Nature and gardens may be a million miles away from his bad-boy image, but Colin Farrell digs a quiet life now, he tells Declan Cashin, as he talks about responsibility, failure and Oscar dreams
Colin Farrell has been hard at it for hours. "Sorry about the delay, but Colin's going to need a few minutes break before we continue," whispers an assistant. When Day & Night is finally ushered into the hotel suite, the 34-year-old is sitting back on a large sofa. "That last one was a right old session, it lasted an hour," he exclaims.
"I hope you didn't give all your good stuff to them?" I ask. "I think I may have burst my wad," he replies. "You only get the ... " At that he trails off and bursts out laughing. "That's fucking rotten isn't it?" he asks his sister (and PA) Claudine sitting in the corner, who tries to suppress a smile as she shakes her head.
Lest there be any doubt, Farrell has been sweating away here all day at interviews in London's Dorchester hotel. He's in good form on this dank Friday afternoon: he looks tanned and healthy, dressed in jeans and a white sweater. He's relaxed, but always moving and re-arranging himself on the couch, tucking his legs underneath him one moment, sitting forward with his eyes closed, lost in thought, the next.
Farrell is talking about his new movie London Boulevard, a blackly comic crime thriller by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Martin Scorsese's The Departed. Farrell stars as a newly released criminal trying to go straight, who is hired as a bodyguard by a reclusive movie star (played by Keira Knightley), but ultimately finds himself drawn back into the dangerous underworld through his involvement with a psychopathic crime boss (played by -- who else? -- Ray Winstone).
Although initially reluctant to sign on for the role, Farrell says he was eventually won over by the tone of Monahan's script.
"The script was just full of oddballs, like the characters played by David Thewlis and Anna Friel," he explains. "It has an eccentricity. My character Mitch is a very fractured man. In one sense he has this awful rage inside that can manifest itself in acts of extreme violence, and then, in other ways, he has this keen intellect and erudition and tenderness."
On the subject of leading lady Keira Knightley, with whom he shares more than one 'horizontal dancing' scene, I suggest she's always struck me as being too much of a prim British rose and there seems to be no craic about her.
"You're going to hate me, man," Farrell begins as way of a response, "but I'm telling you Keira is so much fun. She has a lovely, silly sense of humour, and she's smart, and generous." He pauses, before adding: "Just because she isn't warm and fuzzy like Ray Winstone."
Ah yes. London Boulevard necessitates that Farrell must go mano-a-mano with the frankly terrifying screen hardnut. "Honestly man, he's lovely in real life, and yet still terrifies the shit out of me," Farrell laughs. "He was nothing but deadly generous and kind to me, but I found it as dicey keeping eye contact with him as anyone I've ever worked with over all my years."
And what an eventful few years those have been for Farrell. Ever since his big break in Tigerland (2000), he has been one of Hollywood's busiest actors, clocking up credits with the likes of Spielberg and Cruise (Minority Report) and starring opposite Al Pacino (in The Recruit).
Of course, much of his work tended to be overshadowed by the stories of his wild partying and various sexcapades (his 2005 sex tape went viral on the web). He's been clean and sober since mid-2006, and indeed has kept a low profile for the past few years, concentrating on raising his young family, including his first-born son (with ex-wife Amelia Warner) James, whom, he later revealed, suffers from a rare genetic disorder.
Before our interview started, one of the movie's publicists had issued warnings to all journalists not to get into details of Farrell's private life. The most recent reports say that he has split with his Polish actress girlfriend (and mother of his one-year-old son Henry) Alicja Bachleda-Curus.
Farrell refuses to get into the topic, but does reveal something about what his home life is like these days. "I've lived in LA for five years. I have a really quiet life. Straight up, I'll just be home with the boys.
"I like it there, but it took a while. I was very lonely there at first. Honestly, if I didn't have the boys, I don't think I'd ever have moved there. I would have gotten a place in New York or somewhere. But I love it there now. I live in Los Feliz, just off Hollywood Blvd. It's a really simple life. The nature is beautiful, the beach is nearby, and I have a beautiful garden."
He says his son James (7) isn't very aware yet of his dad's job. "He exists in another place where that doesn't hold interest for him," Farrell explains. "His life is probably all the better for it." And what about baby Henry? "He's doing great, becoming his own little man now. The character presents itself very quickly."
Does he look like you? "Not at all. The image of his mother."
It all seems so placid, a world away from his former image as a womanising hellraiser. "There genuinely isn't much of a social aspect to the job these days," he says. "LA is about healthy living. It's a good place to be a non-drinker."
His current lifestyle has also enabled him to disconnect more from the celebrity world, and particularly his old bête noire, the paparazzi. "I wouldn't be as emotionally connected to the paps as I once was," he says, with a smile. "I used to be a fucking awful man. I'd chase them around town in my car, trying to get them in a cul-de-sac. Now, in honour of making my own life easier, I try not to engage."
That's not to say that Farrell has disowned his former bad-boy rep. To co-opt some Oprah-speak, he appears to have taken ownership of his past. "I've never really run from my reputation, that I can remember," he says. "I think -- I hope -- that I've stepped up to the responsibilities I have to myself to completely own my own life and my own part in it.
"It may be an Irish attribute, but a lot of times one finds it easier to take full responsibility for the failures and not the successes, do you know the way? I'm trying to get more balance with that: I have a part to play in the good stuff that happens in my life, but also a part in the bad shit too."
Part of that philosophy is learning to take career setbacks -- such as the monumental 2004 flop Alexander -- in his stride. "I don't think I take it as personally anymore," he says. "Look, I was a pretty important part of Alexander, and I was a pretty important part of why it didn't work. I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't.
"That was a tough time for me personally. I was tarred and feathered. But I've never had that level of glorious perceived failure since. Miami Vice was seen as a bit damaging, but as long as I don't get to an Alexander-esque fiasco, again, I think I'll be okay."
It doesn't seem as if Farrell will have to worry about any critical knock-backs in the very near future. He has no less than three upcoming movies on the cards with the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Marion Cotillard, and he's also in the running to take the Schwarzenegger role in the remake of Total Recall.
Next up directly is Peter Weir's WWII drama The Way Back, co-starring Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, which is being touted as a major awards contender. Having bagged a Golden Globe for In Bruges in 2008, I ask if Farrell would like to win an Oscar someday too?
"I fucking wouldn't say no," he laughs. "It'd be an experience wouldn't it?" He pauses before finishing with: "At the same time, you wouldn't want to be waiting around for it. You'd be living a life of awful disappointment."
London Boulevard is out today