Colin Farrell: I'm giving up my bad boy image

The actor says he is less concerned with being an alpha-male and calls himself an 'emotional vampire' - arthouses watch out, Colin Farrell is coming

Colin Farrell is lying on a couch at the Savoy, just about ready to kick off his biker boots. The Irish actor has just flown in to London from Los Angeles, where he’s lived for the past 15-odd years, and the jet lag is catching up with him. How times have changed.

It was a decade ago when we last met for The Recruit. Then, he was a Hollywood bad boy, filling his days of being wild with Playboy models, sex tapes and cocaine-and-whiskey binges and rehab all par for the course.

It coincided with a remarkable period in Farrell’s career, shortly after Steven Spielberg came calling for 2002’s Minority Report. “It was insane,” he reflects. “I had no idea what was going on – my head was spinning. All I could do was hold on and pretend that I didn’t care about any of it, because I just didn’t know how to manage it  or know what I cared about. It all happened very, very fast, and it was a blast – but I’m glad it was torn down by these very hands, in a way.”

Now, at 37, Farrell is a changed man – calmer and quieter – as his recent CV suggests. Last November saw him in the sentimental Saving Mr. Banks, playing Travers Goff, the well-meaning but unreliable father to Mary Poppins author P L Travers. This month, he takes a rare step towards playing a romantic lead in A New York Winter’s Tale, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. “I don’t think I’ve done anything that’s as unashamedly and unabashedly romantic as this film,” he says. Colin Farrell with Jessica Brown Findlay in 'A New York Winter's Tale' Colin Farrell with Jessica Brown Findlay in 'A New York Winter's Tale' (Warner Bros)

He couldn’t have put it better if he tried. Based on the novel by Mark Helprin, Farrell plays Peter Lake, a burglar living in New York in 1916 who falls for Jessica Brown Findlay’s well-to-do Beverly, who is dying of tuberculosis. A blend of romance and fantasy (there’s a flying white horse, time-travel and Satanic rumblings), Farrell calls it “incredibly sweet and incredible moving” – even if its protestations about universal love come straight out of the Hallmark playbook.

Despite his bad-boy image, Farrell is an old romantic at heart, he says. His first ever crush was Marilyn Monroe; he’d leave Smarties under his pillow for her. “I truly felt what we would call romantic love,” he smiles. More recently, there was his time spent with Elizabeth Taylor; they met in the last two years of her life, before she died in 2011 (he was one of the few non-family members at her funeral). Farrell calls it – in his mind, at least – “the last romantic relationship I had which was never consummated”.

On screen, though, it’s different. The only time he’s ever been a heartthrob was in Ask the Dust, Robert Towne’s stilted 2006 adaptation of John Fante’s novel. “I don’t know,” Farrell sighs. “There was heart in it, but I don’t know if anyone felt it!” That aside, Farrell hasn’t taken the romantic route. “I didn’t get offered many of them,” he shrugs. Instead, he took on films like S.W.A.T., Miami Vice and Pride and Glory. But macho posturing can only get you so far. Colin Farrell arrives at the New York premiere of new film 'A New York Winter's Tale' Colin Farrell arrives at the New York premiere of new film 'A New York Winter's Tale' (Getty)

“I’m less concerned with being alpha now,” he says. Surely this is de rigueur for most male actors in Hollywood? “Yeah, but there’s an awful lot of that in me as well,” he replies. He’s referring to his Dublin upbringing, when his father and uncle both played football for Shamrock Rovers. His was a boisterous childhood (even if he did unsuccessfully audition for Boyzone and try out acting after Spielberg’s E.T. moved him to tears). “You grow up, you go to school, and you want to hold your own in the playground and the class.”

Long before he realised a desire to tap into his masculinity on screen, Farrell sensed he’d become an actor. “I’ve always loved observing people. When I was a kid, I used to drive out to the airport in my mother’s car at 2 or 3 in the morning and sit at the arrivals gate.”

After a spell at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre and on TV’s Ballykissangel (as the roguish Danny Byrne), he made his Hollywood breakthrough in Joel Schumacher’s Vietnam War movie Tigerland, which cemented his interest in tortured masculinity.

Sometimes, as in his Golden Globe-winning turn as In Bruges’ hitman, it worked wonders. But “investigating the very nature and fabric of testosterone” interests him “less and less now”, he says. “I don’t define manhood in the ways that I used to.”

Partly, this comes with being a father now to two boys, 10-year-old James (from his relationship with American model Kim Bordenave) and five-year-old Henry (whose mother is Farrell’s Ondine co-star Alicja Bachleda-Curus). “That’s part of my life now and that’s very much part of who I am. There’s an enormous amount of fear, strength, tenderness and uncertainty that goes into being a parent. It allows you to take everything you’ve experienced before and just puts it into very, very sharp focus.”

While he’s no longer with the mother of either of his children, Farrell seems too wrapped up in fatherhood to worry. “To be honest, the two lads keep me busy,” he says (the women in his life are currently his mother, Rita, and two sisters, Claudine and Catherine, all living in LA). He’s also slowed down his output, deliberately. “There was a stage a few years ago where I went from film to film to film to film,” he recalls. “I once did four films with just a week or two between each.”

More selective, Farrell is also aiming higher. He recently completed a new film version of Strindberg’s “bleak, beautiful” Miss Julie, directed by Ingmar Bergman’s long-time muse, Liv Ullmann. “God, she can tell a story!” says Farrell, admiringly. “She told me a lot about her days with Ingmar – she wouldn’t mind me saying that.” He’s also just signed onto The Lobster, a future-set love story with Rachel Weisz from the Greek director of the acclaimed Dogtooth.

Arthouses watch out – Colin Farrell is coming.

‘A New York Winter’s Tale’ opens on 21 February

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower