Colin Farrell & Martin McDonagh Interview – IN BRUGES

     February 5, 2008

Opening this Friday, in limited release, is “In Bruges.” The movie is about two hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who are forced to go to the Belgium city Bruges, to wait for their boss to call and say the coast is clear after performing a hit.

For Brendan’s character, the trip is a welcome vacation, as he loves walking up and down the well preserved city and taking in the sights. But for Colin’s character, the city is like spending time in a prison and all he wants is to do is leave.

Of course, nothing goes as planned, and between weird encounters with locals, tourists, violent medieval art, a dwarf American actor (Jordan Prentice) shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Colin in the form of Chloë (Clémence Poésy), things get a bit weird. And that’s “In Bruges.”

Anyway, to help promote the movie I was able to conduct another interview with writer/director Martin McDonagh as well as Colin Farrell a few days ago here in L.A. This is on top of the video interviews with Martin McDonagh, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson that I already ran from Sundance. You can click here if you missed them. And if you missed the movie clips that I previously posted, you can watch them here.

Again, “In Bruges” will be in select theaters this Friday.

Question: Can you talk about when you first came up with the idea? You were visiting Bruges and you just thought that-

Martin McDonagh: Yeah, just whenever we came to travel, just to see a new place and didn’t really know anything about it at all and was just struck by how stunningly cinematic and just picturesque and creepy and medieval, but cinematic …how cinematic the place was. I always wondered why it hadn’t been used in film before because it is so distinctive and just stunning really. Then I just wandered around to all the churches and museums and got bored shitless and just wanted to get drunk and get out of there, but then those two halves of my brain started chatting with each other; the culture vulture and the drunk. They just kind of became characters. They became Ray and Ken and I thought, “Why would they be in a place like that when they wouldn’t want to be?” That’s when the whole idea of hit men escaping a horrific job popped up. Bruges is completely organic. If we hadn’t been allowed to film there I’d have scrapped the whole script because it had to be there. It couldn’t be Paris. It couldn’t be Venice. It had to be a place that beautiful and strange, but kind of unknown. You know? Because there would be a reason why someone was sent to Paris. There’d be a reason why someone was sent to Venice. There’s no reason to be sent to Bruges. (Laughter) …unless you’re making a film.

Q: Colin, you and Brendan had incredible rapport in the film. Was that there from the beginning and how much of that was ad-libbed?

Colin Farrell: No it was just fine acting. (Laughter)

Q: Really?

CF: No. None of it was ad-libbed. Brendan was so easy to get along with. He really was. He’s just such a lovely man and such a wonderful artist. I mean; fiddle player, guitarist, writer, and a fine actor; he was just really generous from day one. There was absolutely no ego on this at all. I’ve been pretty lucky that most jobs I’ve worked on there hasn’t been an ego, but we’re all there for the same reason. I loved the script. I read it the first time and it was just like nothing I’d ever read and then when I got the chance to do it we packed up and off we went to Bruges. I had met him a couple times outside of this before I read the script, very briefly, and he was just warm and lovely. Then we had three weeks of rehearsal, intense rehearsal, and I thought we were just gonna run out of steam, but the script was so good that it just kept revealing. The more questions we asked, you know you’d ask one question and it’d come to what seemed like a conclusion and there would be ten more questions on the table that had just been revealed. It was (to Martin loudly) THAT GOOD! (Laughter) So by the end of three weeks, I literally thought we wouldn’t make it to the end of the second week and be bored out of my brains and going, “Come on. Can we shoot?” The only time I ever really rehearsed before was for Alexander, and for Phone Booth it was pretty intense rehearsal, but this was three weeks, three of us in a room every day and it was great, GREAT!

Q: What was it about the script that attracted you?

CF: There was kind of an otherworldliness to it or kind of a hyper-reality to the way the characters spoke. I mean, in one part I could understand what they were saying and I could get to the root of what they were saying and why they were saying it and even what something was maybe masking or how everything, at other times, may have seemed like it was undiluted and exactly what was being felt. At the same time I never heard characters talk like this. I’d never heard characters talk like this at all. I never heard such a level of unbridled honesty and what I thought originally was a lack of subtext. I thought that it was all just so honest and in rehearsal I found out there was just a plethora of stuff that was happening underneath. It was just really, bottom line, it was a great tale. The characters were so beautifully drawn and the dialogue was so quick-smart and while even reading it, it seems incredibly funny there was a much greater heart that existed than any of the comic moments that are involved in the piece.

Q: Was it awesome to finally be able to use your own accent for once?

CF: Yeah. It was lovely. It was lovely because doing dialect work can be an avenue into a character. It really can help you to get in there and give you an understanding. On the other hand it, the bad side to that potentially is that it can also be a border between yourself and getting to the truth of the character. There have been times, in personal experience, where I’ve been self-conscious and not particularly comfortable maybe. Maybe I haven’t worked hard enough or whatever, but it was nice to just be able to shed that cloak that sometimes is there and just put 100% energy into the text, you know? It was really lovely.

Q: Your character disliked the town Bruges, but when you were there did you like it or how-

CF: Shit hole! (Laughter)

MM: It’s not a shit hole.

CF: It is a shit hole.

Q: Did you do any sightseeing?

CF: Did we sight see? I mean, you pretty much see everything on your way to the hotel from the airport and then you pretty much see it again every day. It was great. To be honest with I had a great time. We go up there. It was the middle of winter. It was dark every day by four o’clock. There was nobody on the streets so there was this sort of eerie, desolate feel to the place. It was really what you’d imagine a border town to be in the middle of winter and that seemed to have a great simpatico with the energy that was coursing through his character Ray at the time, you know, through the three days that is the tale. There’s a certain kind of despondency that Ray is feeling and a shame and despair and guilt and you look around this beautiful, majestic city and all these incredible buildings and towers and it kind of felt inordinately lonely at the start. I mean the change- we were for the Spring as well. When the Spring kicked in and the tourists came it was lovely. You find what you want to find in a place. Do you know what I mean? You can go to the same place in the world at two different stages in your life and the place is completely different, but it hasn’t changed. You have. You know? I sort of found what I needed to find as well to get me through the job. Brendan was the one with the camera and I was the one kind of going, “Tch” (rolls eyes, laughter)

Q: In the film he asks if you believe in guilt, sin, all of that. How about you?

CF: Do I believe in guilt… sin? I sure believe in guilt. I sure believe in sin. Do I believe in afterlife? I am still on the fence with that one. What’s the other one?

Q: and all that stuff.

CF: Oh. “All that stuff” is a larger conversation! (Laughter)

Q: Was it hard to shoot there or was it easy because it’s such a small town and they just accepted you or-

MM: I loved the fact that I could get up in the morning if we were shooting at 9:00 I could up at 8:30 and walk across the square from my place on the canal and just turn up and we could go to work.

CF: Yeah. It was cool actually.

MM: The entire town, when we were shooting in the center of town, was no more than two miles across I’d say.

CF: Yeah. Absolutely the tiniest.

MM: You feel part of the community didn’t you? ‘Cause you’d see the same-

CF: They’d visit the set… locals.

MM: There’d be extras from town and then you’d see them walking around that evening or in a bar-

CF: Yeah, it was nice.

MM: That’s why I loved it and I was kind of worried they would think we were taking the piss out of it when they saw the film. We actually showed it (there) about three weeks ago and they didn’t, they liked it. Because it’s my first feature filmmaking experience and it’s inexplicably linked to this town, everything about it is, so I had a lovely time. Colin and Brendan just made the while trip easier for me. The three weeks of rehearsal helped, but they are just so gentle and nurturing that it was a joy.

CF: We just didn’t want him to cut our scenes. (Laughter)

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Q: Can you talk about the Irish Film Festival?

MM: Dublin.

Q: What’s the feeling on that for you guys? That’s gotta be cool.

MM: I’m really looking forward to it.

CF: Yeah.

MM: ‘Cause whenever there’s even just an Irish actor in a Hollywood film they really get behind it.

CF: There’s an amazing sense of pride at home.

MM: Yeah, I think it’s so unusual in what’s technically, I guess, a Hollywood film for two Irish actors to use their own accents-

CF: Yeah, yeah.

MM: and then me, you know, I’m Irish background and all that; so Irish director, Irish writer, two Irish leads. I hope they are gonna love it, plus there’s an archaic spirit to the film which I think is going to speak to them.

CF: speak to the more rebel nature of the Irish military, absolutely.

MM: I am really looking forward to that night.

CF: It’ll be cool.

Q: Did these religious themes sort of pop in right away or as you wrote the story?

MM: Probably pretty early on. As soon as I came up with why they were there, yeah, it was an easy one to explore. “How would I feel if I had done something so heinous?” So yes, as I was able to explore-certainly explore, not come to any solutions about, but explore what I believe in having been brought up Catholic and having rejected that, but still having those kind of tendrils of faith or what you were taught as a child still in your head. “Where am I now? How do I think about those things?” I still don’t have any solutions or final thoughts, but it was fun to explore. I think we all kind of found that even in the rehearsal process.

CF: Yeah. “Tendrils of faith” is a good one man.

MM: Is that okay?

CF: Yeah, ‘cause faith in absolution is not really faith at all. It’s kind of- I don’t want to say it’s idiocy because I’ll insult a lot of the population around the world including some of my family members, but surely faith should be based on a certain amount of skepticism almost in questioning.

Q: Is there something in the character that you identified with yourself?

CF: Is there something that I identify with myself? Grey hair! (Laughter)

Q: What did you think the differences are and not put in the character?

CF: I don’t think he’s as vain as I am (laughter) or self-conscious or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know. He just didn’t seem like the kind of cat to have earrings.

Q: What about a sense of humor? I mean he didn’t have a real great sense of humor.

CF: Ray? Yeah, great sense of humor. I mean I have to point the finger at him (points to Martin McDonagh) for that you know. He kind of created him and wrote him and I sang it. Yeah, just wicked, but a sense of humor that’s, like if I’m having a laugh with mates I kind of know I’m having a laugh like most of us seem to, but we also love those characters we meet in life every now and then that have no idea how funny they are and you aren’t ever laughing at them. You are totally laughing with them and they might be bewildered as to why you find them so funny and they genuinely don’t understand it, but they just have a kind of a more unusual outlook on life or perspective. Ray was definitely one of those. He has no idea how funny how funny his outlook is, but it’s such a skewed look on his environment and the world around him and so lovely. There’s such purity to him, you know? He’s very childlike as well, perfectly honest. There’s no self-censorship or any of that good stuff.

Q: And he’s fascinated by midgets (laughter)

CF: How are you gonna argue that? If what’s called “Normal-sized” people are fascinating, I mean God, little people are just genius!

Q: I’m really interested if you put in that line about “He swears a lot”?

CF: Aaargh. No. No in joking or nothing cute about it, no. It was just the way it happened. The irony wasn’t lost on you was it? (Laughter)

Q: No. (laughter) You’re being good today.

CF: Am I?

MM: Yeah you are. Now he’s going to be like the sex pistols. (Laughter)

Q: You keep talking about the Irish. What is this Irish-ness you describe because I am not sure.

CF: I’m still searching darling. I’m not sure either.

MM: If we could put our finger on it we’d make a fortune.

CF: A fortune!

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