Colin Farrell Goes to Bruges, Makes a Great Black Comedy, and Talks to Cole Smithey About How
By Cole Smithey
By Cole Smithey
Hailing from Castleknock in the Republic of Ireland, Colin Farrell has taken Hollywood by storm in the eight years since his breakout performance in Joel Schumacher’s "Tigerland" made critics and filmmakers alike stand up and take notice. Colin Farrell has gone on to work with such deified directors as Steven Spielberg ("Minority Report")," Oliver Stone ("Alexander"), Terrence Malick ("The New World"), Robert Towne ("Ask the Dust"), Michael Mann ("Miami Vice"), and Woody Allen ("Cassandra’s Dream"). However Farrell’s recent foray into smaller budget films is revealing a newfound commitment to his craft and previously unseen levels of characterization.
"In Bruges" is a highly unique and stylized black comedy that makes good on its ostensibly simple hitmen/boss narrative trope. Colin Farrell has visible fun as Ray, a newbie assignment killer sent to Bruges, Belgium with his more experienced Irish compatriot Ken (Brenden Gleeson), to hide out after a London kill that went astray. A Laurel and Hardy friendship develops between the two men as they sightsee Belgium’s best preserved medieval city while awaiting instructions from their excitable and profane boss Harry (exceptionally played by Ralph Fiennes). The film shifts into a postmodern existential satire even as the body count goes up in a surprise-filled climax. Here is an unapologetically irreverent European crime thriller that makes subtle character development as effortless as Colin Ferrell’s upward bent eyebrows.
I met Colin Ferrell at Manhattan’s Regency Hotel on a cold January day. Colin never bothered to remove his fingerless gloves or porkpie hat.
CS: What was the greatest challenge about doing a black comedy?CF: I didn’t really see it as doing comedy. The script was hilarious in reading it, and in rehearsal—there was a lot of cracking up, and it was very hard sometimes to get through scenes without completely collapsing in uproarious laughter. But eventually we got to a stage where we got inured to the comedy, so we could actually play what was sincere and what was genuine—both subtextually and what was on the surface of these characters because they have no idea how endearing they’re being in their speech. Ray doesn’t even have an idea how combative he is a lot of the time. He’s very childlike in that way that he has no censorship. But it took a while to get to the stage where I didn’t find it funny anymore. Because at the end of the day, I’m playing a character who’s been kind of suicidal for three days, and about as despondent as a man can be.
CS: Your character Ray constantly calls Bruges a shithole.
CF: He’s just projecting all of his shit, isn’t he really? You could have put him anywhere really and he would have said the same thing. He would have found something bad about anywhere that he was. Plus Bruges, I suppose, in essence is a very real and stark reminder of the reason that they’re there. So he’s constantly surrounded and immersed in an environment that is just pointing a finger at him.
Bruges is a beautiful city. When we arrived it was the middle of winter and it was dark everyday at four o’clock, and so there was an errieness to the place—cobblestone streets and older souls—the medieval architecture gave a Draconian feel to the place, particularly when there were no tourists around. So that suited me fine to go with that train of thought, and allow the environment to wash over me and use that.
CS: In eight short years you’ve gone from a breakout role in "Tigerland" to working as an A-List Hollywood actor. How has your focus changed regarding your career?
CF: I don’t know. I’ve been lucky enough to get incredible opportunities over the years, and I certainly didn’t carpenter the last three films ["In Bruges," "Dirt Music" and "Pride and Glory"] to be the size that they are, which is smaller—certainly bugetarily smaller than some of the things that I’ve done. I’m just fascinated with people and situations, so it’s nice to be involved in things that ask questions of why we are the way we are at times. I’m lucky to be still working in that respect. It’s good. I enjoy doing what I do.
CS: Do you find more artistic freedom on smaller budget films where you don’t have a big studio looking over your shoulder all of the time?
CF: Sure, there’s an argument that characters can be a little off of what is perceived to be the center with smaller films. There has to be a kind of common denominator with the bigger pictures. There’s usually a protagonist, or two protagonists, and the language is usually more rudimentary—which is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, with the themes that are being explored in "Pride and Glory," "Dirt Music," and this; I felt I could push the bar a little bit more. Especially with "In Bruges." It was such an almost ridiculous world to inhabit, and the characters had such an extreme way of conversing. I was going in my head, ‘How the fuck do I say these words?’
CS: Well, the film certainly has a freshness to it. How did you achieve that tone?
CF: We just rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed to the point where we were all really familiar with the characters and with the situation—but never to the point where there was a stagnancy. Never once did it feel repetitious. So by the time we got to the set, we felt like we had a grasp of who these people were and why they had done the things that they had done. It’s a testament to how great the script was, that after three weeks of talking about it and looking at it, every time we asked a question and thought we came to a decent conclusion, there’d be five or ten other questions around the table as a result of asking that one. It really was kind of regenerative like that.
CS: Was it liberating to be able to use your own dialect in this film?CF: When I have to do a dialect, there’s a danger. It can be one of two things—just generally—it can be an avenue into a character and a form of separating yourself from your own natural patterns and sounds. There’s also a danger—and maybe it’s before I haven’t worked as hard as I should—where there’s been times where I’ve heard what I’m saying, and it’s the worst thing in the world to be aware of what you’re saying. So, it was incredibly liberating, and fitting, to be able to use my own vernacular.
CS: How is it that you haven’t worked with Brendan Gleeson before?
CF: Just been avoiding him for years really. I don’t know. I’m a huge fan of his—and you know, the Irish connection. But it was an honor—a pleasure to get to work with him this time. It was fortuitous that it was this piece, and to work so intimately with him in such close quarters.
CS: Where do you call home these days?
CF: I spend most of my time in Los Angeles now, and still feel very much that Ireland is home. But I’ve made a nice home in Los Angeles. My son is there, so that’s why I’m there most of the time.