A chat with Colin Farrell (“Dead Man Down”)

Colin Farrell was first introduced to American audiences in Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland” in 2000, and he’s managed to leave a lasting impression in each film he’s done. With leading man good looks and acting chops to match, the former bad boy’s onscreen intensity is sometimes enough to make up for some questionable script choices. Whether giving life to an underrated supervillain in “Daredevil,” or starring in the 2012 reboot of the iconic “Total Recall,” Farrell is as talented as he is fearless.

In almost an extension of “Total Recall,” where the main character Douglas Quaid is trying to remember his past, his latest role as Victor in “Dead Man Down” is about a man using revenge to come to grips with his. We recently had a chance to speak to Colin about his preparation for the role, working with co-star Noomi Rapace (“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), and his upcoming slate of films, including the animated film “Epic,” featuring the voices of Amanda Seyfried and Beyonce, and “Saving Mr. Banks,” where he plays the father of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers.

BE: The film raises the interesting question of “How far would you go?” So how far would you go?

COLIN FARRELL: I have no idea. It’s never good to answer in “what ifs.” I think it’s horseshit. I don’t think any of us have an iota of how we’d really respond to most situations.

BE: Do you ever leave the set wondering what you would do in a character’s situation?

COLIN FARRELL: When you’re doing a film, once you start asking “What would I do?” you start getting the distance greater between yourself and the character or you’re bringing the character to you, which is self-serving in the wrong way. I think it seems that the idea is to bring yourself to the character.

BE: Were you able to relate to the character?

COLIN FARRELL: Well, you know, it’s fiction. I don’t even have to do that. It’s in you already. You just treat the fiction as reality, kind of. Ideally, you read a script so often and you think about the context of the scene so much that you begin to dream. You’re in pretty good shape if you begin to dream the character and certain conventions of the story. Noomi started having earlier dreams than I did. (laughs)

BE: How are you feeling, outside of the role?

COLIN FARRELL: I’m was doing good. I’m fairly healthy. Sometimes, you come home from work and you’re just tired and you wouldn’t want to see anyone and just be on your own. Consciously, you kind of look after yourself, whatever that may be. Whether you go out for a few drinks and dinner or just hit the couch and watch TV, or go to the gym or yoga class. Just be aware that there’s the potential for you to be in it and respecting wherever you find yourself, so I was fine.

BE: What were you trying to bring to this character?

COLIN FARRELL: Nothing that I can recall that I made a definite decision. I think that when you try to do something new for the sake of being new, you might get yourself into a bit of a hole. From my experience, you can only take what’s written on the page and try and, through your own curiosity and investigation, try to make it your own and honor what the original intent was. I felt in reading it, that the relationship between my character and Noomi’s character was kind of the thing that made the film significantly unique to me. There’s a certain tenderness in the relationship. It’s not rushed. They never f*ck. It’s two really, really wounded, broken human beings coming together and finding in each other some sense of salvation that neither saw coming, that both had given up the hope of. Just the device of them being in the apartments across from each other. It had a Hitchcockian nature to it.

BE: An aspect of the film deals with a perception of beauty. Did you find your character’s relationship a reflection of your own beliefs?

COLIN FARRELL: I think beauty is indefinable. You see when you see it. You feel when you feel it. You hear when you hear it. It usually encompasses possibly all five of the senses. It can’t exist without being somehow a sensorial experience. I don’t think it’s quantifiable, but I mean nothing is quantifiable. Nothing is certain – love, friendship. Poets and writers say we should all try to understand these things.

BE: Does working with great actors like these affect or boost your performance?

COLIN FARRELL: No, I’ve worked with great actors before. You never know. In the present? Yes. You’re excited going to set. You know that you’re going to work with people who are going to raise your game and be there fully with you and challenge you. That’s cool. That’s a lot of fun. I loved working with Noomi. She was so brilliant, so present and so imaginative. She just really cares about it a lot. You know it keeps her up at night and that translates not in tension or stiffness or forcing it, but a complete kind of integral understanding of the character. I felt like she was a great dancing partner.

BE: How long did you and Noomi have to rehearse? Did it take time to build a connection?

COLIN FARRELL: I like her. I think she’s cool and smart and kind and talented. Our hotel rooms were beside each other, so we had a really nice, watered down reflection of the dynamic in the film. We shared a balcony. I’d text her or she’d text me at 10pm: “Do you want to have a cup of coffee on the balcony and talk about tomorrow’s work?” It was the same balcony with just a pole between us. She’d sit on her side and I’d sit on my side. It was on the tenth floor of a street in Philly, so you’d hear the traffic beneath us. We’d share a sneaky cigarette and talk about the next day’s work. It was a really sweet time. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that was a good.

BE: Did you get in shape for the film?

COLIN FARRELL: It’s always easy to take your shirt off when you’re in shape, I suppose. (laughs) Victor is someone who lives a monastic existence. He’s someone who has shunned the pleasures that a lot of us can experience in life, such as pleasures of the flesh. He doesn’t get drunk. He doesn’t buy food based on taste and so on. It’s a very sterile world of deprivation. Having said that, it’s also a world, not to the point of emaciation, but of having a really clean body. He’s a really clean man, worked out, very fit.

BE: Did you have to work out a lot?

COLIN FARRELL: I got as clean as I’d ever been. I didn’t have sugar for four months and I had very little pizza (laughs)

BE: Was that your choice?

COLIN FARRELL: Most of the time it is. Unless it’s written about in the script. I did a thing years ago called “Triage,” and in the book, he came back from Kurdistan and he was in bad shape. He was emaciated. In the book, there were details about his eyes. Still, the director was like, “You don’t have to.”

BE: Tell me about the role you play in the “Mary Poppins” movie.

COLIN FARRELL: I play Travers Goff, the father of P.L. Travers when she was six, in flashback. P.L. Travers is the writer who wrote the “Mary Poppins” series of books. Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers as a woman. So, I play Emma Thompson’s father, in flashback, in Australia in 1906. It was cool. It was a beautiful script, such a magic script.

BE: How was the voiceover work you did in “Epic”?

COLIN FARRELL: Oh, that was fun.

BE: Had you done animation before?

COLIN FARRELL: No, I don’t think so. No, never. I just finished “Winter’s Tale.” We shot for four or five months in New York.

BE: What’s your role in “Winter’s Tale”?

CCOLIN FARRELL: I play a petty criminal named Peter Lake, who falls upon an image of a young woman of a house he breaks into early in the film. He falls in love with her and all kinds of stuff happens.

BE: Was there ever a point in the film where you realized Victor was a complete badass?

COLIN FARRELL: No, not really. (laughs) “Badass” is such an American term to me. There are a few things that have a cultural block. “Badass” makes you want to go, “Whoa.” When people go, “I’m just fucking with you,” I’m like, “Really? You’re fucking with me? You’re taking advantage of me?” It’s a few of those cultural things and it’s not just Americans’ faults. But no, I never felt like a badass. It’s make-believe. Maybe there’s a part of you inside that’s 7-years-old when you’re under a rain machine, shooting a submachine gun.