Colin Farrell interview: “A lot of people feel very alone”

Colin Farrell on the 'forgiving' film industry, his film about the Homeless World Cup - and the "amazing" Big Issue

Colin Farrell gets it.

“I think The Big Issue is amazing,” he says. “Everyone in life is looking for purpose, every single one of us. Some of us find purpose in ambition, the job we do, a hobby, a girlfriend or wife or whatever. Others use our kids to finally bring home the importance of living not only for ourselves. We’re all looking to add something to society in a meaningful and recognised way.

“That is what The Big Issue has done from the start. Inherent in the line ‘A hand up not a handout’ is allowing those without a roof over their heads, and without the stability that provides, to do something for themselves within society, which is providing a service.

“That alone is priceless, then the outreach programmes that have built over years, as a result of how much The Big Issue has spread as a respected publication, are what begin to really form change at a grassroots level. They offer assistance and relief for those that are struggling, for those whose greatest challenge is not building a great life but just maybe not dying.”

Early on, Farrell’s career always threatened to come off the rails. His roles in a string of acclaimed hits (Tigerland, Minority Report) and high-profile misses (Oliver Stone’s Alexander) were often overshadowed by his penchant for partying. After struggling with addiction he ditched the drink and drugs and his career transformed.

His hitman-with-a-heart in In Bruges showed he was much more than an Irish charm-oozing heartthrob, and recent successes include his show-salvaging Ray Velcoro in the second series of True Detective and potentially his defining role as David in The Lobster – the deliciously strange satire set in a world where singletons have 45 days to find a partner or else be turned into an animal.

Currently he is filming the Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and planning a project inspired by the Homeless World Cup. Farrell attended the most recent tournament held in Amsterdam last month and is keen to talk to The Big Issue about why the subject is close to his heart.

I could have been easily on the streets. Easily

Why the interest in people suffering from homelessness?

Och man, there go I but for the grace of God. Genuinely. If I didn’t have the abundance of shit that came by way of a film career as I explored my proclivities, I could have been easily on the streets. Easily. If I had a nine-to-five job and was doing things the way I was doing them in the past… honestly, there go I but for the grace of God.

Does the film industry accept that kind of behaviour because it can often be good publicity?

The movie industry is forgiving. Actors are treated sometimes like golden cows. There’s a certain level of idolatry. As long as your films are making money you can pretty much do what you fucking want – any kind of behaviour will be excused, even if you’re killing yourself or mistreating others. That’s very much the way it is elsewhere but it’s taken to a different and more elaborate degree in the world of entertainment, whether it’s music or film.

Do you relate to the men and women you meet selling The Big Issue and at the Homeless World Cup?

Of course. The Homeless World Cup was amazing to see. I had a blast. I met a lot of the players, particularly the Irish lads and the Scottish guys and gals. They were telling me what they’d been through. They were very generous, I hope I wasn’t imposing on them. I noticed so much of my story in their stories, the struggles and the difficulties. It all boils down to human beings, our sensitivities and our inability to deal with them at times.

You are planning to make a film about the tournament. How did that come about?

The producer of a film I did thought one might be able to make an effective film to the backdrop of the Homeless World Cup. We began the process of working on a screenplay with Frank Cottrell Boyce, who has been writing it since then. He’s done a few drafts and he’s really cracked it big time.

Loneliness and exclusion are a couple of the biggest themes we have to deal with as human beings

Isolation is something that exacerbates the problems homeless people suffer. Isolation is also a major issue in The Lobster.

Loneliness and exclusion are a couple of the biggest themes we have to deal with as human beings. I see it with my kids in school, them wanting to be part of a play date, things going pear-shaped and someone feeling on the outside. From a very early age you learn about this thing called exclusion, then we try and navigate through the rest of our lives avoiding it like the fucking plague.

People are often judged by the relationships they are in. A single person can be seen as a loner, married people are normal… Is that a fair way to judge people?

They are the brush strokes within which we live. Some of us gladly hand ourselves over to that and a lot of people offer up a hearty resistance. I think resistance and alignment both have potential flaws and pitfalls. But ah man, it’s tricky. Each to their own – single, with someone, polymorphous, I don’t fucking know. I haven’t a clue. I just know that life is tricky for a lot of people and some of that is down to the fact that a lot of people feel very alone.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.

The Lobster is part comedy, part drama, it asks a lot of questions but doesn’t provide answers. That’s life, isn’t it?

Absolutely. I’d love to have more certainty in my life. The only certainty life allows is that it’s all awash with uncertainty. There’s not a corner you turn and then you see the straight road ahead. As soon as you think you’ve arrived… you’re fucked.

As you get older do you learn how to handle the unpredictable things life throws at you differently?

I would like to think so. If you can diminish the desire or insistence on certainty then you can rid yourself of that thing that also causes so many of us so many problems, which is expectation. But it’s easy talking to you in some hotel about this. We’re talking some lovely theory here, practice is a different thing. You start off sometimes with theory then you grow practice from that. Decisions are informed by age – age being the accumulator of experience.

The Lobster is out in cinemas