Arts Express: Colin Farrell Talks Winter’s Tale

Winter’s Tale may be a big screen blend of action and sci-fi. But the primary impulse in this Akiva Goldsman time travel fantasy would seem to be romance, and the object of that sentiment, Jessica Brown-Findlay.

So questions about that particular emotional journey both on and off screen, were the most probing topics on the table in a conversation with the movie’s affection-challenged leading guy, Colin Farrell.

And his answers may surprise you. That is, in heartfelt when not humorous reflections touching on Christmas trees, flowers, flying horses, snow, wigs, maraschino cherries, and worse days at the office than movie sex.

Hi, I want to know everything about…

COLIN FARRELL: Greedy, greedy!

Well, this movie is a romantic story that opened around Valentines Day. So are you into Valentine’s Day?

CF: Valentine’s Day, I don’t even know what that’s about! Really. I mean, it’s an excuse for – and it’s whatever you make it. You know?

Some people put up a Christmas tree, and some people don’t! It’s whatever you make it.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flowers, and chocolate covered maraschino cherries. But it would be nice if it didn’t take such a kind of publicly promoted or commercially promoted holiday.

You know, for people to extend themselves in gestures of love. But, yeah. No, I think love is really what makes it all spin. You know?

Do you think love is overrated, and that’s why we have Valentines Day?

CF: Overrated? Uh, no. Possibly underrated. The importance of it. And its prevalence in a single person’s life.

And in the life of a shared community, where it can make incredible changes. And promote the idea of peace and harmony within a society. Or within a person’s individual existence.

Yeah, ‘All you need is love…’ No, I mean it really is. It has to be the one thing it seems, that defines us. As human beings.

And our ability to care for each other. And our ability to demonstrate through acts of compassion, a concern for your fellow man.

Did this love story get you to thinking differently about that serious kind of stuff is your own life?

CF: It just kind of solidified a suspicion I already had. That I think I’m okay with life being defined more by mystery, than by certainty.

How so?

CF: Because certainty has done nothing, but get me in a lot of trouble! In my life. My own certainty and my own ideals. And my own attachments.

And I’m okay, you know, the older I get, reaching and hoping. And aspiring to know less, and less. And less!

Akiva just confessed that sex scenes are the most horrible things you can ask actors to do, and the hardest thing in the world. And having to tell actors, now just take a moment and take off your clothes. Really! Thoughts?

CF: You’d think that human touch, in whatever form it comes in, is a really gorgeous thing. As long as that form is one that is mutually compassionate, and respectful.

So it is an atmosphere of absolute artifice. And it’s not romantic, and it’s never gonna be sexy.

But if the two people who are involved in it are on the same page and taking care of each other – there are worse days at the office! I find!

So what was it like jumping back and forth between centuries in this movie?

CF: Tiring!

What about filming in all that cold and snow?

CF: Jessica was the barefooted wonder!

Well, how did you remind yourself about which century you were in at the moment?

CF: I was wearing the wig! When I was contemporary. Yep. Um, it was all very clearly demarcated in the script. And it was all very clearly demarcated in the shooting of the film.

And Peter Lake is someone who exists very uncomfortably in the present. It’s an uncomfortable present, and each day has a kind of meaning.

You know, because it’s a repetition of the day before. Which he can’t remember. I think he, it’s almost like a groundhog day.

He goes to bed at night and he wakes up the next day, and it’s the beginning of a life where he has no reference point. And has no idea what his origin is.

And we as human beings, we judge ourselves and our present, based on our own origin stories. On where we grew up, and where we were born.

And what our family was like, and how our cultural references inform our personalities. So it was interesting, this one. It was fun.

But it was certainly very much more comfortable, and very much more grounded. And with Peter at the beginning of the story, as flighty as he seemed at the beginning of the story.

And as much as he had a battle, and as much as he had a kind of internal law based on his upbringing, and his orphan status. And his disassociation from any sense of family.

Until he meets Beverly and her family, he’s okay in his discomfort. But it’s later on in his life when he’s consumed by his sense of loss, that he has no idea where the loss comes from.

Then he experiences this profound discomfort, that is agitating more than anything else. And that is disturbing, more than anything else.

How about your other love thing in the movie, with that flying horse?

CF: The horse was beautiful. He’s really a nice character. Because horses are people too. And they differ in the way they carry themselves through the world.

And the way they interact with each other, and the way they interact with people. And I had a very understanding and very kind horse. And another that was kind of a relief pitcher!

He came on when the first one was tired, or agitated. Which when he’s having you on his back all day, he would inevitably become. But he was a wonderful beast.

And it was the first time I ever flew on a horse! Which wasn’t as scary as it would seem. No altitude sickness or fear of flight involved!

How come?

CF: Because I was actually in a green screen studio, sitting on a barrel. Which was one of the more mortifying experiences!

And I’d take way after I’d choose a love scene, would I choose to shoot flying on a horse! But um, yeah. He was gorgeous.

But I love working with horses. I mean, people say you shouldn’t work with animals and children. That’s wrong.

You must work with children, because you only work eight hours a day! And I love working with animals.

They have an honesty that human beings reach to find in their lives. At the best of times. But I had great fun.

How would you describe the kind of romance you get into, with this movie?

CF: One of the cruxes and the bedrock of this film, is the presence of a love that defies linear time. And the kind of eternal existence of something that is felt.

But that can’t be defined by thought. And poets are still trying to do it centuries later. Through language. And some of them get close.

But love will never be defined in a quotidian way. Or in an empirical way, where it can be judged or measured.

So with that in mind, it’s any of the more magical elements to the film, any of the more fantastical elements. Whether it’s a flying horse, or time bending over on itself.

You know, with someone existing for over a hundred years, and not aging. With things that you became a subject of.

And they were almost, I think, almost easier to write off as awe inspiring events. I mean, the whole depth of the love between Peter and Beverly, is the most magical and fantastical element of the whole film.

It’s much more magical and much more fantastical, even. And yet beautiful and gratefully much more possible, than a flying horse!

So, not really so much. The whole script and the story seemed like this exercise. In their defiance of disbelief.

And things happening in a person’s life, that they never thought or comprehended could happen. Peter wasn’t looking for love, you know?

But all of a sudden, this world opens up to him. And the world of his former existence, and the self-preservation and the kind of defensive energy with which he had to carry himself through life.

You know, just to survive, and that begins to crumble and fade away. And this path of love and gentility and light.

Farrell at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

And true interconnectedness, that presents itself. So that was for me, the most magical and fantastical element to the film.

What was it like working in a movie with a screen legend like Eva Marie Saint?

CF: Um, working with Eva Marie Saint was a dream. I had one of the most incredible periods of the last fifteen years on a film set, that I had with her.

And I’ve been aware of her work since I was in my early teens. Which is not that long ago! But I love working with actors who are…just slightly older than me!

But who have a kind of greater depth of history, with regard to life in film. And working with Eva Marie Saint, as working with Christopher Plummer, I think were two of my favorite experiences.

And she’s a wonderful actress. But more importantly, always more importantly and always the cart that should go before the horse, is the human being. And how you find them.

You know, as a person. And I just adore the bones of her. And I was really spoiled, to be able to spend time with her on the set.

And you know, that will stay with me all of my days. Which I hope are plentiful!

Eva Marie said you were like lovers on the set.

CF: In his mind! Please finish the thought!

Is it in the realm of possibility?

CF: The day is young, darling!

What movie would you most like to see Winter’s Tale in a double bill feature with?

CF: Hmm. I think a good double bill would be…Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac!

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.