When I met Colin Farrell at his Manhattan hotel, he seemed a little flustered at first because he couldn’t find a place to smoke. It appeared he was in luck, because there was courtyard attached to the bar areas where this interview was to take place. The idea was even proposed that I do the interview while Farrell smokes his cigarette. I started mentally brainstorming headlines like “Colin Farrell Ponders Life While Smoking A Cigarette.” I liked that one. Okay, let’s do it. But when he and his publicist opened the door to the courtyard, they were met with a giant “No Smoking” sign. (It can’t be easy to be a smoker in New York City these days.)
I expected Farrell to throw caution to the wind and have his smoke anyway. No one seemed to be watching, and he is a famous movie star. Why not? Isn’t that one of the rewards of being in movies? That you then get to ignore signs? Alas, Farrell conceded to the authority of The Sign and would have his cigarette another time. “Colin Farrell Ponders Life While Obeying Local City Ordinances” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Anyway, we sat at the bar.
Boy, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is a hard movie to describe in just a couple of sentences that lead up to an interview with its star. Well, okay, let’s try: Farrell plays David, who’s a bit of a sad sack. In the fictional world of The Lobster, if a human being doesn’t have a romantic partner, that person is sent to a camp in an effort to find love. If love isn’t found after a certain amount of time, that person is transformed into an animal. It’s a movie that’s both somehow grim and hilarious at the same time. (You should see The Lobster.)
Ahead, Farrell (still obeying city laws) explains why Ray Velcoro from True Detective would not like The Lobster. And he gives us a preview of what to expect from his character, Percival Graves, in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
I played the online game, where it assigns you what animal you will be.
I heard about it.
I got the panda.
You got the panda?
You’ll sit around on your ass eating fucking bamboo all year.
That doesn’t sound that bad.
That’s amazing. You’ll become a YouTube celebrity just because your child sneezes and you nearly shit yourself. Did you ever see that Panda?
Panda is cool.
The response to The Lobster has been very positive.
I’m really glad I’m part of it. Over the years, some things have worked and others haven’t worked. And to be in something I believe works – but not for everyone, because nothing ever does – and has kind of the worth this has? I mean, not to get high and mighty, that this is something society needs to exist. I have friends of mine, some of them who loved it, and a couple of friends of mine who didn’t like it and didn’t get it at all, but I love it.
People who like meat-and-potatoes types of movies, this probably isn’t for them.
No, not at all. It’s a very, very particular film. I don’t think it’s exclusive and I don’t think it’s pretentious. I think it’s incredibly observant of human behaviors. I think pretension kind of smothers respect.
You kick a kid in this movie.
As someone who has thrown all these punches in action films, it’s so relieving to deliver a kick like that. It’s so much more honest.
Did you film The Lobster or True Detective first?
The Lobster first.
They are so different. Does one play into the other as far as what you decide to do next?
No. I mean, one maybe becomes a palette cleanser for the other in a way.
Well, then it does in a way.
Well, you would hope your palette is cleansed before that. But I do know, there are times I’ll do a job and I will read a script after that job. And this has happened where the script has been very strong and the character is really strong and I felt the writing is strong, but there is something too similar. And I felt I either wouldn’t have the craft or to be able to not feel like I was repeating myself. And then to try and create a character dynamic where I didn’t feel like I was repeating myself, I’d be forcing my hand into some unnatural area to not repeat myself. So, I’d be superimposing all this baggage. Whereas the character was so different in True Detective from David in The Lobster, it was an absolute joy. It really was something I could fully throw myself and my energy into, just because of how disparate a character and experience and environment and worldview – so different.
I’m not sure Ray Velcoro would like The Lobster.
No. He wouldn’t get it. Just straight up. And I love Ray, so I’m not judging any of my mates or anyone who doesn’t get it. I love Ray Velcoro, but he wouldn’t fucking get it. “That was a waste of fucking two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” And if David met Ray Velcoro, he wouldn’t understand what planet Ray came from.
There are very few beats in The Lobster that I think would compare to anything else.
People are saying, “This is a very different job than anything you’ve done before.” But there are no films like this. I’m not even saying it’s great or bad or qualifying it.
Well, then I’ll say it’s great.
That’s not ass kissing.
Well, thank you.
I guess it is a little bit.
But I do like it.
I’m always a believer that if someone feels their ass has been kissed by me while I’m telling the truth, that’s cool. That’s the best of both worlds. Not that my ass has been kissed, I certainly don’t feel mine has been. But, I’d also like to think if you gave me 50 scripts, and one of Yorgos Lanthimos’ scripts is in the 50, but you didn’t tell me, I’d pick it out.
Like the pea under the mattress.
The Princess and the Pea.
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
That was a bad analogy.
Was that good?
Oh, yeah. I like it, anyway.
Since True Detective, I’ve been listening to a lot of Conway Twitty’s version of “The Rose.”
Oh, God, it’s beautiful.
It’s the best.
I couldn’t stop listening to it, either.
When it aired, people thought that was Elvis.
Yeah, I know. Oh, that bit where he comes in and it’s just this weird voice, voice, voice. It’s an extraordinary song.
You’re in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What’s your relationship with the Harry Potter stories?
I’ve never read the books, but I love the films.
That’s got to be weird to be on set and enter that world.
Oh, it’s cool. Honestly.
So you can feel it?
Well, there’s a great attention to detail. David Yates directed the last four Harry Potter films. There’s wizarding stuff and wands and fuckin’ wanted posters of wizards who had gone awry. And there’s certain architectural elements and details that are clearly describing a more supernatural world. So, yes, I was aware I was part of a universe that was something I hadn’t experienced before. And I had a wand.
How would you describe your character, Percival Graves?
He’s driven. He’s tenaciously single-minded. And he has a very, very clear purpose.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.