O LUCKY MAN
GIVEN COLIN FARRELL'S bad-boy reputation - the drinking binges, the casual flings, the all-night partying - anyone would be forgiven for thinking that there would be no way Farrell would show up at 9am, on a Sunday, for an interview.
But here he is, looking relatively clear-eyed and well-scrubbed, with hardly a couple of cigarettes and even fewer profanities getting him through the exercise.
The 30-year-old actor has had a lot on his plate recently: he just got out of rehab, which he checked himself into because of an addition to painkillers. He's been off alcohol for six months, and has reportedly also just broken up with a young Hollywood actress whom he was talking about marrying. And Miami Vice - in which he stars alongside Jamie Foxx - has just opened in theatres worldwide, and Farrell is plugging it relentlessly. In addition, he just wants to be a good dad to his three-year-old son, James, with former girlfriend Kim Bordenave.
Through it all, one gets the sense that Farrell is really just trying to find his way. He seems to have worked almost non-stop for the past couple of years, but despite that just couldn't say no to working with Michael Mann, who wrote and directed the film version of the popular 1980s television series.
'I'd been talking to Michael for a couple of years,' he says. 'Every time I was in LA we'd hook up and go out for dinner and a few drinks. We've been talking about doing something. There was one thing called Spy at one stage that we were talking about doing which didn't work out. This finally came along and Jamie was on board already so [it was] a no-brainer.'
Farrell was familiar with the TV series, but knew that Mann would bring something else to the big screen.
Like his co-stars, Farrell had to virtually live the life of his character, Sonny Crockett, in preparing for the role. For a particularly enticing salsa scene with co-star Gong Li, he rehearsed for two months with professional salsa dancers. 'Then we got to the set that night and by the end of the night Gong Li's feet were in f***ing shreds. She had Band-Aids over every toe.'
Despite all that, Farrell says it was a fun shoot - and he came away with some new skills. 'Anything you do as an actor that is obscure to you - whether it's playing an instrument that you've never played before, learning a dance, picking up guns, changing your body physically, anything you do that's foreign to you helps you into the role.'
Much of the film was shot in Miami, a city that Farrell describes as having 'a very distinct energy' to it.
'It's unlike anywhere I've been to in America, and I've been to a few places,' he says, agreeing with a comment Gong Li had made earlier about Miami having a 'sense of danger' to it.
'There's a lot of activity during the day and at night. If I wasn't working I was usually asleep during the day, and at night when the sun goes down and the music volume starts coming up, and the activity begins on the street, it does have that sense of danger to it. There's also the heavy Latin American influence which gives it a very distinct flavour. It's very culturally cross-pollinated. I had a great time there. I had a blast. Would I live there? No. I don't know where the f*** I'm going to live. Jesus. It's been a suitcase for the last seven years.'
He's not exaggerating. Ever since Dublin-born Farrell burst onto the scene in 2000 in his critically acclaimed turn in the war drama Tigerland, he has worked almost non-stop and has lived almost exclusively in hotel rooms. The tabloids catalogue his endless romantic adventures, although Farrell says curtly that he is now definitely 'single'.
So he throws himself into every role with passion, even learning how to drive a speed boat for one especially dramatic scene. 'We had a guy who makes his living racing these boats. He took myself and Jamie out quite a bit on the boats and showed us the ropes. We did it all ourselves. Although it was pretty much in a straight line and there's not that much to hit and the waves aren't that big. It was a lot of fun. It was another experience I wasn't used to, another channel, another avenue of experience that helps you with the work.'
Where the original television series was brushed with pretty pastel shades and had an underlying wit and lightness, the movie version is grittier and darker. Farrell had to transform his looks from handsome young thing to someone a bit more thuggish: ergo the wavy dark hair and Las Vegas lounge lizard moustache.
'There always comes a time at the beginning of a film when you're so conflicted and confused about what the character is and what the character's emotional rhythm is that you start looking at outside things. And facial hair is one of those physical manifestations. I had a beard and I was just messing around and I put on this hideous handlebar moustache, but I thought I looked pretty cool. I presented myself to Michael and he thought it was hideous. Michael is so specific with where he wants the film to go, both in the dramatic and emotional stakes, but also in its look.'
Farrell says it helped him not to use the television series as too much of a reference, and that its original stars - Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas - brought something unique to it at that one moment in time.
'With all respect to Don and Philip, the level of intensity and charisma they displayed in the show was very much part of making the show a staple of American TV history,' says Farrell. 'But Michael was trying to re-imagine this premise from the very beginning and as an actor, I was taking it from scratch. I did go back and look at a couple of the episodes because there was kind of a sensibility or a theme that the Crockett I tried to portray would share with Don Johnson's Crockett.
'There was kind of a sense of emotional instability with regard to things that are important to a man in his life - family, placement, emotional placement with regard to his existence outside work. Don Johnson's Crockett was so involved with his work that his life was co-existing with his work and his marriage suffered. The Crockett I'm playing, although he's not married and although he has no kids, the same thing happens. His personal life takes a hit because he's so involved in his work and that's really all he has until he meets Gong Li's character, Isabella.'
If there's one thing about the movie business that Farrell loathes it is the necessity - depending on the role, of course - to stay in shape.
'I hate working out. I abhor it. It kills me. But I did do some for this. It's just part of the job, part of the work. It wasn't exactly pulling teeth. I just get very bored working out and I can't really get my head around it. I put on a few pounds to get into the character.'
Farrell will be the first to admit that Hollywood, and its attendant demands, can screw up newcomers. Everything has happened for him so quickly that it's not surprising that drink and drugs became a convenient release, a mind-numbing diversion. 'Did rehab change me? I don't know really. It gave me some time to step back and have a look at the journey I've been on for the last five or six years. Time and time again, I went back to back with the work that I've done, and basically it was just an environment that allowed me to have a third-eye perspective on what I was too close to before, to have a look at it. So with that in mind, it was a good time for me to take an in-breath.'
While he didn't want to comment too much on his previous films, his recent self-examination has reminded him of his good fortune. 'I'm lucky to have a career. Fatherhood only changes you if you allow it to change you. I don't know how it's changed me, I just know that for the first time in my life I have somebody I'm in love with and I know it's going to last. And that's an incredible feeling.'
Miami Vice opens on August 17