"I am so ready to not talk about films, to not see a camera, to not have any idea that things such as fame and acting exist," Colin Farrell says. "I am so ready to get the f**k away. I have absolute gratitude for what I do for a living. I love it. But I want to step away and live a little."
Don't panic. Farrell speaks with an incandescent sparkle in his eye. He's not joining Daniel Day-Lewis in retirement any time soon. Having shot three films back-to-back, he is merely longing for a period of uncluttered recuperation. Before that, however, he will be forced to stand near a poster of Yorgos Lanthimos's superb The Killing of a Sacred Deer and field insolent questions from the press.
No better man. Crisp, neat and gleaming in shades of black, Farrell looks fresher than the first crocus of spring. And he loves to talk.
It helps that the career is in such a solid place. He has just finished shooting Tim Burton's live-action version of Dumbo and Steve McQueen's updating of Lynda La Plante's TV series Widows. Deserved praise has come his way for his portrayal of a compromised surgeon in the eerie, unsettling, off-centre The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
He knows how to pick directors.
"It's always a gamble. So many things have to come together for a film to work," he says. "I've been lucky from the start, Donald. My first film was for Joel Schumacher. And then Michael Mann and Peter Weir and Terrence Malick. That happened right from the start. The real question is why they wanted to involve themselves with me. I never asked them in case they said: 'Good point.' Ha, ha."
Having already achieved dark magic together on The Lobster (which, like Sacred Deer, was produced by Element Pictures in Dublin), Lanthimos and Farrell can claim a vital creative partnership. Playing opposite a cast that includes Barry Keoghan and Nicole Kidman, Farrell returns to the deadened delivery he exploited in the earlier film.
"The only thing Yorgos said was: 'I don't think you need to be so far from yourself in this as you were in The Lobster.' Which is not complimentary. Because my character in The Lobster was nicer. But he was also without guile and none of us are really without guile. You're not. I'm not."
Takes a breath
He takes a breath as the door opens behind me.
“And working with Sam was wonderful . . .” he says, laughing.
The actor Sam Rockwell, in another part of the hotel for promotional duties on Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has burst into the room and is noisily hugging Farrell.
"I saw you on Graham Norton last night," he says. "Hey, is Martin doing something with you and Brendan Gleeson?"
“I so hope so,” Farrell says.
Eventually Rockwell (who, lest you be confused, is not in Sacred Deer) gets shuffled out of the room.
“I love that guy,” Farrell says. “He’s one of the guys I am still in touch with. I don’t really have actor friends.”
Does he not? Farrell’s earlier fondness for the party-hearty lifestyle has been much documented. All that came to a crashing halt in 2005 when he entered rehab and kicked his dependency on drugs and booze. It’s worth noting that the “former hell-raiser” lived that life for only four or five years (as a celebrity, anyway). He has been clean for well over a decade. It sounds as if he now doesn’t have much to do with the celebrity whirl.
“I don’t feel like I do. If I do somebody tell me how,” he says. “What is a ‘celeb lifestyle’? Out and about going to clubs? All that kind of jazz? I certainly did when I was in my 20s. We all know that. But now I love the work. More than I ever did, Donald. And I have done three films in a row. Never done that before.”
‘It was exposed. It’s horrendous’
There was, of course, a phantom at the feast during this year’s London Film Festival. Virtually every actor had to field questions about the revelations concerning Harvey Weinstein. “I hope anyone who was hurt that they have healing, it’s just atrocious really,” Farrell told the Daily Mail. Has he anything to add? “I don’t want to say any more about that,” he says with a sigh. “I said something on the red carpet. I was on the red carpet and was asked about it again and again. It was exposed. It’s horrendous.”
Farrell juggles a mildly complicated, but apparently secure family life in Los Angeles. He works hard to see as much as possible of his two sons, James and Henry. The former, who has a severe genetic disorder, is the child of model Kim Bordenave. His ex-girlfriend Alicja Bachleda-Curus, co-star of Neil Jordan's Ondine, gave birth to Henry in 2009. So what else does he do? Does he have a boat? Does he play golf?
“No. A boat is a lot of work. And golf is a good walk spoilt. I live close to Griffith Park. I hike there. I go to the cinema. I forget I am an actor and go to the cinema. The odd roadtrip. That’s when I am in heaven: In a car driving some place I haven’t been.
You can’t do that so easily in Ireland? “Nah, you have to stop at every chipper to make a day of it.”
I sang Careless Whisper twice. I was initially delighted not to get [the Boyzone audition]. I was relieved when I saw them dancing on the Late Late.
Let’s bookend this, shall we? Colin Farrell was born in Dublin 41 years ago. Raised in Castleknock, he admits to having been a difficult kid, but, like so many successful people, he was lucky to find a mentor.
“The only thing other than this that I might have done was journalism,” he says. “I had a great English teacher called Eileen O’Duffy and she really helped. Unfortunately, I got kicked out before the year was up . . . by Eileen O’Duffy. Ha, ha.”
“Ah, I put my hands on a study supervisor and they said that was the last straw. I’d been drinking. No big deal.”
More than a few creation myths have sprung up around this period. Everyone has heard that Farrell auditioned for Boyzone. We hear all kinds of things. Maybe that’s not true.
"Yeah, I sang Careless Whisper twice," he says. "I was initially delighted not to get it. I was relieved when I saw them dancing on the Late Late. We were all relieved we weren't in the band. And then they started making money and I thought that might have been all right. But that life wouldn't have suited me."
Farrell euphemistically explains that he was going through a "funny stage". He was waiting tables at the Elephant and Castle restaurant in Temple Bar. He auditioned for the Gaiety School of Acting, got accepted and then "f**ked off to Australia". When he returned, his brother urged him to give the Gaiety another go. The course went well, but he dropped out when he secured a role in the BBC TV series Ballykissangel. In 2000, he was cast in Joel Schumacher's Vietnam drama Tigerland and the world exploded.
"After Tigerland it went mad," he says. "So many offers. So much money. I'm glad that stage is over. The hyperbole that was around me was crazy. There was that really swift and vertical trajectory. I was bold enough to travel to America. But I was still figuring out what it was all about. Then all that mad fame came."
Farrell’s success knitted in with the bizarre cultural and economic upheavals that hit the country at the turn of the millennium. Suddenly the Irish were everywhere. Money was pouring in. Society was loosening up at the edges. There was a sense that we were finally entering the late 20th century just as everyone else was welcoming the 21st.
I can talk how much I love Ireland and the timbre of the people. But something has to be done about the homelessness. It's atrocious
Farrell’s mum also lives in LA now. So he doesn’t get home as much as he’d like. But he must have some sense of how the country has changed.
“I am not there enough,” he agrees. “The most provocatively melancholy time is when it’s at night. I get in a car at two o’clock and drive through the city centre, through Phoenix Park and maybe up for a lap of Castleknock where I grew up. Dublin doesn’t look to have changed much at night. You can project your memories on to it. You can invoke old ghosts. But it feels faster and more commercial.”
He has, however, no sentimental delusions about the nation. “There are an awful lot living on the streets. Look, I know I have no right to talk about that. I can talk how much I love Ireland and the timbre of the people. But something has to be done about the homelessness. It’s atrocious. We’re talking about it. But does that mean anything? Christmas is coming. It’ll get colder. There needs to be real fundamental change. We need something that’s lasting. Not temporary.”
Few movie actors of Farrell's generation have struck such an agreeable balance. He is famous, but he is no longer hounded up and down Mulholland Drive. He works with the best film-makers, but he still finds time for blockbusters such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The early turmoil seems to have taught him worthwhile lessons.
Still, he admits to the odd doubt.
“It’s worked out really nicely,” he says. “I’m just talking selfishly. For years when I moved into my house there were two or three cars outside every day. If you went out for a coffee they’d follow you. They’re not there any more because I’ve done a lot more independent film. And I am not out and about.”
He pauses for a wry laugh.
“I’m happy to be left alone. But another part of me worries: maybe they should still be there?”
Ah, the human condition.
Colin Farrell explains the “letting out rule”
Resident in Los Angeles for well over a decade, Farrell has had time to absorb that city’s rampant automotive obsessions. He has concluded that attitudes at junctions say much about a society’s collective state of mind.
“Ah, the letting out rule?” he explains. “In LA nobody let’s you out when you pull up to a junction. Nobody. It’s worse than New York. They don’t want them to let you get the better of them. In Dublin, when I was driving at 19 or 20, you’d get to a junction and people would actually slam their brakes on to let you through. Then it was every two or three cars. Now it’s every four or five. That really is a measure of how self-obsessed we are.”
He’s not entirely joking. “We all try and strike a balance in life. But there is an ugly balance that says the better some people do the worse others do. That’s a cruel balance. It’s an imbalance. There is an awful lot of affluence in Ireland. But there’s a lot of poverty.”
- This article was updated on Sunday, October 22nd. An earlier version did not iclude comments by Colin Farrell about Harvey Weinstein