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November 2004
Alexander: An Interview with Colin Farrell

Alexander: An Interview with Colin Farrell

By Todd Gilchrist

Colin Farrell has enjoyed unprecedented success as an actor in a remarkably short time: after exploding onto the scene in Joel Schumacher's "Tigerland", he worked with Tom Cruise ("Minority Report"), Samuel L. Jackson ("S.W.A.T."), Al Pacino ("The Recruit") and Ben Affleck ("Daredevil"). Now, he makes his greatest stride as a leading man in Oliver Stone's forthcoming epic "Alexander", in which he plays one of history's greatest leaders and proves that no size or import of film is beyond his grasp. In this recent interview with blackfilm.com, Farrell explains what it takes to make Alexander tick.

Is this the toughest thing you've done?

Farrell: By a mile, God yeah, by a mile. Maybe the toughest thing I'll ever do. Never say never, it's such a huge story. There's not going to be many parts that pop up like it.

Oliver Stone is a pretty tough taskmaster. Did you and he have a few words on set about things?

Farrell: No, we actually didn't fall out. We had a couple, you inevitably, someone that cares as much as much about what he does and I care as much as I care about what I do. You inevitably have, not conflict of interest because you share the same interest, but you have conflict of how to get that interest realized and so in respect to that, yeah, we'd rub up against each other at times and Oliver's so smart and so articulate and knows the piece so well and loves it so much that it was never a bad thing. But yes he's a task master and he pushes you and he pushes you, regardless of whether you're in the crew or you're part of the cast and he pushes himself just as much, if not more. Like Alexander did, Oliver leads from the front. He would never ask you to do something that he wouldn't do himself.

Where were the points of friction, how to do a particular scene?

Farrell: I can't really think because they seemed so organic and so part of what was this experience and this journey that I can't think of anything that stood out. I can't think of anything. Like one day he said to me, it all seemed, it's like people asking me, I'm sure you're going to ask me about the sexuality of the film, I never thought of it because it wasn't thought of in the time. There wasn't a personal choice of Alexander, it wasn't like he was in the closet of the sexual at the time, and it wasn't the deal so I didn't think about it. While I did think of things that were specific to Alexander, like his relationship to his mother and father, their relationship with each other, the relationship with the fights on which was built an absolutely friendship and implicit trust and his ideas about destiny and fate and realizing what your destiny is, or if there is such a thing as destiny.

Are you surprised at the amount of discussion that is about the sexuality?

Farrell: No of course not. Fucking boring world we live in. So narrow-minded that they have to boil everything down to fucking sex and just look at my interviews stud, bad boy, so obvious.

Obvious that you're a stud or a bad boy?

Farrell: Thank you. I could be well misquoted on that. Only when I walk into a room. But you know, I'm not surprised at all because people have such a closed-up and linear way of thinking, a lot of the time, in respect to those things. I mean, you just have to look at society and look at the, no I wasn't surprised. I'll go into it for fucking days and I'll get killed. I wasn't surprised at all.

How difficult is it to overcome the scope of a movie like this and really to take charge of it on screen?

Farrell: You don't really. You kind of allow it to swallow you up but just make sure you take a big breath before you kind of come to the surface of the water then you come up and grab another breath and go back down. I mean you just survive. The film is much bigger than me and much bigger than any of the cast and the only two people not bigger than it are Alexander and Oliver I think who nurtured this cinematic child of his for the last, anywhere between twelve and particularly the last three or four years. So you don't, you do find yourself swimming in a very deep sea and the waves are high but as I said, you just make sure you keep taking those deep breaths every time you go under.

What was boot camp like?

Farrell: Crazy. Yeah it was cool. A lot of tired boys and a lot of pissed off boys because the food was kept to, really rationed, and we were tired and working hard and jogging at six in the morning and doing physical training and then doing drills, military drills and battle formations, horse riding.

Did your drill sergeant yell at you?

Farrell: Yeah, yeah, the whole thing. He wasn't insulting, he was quite respectful because we only had three weeks but he held it off. If you were lazy you got called out and you might have to drop and give him 50 push-ups and all that shit. But I loved it because at the end of the day, we were only there for three weeks. Everyone was missing their families. Some guys were missing their sons and daughters and wives and mothers and fathers and friends and so it lent us a certain amount of reality in respect to your memory of the experience, to certain themes and certain situations within the film. It was a very smart thing to do, completely the right thing to do. It brought us all together.

What about the contemporary relevance of this film.

Farrell: What's happening in the world now? In this exact geographic spot that this story takes place? It's a huge coincidence, Oliver does not, I think, intend to draw any particular correlation to what happened this time and what's happening now. But there are some messages in it that aren't intended to be messages but look if you make a film about any point in history regardless of how far they are apart, you will always see similarities. You will always be able to draw comparisons. I mean, people say history repeats itself, time and time again, in different forms, with the point of different cultures and different ideals but certain events take place and certain ethos's exist that are reflective of what happened before. In that respect, you know, there are some thoughts, like one line Alexander says, you know, what disturbs me most is not your lack of respect for my judgment, it's your contempt for a world far older than ours. And that kind of resonated with me more on seeing the film than it did when I said it because of recent events, and that's honest. It just resonated with me more as something that was a kind of a nice idea and but it certainly wasn't intended to be that way by Oliver but there will be comparisons drawn. Sorry sweetheart. These people had a deep history together, the Persians and the Greeks and it was a time of war all over the world, battle of setting up nations and cultures and one thing that I found out was that he never tried to stamp out another culture, he never tried to talk down or think down another religion or thought or people. If anything, he adopted foreign philosophies and foreign ways of dress and some foreign religions and mysticisms into his own beliefs. When he conquered, when he entered somewhere that he had just conquered, he allowed people to maintain their taxes, to maintain their beliefs. You didn't have anything forced down anyone's throat, and that's a very important thing, something we may be lacking in the world today.

The notes say a lot about the training and the physical aspect of it. Can you tell us a bit about Alexander's mind and heart?

Farrell: Yeah, what do you want to know?

What I want to know? Everyone's like, I was under a tyrant, I was under a king, sweetheart, lover, good son, bad son.

Farrell: All of the above. Seriously. Yes there were times when he definitely acted with a force that was tyrannical, when his father was assassinated and Southern Greek states decided to unite and rebel against Macedonia. They thought, well Philip's gone, the conscientious military in particular is going to fall apart, and this boy is not going to be able to resist us, now is the time. Alexander sent an envoy down, led an envoy south and sacked particularly the City of Thebes and murdered a mass, a lot of people, men, women and children. So that certainly, had at least an element of tyranny about it but again they were very hard times. They were tough times and very unforgiving times and you had to act fast, kill or be killed a lot of the time. And then with respect to what I was saying here as well, he was also a very gracious and understanding conqueror. He did, on entering Babylon, he did take it as his oldest daughter, you will be treated as Queen, your family will live as my family, your people will remain where they are, where they live, with all the fortunes they have or lack of fortunes. If they have lack of fortunes, I will run this society in a way where everyone will be treated decently and with respect and so he was a savior to a lot of people and he was a tyrant to other people. As a son he was both loved and a source of great frustration for both his parents and I think his mother wanted to shake him a lot and say come on, stand up and act like a fucking man, and his father wanted to do the same. They both used him against each other as a pawn. What else?

His relationships were complicated. I mean mother and father, wife, male lover, the whole. How did he cope?

Farrell: He didn't. He died when he was 32.

Of drinking to excess, right?

Farrell: No, I don't think so. Nobody knows. I don't think so. I mean he was probably drinking heavier towards the end but I don't think he was drinking as much as his father, probably I wouldn't have imagined he could do what he did in life if he drank as much as what I do or some of my friends at home do.

Do you identify with him in any regard? Was he, do you need to be able to identify with him when you play him.

Farrell: Not really, you need to find somewhere in you that can believe what he believed and can believe the things that he believed to be possible, is possible. I mean that has to be for sure. You have to find something in yourself that can agree with his philosophies. So in that respect, I did. I read a lot about him, I thought a lot about him. I fell in love with him in many respects. I found him to have had an incredibly sad life. A life filled with great glory and great promise and great achievement and massive wealth, king of the fucking world. He could have anyone he wanted as a lover, blah blah blah blah. But I found it to be a very lonely existence. One hears stories of the isolation of leadership and how lonely it is at the top, again you're never going to please everybody, you're always going to have enemies, and you're always going to have to cope even if you have fans and supporters.

Has this always been a [like being a movie star in a way?

Farrell: No, I mean it's a different, I'm far too easy. Yeah, difference. Sure I have main attractors and I have people that go well done, but you go in there and you start to diminish. For me if I went in to that kind of thing, seeing those kinds of comparisons, I would start to diminish the experience that was being him, what I imagined was.

You handle all this so great. I mean you're honest with people, you're not hiding stuff, and that's refreshing. Is that how you planned it from the start that you

Farrell: No plan, you know, why would I plan anything. Maybe if I did plan, I'd fall into the trap of them having some defense mechanisms and things like that. I don't plan. I just go to work and I'm asked questions about them and I answer as best I can.

You talked earlier how you sort of say things that you sometimes half regret saying afterwards. Do you feel that way?

Farrell: Small half.

What kinds of things do you want to keep private and that you can avoid?

Farrell: I won't talk, I'll say it's great to be a Dad and all that stuff but I'll never talk about my son, I never talk about his mother at all, those kinds of things. I never talk about anyone else's business or my experience with anyone else. I never bring anyone else into my shit but I've talked consistently, and at this stage, repetitively about my past experiences, individually to me and what they meant at the time, and the way they happened at the time and what happened at the time. And I've done that to death, I'm finished with that. What are we going to talk about now? Oh f**k, I'd better talk about work.

Earlier when we talked to you, it emerged far more forcefully the image of the young, hard drinking, hard living, Irishman, following in the tradition that Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and all these drunken carousing Irishmen. Seriously, do you regret that earlier image?

Farrell: Not at all man. This is fucking damaging. I'm here five years later, man. Done the biggest film in my career and just finished working with Terry Malick. No, it hasn't been damaging. It was never cultivated, it was never. I haven't changed that much. I've been through a lot, for me to stay the same, for any of us to stay the same in our lives, it would be a shame. We have a chance to change; we have a chance to grow. It doesn't mean I don't get up to some mischief and that I don't have a good time and enjoy my life, of course I do. But the opinions that have grown within me over the years, of certain things, I've seen certain things that affect me in certain ways, and I hope I continue to change as we all should. Evolution shouldn't just be about time spans of a thousand years. It could happen in one person's life for them.

What about work choices? Miami Vice, you've been signed up for Miami Vice.

Farrell: Yes, I'm not sure definitely.

It seems, not an odd choice, but having worked with, as you mentioned, Terry Malick and going to work on something that's kind of.

Farrell: Do you know who's directing it and who wrote it?

Is it Michael Mann, so that's the only reason you're doing it?

Farrell: Not the only reason. The script. The worst thing about it is the title. The worst thing about it. It's a piece within itself. It's really brilliantly written and it's great. It goes deep into the undercover world.

Are you trying on the jackets already?

Farrell: Yeah, yeah.

And I suppose we have to ask you about Pierce Brosnan's endorsement. (About being the next James Bond)

Farrell: Never heard a thing. Pierce has got me nailed; the fucking mother fucker's doing it as a joke because everyone's asking me now.

Would you do Bond?

Farrell: There's certain things I don't want to de-mystify and that's one of them. I'll put my ten dollars on the table and watch Brosnan. I've been watching it since I was a kid. I don't need to go there.

It would be kind of fun wouldn't it?

Farrell: No, I don't think so. They won't come near me and they won't. Her Majesty's Secret Service wouldn't have me on the payroll.

Wouldn't you liven it up though?

Is it different to the TV show?

Farrell: It's Michael Mann doing what he did, in a different way of course, his writing is heavy and tough and with some of the great dialogue he's written, and some of the stuff in collateral. He's a great film maker and he does this kind of genre thing so beautifully that it would be an amazing opportunity.

Who's in that with you?

Farrell: I'm not even definitely in it sweetheart. No, there's one guy, Jamie Foxx I believe is definitely in it.

Working with Malick?

Farrell: It was great.

How is that movie shaping up? He's a very quiet, shy.

Farrell: I have no idea. I just do the work and go home.

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