Interview: Colin Farrell on remaking Total Recall

Colin Farrell is following in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a remake of Total Recall. Picture: Getty
Colin Farrell is following in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a remake of Total Recall. Picture: Getty
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Once the wild boy of Hollywood, Colin Farrell has ditched drink and drugs and woken up to the good fortune that cast him as the star of the big budget reboot of Total Recall

The first time I interviewed Colin Farrell was a decade ago when he was on the brink of stardom. We met to talk about his first major Hollywood part in the forgettable movie, Hart’s War opposite the big screen’s then most bankable star, Bruce Willis.

Throughout our chat, in the suite of a Las Vegas hotel, he peppered every sentence with the F word. It was as if he had a pre pubescent level of vocabulary. Yet despite that and being relatively new to the film promotion game, he was already one of the most charismatic actors I’d ever encountered.

When we met again recently in a Beverly Hills hotel to discuss his latest offering, a reboot of Total Recall, Farrell didn’t swear once. Well OK, he might have let slip the odd mild expletive but it was evident he’d done a lot of growing up in the intervening years, despite his constant position under the media spotlight.

If Colin Farrell was a cat he would have used up all of his nine lives by now. His raucous reputation precedes him. He was once so inebriated at a party that he told his future co-star Tom Cruise: “God, you’re much better looking in real life!” When Cruise reminded him of this remark years later while on the set of their thriller, Minority Report, Farrell turned beetroot red.

There’s no doubt about it, the 36-year-old Dubliner was trouble from the start. He was expelled from his posh Catholic boarding school. “I wasn’t the kind of guy who followed the rules,” he shrugs. And it seems he has met the required criteria for initiation into the Hollywood A List club; he has made a sex tape, acquired a stalker and voluntarily checked into rehab for drink and drug abuse in 2005.

“I was burning the candle at both ends and the flames met in the middle,” Farrell admitted about that time in his life. “The negative aspect to all this good fortune was loneliness. I never figured it out… I just had a broken heart and was profoundly sad. I had all these wonderful things in my life and yet I found myself at 
this point.”

Strolling into the hotel suite on this hot Los Angeles morning, Farrell has never looked better. Clean and sober for some years now, he is armed with a healthy-looking green-coloured cocktail. Claiming that he has never been good at eating salads, he proceeds to reel off a list of the beaker’s ingredients; kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, parsley, cucumber, apple, celery, lemon and ginger. “I was always a better drinker than an eater,” he quips.

Sporting a sun-kissed glow, he is just as good-looking off screen as he is on. He has a chiselled bone structure; penetrating deep dark brown eyes, and a hint of stubble which makes you wonder what he got up to the night before.

Casually dressed in a grey buttoned-down shirt and black denims; wearing gold hooped earrings in both ears and brown leather wrist bands, his ring finger reveals the remains of a tattooed wedding band from his short-lived marriage to actress, Amelia Warner back
in 2001.

Farrell is eager to talk about the remake of the fantastical thriller, Total Recall, a role made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990 original, which co-starred Sharon Stone (her role is played by Kate Beckinsale in the new version).

“I did Total Recall because I believed in how entertaining this film could be. It’s nothing like the original, just the concept of erasing a man’s thoughts,” he begins. “I play Doug Quaid, an everyday fella who’s happily married to his wife, but is bored with the monotony of his factory floor job. He signs up with Rekall, a company which promises him escapism and he chooses to live out a fantasy of a super-spy. But it goes horribly wrong.

“The film is about the idea that you can suppress a person’s experiences, mentally, psychologically and intellectually, but you can’t completely quiet them to the point of dormancy. The heart lives on.”

The film is directed by Len Wiseman, best known for the Underworld movies and Live Free or Die Hard, who is also married to Kate Beckinsale, who plays Lori, Quaid’s wife. The movie also stars Jessica Biel, as rebel fighter, Melina, whom Quaid learns to trust; Bill Nighy as Matthias, the head of the underground resistance and Breaking Bad’s, Bryan Cranston, as Chancellor Cohaagen. The futuristic film is adapted from a short story by Philip K. Dick. Another of his short stories inspired Minority Report.

Farrell admits that he was hesitant to sign up for another remake after he had just wrapped the comedy horror, Fright Night. He says: “My first reaction when I heard they were remaking Total Recall was: “ ‘Ewww, really okay?’ I had a whole ego thing going on… Remake? Uncool squared! I loved the original, I can’t possibly be a part of that. But it was very different when I read the script and I loved that the original was nowhere to be found in the modern version.” Farrell laughs: “But I do remember my agent screaming: “Are you kidding me? No, no, no.”

He says training for the film was intense. “For four months I went to the gym, six days a week, I ran on the treadmill for three miles every day and then did an hour of weights and half an hour of boxing. And then I’d go home for a bite and then go on a hike.”

One might think the physicality was the biggest challenge, but Farrell recalls the first day of shooting when he had to kiss his co-star, Kate Beckinsale, while her husband directed.

“We only shot a very quick two or three takes,” he recalls, shaking his head. “And then Len shouted: ‘Cut. Moving on. Got it. Check the gate.’ I’m like: ‘Well, that was just a rehearsal boss, we haven’t even shot yet.’ I then told him that he wasn’t even polite enough to leave the room.”

On filling Arnie’s shoes for the role, Farrell points out that this version isn’t packed with the corny one-lines of the original, although the three breasted hooker is still in there. “I do remember being a 14-year-old kid in Dublin watching Arnie and just loving it,” he smiles. “And I was lucky enough to meet the big guy at a Special Olympics event in Dublin in 2003. I shook his hand and my hand disappeared into his.”

In the early days of his career, Farrell was dubbed as the Irish Brad Pitt, a title he welcomed. “I could have been called a s**t load worse,” he offers with a smirk.

Farrell was born in Castleknock, Dublin to parents, Rita, a housewife and Eamon, a retired footballer for the Shamrock Rovers (along with Colin’s uncle Tommy). His father is something of a sporting legend in his country, and Colin had aspirations of following suit. However Farrell junior became sidetracked by “cigarettes, beer and girls” and failed to make it to practice on time. The youngest of four children, he was considered ‘the mad one’, racing go-carts in the middle of the night. He remains close to his family. His sister Claudine lives in LA and travels with him everywhere he goes as his personal assistant. He has another sister, Catherine and it was his elder brother; Eamon Jr, who persuaded the young Colin to pursue acting. Eamon Jr now runs a performing arts school for children in Dublin.

Farrell attended the Gaiety School of Acting, and dropped out after scoring his big TV break in the BBC series, Ballykissangel. Little did he know it, but this was a turning point – it was at around this time he also failed an audition for the Irish band, Boyzone. His 
career has been the stuff of dreams. Farrell recalls watching Spielberg’s ET: the Extra-Terrestrial as a boy and being brought to tears. He later worked with the famed director, in Minority Report, opposite Cruise.

It was Joel Schumacher who first recognised his potential and cast Farrell as a Vietnam War vet in the gritty indie, Tigerland for which he received critical acclaim. This led to other big Hollywood roles in: The Recruit, with Al Pacino; Daredevil opposite Ben Affleck; SWAT alongside Samuel L Jackson; Phone Booth reuniting him with director, Schumacher and his infamous role in Oliver Stone’s epic, Alexander. For this part he donned a blond wig and retained his Irish accent, but the film was a box office disappointment. Then Farrell’s personal life became media fodder when he enjoyed a brief romance with co-star, Angelina Jolie, who played his mother in the movie.

But his career wasn’t derailed by such attention – in fact, his experience was quite the opposite as he was offered roles including Sonny in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (Don Johnson’s part in the cult TV show), Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream alongside Ewan McGregor; and a role which earned him his first Golden Globe, in the surprise hit, In Bruges with fellow Irishman, Brendan Gleeson. Farrell has just finished another dark comedy, Seven Psychopaths (his co-stars include Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken), with the same writer/director, Martin McDonagh, due out later in the year. His last comedy was with Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, in which he was unrecognisable in a fat suit and bald cap.

Farrell’s personal life is just as colourful as his professional one. He’s been linked to Britney Spears; model Josie Moran, Demi Moore (pre-Ashton Kutcher), and he filed a lawsuit against his former girlfriend, Playboy model, Nicole Narain over the leaking of a sex tape.

Despite all of his acting successes the role that he most cherishes is that of fatherhood, which he attributes to saving his life. His eight-year-old son, James, with American model Kim Bordenave, suffers from a rare neuro-genetic disorder, Angelman syndrome, which delays developmental functions. Farrell’s younger son, Henry, two, is from his relationship with his Ondine co-star, Alijca Bachleda-Curus. The actor who is currently single, lives in LA to be closer to his children.

“I don’t know if I would be here if it hadn’t been for the birth of my first son. He played a huge part in making certain changes in my life,” he nods. “Taking a human life you’ve never met before out of the hospital and putting them into a car seat is a great responsibility. Thank God, it doesn’t feel like a burden. It feels like an absolute joy. But it’s intense.”

Farrell reflects on his addiction days: “It’s confusing when you stop drinking you find yourself needing to fill those eight hours of the day. Being sober I’m a much better father around my kids. I won’t forget the feeling of being hung over, when I’d be playing with my sons, thinking how much longer do I have to be spend with them so people around me think I’ve done a good job as a dad? I’m a different man now. A better one.”

Are his kids aware of their famous father? “Oh they don’t give a s**t. They’re more interested in a two dollar rubber ball than a 135 million dollar action film …. It’s so brilliant.”

In Total Recall, his character escapes his mundane life to experience a fantasy existence. Does he feel like he’s living a real-life fantasy?

Farrell nods like an excited schoolboy: “I feel like a kid in a sweet shop sometimes. Absolutely. I try not to get used to anything. I literally get excited with room service menus. And a couple of times I’ve flown on private jets, it’s a whole “Oh my God!” And I’m 36, you know? I do find it all bizarre and I’m truly deeply grateful for all of this stuff, and good fortune. And even the s**t that comes with it. There are pros and cons to all that kind of stuff.”

Taking a last sip of the nasty-looking health drink he came in with, he says although he’s still having a hard time dealing with fame, the pros far outweigh the cons.

“I think the biggest thing is the loss of anonymity. I think it’s a huge thing for a human being to be able to go where they want, when they want. That’s why it’s a big deal when a person first gets their driving licence at 17 because it feels like they have a complete freedom for the first time in their lives.

“It’s hard to move freely in the world and observe people, when they’re looking back at you. That’s a big one,” he adds with a grin. “But I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for acting, because I wasn’t very academic. I’m very grateful for the stuff I can do. When my grandparents were sick I could put them into a nursing home in Dublin. That was one moment when I went: “Well, I’m a fortunate bastard.”

• Total Recall is on general release from 29 August.