Given that Hollywood heavyweights Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti have appeared in Downton Abbey, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to think Tinseltown’s former bad boy Colin Farrell could join the line-up.
At least the man himself doesn’t think so.
“I just don’t know whether they’d have me. I’d bring the refinement down a notch or two,” says the Dublin-born actor, grinning.
Farrell’s unexpected enthusiasm reflects a new phase in his career. Where once he was the go-to guy for action movies, like Minority Report, The Recruit and Miami Vice, following his breakthrough role in 2000’s Tigerland, he’s now seeking more character-driven projects.
“There are choices made inside you before you even get to verbalise and physicalise them in the world,” muses the 37-year-old actor when asked whether this change of heart has been a conscious decision.
“There have been times over the years when I’ve wondered, ‘Why do I do so many things with guns?’, but I didn’t draw a line and go, ‘No more guns’.” That said, in the last few months he’s received numerous scripts for revenge tales that he says have made him think, ‘I couldn’t be any more bored reading this’.
“I think I’ve just flogged it to death,” he notes.
He says it might sound “self-serving” but he doesn’t leave home for three or four months to go and work on something because the pay cheque’s good.
“That’s great, but you have to believe you’re going to make something that at least is going to entertain people for a couple of hours,” he says.
“The worst that can happen is that an audience is left apathetic. I’ve done a couple of things where audiences are bored, and there’s a good chance I will again if I work for another 40 years.”
He hopes his new film, A New York Winter’s Tale, helmed by first-time director Akiva Goldsman, doesn’t induce such a reaction.
A sweeping romance that spans a hundred years, the film couldn’t be more different from the revenge fare he’s talked about.
“The film would be a departure for anyone,” says Farrell, looking his usual rugged self with a smattering of stubble and casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
“In many ways, it’s a quintessentially pure story about the forces of light versus the forces of dark, playing out among the lives of the characters. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done, and probably unlike anything I’ll ever do.”
Set in a mythic New York City, Farrell plays Peter Lake, an Irish immigrant and master thief who falls in love with the dying Beverly Penn (played by former Downton star Jessica Brown Findlay). Desperately trying to save her, he finds himself at the mercy of his one-time mentor, the demonic Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), in an age-old battle between good and evil.
“The story is very much a love letter to the idea that love itself is transcendent and ephemeral and that it’s something that doesn’t live in the constraints of time, it transcends time. That’s the whole crux of the film,” offers Farrell, who’s reportedly single at the moment but has two sons from previous relationships.
“If you ask me what makes a good love story, I think it’s people getting lost in each other, and thereby finding themselves for the first time ever, finding the best aspects of themselves in the presence of the other person,” adds the actor, who won a Golden Globe for the darkly comic In Bruges in 2009.
“For the majority of the film, Peter’s just a mortal man passing through his days figuring where to get his next meal, and then he encounters love in a way he never felt possible. And then as the story unfolds, he begins to realise he’s a pawn in a greater plan.”
On the surface, he had very little from his own life that he could draw upon.
“Peter Lake’s an orphan and was raised in the school of hard knocks, so I have very little experience of the issues he faces,” he admits, though he could relate to the fundamental themes raised in the movie.
“The idea of love and the power of love and the ability or inability to feel grounded in this world, and the relevance someone’s origin has on their everyday life.”
A New York Winter’s Tale opens in cinemas tomorrow