Colin Farrell’s hell-raising days may be behind him, but he’ll never be shy and retiring. Tom Ellen talks remakes and rumours with Ireland’s finest.
This is like The Truman Show, man,” laughs Colin Farrell. “We’ve got God here on the phone with us.”
He’s exaggerating slightly. Rather than a sky-dwelling omniscient deity, it’s actually an American press officer who’s monitoring our transatlantic phonecall.
However, Farrell’s Truman Show comparison is an apt one. Just as Ed Harris boomed God-like warnings at Jim Carrey when he ventured towards his world’s end, so the disembodied tones of Farrell’s publicist chime in anxiously every time ShortList deviates from the topic of his new film, Fright Night.
But who can blame us for deviating? Colin Farrell is not exactly a ‘one topic’ kind of guy. He’s refreshingly honest, naturally witty and, unlike most clean-cut 21st-century stars, he’s actually lived a little.
The 35-year-old Irishman first inked his name on the Hollywood A-list at the start of the millennium; an unapologetic wild child with a reputation for good-natured hell-raising and rather predictable action films. He’s since quit drinking and smoking, and started flexing his theatrical muscles with superb comic turns in the likes of In Bruges and Horrible Bosses.
Fright Night — a remake of the 1985 horror flick of the same name — sees Farrell cast as Jerry, a callous vampire with no passion, no emotional depth and no sense of humour. A world away, in other words, from the man himself…
Where in the world are you at the moment?
I’m in a manhole under the streets of Toronto. No, I’m in a hotel in Toronto. I’ve been here a couple of months. I’m doing another remake [Total Recall]. That’s all I’m doing now. I’m going to make remakes an original thing by doing them and them alone. That’s the way it’s going to be.
You’ll be so unoriginal you’ll become original again…
[Laughs] Exactly. If you spend your time only doing remakes, that, in itself, becomes a gesture of originality.
And how is filming going on the Total Recall remake?
It’s going well. I’m enjoying it.
Were you initially dubious about stepping into Arnie’s shoes?
Nah… I was more dubious about stepping into Chris Sarandon’s shoes, to be honest [laughs]. That’s my sneaky way of taking it back to Fright Night.
You did that very well…
[Laughs] I did, didn’t I? But then we’ve got our friend [the press officer] helping us out too.
Let’s talk Fright Night, then. Your character, Jerry, is a traditional, bloodthirsty kind of vampire. Were you glad not to be playing a soppy, modern Twilight-esque one?
To be honest, since I can tend to be a melancholy lad at times, I was a little disappointed by that. As violent and single-minded as Chris Sarandon [Jerry in the original Fright Night] was, there was also a romantic lean to him. That was nowhere to be found in this script, so during the first couple of weeks’ filming I was trying to see if we could get more of that in. But the scenes just weren’t there, so I had to be like, “Get over yourself — stop trying to make this what you want it to be.”
A lot of actors enjoy playing nasty characters — are you the same?
You definitely get to explore certain elements that live within us but are always suppressed by societal graces. We can’t go around doing exactly what we want every day, otherwise the world would be an even bigger f*cking disaster than it already is. When you play a bad guy, you can explore those feelings that, rightfully, for the good of mankind, you suppress. So this was one of the most unemotional experiences I had making a film and it was cool for that reason. Jerry doesn’t have any human qualities to speak of — he has no fear, no remorse. So the removal of those things makes him a parasite that just needs to latch on to another living body to survive.
Speaking of ‘latching on’, there are a few steamy moments in the film. Do you still get embarrassed filming those scenes?
It depends. It’s always strange to kiss someone when you know they’re getting paid to kiss you back [laughs]. That’s the most simple, mathematical way to put it. But it’s part of the gig. And at the same time, kissing’s lovely. So any time I get to kiss someone, that’s great. When the clobber starts coming off, though, that’s when it can get a bit uncomfortable. And then what do you fall back on? Humour. That’s what we do as human beings, don’t we? We laugh, we joke, we try to poke fun at an embarrassing situation. But there’s never been a bad day at the office.
David Tennant’s in the film too — how did you get on with him?
Yeah, he is lovely, man. He’s had a child since, so he was excited about that at the time. He’s a great actor, as well. I really enjoyed working with him — he’s an absolute sweetheart.
You’re both seen bare-chested in the film — was there any rivalry?
He had me by about 342 hairs, the butch f*cker [laughs]. There was a trade-off, though — he had me by 342 hairs, but I had him by an inch.
We’re still talking about chests here, right?
[Laughs] Of course, yeah.
Did you look to any other famous film vampires for inspiration?
Yeah, Brad [Pitt] was sweet in Interview With The Vampire, and Gary [Oldman] was great in Dracula. I loved that film. Now that was a f*cking cool vampire — there was a depth of emotion, violence and regret in the back story. Jesus, I’d love to see that film again, actually.
You’re more of a reformed character these days. Is it true that you’ve even given up smoking?
Yeah, I did it the Sunday before I turned 34. I spent the whole day with a packet of fags. I didn’t really see anyone and every cigarette I smoked, I smoked with as much awareness as I could. And then I wrote a little letter to tobacco.
What did the letter say?
Oh, just the usual. “I remember the first time we met and all that we’ve been through together. That time you helped me through such-and-such situation…” and yadda-yadda. It was very much the kind of letter you’d write to a person you were breaking up with. Because that’s what it was — a break-up. It was the first time I’d ever broken up via letter, so it was strange [laughs].
How did tobacco take it?
Tobacco took it OK. The thing is, tobacco always has somewhere else it’s needed. So, maybe it felt abused, but I’m sure it wasn’t left neglected for too long.
You gave up drinking a few years back too — do you miss your wilder days?
Not so much. Genuinely, man, it’s a pretty short answer. If I did miss those days, the chances are I wouldn’t have stuck with what I’ve been doing for the past six years and I wouldn’t be having so much fun, creatively and personally.
How do you stave off boredom while filming? Are you much of an on-set practical joker?
Being on film sets for years, you become a master of filling gaps throughout the day. Whether it’s doing a crossword, shooting the breeze with the cast or playing guitar. I’m not the biggest prankster, though. I’m kind of sh*te at pranks. I’m about as sh*te at pranks as I am at telling jokes. I didn’t get that gene.
Do you get any Irish home comforts flown to LA when you’re filming?
During Fright Night, I had a tea bag flown over. I know it sounds very high maintenance, but I had a tea bag flown over from Dublin.
One singular tea bag. Can you see it now? Sitting in a big white chair in business class. A lonely little tea bag, knowing that its life was going to end very shortly in a pot of boiling New Mexican water. What an inglorious end to its little life [laughs]. No, I’m kidding, man. I don’t get anything sent over, really. I can get Kerrygold butter [in the US] and pretty much any biscuits I want — whether it’s HobNobs or whatever. There’s a shop in Los Angeles called, imaginatively enough, The Irish Store. Catchy, isn’t it? Guess what it sells.
It’s a long shot, but… Guinness?
Yep. And Taytos. And Wispa bars. And Aran jumpers. It’s also one of the few places you’ll find English things sold in an Irish store, but when you’re that far away, it’s like ‘all in for a penny, all in for a pound’.
Is it run by someone who actually has some attachment to Ireland?
It’s run by an Irish woman, but I can’t recall her name now. You can easily drop $400 in there and come out with just a tenpenny bag of stuff. It’s very expensive.
Which actors have inspired you the most?
I’m very much the child of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. But later on I found Jimmy Cagney and Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen. And Jack Lemmon, man. I could watch Jack Lemmon foreve… [breaks off]. Whoa, look! How f*cking scary is that? Jesus Christ, that’s terrifying…
Jesus, that was dramatic. On CBS News, there was a three-year-old kid standing in the middle of a river in India. The water was rushing past him on all sides, but it looks like he got rescued. That was a scary image. Oh man, the poor little fella.
Let’s stick with scariness. What’s been the scariest moment in your life so far, Colin?
I had a syringe put to my neck by a drug dealer in Dublin when I was about 16. I was buying hash in the wrong part of town — well, the right part of town for what I wanted, I suppose — and I hadn’t got my wits about me that day. I got jumped on, thrown into this f*cking rubbish chute with a big metal door, which immediately closed behind me and left just a crack of light coming through. And then a syringe was pressed to my throat, filled with what could have just been ketchup, but I wasn’t going to ask for the lab results. I’ll never forget that. That was very scary.
Finally, what’s the strangest rumour you’ve heard about yourself?
I once heard that I had a Nicorette patch suit made for Miami Vice. I was trying to give up cigarettes at the time, and apparently the way I did that was to line the inside of a suit with Nicorette patches. This was apparently how I was mainlining my nicotine. Which is actually kind of a genius idea, when you think about it. But of course, one would overdose on nicotine poisoning around about Take 1. Can you imagine? “We’ve lost Farrell. Death by cigarette — and he didn’t even inhale.”
Fright Night is in cinemas nationwide from 2 September
(Image: Rex Features)