Colin Farrell, the Irish actor, is known for his fearless experimentation with various roles on screen. Rather than creating stable images, he prefers to challenge himself with diverse characters that are impossible to predict. He has played a fearless heart surgeon in Yorgos Lanthimos' film, and an Irish soldier taking care of roses in a women's boarding school in Sofia Coppola's film. In his most recent role in Martin McDonagh's "The Banshees of Inisherin," Farrell portrays a good-natured guy who is rejected by a friend. This film earned Farrell the prestigious Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, as well as a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award nomination for his exceptional performance. In an exclusive interview, Farrell reveals how he manages to maintain his versatility while taking on such diverse roles.
What do you think about Martin McDonagh pointing out the similarities between you and your character in "Banshee of Inisherin"?
Frankly, I didn't take it as a compliment, given that my character was portrayed as a natural idiot. But that's Martin's style. He creates characters that are slightly unhinged and together, they create chaos. The film starts with a serene scene of my character peacefully walking on a deserted Irish island with his sister – perhaps the only happy moment in his life. Afterwards, his best friend unexpectedly rejects him without an explanation, leading to a series of emotions – from surprise, to shock and complete devastation, that further lead to events turning the film into an apocalyptic thriller. Despite the tragic events, Martin never forgets to add humor to his characters, even in their darkest moments.
In "In Bruges" film, also directed by McDonagh, you played a contract killer on the run from justice and in "Seven Psychopaths," you portrayed an insane, loser screenwriter. You enjoy playing such roles?
Rather, I truly enjoy working with Martin. His films have a unique tone that initially makes you laugh at the characters, but suddenly, one of them surprises you with a shocking phrase, and the comedy turns into tragedy. Despite their dark themes, his comedies are never mean or malicious, even if some characters are violent. Additionally, reuniting with Brendan Gleeson, with whom I co-starred in "Lie Low in Bruges" 25 years ago, was delightful. Through that work, I became more recognizable and received more acting offers.
Was becoming an actor your childhood dream or, perhaps, you had other interests growing up? Did you have any role model or idol?
During my younger years, I aspired to become a footballer like my dad and uncle, and would often collect posters featuring famous athletes. However, my career goals shifted towards becoming a singer, but unfortunately, I was diagnosed with hearing difficulties.
My son James has always been my biggest inspiration and idol. Despite being born with some health challenges, his unwavering courage and determination to overcome them have been a constant source of motivation for me. I draw strength and encouragement from his struggles and triumphs, and he continues to be the driving force in my life.
What is your initial reaction when you are presented with a script to read?
The reaction is always very uneasy. In most cases, I have to play strange guys with bad habits. But I think it's even better that way. Because roles of cute and calm guys don't interest me. Perhaps, playing nice guys might be enjoyable and well-paid. But there is one thing – only when the roles are torturous, when they don't let you sleep, I feel like I participated in something truly important, something that turned me inside out and made me grow up. It doesn't matter what Martin or other directors say about me. I am different from my characters because I always believe in the good in people. There is no doubt that people can be capable of the most horrible deeds, but that's just one side of the coin. The other side is our ability for humane and selfless actions. Without kindness and selflessness, our world would have long ceased to exist. I have never been a cynic, so I will always believe in the kindness of people, though approach some of them with a healthy dose of distrust.
In Yorgos Lanthimos' movie, you had one of your funniest roles, portraying a guy who wants to be a lobster.
(Laughs.) The role I played in Yorgos Lanthimos' film was unlike anything I had done before. The film introduced me to a new cinematic language and a unique directorial vision, similar to the works of Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers, when a director creates his own universe and immerses both himself and his characters in it. Lanthimos’ "world" is unique, yet it is easily understood by any viewer. The idea behind The Lobster is quite simple: we live in an individualistic society in which traditional marriage is becoming obsolete, and relationships between people are taking on new forms. Lanthimos asks important and relevant questions such as "How much do people need relationships?", “Are they together because of the fear of loneliness?”, "How sincere can these relationships be?", and "What does love mean in modern society and what role does it play in human life?"
It's often challenging to fully comprehend your characters…
At first glance, David from The Lobster film seems like an ordinary person that we can meet anywhere. His wife left him, and he is lonely. However, the society he lives in forbids bachelor life, and everyone is required to have a partner. David is sent to a peculiar hotel where he is given an ultimatum: find a life partner in 45 days or be turned into an animal and sent to a forest. The hotel has a strange atmosphere, and men are brainwashed daily about the perils of bachelorhood. Despite the horrors, David shows agility and chooses a life partner. Although the plot is absurd, I enjoyed playing such a ridiculous character in this unique project.
Don’t you find this movie a bit cynical?
No. I find the idea of turning a person into an animal quite humane. Animals often treat each other with more sensitivity and kindness than people do. In comparable situations, people tend to be more cruel and cautious.
If the The Lobster film scenario materializes what animal would you want to be?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of flying, so if I were to become an animal, I would choose to be an eagle. However, someone once told me that I am more like a hedgehog. (Laughs.)
Why do so many people claim they dream of true love but never find it?
For many people, being honest and sincere with themselves can be a challenging task. Additionally, the fear of vulnerability and discomfort in putting oneself to the test can make it difficult for them to be sincere with others.
How difficult is it to be yourself in a relationship?
You're asking the wrong person if you're familiar with the chronicle of my personal life (laughs). But, let me share a secret with you – despite my failures, I have remained committed to monogamy and I believe that love is one of the most precious gifts in the world. To find and keep love, it's essential to remain honest.
What are your thoughts on online dating?
Do you want me to share my dating profile nickname with you (laughs). Online dating doesn't seem absurd or shameful to me. On the contrary, I've noticed that people tend to be more honest in their dating profiles than when they meet face to face in a bar.
When filling out the "advantages" and "disadvantages" sections, what do you typically write?
In the “advantages” section I would write it will be fun with me. I’m not sure about my shortcomings. Though, I do have one trait – I tend to change my mind quite often. That’s a disadvantage, right?
Do you think that being a professional actor makes it easier to navigate life? After all, actors can portray any role without any personal cost…
Nonsense! I don’t live my personal life as an actor! We all play different roles at some point in our lives, especially when we enter into a relationship. During the initial stages, we often try to make a good impression. However, the high rates of divorce indicate that these efforts are not always successful. Pretending to be someone else is not sustainable in the long run, and the truth eventually comes out.
In the movie "The Beguiled" directed by Sofia Coppola, multiple women tried to seduce you. How did you withstand it?
Growing up, I was surrounded by strong women – my mother and two sisters raised me. However, I have rarely had the opportunity to work with female directors. Collaborating with Sofia Coppola was a significant experience for me. She exuded femininity, elegance, and never raised her voice. In contrast, working with male directors often involves intense scenarios featuring characters on the brink of a mental breakdown.
Throughout your career, you have worked in various genres, starting with action and then gaining fame in comedy. Recently, you have been appearing more frequently in dramas. Do you have a favorite movie genre?
I appreciate all film genres as each of them reflects a different aspect of my personality. However, I find myself drawn to comedies due to my love for the sunny side of life. I don't believe those who claim that permanent joy is impossible or that eternal happiness is a myth. Rather, these states of being are determined by our personal attitudes and choices.