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In Bruges - Colin Farrell interview

Colin Farrell in In Bruges

Interview by Rob Carnevale

COLIN Farrell talks about why he felt the script for hitman comedy In Bruges was one of the best he’d ever read, as well as some of its non-PC elements that it contains.

He also talks about the difference between making films at home in Ireland and in America and why even some of the world’s harshest film shooting locations can be among the warmest places he’s ever been…

Q. I think you’re on record as saying this is possibly the best script you’ve ever read?
Colin Farrell: I’m sure I said possibly [laughs]. No very much so, very much so. It was just an incredibly unique experience opening it up and getting drawn into that world. There’s a way about the characters as far as they communicate with each other, their observations on the world, their level of honesty, and also a human aspect and a truth, that seemed to be at odds… there seemed to be a great juxtaposition with what they do for a living. I mean my character’s not very good at it – first time out he makes a mess of the whole thing with tragic consequences, whereas Ken [Brendan Gleeson] has been doing it longer and has six or seven kills under his belt.

But there’s an incredible juxtaposition between what they do and the effect that it has. They’re not nullified to the experience or the waste of taking another person’s life. I think Brendan’s character is a little bit shut off emotionally to the world so that he can continue and perpetuate his job. My character is fresh out of it. So to have so much going on and not have one particular sensibility reign throughout the whole piece, it means there’s a mix of so many different worlds, thoughts and emotions. It was just an absolute pleasure [to read] and such beautiful language. Martin [McDonagh]‘s use of language is really second to none so it was really an amazing opportunity.

Q. Were you ever worried about crossing any lines with some of the non-PC elements in the script?
Colin Farrell: No, not at all. I mean I could be accused of being incredibly un-self aware but there’s a line where I say, “If I was from Bruges and I was retarded…” But I’m involved with the Special Olympics, so in my own life I would never use that word. It’s a word that creates denigration and it’s incredibly harmful. But when it came to this, it’s about a bunch of characters that Martin created, so you honour the writing and you accept the world. I never even thought about it until it came up afterwards and somebody said to me: “But you’re involved with the Special Olympics and you have a son with special needs…” Then I thought: “Yeah, I know but this is telling a story and this is explaining these characters’ positions on certain aspects of thought and how they don’t judge but how they describe what they see.” It was never vitriolic anyway from Ray. It’s never delivered with any kind of malice or intent of bigotry. He’s just very innocent and naive and the world isn’t as well explained to him as it is to some of us.

But that’s one of the beautiful things about him as well. Martin’s work could be misconstrued as being just un-PC and violent and slap-bang but the bottom line is that it really does go to all kinds of places: it’s a very compassionate piece and it is about a road back to redemption and a road back to self-forgiveness.

Q. Can we presume that Bruges, to you, isn’t quite the s*thole you describe in the film?*
Colin Farrell: [Laughs] No, it’s certainly not a s**thole! Not a big one anyway. When we arrived it was the middle of winter, so it was dark every day at 4pm and there was literally nobody on the streets, so I really did get a sense that maybe there was the plague going on and nobody had told us [laughs]. But it’s an incredibly beautiful city and the people were all really welcoming and really warm. You kind of project onto a place what you’re feeling at any given time… you could go to the same place at two different periods in your life and find that the place has two different energies. So, just in keeping with [my character] Ray’s thing, I kind of enjoyed slagging it a bit every day and Brendan would stick up for it, so we had that banter going on.

But I did enjoy the fact that it felt like a very self-contained community and really felt that the world we inhabited when we were shooting the film was still the world we inhabited when we weren’t. The complete opposite would be constructed sets, so the line between reality and the fiction we were trying to make as real as possible just dissipated so much and it was really lovely to be around. You could walk round everywhere and you felt that you were either stuck in that world or glad to be in that world for nine or 10 weeks.

Q. Did the relationship between yourself and Brendan bring back any memories of holiday trips with your father?
Colin Farrell: No, we went on the cheapest holidays my father could find but I always had a good time. We went to France a lot. But I never had to be taken away from anywhere because I’d committed a murder, thank God! [laughs] So, there were somewhat extenuating circumstances in this with Brendan’s character grabbing me by the scruff and getting out of town. There was no choice.

Q. How nice was it to be able to do some comedy, because your American roles haven’t afforded you much opportunity to do that, have they?
Colin Farrell: It was nice but even though I read the script and thought it was hilarious from page one, you then begin to get the sense that something else is going on beneath the hilarity of these two characters being of consequence to each other. And then the flashback scene means that you’re in a different world completely and it seems to take a turn. I mean, it never loses its comedic aspects but it goes to places that are quite painful at times. We have three weeks of rehearsals before we started shooting it, and thank God, because it was hard to make it through a lot of the scenes without cracking up and laughing. Talk about the church giggles… once I start I can’t really stop. But I never really saw it as just funny, because you just try to play the truth of the situation and the writing really looked after how hilarious it was.

Q. Amidst all the success you have with American movies, how important is it to be able to come back and make films in Britain?
Colin Farrell: It’s not really a conscious thing. Ideally I’d love, particularly in Dublin, I’d love to shoot there… if I was to do two films a year I’d love to do one of them every second year in Dublin. But at the end of the day you follow the work if you’re fortunate enough. You go where the work takes you because that’s all you’re asking for as an actor. What you’re asking for, hoping for, begging for is that you connect with the material and then wherever that shoots – be it in North Africa or Florida, Dublin or London – you go there.

Q. If Bruges wasn’t the s*thole your character describes, where are the s**tholes you’ve been to – and be honest?*
Colin Farrell: [Laughs] I’ve been in places that people would call a s**thole, like when I was going down to shoot in the Dominican Republic [for Miami Vice] people would say to me: “Oh, that’s awful and this, that and the other…” But the level of honesty and decency and warmth that you find in some places in the world that are known to be s**tholes and have bad reputations as dangerous and living on the fringes of society are filled with some of the warmest people and some of the best memories I have. So, I think you can make something out of everywhere, you really can, if you want to just put yourself out there and experience a place and find the best of it.

Read our review of In Bruges

Read our interview with writer-director Martin McDonagh

  1. enjoyed the film. Wondered what elements of the film gave it its 18 certificate. Maybe the nature of the comedy, deriving from two killers, though they are shown to have a conscience in relation to their work. I think really it could hve been given a fifteen certificate , since the violence is sporadic and not gratuitous as in some films. Film classification is made a nonsense of anyway when it the film is shown at an
    undiscriminating audience on TV.

    Michael    May 6    #