An Interview with Collin Farrell
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With "In Bruges," the charming and eyeball-pleasing Irishman Colin Farrell is getting attention for the right reasons, as the star of Sundance 2008's opening night film. Directed by Tony award winning playwright Martin McDonagh, Farrell is joined by veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as part of a hitmen duo sent to the Belgian town of Bruges by Brit boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes doing his best "Sexy Beast" criminal boss) to hide away after a hit in the historically rich, terminally boring tourist town.
During his stay in Bruges, the potty-mouthed Ray (Farrell) anguishes, languishes, and smacks a dwarf while Ken (Gleeson) soaks in the sights. Lovely femme fatale (Harry Potter's own Fleur Delacour) Clémence Poésy plays Farrell's pick-up and local grifter Chloe who meet when she and a partner try to fleece a drunk Ray. Though the film seems both comic and irreverent, it has a serious, dark side which eventually reveals itself with a punch not unlike some of McDonagh's earlier theatrical works such as "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "The Lonesome West," and "The Lieutenant of Inishmore." So Farrell, in scruffy beard and porkpie hat with lit cigarette ever in hand and Poesy—looking far more refined like any French woman should—spoke about the challenges of Bruges and McDonagh's work.
Q: You actually suggested to McDonagh that he make the film with a cast of unknowns. Why do that instead of lobbying him to play the in the film yourself?
Colin Farrell: I'm just an incredibly generous person, obviously. No, in all seriousness, especially with the advent of all these magazines, y'know, celebrity mags and internet websites and blogs and stuff—the line between the audience and the people that they're paying good money to see is kind of disappearing. And I know that I obviously come with a certain amount of baggage, I suppose, or a particular persona [where there are] certain opinions [about me] before the first reel is shown. And I thought the script was that good, that I said, "I really love it, I'd love to do it but I really think you should cast an unknown."
Thank God he told me that was hogwash [laughs]. I wanted to read for it. I said "If you want to audition me, I'll do anything to do it, but my two pence is cast an unknown."
Q: Did you have to work on the comedy in the film or was it a case of just showing up and it worked?
CF: It was a really funny script, y'know. Just the situations and the dialogue were kind of hilarious. We had a great laugh doing it, we had a really good time, but we had to get inured to how hilarious the script was ourselves, because, really, the characters have no idea how endearingly funny they are being at times and how outlandish are the things they—particularly Ray—are saying.
So even in rehearsal there was a lot of laughter and a lot of breaking up trying to read through scenes; [we] couldn't get through them a lot of the time until literally we'd stop being funny so we could get to the serious element that is inherent in the piece, which is, that it's a very dramatic piece as well, and there's a lot of big questions raised and there's a lot of guilt, and remorse, and shame and all that kind of stuff, so anytime I was doing it I didn't really see it as a comedy. Although there was a couple times there was some funny stuff.
Q: What was your experience in Bruges itself?
CF: It's a beautiful city, y'know, it really is a gorgeous, gorgeous place, but when we got there it was the middle of winter. It was dark at 4:00 in the afternoon and the streets—there were no tourists and it's not a heavily populated city, so the streets were very desolate; which for me, selfishly, gave me a platform that was fairly easy to traverse, to adopt the energy, or lack thereof, of the city, the creepier element to it. Y'know, like the cobblestone streets and there would be a fog lying low over the canal from time to time. It was very Dickensian or very Jack-the-Ripper-like about it, y'know, that kind of era, so that was nice.
And then in the spring it changed, it was really beautiful with busloads of tourists and a lot of energy. But I loved it and Martin wouldn't have made the film if he wasn't allowed to shoot it in Bruges. I know he wouldn't have, cos Bruges was really the first cast member.
It wasn't like he wrote a script about two hitmen and then went "Oh where the fuck am I gonna shoot it? Oh, Bruges is cool I'll do it there." He was in Bruges and his feelings on the city had such a split; there was one half of him that really loved it and loved the kind of majestic quality to it and the otherworldly feel, and the other half of him was bored out of his tits within about a day. And then he went, "Hmmn, I wonder," and then in his own mad way he wrote these characters.
Q: It's surprising that you haven't worked with your fellow Irishman Brendan Gleeson before; you two had a great rapport in the film.
CF: Man, it was just easy, y'know? It just kind of made sense from day one. I mean, I'd kind of met him briefly a few times. But we were all there for the same reasons; there was no ego or messing around—well, there was plenty messin' around—but there was no ego; it was never going to be a pissing contest or anything like that. We were all there for the right reasons—to do the best job we possibly could. He was just really lovely and very generous as well. He's very curious to get in and get underneath it all, so we share that.
Q: You and Clémence had a lovely rapport as well; what was it like, the two of you working together?
CF: Our rapport? Well, if I had more energy, I'd blush [laughs].
Clémence Poésy: Does it take energy to blush?
CF: I dunno, I'm just talking shite [laughs]. You should know that after our rapport that that's what I do. It was easy...
CP: It was cool, yeah. We had that great time before we started the film to just, like Colin said, laugh about the scenes and enjoy just saying those words and doing that together. Once we started shooting it was really, really easy.
CF: It was tasty stuff to chew up those words. And it was easy, as I said, there was no attitude and no dividing line between the cast and crew. It really did feel like as much of a collective experience as a film can feel, because sometimes the beast can be pretty big in itself and it can have a certain level of impersonality to it; this was not the case.
Q: (To Clemence) What was your initial reaction to stepping into Bruges?
CP: I had been to Bruges already, I think when I was six, with my family. I remember it being really cold and the museums were quite beautiful.
Q: How did you get involved with the project? There are a lot of French actresses who would love to play the leading lady opposite Colin.
CF: How do you know that a lot of French actresses? Have you talked to French actresses?
Q: All of them, they all say it. Every one of them.
CF: Sure you have. Sure, okay, sorry. I sit corrected.
CP: It's like the election, they've made statistics.
CF: Yeah, yeah, yeah… Except Carla Bruni [the model/singer who just married the French President Sarkozy], because she's happy where she is, she's okay where she is.
CP: Very simply, Martin came to Paris and I think auditioned a few actresses, and we read one of the scenes. And I went to London two weeks after to read another scene and that was it. I remember reading the script before that first read-through and thinking "God this is—I just really want to do it. It's not gonna work." It was really nice to be able to think, "Wow there's a rhythm" you've got material to play with. It was just fun.
Q: "In Bruges" is quite a change of pace for you, playing this comedic character. Do you see yourself doing more comedies or even romantic comedies in the future?
CP: With French actresses [laughs]?
CF: I don't know, there's so many… It's a whole career there, I could do the next 60 years if I live that long, and I still won't get through the amount of French actresses that are begging to work with me obviously. Hmm, we'll start off with Catherine Deneuve, by the way.
I don't know, man. I've read some romantic comedies through the years, and I just personally didn't really find them to be that romantic nor funny, so that's kind of a problem. I would not cancel anything out; the whole idea is to experience different journeys, I suppose, and be privy to other lives and other perspectives that you may not be otherwise. I mean, that's one of the gifts of the whole thing, but I dunno…
As I said, it was nice this, because it was less… with as much despondency as there was in Ray's journey, it was less maudlin than some of the things I've done, less dour. That goes back to what Clémence was saying about the playfulness of Martin's writing.
Q: There's the big emotional scene when Ray comes to terms with what he's done [accidently kill a kid with a stray bullet while offing the targeted hit]; what was that like to act out? And when you do a scene like that, are you able to just walk away from it?
CF: That was one of those scenes where you just pray they don't call you up and go, "[The film] just went through an X-ray at the airport it's fucked, we have to do it again..." It's one of those [scenes] and it's happened where you just… It's nice to actually just get through it which isn't like saying you're wishing the work away, or anything like that. You accept that a scene like that is coming up and you understand it when you read it, but it really is nice to be able to put behind you and then you walk away from it, yeah?
You might sit on your own or sit amongst as many people as you can find, or whatever your particular way is; read, sing, listen to music, go for a nap, whatever, eat. That's all, it just washes away.
Q: Since your "In Bruges" costars, Clémence, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are all in the "Harry Potter" series; do you think you would be interested in doing a "Harry Potter" film?
CF: "Harry Potter?" I would love to do that. I'd love to do that. I'd love to do that. I fuckin' never get the calls for that, the good stuff like that.
Q: You've got three stars of the films that could hook you up with the casting agent.
CF: I'll get on it, man.
Q: Clémence, your "Harry Potter" character, Fleur, is very present in each of the last two books, have you been approached about returning for film 6 or 7?
CP: I'm definitely not doing the sixth, because they're shooting now. And I think [the filmmakers] have to make choices because the books are getting bigger and the film can't last for five hours. And I don't know what's going to happen with the 7th, so...
CF: Get Terry Malick to direct it! [He made the archly artistic, long historical epic "The New World" starring Farrell.]
CP: [Laughs] That would be cool. Would you give him a ring?
Q: Colin, what projects do you have coming up?
CF: I don't know luv. Hopefully go back to work on a thing in April, and that's it, really. I haven't worked since "Bruges." It's been a long time.
Q: Is "Pride and Glory," your unreleased star vehicle, done? When will that film be coming out?
CF: That is done. It was done before "Bruges" and "Cassandra [Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream"]. Yeah, a while ago, and they just pushed it now 'til 2009. There's this rumour going around that it's because it's a mess, or a really bad film, but I feel the need to speak up against that. Not for my own end, but literally, genuinely, for [director] Gavin O' Connor's, cos he wrote and directed it and it was his vision again.
It's a really, really strong piece, but I think New Line lost their bollocks on "The Golden Compass." It didn't make anything and it lost a lot. And they literally are like, "We haven't got the money to market things" and Pride is a tricky one to market anyway, it's fairly dark.
Q: Have you seen it yet?
CF: I've seen it, yeah. Gavin did a great job. Jon Voight's brilliant in it and Ed [Norton] was great in it, and it has a really strong cast. I dunno, man, I dunno what they'll do with it. I've got no idea about that end of the business.
Q: Both "In Bruges" and "Cassandra's Dream" are smaller, more personal films. You've recently been know for doing very expensive, big movies. At this stage in your career are you actively pursuing smaller, more script-driven films?
CF: Even before I ever started acting, I kinda had a fairly keen interest in people and the world and the way we are, and all that stuff. Even as a kid, I always loved observing. So with that in mind—I dunno, this wasn't carpentered that way, y'know?
Q: What are some of the pressures of doing blockbuster films versus doing a these smaller ones?
CF: I am aware of the pressure if you're in a big film. I am aware... I mean you'd like to keep it pure and go, "It's all about the work, it's all about the work," but at the end of the day, if someone's spending a 150 fuckin' million dollars on a film, y'know, a bunch of people, there is a pressure that the film performs. Then it becomes about box office and the opening weekend.
I wish I was stronger, that I wasn't susceptible to feeling that pressure, but I am and have been. And, you know the last few [films] were certainly more pure … I don't want to say more about the work, but with Oliver [Stone] it was very purely about the work, and with Michael Mann it's purely about the work, but there is just a lack of pressure—which is quite delicious—in doing a smaller film.
Q: In "The New World," you really got to stretch playing a character who had to express a lot without much dialogue. Did you find that hard to do?
CF: That was a nice piece, yeah. Well, y'know, hard is fun. We're so fortunate doing the job that we do, that for me personally, I don't necessarily ever strive for comfort, it isn't really the goal. Comfort's not the goal. But it wasn't, I mean again it's not slave labour. It's an honour and privilege every time you get to do it. Whether you're shooting a gun and saying "Freeze, hands up," or you're delving a little bit deeper than it takes to do that. It should always be some element of enjoyment or exposure.
Q: Colin, you've worked with some phenomenal directors, has that inspired you to try your hand at directing a film someday?
CF: It's inspired me to stay the fuck away from the idea of it! No, I dunno, I mean I've thought of it, sure, but y'know, I'm still trying to figure out this acting thing.
Q: A few years ago you were wearing bracelets up your arms and the next thing, every guy on the street had them.
CF: Really? [Looks amazed.]
Q: It seems like things you wear set trends on the street. Are you fashion conscious?
CF: I'm sitting to the right of an incredibly chic French woman and you ask me that question and I look like this.
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