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Colin Farrell on forcing down cheeseburgers and the criticism of True Detective

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How do you solve a problem like True Detective? If you’re Colin Farrell, by eating cheeseburgers for breakfast and then making your best ever film

“I swore I was never going to play another f*cking cop,” smiles Colin Farrell. 

You can probably guess which recent Colin Farrell project Colin Farrell and I are talking about. (The headline is also a giveaway.)

“Seriously, man, I said: ‘That’s it – no more cops, no more guns.’ And then the f*cking thing has ‘Detective’ in its title. And I was going, ‘Jesus, I can’t… again?’ But 
I read the first two episodes, and Ray Velcoro was just a tasty character on the page, you know?"

Now, if you were inclined towards detective work yourself, you could consider the key phrase there to be ‘on the page’. Because in its transition from page to screen – even on the page to start with, if you ask a large part of the internet – the second series of True Detective, despite the fervent anticipation surrounding it, was not without problems. And certainly not without people keen to point out those problems.]

“Negativity wouldn’t have affected me today as much as it did in the past,” Farrell says. “And, I mean, it wasn’t ripped. It’s just in relation to the first year, it wasn’t as across-the-board loved. And I was fine with that. I kind of knew, to be honest. I kind of had a feeling. I talked to people, friends of mine, that were like, ‘Nah.’” 
As in, they saw it and went ‘Nah’?

“Yeah, ‘Nah.’ But then other friends of mine loved it.”

I venture that, sitting here two months on from the reaction to True Detective, it must be nice – a relief, even – to be promoting a film that is garnering the best initial reviews of any film Farrell has starred in since In Bruges.

“I believe in this film, whatever currency that holds,” he says. “I believe in this film and it’s worth more than quite a few other things I’ve done. So it’d be nice if it gets a decent response, and if anyone goes to see it and stuff.

“But yeah: it’s nice not to come out of True Detective and have to do press for a piece of sh*t.” 

CLAWING BACK CRED

The project we are here to discuss is The Lobster. Rather than being “a piece of sh*t”, it is strange, sad, touching, funny and one of the year’s best films, by anyone. It is the first English-language film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (he did Dogtooth), whom Farrell describes, variously, as “lovely”, “great”, “properly odd” and “an unusual f*cker”.

If I now try to explain the premise to you, you will most likely concur with the last two of these.

Set in a near-dystopian future, a law has been passed where all single people are sent to a weird country hotel, managed by Olivia Colman, and have 45 days to find a partner. If they fail, they are turned into an animal of their choice. Singletons include John C Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Ashley Jensen and Ewen MacIntosh. And then Farrell, three stone heavier than we are used to. Colin Farrell with a dad-bod; Ray Velcoro with a doughnut problem.

Weird, right?

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Dividing critics in season two of True Detective

So how long did it take Colin Farrell to turn smouldering Irish film star into a bloke your girlfriend would scowl at if he glanced at her for too long?

Scarily, just eight weeks. 

“It happens fast if you go for it,” he says. “The body changes fast.”

And did he enjoy this pigging out?

“It was fun for about two days,” he smiles. “And then I was over-eating cheeseburgers for breakfast. I ate like a fool, you know? Chocolates and biscuits beside the bed. I’d wake up at three in the morning and, with my eyes closed, just get eating. At the start I was having to shovel it in, and by the end, to keep my body going, I had to eat every few hours."

Did it affect his mood?

“Yeah, I’d be in a bit of a funk. You slow down a little bit. Things were a little more physically taxing. You’re putting so much sugar into your body that your moods would be changing. But it was fine. I knew it was for a very specific purpose, and I was gonna be in and out.”  

LOBSTER (AND OSCAR) BAIT

It was worth it. Rather than being another example of superfluous shape-changing-for-the-sake-of-it that’s all too common among Hollywood’s elite at present, Farrell’s physical appearance in The Lobster instantly imbues his character with a sense of sadness and loneliness that is key to the mood of the film. He is unrecognisable, and has to be.

“I did want to remove whatever physical familiarity I have in my life, or the audience may have of me,” he says. “I thought there were two ways to go. I could… not emaciate myself, but lose a good bit of weight. But Yorgis thought that would speak to too acute an emotional issue that may have been playing at this man. So it was a case of thinking, ‘Well, he probably just is a bit of a comfort eater.’ He’s got a bit of a sadness and he likes his grub – eats too many biscuits, and has been for a while.”

Farrell’s transformation is far from the only striking thing about this film. The performances are all stunning. And the script, as Farrell puts it, “should stand up in any competition that deems themselves worthy of judging the class of scripts that have been written this year.”

Which begs the question that I know he will not answer, but which I ask anyway.

“I’m truly not even thinking about it,” he says, of the awards talk that is already swirling around The Lobster. “If the film is received well, and people go and see it and like it, that’d be amazing. Anything else, any of those award things, they’re fun: you obviously don’t take them seriously. But if you completely go, ‘It means nothing,’ then… it does mean nothing. Everything means f*cking nothing, if you really want to break it down and get down to it. But…” He smiles. “Whatever happens, I’m fine with it."

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With Brendan Gleeson in indie comedy smash In Bruges

FUTURE LOOKS FINE

You might notice Farrell says “I’m fine” or “I’m fine with it” a lot. And these days, you believe him. We talk about what he – in comedy voice-of-doom – refers to as “The Madness Years” and, while noting that it was “fun while it lasted”, he says he’s “glad that period’s over”. Again, you believe him.

He seems to be taking things in his stride now: not getting miffed about the bashing True Detective might get; not getting over-excited about the praise and hype and awards talk The Lobster might get.

“I don’t feel like ‘I’ve arrived’ or ‘I’m where I’m supposed to be’, or any other borderline grandiose sentiments,” he says. “I’m cool with where things are now, and I’m genuinely very grateful that I’m still working after 15 years. And If I can keep doing work that interests me, and if I can look after what I’ve got to look after… 

“It’s that simple, really.” 

The Lobster is at cinemas now

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