Looking back, moving forward

Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 01:00

It’s been a rocky road to the settled life for Colin Farrell, but the Irish star of Total Recall isn’t pining for his party days. ‘By the end, I was living with shackles that I put on my own wrists,’ he tells DONALD CLARKE

I WON’T HEAR a word against Colin Farrell. Some malcontents may find it annoying that the entire country bows down when Mr Farrell flies into town. Just look at the coverage he received when attending the Dublin premiere of Total Recall last week. Stamps were issued. Planes wrote his name in the skies above O’Connell Street. You generally need to be a female boxer to attract that degree of acclaim.

Quite right too. He’s been a star for 10 years and, throughout that period, he has remained the most accommodating of gentlemen. There have been a fair few racy stories: a drink-and-drugs meltdown; the odd stalker; the inevitable sex tape. But he never attempts to shift responsibility and he always (well, nearly always) proves happy to anatomise the latest crisis.

“There are times when I mope and gripe about not wanting to do this or that,” he says. “But they seem to be getting less and less. I’m running out of road and now I’m just glad to do anything. I don’t exactly look around and think, look how lucky I am, but I do know that a lot of people, through circumstance, undergo a lot of hardship. I do a job I love doing. I get to travel. So, I have to talk to you about my films. That’s so trying and traumatic. Ha ha!”

The path to fame is well known. Raised in Castleknock, member of a comfortable, close family, he spent a spell in the Gaiety School of Acting before catching his first break in the TV series Ballykissangel. In 2000, he edged towards the big time with Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland. Demonstrating a keen eye and good taste, he went on to work for such demigods as Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Terrence Malick, Peter Weir and Terry Gilliam.

Meanwhile, he managed to scare up the sort of gleeful, tobacco-stained notoriety that used to follow around veteran (excuse the cliche) hell-raisers such as Richard Harris and Richard Burton.

Colin is now cleaner than a surgical scalpel. Well-scrubbed, hair in order, he sits alertly upright in a plush corner of the Four Seasons Hotel. He doesn’t mind the press palaver, but he’s eager to get home to his two boys: James, son of model Kim Bordenave, and Henry, born to actor Alicja Bachleda-Curus.

Would it be naïve to suggest that having children changes a fellow?

“That’s an ideal that’s not realised as often as it should be. You see people all over the world having kids and it hasn’t changed them at all. That’s to the detriment of them and the kids. For the first three years of James’s life I was saying: ‘Oh, I’m going to be his friend. It’s not going to change me.’ We resist change. We’re like schoolyard bullies that way. Then I made changes in my own life. The fear of not being around long enough for him began to worry me.”

Since he’s brought it up (as I said, I won’t hear a word against Colin), let’s ponder that great personal fulcrum in his life. He seemed to hit several brick walls simultaneously in late 2005. Hooked on various exotic chemicals and more mundane stuff that comes in bottles, Farrell checked himself into rehab. At about the same time, he endured wretched reviews for his performance in Oliver Stone’s undisciplined Alexander. Speaking to this writer then, he remarked: “Oh man. They were just so personal!”

He smiles awkwardly at the memory.

“I really felt that way, man,” he says. “It really was personal. The life informs the art. Then all that inverts and the art informs the life. You try to have a healthy relationship between work and home life. As Margot Fonteyn said, it’s hard to separate the dancer from the dance.”

Farrell felt himself trying to re-connect with the guy who, a decade before, had, for no obvious reason, decided to wander into acting classes.

“And why did I go back the second day?” he ponders. “I had to see if I could realign myself with that fellow. There really is a childish thing that gets to be explored through the dramatic arts. As the years go by it comes in a more mature container. But it remains playful.”

He has certainly attempted to stretch himself over the intervening years. He relished Martin McDonagh’s profane poetry while making In Bruges and won a Golden Globe for his efforts. He tramped across the steppes in Peter Weir’s The Way Back. He was the best thing in the broad comedy Horrible Bosses. Box-office smashes have been relatively few and far between. But Farrell has gained increased respectability.

“You check your imagination in at the door when you’re eight or nine,” he says. “It tends to go to sleep. Acting should bring that back to life. And that can be within the container of a heavy drama. It’s not just wearing a pillow for a belly and having a comb-over in Horrible Bosses. Movement is play. Exploration is play. Hey, Shackleton wasn’t having a good time. But he was still playing.”

So, he seems to have a firm grasp on his mojo. But I wonder if he really wishes the boozy years had never happened. It is, of course, nice to be nice. He must, nonetheless, have some juicy memories of days lived in double vision.

“No. I don’t really wish that hadn’t happened. I had some great times,” he says calmly. “Some of them were in early houses on Capel Street and others were in the Playboy mansion. Neither was more fun than the other, but one was the archetypal teenage boy’s dream – I don’t mean the early houses. I had great nights and days and mornings. And then I didn’t. It just became about something else. By the end, I was living with shackles that I put on my own wrists.”

I guess there’s not much point having fun when having fun ceases to be fun.

“Yeah. It gets boring when you’re drinking and doing drugs like I was. You are not interested in anything. All you are interested in is when you can get the next hit. Your life is propagated on a bed of lies.”

One can’t help but be impressed at how deeply Colin has thought all this through. He seems to have built himself a fairly solid platform from which to launch the rest of his life. Yet he does not appear to have fallen for any cults, gurus or supernatural crutches. The most controversial chapter in the famous 12-Step-Programme to sobriety – originally proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous – remains the need to recognise a higher power. If one doesn’t believe in such a thing, must one remain drunk?

“I have an uncomfortable relationship to the world’s religions,” Farrell says. “I don’t rail against them. Certain systems of belief and certain material things get blamed for man’s misbehaviour. Money is the root of all evil? No, it’s not. It’s man’s greed. If we didn’t have a currency on this planet, we’d be fucking killing each other over bottle caps. If bras were the currency, we’d be fighting over bras.”

So, he’s not exactly against religion. But he’s not onboard either?

“The idea of organised religion is a tricky one. But I do have certain beliefs. They are my personal beliefs. The ‘higher power’ was my son. They were very cool in my rehab. They said: ‘If you don’t believe in God, that’s fine. Your higher power can be your own desire to live.’”

The life he ended up with turned out to be a tad complicated. He might have been married to Amelia Warner, an actor and musician, for a few months in the early part of the century – she now good-naturedly denies the union was ever legal – but he has failed to make his way up the aisle in the interim. Both James, who has a serious genetic disorder, and Henry, now just two years old, live with their respective mothers in different corners of Los Angeles.

“They are both deadly,” he says of his sons. “James is about 25 minutes away from my house and Henry about 10 minutes away. So, I seldom get to pick up both in one day. The logistics are complicated, but not in terms of where they are, just in terms of who’s available on what day and at what time.”

In a few months’ time, the publicity machine for Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh’s twisty, agreeably deranged (and brilliantly titled) follow-up to In Bruges, will kick into furious action. In that film, he stars alongside Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson.

“Martin is an incredibly unique writer,” he says. “I have never read anything that matches the idiosyncrasies with which he writes. The script grabs you, beats you up, throws you around the room and then dumps you back in your chair.”

Before that, we have to dispatch Total Recall. A remake of the brash Paul Verhoeven science-fiction flick from 1992, the picture finds Colin playing a humble miner who, after undergoing memory implantation, gets caught up in a dazzlingly complex conspiracy. It looks to have been fun to make. Then again, working with all that technology must have exhausting.

“Actually it is fun,” he says. “There’s an academic, scientific thing that comes into it that you don’t get in dramas. In dramas, you do the same scene 20 times and do it differently each time. But, doing an action scene, you try to do it the same way 20 times. It doesn’t leave as much room open for interpretation. Running, jumping and grabbing the top of a wall is always running, jumping and grabbing the top of a wall. But that really is a challenge.”

Then of course there’s the arduous business of promoting the thing.

“Yeah. Ha ha! Oh no, another question about my $125 million film? How awful.”

* Total Recall opens next week

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