What I went through was a gar­den va­ri­ety tale of an ad­dict

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - INTERVIEW -

In his most hon­est in­ter­view ever, Colin Far­rell opens up to Barry Egan about ad­dic­tion, fear, sac­ri­fice, ex­cess, God, fa­ther­hood, so­bri­ety, and the de­mands of “not know­ing as a man what to do in a male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety that puts high value on al­pha be­hav­iour’’

SOME movie stars, when their multi-mil­lion dol­lar bud­get film comes out, have a glass of Chardon­nay and en­joy the mo­ment. In 2004, when Oliver Stone’s epic Alexan­der was re­leased, Colin Far­rell re­ceived such a crit­i­cal maul­ing for his per­for­mance in the ti­tle role that he got drunk out of his mind and van­ished on a plane to Lake Ta­hoe. More than that, the young Brando from Castle­knock — whose il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer was un­rav­el­ling in front of the eyes of the world — hatched a plan, as he told the New York Times last week, to deal with the pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion: he not only got blind drunk, but he put on a ski mask so that no one would recog­nise him. “Where can I wear a ski mask and not ac­tu­ally be put against the wall by a bunch of SWAT cops?” he told Cara Buck­ley in New York Times of his Lake Ta­hoe degra­da­tion.

Thir­teen years on, Colin Far­rell has no need to hide from the crit­ics ever again. Fol­low­ing on from di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’s The Lob­ster two years ago, he has just made one of the best films of his life (and of the year) with the spook­ily com­pelling The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer, also by Lan­thi­mos. In it, heart sur­geon Steven Mur­phy (played with a chill­ing de­tach­ment by Colin) finds him­self faced with a choice of killing a mem­ber of his fam­ily after be­ing cursed by 16-year-old Martin (played by Barry Keoghan) whose fa­ther died on Colin’s op­er­at­ing ta­ble a few years pre­vi­ously.

In­stead of fil­ing a mal­prac­tice claim, Martin brings hor­ror to the idyl­lic mid­dle-class home of Steven and his equally de­tached wife Anna (played by Ni­cole Kid­man) in­stead. It tran­spires that Steven had a cou­ple of drinks be­fore he per­formed the open­heart surgery on the boy’s fa­ther that re­sulted in his death.

“You should never have a few drinks when you are do­ing heart surgery. I think we can all agree on that!” Colin laughs. “He is a very proud man. Hav­ing had an un­der­stand­ing that Martin’s curse on the whole fam­ily is ac­tu­ally tak­ing hold, he says a sur­geon can never kill a pa­tient. ‘An anaes­the­si­ol­o­gist can kill a pa­tient, a sur­geon never can’. Later on, his anaes­the­si­ol­o­gist friend says, ‘A sur­geon can kill a pa­tient but an anaes­the­si­ol­o­gist never can’. I think those two lines, rewrit­ten by each char­ac­ter to re­late to their own in­di­vid­ual per­spec­tive, rep­re­sent the pes­simism that peo­ple are in it for their own good; that peo­ple are look­ing out for num­ber one. And I’m not say­ing that the di­rec­tor [Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos] be­lieves that as a blan­ket rule...”

Does Colin be­lieve that peo­ple are only out for them­selves? “I don’t, ac­tu­ally. I be­lieve the ma­jor­ity of the time, yes, but I think there are al­ways ex­cep­tions. I don’t think there is one rule over ev­ery sin­gle per­son on the planet. I think choice comes into it. I do think that peo­ple act from al­tru­ism and if some­body acts from al­tru­ism and they feel good about it, well, then the more cyn­i­cal amongst us will go: ‘Ah, they didn’t do it self­lessly!’”

Colin’s char­ac­ter kills, or sac­ri­fices, his son. Does Colin see The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer as a mod­ern take of God ask­ing Abraham to sac­ri­fice his son, Isaac, in the Bi­ble?

“Yeah. We have al­ways looked for con­text in mythol­ogy, and the Bi­ble to me is one of the great mytho­log­i­cal books that has ever been writ­ten. I see it as al­le­gory. The idea of sac­ri­fice has al­ways been a huge theme in the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, and there is no greater sac­ri­fice than in this case the fa­ther tak­ing the life of his child in the be­lief that there would be some re­sul­tant pu­rifi­ca­tion. That’s where Martin’s heart very much is. He is a very pride­ful man. He car­ries him­self as if he is a God. He feels ev­ery day that he is cradling the cre­ation of hu­man life, the hu­man heart, so that he can per­form surgery. He is like Alec Bald­win in an­other film [ Mal­ice] where he plays a sur­geon and says: ‘Do you think I’m God? Let me tell you. I am God!’”

Is Colin re­li­gious? “I don’t align my­self with any par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion, or any par­tic­u­lar phi­los­o­phy on it,’’ Colin says, and he is search­ing for “even a prox­im­ity with re­gard to what our pur­pose in life may be. I have a mish­mash of this and the other. But I tried very hard years and years ago to be an athe­ist, be­cause I thought it was more in­ter­est­ing or I thought it had more in­tel­lec­tual va­lid­ity or worth — and I couldn’t quite cross the bridge,” Colin says of athe­ism. “I couldn’t quite make it to the other side. I do be­lieve in some­thing that is big­ger than us. To some­one who is athe­ist they would say that is a cop out. But I think there are other realms. I think there are greater things than the eye can see or the brain can even com­pre­hend, es­pe­cially when we are only us­ing 10pc of the brain’s ca­pa­bil­ity. So we can only com­pre­hend what we can com­pre­hend,” Colin adds. “You know, our evo­lu­tion as sen­tient be­ings? I am com­pletely fine that there are com­plex­i­ties and mys­ter­ies that are way be­yond the un­der­stand­ing of any hu­man be­ing. Hav­ing said that, I don’t find sci­ence and re­li­gion to be a di­vid­ing force. I think they can go hand in hand.

“I don’t know what I am,” he says re­turn­ing to the orig­i­nal ques­tion of re­li­gious be­lief. “I strug­gle with it.”

In terms of his artis­tic, rather than spir­i­tual evo­lu­tion, does Colin feel he has gone through a trans­for­ma­tion with in­die movies like The Lob­ster and The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer?

“No. From the in­side of it, it is re­ally not so much [that],” he ex­plains, mean­ing it is re­duc­tive to see his ca­reer as ac­tion hero box of­fice hell to sal­va­tion in in­die hip­s­ter­dom. (‘Hit­ting bot­tom after a string of ma­cho roles in ma­jor movies, the ac­tor has found ful­fil­ment, and the best re­views of his life, in odd­ball films’, wrote one critic.)

“I feel that I am do­ing work that is more chal­leng­ing to me as an ac­tor and to me as a man. The work I am do­ing now is less phys­i­cal. It is deeper. From the out­side look­ing in. I see the re­sults of the sculp­ture. But for the sculp­tor, who is cre­at­ing the sculp­ture, it hap­pens bit by bit, step by step. You ar­rive wher­ever you ar­rive as a re­sult of a thou­sand choices and hap­pen­stances. So for me it is like the grand­mother not see­ing the grand­child for five years. ‘Oh my God! The size of you!’ But if you see the grand­child ev­ery day it wouldn’t be hugely dra­matic. I don’t see the change that you have asked me about as such,” he says mean­ing meta­mor­pho­sis.

Did you need to kill Colin Far­rell, the big movie star, the big ac­tion movie star, in or­der that Colin Far­rell could live?

He laughs. “I think the box of­fice killed that for me, man! I rose very quickly through the ranks and had a lot of com­mer­cial suc­cess very early and couldn’t make head nor tail of it. I did a cou­ple of big films that didn’t work. Then there wasn’t the op­por­tu­nity to do big films and it sort of forced my hand and it took me to in­volve my­self in a scale of work and in­ti­macy of work that I do find fun­da­men­tally more in­ter­est­ing. Truly fun­da­men­tally,” he says.

“Even through the years when I was do­ing big films or more com­mer­cial films, or ac­tion films, I was still do­ing In­ter­mis­sion [in 2003] or A Home At The End Of The World [2004] and still try­ing to do smaller films and some­times it didn’t work that way. I was work­ing with the likes of...martin Mc­don­agh is an ex­tra­or­di­nary di­rec­tor ob­vi­ously,” he says.

After the multi-mil­lion dol­lar global flop that was Mi­ami Vice in 2006, Mc­Don­agh ap­proached Colin to play hit­man Ray in In Bruges in 2008. I’d heard that Colin (after the crit­i­cally beat­ing of Mi­ami Vice and Alexan­der in 2004) be­lieved his pres­ence in In Bruges would be a neg­a­tive one and, as such, didn’t want to do it. Is that story ac­cu­rate?

“I al­ways wanted to do In Bruges,” he says. “I was feel­ing low enough on my­self to al­low that in­ter­nal malaise to re­sult in me say­ing to Martin, [de­spite] what I thought was an act of gen­eros­ity [from Martin] and [de­spite] lov­ing the ma­te­rial: ‘Look, man. Peo­ple are go­ing to come into the cin­ema — if they come in, that is; they might stay away! — with a load of bag­gage from the last few films I’ve done’,” Colin re­called what he said to the In Bruges di­rec­tor. “You have a re­la­tion­ship with your au­di­ence as an ac­tor, whether you’re in a the­atre or in film or on tele­vi­sion.” I ask Colin what was his re­la­tion­ship like with him­self at that time. He said in a 2009 in­ter­view in GQ magazine look­ing back on the deeply trou­bled pe­riod after Mi­ami Vice and Alexan­der: “I didn’t want to die. But I didn’t want to live.”

How did he get his be­lief back as a hu­man be­ing, not as a movie star? “We all talk about that you can’t live in the past but there is a trap in that as well, es­pe­cially if, like most of us, no mat­ter what your in­di­vid­ual story is, or how­ever beau­ti­ful or hard it is. It cer­tainly ben­e­fited me to go back. To re­verse the clock a lit­tle bit. ‘So, OK. Hold on a sec­ond. I did that. Hold on a sec­ond. Where was I? What was I do­ing when I was a kid? Why did I do that?’ I kind of went through my whole life just to see where I made some choices and choices were based on fear; and how con­fused I may have been and I was try­ing to pre­tend that I wasn’t con­fused. All that

‘I’ve yet to meet a per­son whose so­bri­ety has made their life worse’

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