Out for blood
He doesn’t swear quite as colourfully as he used to, but he’s still got the accent and the humour. DONALD CLARKEtalks to Colin Farrell about life in LA, Gay Byrne and his old pal Elizabeth Taylor
COLIN FARRELL has been a movie star for 10 years. It’s quite a sobering thought. This far into their glory years, Marlon Brando was already teetering on the edge of madness and Marilyn Monroe was toying with breakdown. Our Colin seems to have gone through his traumas and emerged smiling at the other side. Following the odd dalliance with chemical excess and the occasional period in rehabilitation, he has settled into a nicely relaxed groove. He lives sunnily in Los Angeles. He shuttles between his two sons (from two relationships). He fields calls from the world’s best directors: Michael Mann, Peter Weir, Neil Jordan, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Oliver Stone have all utilised his talents.
Who would have thought it? Just over a decade ago, he was still that bloke out of Ballykissangel. Then, spotted by the canny director Joel Schumacher, he made his appearance in the war film Tigerland.He can’t have imagined what would follow.
“No. I would have been very surprised,” he says. “There’s no doubt that I would have been amazed. I would have given you firm odds against certain things happening. But I am very lucky to be where I am. I’m always grateful to be working. More than ever I feel that. The two boys are good. I have to be thankful.”
In recent years, Farrell has craftily made the transition from frontline, glamour-puss parts to knottier, more ambiguous roles. In Brugesassisted him along that road. His sweary double-takes in Martin McDonagh’s 2008 crime comedy reassured fans that he was capable of hitherto unexpected nuances.
Since then, he has appeared as a surprised fisherman in Jordan’s Ondineand as a Russian hoodlum in Weir’s The Way Back.
What’s left on the checklist? How about a vampire? Appearing as the bloodsucker next door, Colin is one of the prime reasons to consider viewing the current remake of nippy 1980s horror flick Fright Night.
“That was fun,” he says. “I had a relationship with all that. I had a history with vampires – whether it was Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Darkor Draculaor the original Fright Night. Playing a vampire is one box you want to tick. You get to see behind the curtain. Then you say: ‘Ah, I get how this works.’ You don’t walk away disappointed exactly, but you do get to see how it’s all done.”
Is there much preparation involved? Did he have to spend days living off blood pudding while avoiding crosses? “There wasn’t much to be done, man. Well, apart from walking around the house in a cloak. I slept in a coffin for a month. No, no! Stop the lights.
“Ha, ha! There’s nothing to be done, but have a bit of fun. I was aware of the danger of becoming the Count in Sesame Street. So, before the cameras rolled, I’d say the line in a Transylvanian accent, just to get it out of my system.” Taking a few days off from the remake of Total Recall, Farrell sounds a little weary and scuffed around the edges. But, as ever, he remains the most accommodating of interviewees. Despite the various controversies that have bubbled around him – at least one stalker, an inevitable sex tape, that hilarious story about him allegedly chatting up Dame Eileen Atkins – Farrell has always treated the ladies and gentlemen of the press with admirable (and, frankly, undeserved) respect. Ask about the most exciting moments in his career and, somewhat surprisingly, he drags up an early interview with a media grandee who has been much in the news recently.
“I ticked another box the day I got to do my first interview with Gay Byrne,” he says. “That was a huge box. There are some things that you know matter in this world. That was one of them: you get to talk to Gay Byrne.
“If you’ve achieved something politically or in entertainment or in a humanitarian field you get to talk to Gay Byrne. Frankly, that’s one measure of celebrity.”
Raised in Castleknock, the son of a former Shamrock Rovers footballer, Farrell has, despite his many years away from the sod, stubbornly refused to alter his accent, attitude or sense of humour. He doesn’t swear quite so colourfully as he used to. But his connection with Ireland seems indestructibly robust. All this, despite the fact that, since emerging above ground with Tigerland,he has – bar that brief, rehab-dictated pause in 2005 – worked like a veritable maniac. Two years ago, he held his own against Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. In 2010, he trumped across the Russian steppe in The Way Back. Earlier this summer, with bad beard and worse comb-over, he played effectively against type in Horrible Bosses.
Does he ever get back home? Come to think of it, where does he regard as “home” these days? “I do have two places that knock on the door of my heart,” he says. “Those two places are LA and Dublin. There was a time when I felt that my heart was torn in two. Now I don’t. I have the boys in LA. Two of my sisters live there. In Dublin I have my mother, my dad, my brother and all my other rellies. I miss all my mates, but I am constantly in touch. Life goes on.”
He must realise that the city has passed through some traumas of late. It’s a very different place to the buzzing Babylon he left 10 years ago. “I will be home in December,” he says. “I can’t wait. I know from talking to my mates that life is very tough. But there’s something in Ireland that transcends the emotional or economic pinch. The fortitude of that island and the strength of that island is very much part of who I am.”
He does sound like a busy fellow. In 2003, Kim Bordenave, his girlfriend of the time, gave birth to their son, James Padraig Farrell. It was later confirmed that the child had a serious neuro-genetic disorder called Angelman syndrome. In 2009, after hooking up with actor Alicja Bachleda-Curus on the set of Jordan’s Ondine, the couple had a child, Henry Tadeusz Farrell.
Colin positively beams when he mentions his children and remains notably respectful towards their mothers. When I ask about his favourite professional experience, he mentions Ondinefor “the whole experience I had with Neil and Alicja and [cinematographer] Chris Doyle and for getting the wrap present that keeps on giving”.
He is currently based in Toronto for Total Recall. How do all the pieces of his life fit together? “I am busy now relative to what I was doing eight months ago,” he says. “I actually did have a period of eight months off. I actually ended up spending it with the boys. They are both in the same city. So, we can work it out.”
Earlier this year, to the surprise of even veteran Farrell watchers, the actor turned up to read a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem at the funeral of Elizabeth Taylor. To this point, the gossip pages had been blissfully unaware of any friendship between the two stars. He certainly gets around. “That was a most unusual friendship,” he admits. “Which is quite fitting for such an extraordinary individual. I met her around the time Henry was born. I met her via a mutual friend and bulldozed my way into her life. I phoned her up and she was kind enough to allow me to come round to her house. We’d watch a bit of TV or read a poem. We’d just hang out. We wouldn’t talk about the old days.” Really? I’d have thought the urge to ask Taylor about all those delicious scandals would be impossible to suppress.
“Yeah. My friends were all saying: did you ask her this and did you ask her that? I’d say: ‘Fuck me! No, I didn’t. Shite!’ We’d just talk about fear of flying or whatever.” Does he still get star-struck? One imagines that, after a decade in the Hollywood Hills, a performer might get a bit blasé about encountering stratospherically famous actors.
“I absolutely still do,” he says. “It depends. It’s more to do with whether you respect the person’s work. When someone comes up now it’s different. I don’t want to say the whole nature of stardom is a juvenile thing. But maybe it is. My idea of who would make me star struck formed in my mind before was I was 17 or 18.”
Farrell is very frank about his checklist. Either by accident or design, he has worked with a stunning proportion of the world’s most respected directors. He’s played a cowboy (in American Outlaws). He’s played a mighty character from early history (in the benighted Alexander). He’s sung on screen (in Crazy Heart). And now he’s done good work as a vampire. There must, however, still be particular avenues that he wishes to explore. There must be unchecked boxes that cause him concern.
“I’d love to play a fighter,” he says. “I have no illusions. I am not saying I have the heart that a lot of those fighters I’ve seen over the years have.
“But it’s something to do with my fascination for the levels of discipline and focus that they have. But, actually, I’ve never really been great about having a list of things I want to do.” Farrell has manoeuvred himself into an enviable position. The television studios of southern California throng with actors – contemplating that leap into Cancelled Sitcom Gulch – who never quite made the transition from promising heartthrob to interesting character actor. In Bruges demonstrated that Farrell had enough edge and eccentricity to attract interesting scripts for decades to come. Yes, he will be inheriting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive mantle for Total Recall. But he seems to have realised that taking the odder, less shiny parts helps achieve longevity. With that in mind, he has signed on for Martin McDonagh’s next film, Seven Psychopaths.
“Even the title is good writing,” he says. “It’s a brilliant script. I long to get back on set and get back into his world – that amazing headspace.”
Then there’s Brendan Gleeson’s much-discussed adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim Two Birds. The project has been floating around development ether for years, but, in recent months, reports have suggested the money might be coming together. Farrell, Gabriel Byrne and Cillian Murphy are among the Hibernian royalty being tipped for prominent roles.
“The first time I talked to him about it was about three or four year ago at the Chelsea Hotel in New York,” he says. “I am waiting to hear what the story is. I heard recently that Brendan has the money. Now that’s a hard one to wrangle – to make it presentable to the viewer. But he wrote an amazing script. An amazing script. I am absolutely sure that Brendan can make an very special film of it.” If that team can pull off a film version of the slipperiest novel in the canon then they can all retire content. No more boxes need be ticked.
We wait in eager anticipation.