Colin Farrell has come a long way since his suave roles in films like Minority Report and In Bruges. The Irish actor, who was last seen in the superhero film The Batman as the mob boss supervillain Penguin, will now portray renowned cave-diver John Volanthen in the survival drama Thirteen Lives. It is clear the actor is itching to experiment. In an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times, Colin talks about Thirteen Lives, playing Penguin, and coming to terms with being ‘middle-aged’. Also read: Colin Farrell describes The Batman script as ‘dark, moving, gorgeous’
Thirteen Lives, directed by Ron Howard, is based on the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue where a junior football team and their coach were rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand after being trapped for 18 days. Apart from the efforts of the locals and the Thai government, a key role in the rescue was played by British and Australian cave divers, played by Colin, Viggo Mortensen, Joel Edgerton, and Tom Bateman in the film. The film releases on Amazon Prime Video on August 5.
Talking about getting under the skin of British diver John Volanthen for the film, Colin says, “It was Covid so I have never met John. We have been talking for a couple of years now and we have been meaning to get a Diet Coke together forever but it just hasn’t happened. But he made himself available via FaceTime where we spent hours chatting away. His humility and decency were what struck me.”
While playing a real person in a film based on a real incident, there are two ways an actor can approach the role–stick to the script or do their own research about the episode. Colin says that in Thirteen Lives, he mixed both. “I don’t know if I have a preference but I feel that we explored both avenues and processes, where we had the script and we also had Rick Stanton and Jason Mallinson the whole time while we shot. They were incredible resources obviously because it was straight from the horse’s mouth. At the end of the day, it’s not a documentary and you are telling a story so there are some assumptions made. What I know is that Ron has a love for actual events and a deep belief in the power of the human spirit and he was keen to be as accurate as possible. And we also had many representatives from Thailand to stay on top of us and make sure things were culturally appropriate and respectful,” he says.
Colin spends much of his screen time in the film underwater, a tall ask for someone who can’t even swim. And he admits it was daunting. Recalling the experience, he says, “We had safety divers, don’t get me wrong. We took health and safety very seriously. We had meetings every morning but at the end of the day you are dealing with water. I asked the safety divers which had been the most dangerous film they had worked on and they gestured: ‘This one!’”
In fact, he admits that there were times he almost had panic attacks while underwater. Colin recounts, “There were a couple of times I got rattled, just caught on things and you try to calm yourself. There was one time I remember that was horrible. It wasn’t that dramatic. We would swim down about 20 feet into this big pool and you’d swim into a hole in the wall to get in the cave. We would get into positions and wait for the camera crew to come in. Usually we got that done in 60 seconds but one time, nothing happened for 2-3 minutes, and my head went crazy. I felt panic.”
If he spent much of Thirteen Lives in scuba gear, his last release The Batman had a different challenge. In the Robert Pattinson-starrer, Colin took on the role of Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin, an iconic comic villain. And in order to look like the scarred, overweight Penguin, Colin was buried in heaps of makeup and prosthetics. Talking about which is a bigger challenge, Colin says, “Ultimately you want to be able to suspend your disbelief. As an actor, that’s what you want to do–make your character real. With that in mind, the cave-diving was a bit of a stretch because I can’t ever say I was fully comfortable doing it. Whereas, I was comfortable doing the Penguin underneath the prosthetics. I was buried, nowhere to be found and there was no threat of danger or death, the way there was in Thirteen Lives. So definitely the Penguin was easier.”
Between Thirteen Lives, The Batman, and his upcoming film The Banshees of Inisherin, Colin is almost exclusively playing non-glamorous middle-aged men now. It’s a far cry from the heartthrobs he used to be known for playing till only a few years ago. Ask him if it’s a conscious move and the 46-year-old responds with a laugh, “It’s the limitation that the calendar enforces upon me. It’s not my choice. I’d love to play a heartthrob.”
He recalls the first time he was asked to play an ‘older role’, something he almost took offence to. “I do remember the first time I got a script where I was playing the father of someone who was 20 and I thought, ‘f*** you’. I realised it was an absolutely inappropriate offer to make.” But Colin has no complaints about ageing, both as a person and as an actor. “I am enjoying this stage of my life. I am having fun in my 40s as a man, a dad, and an actor. I’d like to slow s*** down a little bit if I could. I don’t want any years back though,” he says, signing off.