26. Colin Far­rell.

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The Ir­ish star talks about the new Harry Pot­ter prequel and the

chal­lenges of fa­ther­hood.


It’s been three years since I’ve spo­ken to Colin Far­rell, and for some reason I’m shocked to see that he – like my own mere mor­tal self – has aged. The last time we spoke, we were curled up in arm­chairs in a Dublin ho­tel over tea. His hair was long, his man­ner ef­fu­sive. Now, in a swanky LA suite with the AC blar­ing, our Colin’s hair is short and gray­ing, and his de­meanour is more sub­dued. He’s no less friendly or en­gag­ing; Far­rell’s in­nate mag­netism could never be ex­tin­guished. But his charm is less per­for­ma­tive th­ese days. In­deed, he now seems pos­sessed of an as­sured still­ness that ex­udes ex­pe­ri­ence and wis­dom.

This new­found calm is cer­tainly at odds with the ac­tor’s tabloid rep­u­ta­tion of yore. For years, Colin Far­rell was the Bad Boy, the Party Boy, the Play­boy. But at 40, he’s no longer a boy, nor try­ing to be – he’s defini­tively, hap­pily, all grown up.

Not that be­ing older has elim­i­nated his desire for magic and joy. Far­rell is cur­rently star­ring in Fan­tas­tic Beasts And Where To Find Them, a prequel to the Harry Pot­ter sto­ries. Di­rected by David Yates and writ­ten by JK Rowl­ing, the film takes place in New York in 1926. The city is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous, with bat­tles be­tween wizards and non-mag­i­cal peo­ple (known as ‘No-Majs’) brew­ing. Os­car win­ner Ed­die Red­mayne plays Newt Sca­man­der, a cur­mud­geonly wizard whose mag­i­cal crea­tures are set loose across the city, es­ca­lat­ing the ten­sion and the fun. Far­rell plays Per­ci­val Graves, a man strug­gling to keep things un­der con­trol after Newt’s ac­tions high­light the stark di­vides in so­ci­ety.

“Per­ci­val Graves is the Head of Mag­i­cal Se­cu­rity at a place called MACUSA, or the Mag­i­cal Congress,” ex­plains Far­rell. “So I up­hold the law, ba­si­cally, in the so­ci­ety of wizards in the North of Amer­ica. But MACUSA is also a cen­tre of in­ter­na­tional deal­ings in the wiz­ard­ing world, be­cause in North Amer­ica there’s a greater di­vide – greater than there is in the Pot­ter world back in Bri­tain – be­tween those who are born with mag­i­cal at­tributes and those who are mere mor­tals. So there’s a veil of se­crecy around my work, and if there is any dark arts or black magic per­formed, I in­ves­ti­gate that.”

Per­ci­val Graves is Far­rell’s first fea­ture role since he starred in Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’ af­fect­ing satir­i­cal drama, The Lob­ster. Ad­dress­ing lone­li­ness and con­trol, Far­rell’s char­ac­ter was awk­ward and ob­vi­ously over­whelmed with sad­ness and a lack of self-worth. Far­rell loved work­ing on the project, but it seemed both emo­tion­ally an phys­i­cally gru­elling, as he put on over 40 pounds in eight weeks to play the role. In con­trast, act­ing in Fan­tas­tic Beasts was a dream.

“It’s kind of hard to method act or do re­search on wizards,” he laughs. “You can only twirl your wand in your ho­tel for a few min­utes be­fore you start to feel ridicu­lous!”

Far­rell hasn’t starred in an un­apolo­getic block­buster like this in years, but the finely drawn char­ac­ters and in­tri­cate world of JK Rowl­ing’s script drew him in.

“It was all on the page,” he en­thuses. “JK Rowl­ing wrote such a beau­ti­ful, in­cred­i­bly de­scrip­tive screen­play, it was so per­fectly formed. The char­ac­ters are all so finely drawn and the world it­self is New York, al­beit a New York of a by­gone era. It’s a New York that is not fa­mil­iar to me ex­pe­ri­en­tially, but is fa­mil­iar from film. Yet she tilts the per­spec­tive a lit­tle bit by im­bu­ing it with this sense of magic.”

Far­rell, who has worked with a lot of CGI over the years – don’t men­tion the fly­ing horse from the dodgy 2014 fan­tasy A New York Win­ter’s Tale – was de­lighted to see that di­rec­tor David Yates brought as much magic to the film­ing process as pos­si­ble.

“One of the great things about shoot­ing this film,” says the ac­tor, “was that even though the sets were huge, they were also prac­ti­cal. Our work was phys­i­cal and grounded. There were things that were added in after – the magic, how big the city needed to be – but ev­ery­thing we needed was there. They built the most in­cred­i­ble sets, they were just as­tound­ing. I’m 40 and have been do­ing this for 20 years, and even I was like, ‘Wow.’”

As well as mark­ing the first clear block­buster and pos­si­ble – prob­a­ble – fran­chise film Far­rell has done since the 2012 crit­i­cal flop To­tal Re­call, it also sees him tackle yet an­other role we haven’t seen him play be­fore: the rule-keeper. Pre­vi­ously Far­rell has played the straight man in Seven Psy­chopaths, Alexan­der and The Re­cruit; way­ward char­ac­ters in In­ter­mis­sion, In Bruges and Dead Man Down; emo­tion­ally frag­ile fig­ures in On­dine, Sav­ing Mr. Banks and Crazy Heart; and un­abashed lu­natics in Hor­ri­ble Bosses and Fright Night. But never be­fore have we see him play an au­thor­ity fig­ure.

“I try to play dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters,” agrees Far­rell. “It’s not just for the sake of do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. When I’m choos­ing roles, it’s more fun when you change it up. It’s more chal­leng­ing, and it staves off any apa­thy that may creep in. I mean, this is an amaz­ing job, but you can get ap­a­thetic about any­thing. So for me it’s nice to play char­ac­ters who are from dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods and dif­fer­ent so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds.”

It’s both this at­trac­tion to the new and chal­leng­ing, as well as Far­rell’s raw tal­ent, that pre­vented him from be­com­ing the straight­for­ward lead­ing man that Hol­ly­wood ex­pected him to be. Es­chew­ing of­fers to be a ro­man­tic lead or ac­tion hero, Far­rell fo­cused on bal­anc­ing large Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions with in­de­pen­dent films. He says that he was rarely at­tracted to generic lead­ing men roles, and was more drawn more to char­ac­ters who are emo­tion­ally con­flicted.

“Some char­ac­ters are closer than oth­ers,” he muses. “You may feel an echo of some­thing that you’ve done be­fore, which is nat­u­ral enough, but you can’t get away from your­self.”

It’s thus un­sur­pris­ing that Far­rell’s lat­est films have re­flected on his most im­por­tant role in life: be­ing a fa­ther. His sons James and Henry are now 13 and 7, re­spec­tively. Rais­ing them has made Far­rell acutely re­late to films that ad­dress fa­ther­hood, fam­ily, and lone­li­ness – as well as mak­ing him more ea­ger to em­brace the in­no­cence and whimsy that his chil­dren em­body.

“I think it’s very easy to get bogged down in the neg­a­tiv­ity and dis­cord in the world,” he re­marks. “Yes, there are ter­ri­ble things hap­pen­ing, but there are also beau­ti­ful things – they’re just not re­ported on as much. You don’t want to be fool­ishly op­ti­mistic or in de­nial, but you need to main­tain a bal­ance.”

How­ever, Far­rell de­nies be­ing over-pro­tec­tive of his sons, as­sur­ing me that he’ll never turn into a he­li­copter par­ent.

“I just let my boys be boys,” he says. “Of­ten times with kids, if you just stay out of their way, they’ll be fine. Of course you need to guide them, but trust­ing them is im­por­tant too. Per­haps an even big­ger fear than some­thing hap­pen­ing them, is them not know­ing that I love them. One of my guys ac­tu­ally told me, ‘Stop say­ing you love me!’ If that’s the worst we go through, that’s not so bad.”

He’s also learned the hard way not to make films just for them.

“You hope that they’ll be able to en­joy it,” says Far­rell. “But you can’t count on it ei­ther, be­cause they might not, and that’s fine. I did do an an­i­mated film and they weren’t big fans of it, which was de­press­ing – it re­ally was! They were just like, ‘Yeah, what­ever, can you put on Wreck-It Ralph again?’ When I was work­ing on Fan­tas­tic Beasts, one of my lit­tle men got a wand and was happy with it for about two min­utes, be­fore he moved on!”

But even with the wands and wizardry, Fan­tas­tic Beasts has some hard-hit­ting themes. The film ad­dresses the dan­ger of seg­re­ga­tion and so­cial hi­er­ar­chies, with wizards di­vided over



the roles and rights that No-Majs should be af­forded. Even through the thick layer of fan­tasy and magic, the theme feels un­com­fort­ably pre­scient, particularly with the US Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion hap­pen­ing hours after this is­sue goes to print.

But even within the priv­i­leged en­vi­ron­ment of Hol­ly­wood, mat­ters of seg­re­ga­tion and in­equal­ity have dom­i­nated the cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion. The gen­der pay gap and lack of racial equal­ity are among the is­sues to have been high­lighted. In re­cent times, the di­a­logue has shifted again. The ques­tion is now: are the play­ers in power – ie. white men – voic­ing their desire to see op­pressed groups equally rep­re­sented?

Or­ange Is The New Black ac­tor Matt McGorry con­stantly speaks out about the need for fem­i­nism and racial equal­ity on and off­screen, while Bradley Cooper has crit­i­cised Hol­ly­wood after find­ing out that ac­tresses like Jen­nifer Lawrence and Si­enna Miller were of­fered less than their male co-stars. Harry Pot­ter alumni Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Wat­son, mean­while, have also voiced their con­cerns about the lack of racial di­ver­sity and gen­der equal­ity in the in­dus­try.

Mean­while, JK Rowl­ing, queen of all our hearts, beau­ti­fully shut down de­mands that ac­tors in theatre adap­ta­tions of her work be white. When Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione Granger in Harry Pot­ter And The Cursed Child, the au­thor re­sponded to racist de­mands for a white ac­tress by tweet­ing “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never spec­i­fied. Rowl­ing loves black Hermione.” When trolls per­sisted, ask­ing “How come you can­not find even a good white ac­tress?”, Rowl­ing an­swered, “We found the best ac­tress and she’s black. Bye bye, now.”

The Almighty Cre­ator had spo­ken.

How­ever, Far­rell seems de­cid­edly un­in­formed about the cur­rent dis­course sur­round­ing Hol­ly­wood and di­ver­sity, claim­ing apolo­get­i­cally, “I don’t know how the con­tro­versy is be­ing han­dled. I’m not be­ing coy, I prom­ise, I just lit­er­ally don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing.”

Far­rell’s ig­no­rance is less to do with a lack of aware­ness of, or pas­sion for, equal­ity, and more to do with his lack of en­gage­ment with Hol­ly­wood as a cul­ture. A far cry from his younger days of par­ty­ing and tabloid cov­er­age, he now rarely at­tends Hol­ly­wood soirees or award cer­e­monies, pre­fer­ring to fo­cus on work and fam­ily. But even with­out know­ing the spe­cific de­tails of #Os­carsSoWhite or the wage gap con­tro­versy, Far­rell is un­equiv­o­cal in his be­liefs.

“The race line shouldn’t be de­fined in some­thing like film or the arts,” he says. “And there’s absolutely no way that a man should re­ceive more than a woman for a part of equal size. There’s no way.”

Asked whether he has ever seen misog­yny or racism play out be­hind the scenes of film pro­duc­tions, he says “never” – but he’s also aware of what he doesn’t know.

“I’m not privy to the be­hind the scenes stuff,” he says. “I’d pre­fer to stay out of it all. It’s not that I don’t like get­ting my hands dirty with cer­tain top­ics or con­ver­sa­tions – if I see some­thing like that, I’d say some­thing im­me­di­ately. If I was ever aware of any misog­y­nis­tic be­hav­iour on a set, I truly wouldn’t have stood for it. I just haven’t seen it. But then how far back do you want to go, ob­vi­ously there’s the cast­ing couch...

“Do you know though, there is one thing that I was think­ing about re­cently: I’ve only worked with one fe­male di­rec­tor. And I don’t know who to blame for that. But there’s no doubt that it would be harder for a fe­male di­rec­tor to get fi­nanc­ing for a film, just by the virtue of the fact that most fi­nanciers would be male and would be sus­pi­cious. They would have some in­grained, sex­ist be­lief that a woman would not be as strong or as ca­pa­ble as a man. That is some­thing that’s so­ci­etal and needs to be weeded out over gen­er­a­tions, start­ing yes­ter­day.”

Pro­mot­ing em­pa­thy and equal­ity is some­thing particularly close to the ac­tor, as his eleven year old son James was born with An­gel­man Syn­drome, a devel­op­men­tal dis­or­der. Rais­ing James in­spired Far­rell to be­come an ad­vo­cate for many char­i­ties and aware­ness groupss. He is a sup­porter of the Foun­da­tion of An­gel­man Syn­drome Ther­a­peu­tics, and was on the panel of the Spe­cial Olympics in China. His ex­pe­ri­ence rais­ing a son with a dis­abil­ity and work­ing with oth­ers with sim­i­lar chal­lenges have ce­mented for him the need to teach ac­cep­tance.

“It all has to start at home and in the schools,” he as­serts. “Be­cause any sto­ry­teller or artist was brought up in a fam­ily or or­phan­age or group en­vi­ron­ment, and had some form of ed­u­ca­tion, in­for­mal or for­mal, from the adults around them. This is grass­roots stuff, stuff I’m talk­ing to my kids about every­day.”

Far­rell, who has lived in Los An­ge­les for over a decade, ad­mits that he is largely dis­en­gaged from Ir­ish politics, say­ing that, “My Ir­ish friends are still the same friends I’ve had since I was 13, but as for po­lit­i­cal stuff, I’m just busy try­ing to be a Dad.”

He did tune in for Brexit, how­ever, and was dis­mayed at the re­sult. The sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the racist, anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment be­ing ex­pressed in the UK and those be­ing ex­pressed by some Amer­i­cans dur­ing the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions were not lost on him.

“Look, the world is a grossly un­fair and bi­ased place,” he laments, shak­ing his head. “It’s filled with big­otry and in­equal­ity, but we’re claw­ing our way to­wards what feels like a more just so­ci­ety. And yes, mi­nor­ity races and eth­nic­i­ties have had a much harder time than the ma­jor­ity, and that’s the cruel na­ture of power as rep­re­sented by hu­man be­ings. And women have been on the out­side of so many ex­pe­ri­ences that they should never have been on the out­side of. But I think it’s get­ting bet­ter.”

He pauses again, con­flicted be­tween his boyish faith that the world is good, and the care­worn wis­dom of a man who knows that life is rarely that sim­ple. “I think. I hope.”


Fan­tas­tic Beasts And Where To Find Them is in cine­mas from Novem­ber 18.

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