Colin Farrell talks new movie, coming home and just 'being dad'

He’s just finished his third movie and after five months on the road, Colin Farrell is itching to get home and just “be dad”, he tells Esther McCarthy            

He’s filmed three new projects in what has been one of the most buoyant and exciting times in his career, but in just over a week, Colin Farrell will take a lengthy break from acting, and he is delighted at the prospect.

Taking on a number of interesting films — including Tim Burton’s live-action remake of animated classic Dumbo, which he is currently shooting in London — has meant extended periods away from his two boys.

Nobody is more aware than Farrell of the privileges that success and being in demand have brought, but it is time for home-cooked meals and cuddles and swimming and DVDs.

“I do qualify it by saying ‘poor me’, but work has had me on the road, and I’ve been away now for five months, so it’s just beyond time to get home.

"I have about a week more in London and then I get home and get to hang out and be dad.”

His oldest son James, born with a rare chromosomal disorder called Angelman Syndrome, is fourteen now, while his little brother Henry turned eight.

“Eight!” he says, with the universal disbelief of a parent whose kids are growing up fast. He won’t film again till well into next spring, though he remains in love with what he does, ever since he landed his first major job on Cork’s Beara Peninsula, a place that is very dear to him.

When he returned there to film years later, he spent his weekends on road trips, exploring every corner of west Cork and Kerry.

“I have to say, the Beara Peninsula, and particularly Castletownbere, that part of the world holds a very important place in my heart. I already thought it did from doing Falling For a Dancer all those years ago. It was my first paid gig, and an amazing experience with an incredible crew.

“Liam Cunningham was probably 12 years younger than I am now, which is just depressing. I think I’ve just called Liam Cunningham 65 so I take that back,” he laughs.

“Then years later, I got to go back with Neil Jordan and shoot Ondine. I got to go back and have a walk around the town, and live there for a while. And Henry (his son with co-star and ex-girlfriend Alicja Bachleda) was the great gift that was born of Ondine.

"He and his brother have been lighting up my life since. I will go back down there many times over my life I imagine. And always with a hint of the most pleasing type of nostalgia.”

Next weekend, we’ll see him in dark thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, his second collaboration with writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster).

He plays a top surgeon who lives an apparently perfect life with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and their two kids, until he comes under the radar of a troubled young man (fellow Irishman Barry Keoghan).

Colin Farrell in The Lobster

It’s a terrific but very dark and unconventional film. “Yorgos’s work is set in a seemingly relatable world. There’s a diner, there’s a hospital, it’s modern. There was a hotel in The Lobster. There’s boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives.

"And yet their behaviour, and the way they articulate themselves, and the way they react to each other, is so disconcertingly atypical. So unusual,” he says of working with the filmmaker.

“And it kind of gives you very little reference point in your own experience. It doesn’t allow you to contextualise anything, doesn’t allow you to personalise anything, it just asks you to be really present every single moment.

"That’s what you’re supposed to do with acting anyway, but really with none of the baggage of anything that happened before or after the story. Just in that moment. I think a lot of us could say the same seeing his work, and come out going: ‘What the fuck?’

“The first time I met him we did a Skype. We spoke for about an hour and twenty minutes and I swear to God, about 50, 60 of those minutes was silence. He’s someone who’s very comfortable in his own silence and he’s someone who’s very comfortable, I think, with having the silences within his films, in as much as the dialogue may put forth.

“I think Yorgos is a big fan of shorthand the first day on the first film you do with him. He’s not one for over-articulating his own thought process in relation to writing script or creating characters within the story. He’s a man of very few words. The words he uses are very concise.”

One of the film’s pitch black humorous moments sees Farrell and Kidman’s character begin a sexual interaction with the question ‘general anesthetic?’ before she pretends to be out cold.

Is he looking forward to Irish fans seeing the movie and trying it at home? “Ha Ha! Sure we do that on a Friday night anyway, don’t we? It’s called the jar!” he replies, quick as a flash.

“I mean, what’s that about? I could of course apply psychology 101 to it and go: ‘It’s a man who’s in control of his life, needs to maintain control in the bedroom’ but you just go with it.

“To his actors I think he offers up the same thing as he does to his audience, which is he just presents you with a set of circumstances, of behaviours, of reactions.”

He is full of praise for young co-star Keoghan, who is sensational in the movie and building on his recent performance in Dunkirk.

The two men have spent much time travelling to promote the film on the festival circuit, and Farrell’s admiration for the younger actor is very obvious.

“He’s a dream. A dream. Love Barry. He’s a good young man and a phenomenally gifted actor. He’s as raw as they come. May he long stay out of acting classes and just be as honest and truthful and resourceful as he is as well.

“He’s doing a bang-up job of it. He’s a good lad, he’s got his head screwed on. I couldn’t wish more of the best for him than I do.”

But he adds that the profile and fame that go with a successful acting career, the film festivals, and interviews and attention can be “a lot” for a young man to get their head around, and he should know.

The cast of The Killing of a Sacred Deer at Cannes.

Farrell’s acting career took off in the US with wonderful performances in two Joel Schumacher films, Tigerland and Phone Booth.

Within two years he had gone from jobbing Irish actor to a major global star, holding his own against Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, among many others.

It’s a wonderful breakthrough, but such change would be a lot for anyone to take in.

He started to develop a reputation for hard-partying (he’s been sober for many years), while Alexander, a historical epic that he made with Oliver Stone, was critically savaged and failed to draw substantial enough audiences. Farrell recently said that he “was due a kick in the arse” around that time, which seems a bit harsh on himself.

“Ah no,” he says now. “I’m not even speaking bad about myself back then. I just… I had a lot very quick. And I just tore the arse out of it all. I was trying in my own way to figure out what the fuck it was all about. I had an arse kicking coming my way, there was no doubt.”

His performance opposite Brendan Gleeson in Martin McDonagh’s terrific In Bruges, which gained him a Golden Globe win, was widely regarded as a comeback, though in truth he had never really gone away, mixing up the indie with the mainstream in such movies as the under-loved The New World.

As well as Disney’s Dumbo, an exceptionally busy recent period of filming means we’ll soon see him in two more films.

He’ll star opposite Denzel Washington in the legal drama Roman J Israel, Esq.

He’ll also star in Widows, and intriguing new crime thriller from Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) about a group of women left to deal with their dead husbands’ criminal activities.

He’s also set to re-team with Lanthimos for a forthcoming TV series about Oliver North and the Iran/Contra affair, but for now, he’s relishing the down time.

“I’m looking forward to cooking a meal in my own kitchen. Watching a movie with the lads downstairs. Having a swim with the boys. Going for a hike. Sleeping in my own bed.”

The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens in cinemas on November 3.

I was trying to figure out what the it was all about. I had an arse-kicking coming my way, no doubt


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