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London Boulevard - Colin Farrell interview

Colin Farrell in London Boulevard

Interview by Rob Carnevale

COLIN Farrell talks about playing an ex-con trying to find a new life in William Monahan’s London Boulevard and the pleasure of going toe to toe with Ray Winstone.

He also talks about coping with celebrity and why it’s important to see fame for what it really is in order to maintain focus in real life.

Q. How did you enjoy working on London Boulevard? I imagine it’s quite a challenging part to play and, given the talent involved, you have to bring your A-game?
Colin Farrell: This was interesting. I think probably the best part was working with William Monahan. I loved the script that Bill wrote and then working with him… he was just an easy touch. But I think the best part for me was the actors I got the chance to work with. I mean, it’s such an eclectic and brilliant cast of British actors… phenomenal. It’s one of the best I can remember. From [David Thewlis] to [Anna] Friel to [Ray] Winstone to [Ben] Chaplin and [Eddie] Marsan…

I mean, you have everything from the grandiosity of theatre to the strength of urban cinema represented by the actors – from all levels of social and economic background, different levels of education, and street smart and book smart. It’s just a really interesting, eclectic bunch. For me, I must have been in 95-96% of the scenes, and I got to see them all. Literally, they’d shoot… it’d be like one would come in and shoot five days, then they’d f**k off, and then another actor would come in and shoot a week and then he’d f**k off and it was like: “Who’s next?” Eddie Marsan… ooh, what’s he going to do? But it was lovely. I really loved it.

Q. And what did you like about Mitch as a character – was it that mix of toughness and vulnerability?
Colin Farrell: Mitch was someone who, like so many of us, is fragmented between the ideas of what he wanted to be and the realities of what he had become. He’s somebody who just decides to make… I keep going back to this but there’s a line in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia that says: “You may be through with your past but your past might not be through with you…” And that’s very applicable to Mitch’s story. He really is reaching into a future that only he can see, and only he can envisage, and which he’s had three years in Pentonville to envisage.

But yet he’s being gripped around the neck by a past that just won’t let him go. He has a lot of extremes. I mean, he was violent. He’s violent in the film a couple of times, but he lived a life of continuous violence before he went to prison. He understand that system, and he understands that structure in society, and its place, but it makes him sick now and he doesn’t want to know about it; But inevitably as the story goes, he gets pulled back into it and that beast within him gets re-awakened and self-preservation becomes the key.

Q. He’s a contemporary character but he’s very much a tragic one in the classic sense. I mean, the Olympians are mentioned in the film…
Colin Farrell: Absolutely. And Bill Monahan is so smart and so well read. You’d love talking to him. He would have such an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the Greek tragedies, of every line that Shakespeare’s ever written… I mean, he throws you a 500-page book and says he read it last night and that you should take a look at it. And he’s not f**king around! I don’t know how he does it. Literally, last time I was over there it was the [autobiography] Keith Richards Life [story]… he said to me: “I was reading this all last night. I literally couldn’t put it down. I got through it all. It’s unbelievable, you’ve got to take a look.”

So, what would to me even as a cinema-goer and a fan of film possibly seem like an entertaining role through the criminal underworld of London, would through Bill’s prism be working on myriad different levels. There’s the essential element of tragedy there… of two people destined to meet – and this could be either Ray’s character and my character or Keira’s character and my character – and thereby change each other’s lives forever… but in what direction?

Q. How was exploring that dynamic with Keira Knightley? Particularly the aspects of celebrity that you confront… and the notion that perhaps fame can sometimes be a poisoned chalice?
Colin Farrell: Look, I’d hate to sound smug and I’m very grateful for everything that I have but I think the best thing about celebrity and the best thing about achieving a level of fame is that you get to remove it as an unfulfilled dream in your life. You get to remove it as the Holy Grail, or the Philosopher’s Stone as answers to your problems, if you know what I mean. You see that really as much I have a very blessed life, there are certain existential problems and certain health issues and all these things that very much remain the same.

It’s true that you can maybe afford a certain amount of healthcare that maybe other people struggle with and so forth, but the whole notion of fame and the popularity that it brings being an answer to your problems is a fallacy and it’s the one thing you have to strike off the list if you ever realise it and go: “OK.” It can then bring you back to looking at it in a more simpler manner… especially in regard to certain issues in your life that maybe you’re overlooking because you thought that something that was far-reaching, or existed beyond the horizon, was a great answer. But Keira’s character in the film understands that but she’s still fighting with it too much. She’s got these grand notions of how f**ked it all is but she’s rubbing against it too much, even though she’s on her way to reconciling herself with it. I would have liked to have worked more with Keira, I really would.

Q. Conversely, how intimidating is it going toe to toe with Ray Winstone?
Colin Farrell: It was a blast… a blast man! I keep saying it but he’s the toughest actor I feel I’ve ever worked with. And tough in terms of going eye to eye with because he’s a f**king strong man. And I’m no slouch, don’t get me wrong [laughs]…

Q. But he’s an ex-boxer…
Colin Farrell: Yeah, and at the end of the day, you can take the man out of the… but you can’t take the… you know? No matter how far he’s come from where he started, that’s all still in him. He’s an absolute gem of a man and a real gentleman but particularly the scene in the apartment… at least with the scene in the car park or the restaurant there was some pro-activity on Mitch’s part. He was confronting him and responding to him, telling him this is where he was coming from. But the one in the apartment was tough because Mitch has nowhere to go. He just has to stand there and Ray is dictating the pace. I loved going toe to toe with Ray, though, it was such fun.

Read our review of London Boulevard