is in robust shape after a rocky period in the mid-2000s, where he became, by his own admission, disillusioned and was unfairly tainted by his involvement in Alexander and Miami Vice, both fairly spectacular box office flops.

Critics in the US have given Total Recall a mixed reception, but no one has anything but good things to say about Colin's performance.

"I've heard that some of the criticisms of our film were that it took itself too seriously," he tells me, "and that there wasn't the same kind of broad humour there was in the original. But that was a different film, you know?

"I think there was a kind of B-movie element to everything that Paul Verhoeven did, he was fascinated with the grotesqueness of violence to the point where it almost became humorous, there was an absurdist element to the first one but that was never going to work now, it's a different day and age.

"It was right for that time, right for that director and certainly right for that actor, Arnie.

"But the thing I really liked about this script and this film is that it really was attempting to make its own mark and be its own separate entity."

He did watch the original while shooting the new one, because he "wanted to see was it as much fun as I remembered -- and it kind of was. And there were things in the original that I would have nearly liked more of in the remake, but the part of me that was thinking that way was the 14 or 15-year-old, you know 'why can't we have stuff coming out of your man's belly' and so on!"

When you think about it, Colin Farrell is probably the most famous Irish film star there's ever been, a man who's dominated the Hollywood headlines for over a decade and worked with everyone from Spielberg and Terrence Malick to Woody Allen and Oliver Stone.

And yet he's only 36, an age when most film actors rise towards their peak.

Having survived that mild career slump in the mid-2000s, he's done some of his best work over the past four years or so, sometimes in smaller parts, and seems to have chosen his projects more carefully.

Was that a conscious thing?

"I think there really was a kind of line drawn in the sand after Miami Vice, in 2006, where to be honest with you I realised that I had begun to kind of disconnect from everything really, from the work and my life and from everything.

"I was just kind of bored, which was a shocking place to find myself, and disinterested in anything that was good in my life. I wasn't engaged with my family or my friends in the way that I am now.

"In a way success can be like a prison to live in -- now it's preferable to Mountjoy, it's a figurative prison I'm talking about -- but you can find yourself being trapped by trying to maintain this notion of success and staying on top of the heap and all that jazz.

"So when I came out of Miami Vice, I went 'Right, I'm either going to have to just completely knock it on the head, or I'm going to have to find a way of rediscovering what it was that made me want to do it in the first place'.

"To be honest, after Miami Vice there weren't as many big films coming calling, because I'd been in a couple of really big budget films that didn't perform commercially.

"But in the end that was fine, because it allowed me the opportunity to shift the focus more towards purely what kind of scripts I found interesting, based on writing and character rather than profile or budget."

Since 2008, he's really blossomed as an actor, from his excellent double act with Brendan Gleeson in Martin McDonagh's In Bruges to a soulful turn in Neil Jordan's Ondine, portraying a remorseless psycho in Gavin O'Connor's Pride & Glory and taking the rise out of his sex symbol image playing an odious, balding businessman in Horrible Bosses. "That was so much fun."

Farrell was particularly effective and understated playing opposite Jeff Bridges in the Oscar-winning 2009 drama Crazy Heart.

"That film was a gift," he says, "getting to do those scenes with Jeff Bridges, performing a song in front of 500 people.

"My friend Ryan Bingham wrote a really beautiful song, and he won an Oscar for it, but it had a very limited vocal range, which was perfect for me!"

He also stood in, along with Johnny Depp, for his friend Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam's ill-fated fantasy The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

"That was a very unfortunate and uncomfortable honour to be given," he says.

"It was just about getting the film finished, because the film was too good not to be seen, and otherwise it would have sat on a shelf somewhere.

"Heath was a beautiful, beautiful man, smart and curious and kind and funny, a terrific person."

Colin spends most of his time in Hollywood, but comes back to Ireland" every Christmas for two weeks, and as often as possible during the year".

In Los Angeles, he seems to have found a nice balance between work and privacy, and tells me that, if anything, all of this fame that's happened over the last 12 years has bought him more time on his own. "When you film it's very intense and you go to work with 200 people," he says.

"But it's in short bursts, and otherwise I've loads of privacy. I spend time with the kids at home, I go to restaurants where I know there'll be no paparazzi, and I go for hikes in the hills every day and I don't get my picture taken.

"If I do, big fucking deal -- I got my picture taken."

Fame, he concludes, is something you find your own accommodation with.

"It's pros and cons, you know, and with all the stuff I've been allowed to do as a result of it, you can't be moaning, man!"

Total Recall is in cinemas on August 24

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