My interview with Colin Farrell from last Friday's Day and Night mag.
THERE was a time when Colin Farrell was as Dub as you could get. He had a house in Irishtown and, for a time, an accent closer to Ringsend than to the affluent suburb of Castleknock where he grew up.
Funny then that when Farrell speaks of having come “full circle”, that realisation was formed on the toe-end of a peninsula in Cork.
He was 22 when he shot his first significant role on location in Beara as a handsome local lad who makes eyes at a married woman. The production, a four-parter TV drama called Falling For A Dancer, piqued interest in the striking young actor and his dark-eyed charisma. You could say it started there. Two years later, he was cast in Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland, his breakout role as a rebellious US army grunt that announced to Hollywood that there was a new kid in town. Hollywood had a vacancy for a hard-living Irishman and he filled it with charm and enthusiasm.
Almost a decade later, a father of two and teetotal, he arrived back in west Cork to head up Neil Jordan’s new film. In Ondine he plays Syracuse, a former alcoholic fisherman who is doing his best to stay out of trouble. All he wants is to do right by his sick young daughter (played beautifully by first-time actor Alison Barry) and shake off the nickname ‘Circus’, a legacy from drink-sodden years of acting the clown.
“He decided that he was going to extricate himself,” says Farrell, “not geographically, but he takes himself off the grid.”
It’s hard not to refer to the biographical parallels for Farrell who has credited having his eldest son, James, with US model Kim Bordenave, with transforming his life. After a few years of painting LA red, a five-month marriage to an actress, Playboy parties and a liquid diet, Farrell checked into rehab in 2005 for exhaustion and prescription drug dependency. James – or Jimmy, as his dad calls him - was still a toddler. He hasn’t drank alcohol since.
“Obviously the correlation between my life and Syracuse’s life was obvious in some ways but the script was so good when I read it that I didn’t see them or I was blind and in denial,” says Farrell, smiling politely and folding his legs neatly beneath him on an armchair in the Merrion. (Is it possible the Farreller taken up yoga? What would Richard Harris think?)
He looks well. Healthy, leanly muscular, bright-eyed and engaged – all glowing references for the potent combination of sobriety and being deeply in love.
The girl, we know about. The newspapers were full of photogenic snaps of Farrell and his gorgeous Ondine co-star Alicja Bachleda as they dazzled Dublin last week at the film’s premiere and on the IFTA red carpet.
Director Neil Jordan required them to fall in love on screen after Syracuse rescues the titular Ondine, played by Alicja, from the sea. Romance developed off-screen. “It didn’t really get to a place of intellectualising it,” says Farrell, “we just got in touch and went with it and that was it really. Cut to…” Cut to Henry, the son born to the couple on October 7 last year.
I say Alicja doesn’t look like a woman who had a baby five months ago. “I swear, love, she looked like that two days after the birth,” he says. I would hate her but all reports emanating from the room down the hall where she is ensconced are that she is warm and lovely and impossible not to like. But Farrell’s biggest smile is reserved for their boy. Fatherhood, both times, has burst open his heart. “There’s nothing bigger than it,” he beams.
When James was born in 2003, Farrell was in Morocco, stuck in the middle of filming Oliver Stone’s Alexander. When Henry arrived last autumn, filming had just wrapped on Farrell’s last project, a movie called London Boulevard, also starring Keira Knightley and Ray Winstone.
“So I haven’t been working for four or five months which has been lovely,” he says. “Because I didn’t get to meet Jimmy until he was six weeks old, on a runway in Morocco. He was six weeks old when I laid my eyes on him for the first time because I was working. I was blotto at the time anyway but it was still mad, even though I was in a haze. So it’s been lovely to be with Henry from day one.”
Farrell, 33, is disarmingly forthright. And what he says that what he admires most in the character of Syracuse – the absence of self-pity – is also a trait entirely lacking in himself.
He continues, in his free, loquacious manner, “Jimmy may as well have had a fucking driver’s licence at six weeks old for all the changes that go on, the stuff that I missed. Every day, the change that happens. You see this soul trying to connect with this body, in a way. To watch that take place was absolutely magic.”
Life is sweet right now. He, Alicja and Henry live in LA, as do James and his mother so it’s easy for Farrell to enjoy the hands-on dad role he so relishes. He has two movies coming out – London Boulevard and the hotly-anticipated The Way Back with the next generation Irish A-lister Saoirse Ronan (“She’s so fucking brilliant and able and proficient – it’s not hyperbole,” he insists.)
He’s in what the Yanks would probably call a good place – and what Farrell would probably take a few hundred more words to describe. So he does. Being back in west Cork, with its “maddeningly beautiful” scenery, reminded Farrell of what he calls a “modest epiphany” he had a few years back in the States.
“I was caught in this storm in Virginia and I felt this sublime moment of insignificance… the peace that came with it was counter to what I would have expected from feeling insignificant.
“But this feeling of insignificance I felt was in relation to nature and the power of nature was such a weight off my shoulders. I was like, Fuck me, I’ve nothing to worry about. I’m only here for a blip. I really am. This was here before me and this will be here after me. I’m not that important. I’m not the centre of the universe’.”
PLAYING IT FOR REAL: The roles close to Colin’s heart
Playing Syracuse was, says Colin Farrell, “one of the times when I felt I understood the emotional or intellectual cadence of the character very quickly. I understood it with Tigerland and I understood it with In Bruges.” Those two roles also provide a neat summation of how far the Dubliner has travelled…
TIGERLAND (2000): Farrell’s big Hollywood break was to be cast by Joel Schumacher as a Vietnam-era US Army recruit. As the rebellious Bozz, he practices compassion for his fellow grunts and disdain for his boot-camp military masters in equal measure. Variety magazine decided that the role showed Farrell had “everything it takes to become a major Hollywood star”.
IN BRUGES (2008): Despite all the big-budget fare in between, it was this low-fi surprise hit that gave Farrell some of his best critical notices since Tigerland and Phone Booth (2002). His nervy turn as hitman Ray was laced with humour and pathos. It also earned him his first Golden Globe for Best Actor (in a Musical or Comedy).