A few weeks ago, I ran an extended interview with writer/director William Monahan for his directorial debut London Boulevard (now on VOD and in theaters this weekend in limited release). Starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Anna Friel, Jamie Bower, David Thewlis, Ray Winstone, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, and Ben Chaplin, the film is about a man just released from prison (Farrell) who falls in love with a reclusive young movie star (Knightley) and finds himself in a duel with a vicious gangster (Winstone). During our wide ranging conversation, we covered everything from his thoughts on VOD and what changes were made to the film for its domestic release, the digital revolution, the crime genre, writing dialogue, and working with actors. In addition, he gave me updates on The Departed sequel/prequel, Sin City 2, The Gambler, Tripoli, Becket, Mojave (which might be his next film), and revealed there is another version of Kingdom of Heaven that no one has seen.
However, the same day we did that interview, I did another one with Monahan, except the second conversation included Colin Farrell. Rather than ask the same junket type questions, we spent a large portion of our time talking about what got them both into making movies, and their favorite actors and directors. After being movie nerds, we then talked about their first meeting, the script, how they found Farrell’s character, filming in London, and rehearsals. Additionally, Farrell talked a bit about Martin McDonagh‘s Seven Psychopaths and Total Recall. Hit the jump for more.
Before getting to the interview, a huge thank you to Monahan and Farrell for giving me so much time.
Colin Farrell: The first film experiences that I can remember are two things: E.T. and Rocky. They were two things that really moved me and stirred me at whatever age I was. I may have seen E.T. when I was 7 or 8 in a theater, but I cried like a 7 or 8 year old. I just loved it. I was just taken away completely to another world. It just inspired in me all sorts of thoughts, emotions, and it stayed with me very much. Rocky was the same. My dad used to have a candy store and above the candy store there was a video store. So we used to go up…I remember Zombie Flesh Eaters and all sorts of crap things like American Ninja, Coming Home, and all of Arnie’s films were big staples of our diet growing up like Red Heat with [James] Belushi. But Rocky was one thing that I remember experiencing fully.
I think that is what you want to do as a cinemagoer – to experience something fully. Some things don’t let you experience them fully. It may be your own preordained prejudice where you can’t experience them fully. But when you come out of the cinema having felt, thought, and experienced your way through two hours, that is a really cool thing. E.T. did it for me. That is the first experience I remember having such heft.
William Monahan: The first thing that ever really transported me is the usual suspect, Lawrence of Arabia. It was not only visually profound, but it was also well written. I think the one after that was probably [Michelangelo] Antonioni’s Blow-Up because it was very cool and elliptical, but it also left a lot of things unanswered. Those were the two.
Who is the actor for the both of you that leaves you are awe inspired by their work? Is there one actor that you have tried to digest everything that they have done? Is there also a director that you are really dumbfounded by?
Farrell: Montgomery Clift. It’s funny because I was watching the film with [Marlon] Brando and Clift, The Young Lions, last week. It is fascinating to see Clift and Brando in the same film. They are not sharing the same frame for the majority of the film. Their paths cross at the end, but you really get to see their work alongside each other. But you have the grace of having the screen allowed to be owned by each one as they are there. So it is not like Pacino and De Niro and you are not drawing on the pressure of having to pick a fucking winner. You are just seeing them side by side in a way. To see them go back and forth like that…they are both brilliant and incredibly genius at what they do. They both have such a unique manner and way about them. There is the way in which they find themselves inside the material and the way in which they draw you as an audience member into the material. And, yet, it is Clift that I come away with having my heart pummeled by. Brando is beautiful. Brando is electric, so fucking dynamic, and he inspires.
There was great criticism at this stage because the novel that The Young Lions is based on…the character that Brando played lacked the humanitarian aspect that Brando brought to it in the film. Brando often brought that to characters that otherwise played by other actors would have maybe been despicable or easier to judge. So Brando inspired compassion and empathy in me as I was watching it, but Clift was the one where that I went, “Wow.” There was something that was so haunted about him. That man seemed to be about that man. When I look at Clift, I can’t really separate the dancer from the dance. I don’t know where the man stopped and the actor began. I think it was maybe one and the same if you look back at his history.
But Clift used to carry himself with this hunched back. It was almost like you see a hedgehog cross the freeway and when it knows that a car is coming the hedgehog will bottle up to cover its soft organs. It was almost like Clift carried himself like that. You can see him playing the trumpet and it was almost like his heart was too fucking soft and he had to protect it with this almost hunch from the world. It is bizarre. He was 140 pounds and no grown man should be 140 pounds unless if he races horses for a living. He had such a fucking softness to him, and yet there was ferocity to him.
There is a scene in The Young Lions where they steal his shit. These four guys in the bark steal his shit and he calls at the four them and he asks Dean Martin to arrange the fights. Dean Martin is going, “What are you going to do? Take them all?” and he goes, “Yeah. I need you to arrange it.” He is like, “What do you mean?” and he goes, “Well, I can’t fight them all in one night.” Dean Martin is like, “This is going to be messy.” And he gets the shit pumped out of him very much like [Paul] Newman in Cool Hand Luke. He will just not give up. But Clift is someone to me who just…Brando very much as well. But there is just something about Clift. There is such a sense of hauntedness to him. There is such a sense of loss and such a sense of aching sensitivity that he is a man that just feels too much in a world that won’t allow such thoughts and feelings. He stays with me.
As far as filmmakers go, I don’t know. I think William Wyler and the old boys. John Huston – I fucking love Huston’s stuff. I love Lean’s stuff, but I think Huston has a certain kind of animalism that Lean’s stuff at times, as brilliantly put together as it is, kind of lacks. As brilliantly put together, beautiful, and cerebral as Lean’s filmmaking is, Huston has more of an animal kind of thrust through his work. But William Wyler made The Best Years of our Lives and it doesn’t really get better than that.
Monahan: I agree with you. Particularly with The Man Who Would Be King
Farrell: Yeah. The African Queen – anyone who says that Bogart only did that one thing should watch The African Queen. Watch Humphrey Bogart do the hippo noises. It is fucking out there, man.
Monahan: The African Queen is brilliant. As far as talking about actors and directors, that is a really tough act to follow.
Farrell: I went old, man. I cast a wide net there. [laughter]
Farrell: I went recent though as well. Sometimes a way that is easier to answer that is to go recent and pick something that has affected me recently.
Colin has done, what I am going to say, are a lot of interviews. So he has…
Farrell: No. I’ll bore you to death with pseudo-intellectual bollocks. I’ll just talk and talk.
We were talking about this before recorders came out, but I think that a lot of people are movie nerds. We all talk about the same shit all the time. We were talking about junkets and you get asked the same questions and you do have to answer those questions, but I think that a lot of people are interested in what gets you excited about movies, especially from people who are inside the industry and are making films.
Monahan: You watch a lot of pictures and you retain the memory of the more transcendental moments in each of them. The moments in each film where somebody has been absolutely genius, you know? Nothing sustains from an entire picture, but there are moments. Sometimes, even in the movies which otherwise don’t even make it, there are moments where they just hit levels of greatness.
Monahan: We were at the Roosevelt Hotel. We were by the pool at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Farrell: Otherwise known as my office. [laughter] The rent is really fucking good. Two Diet Cokes, a chicken Caesar salad, and you are there for four hours.
Monahan: We sat there and I think he had long hair at the time. I just went in and met him. He was sitting there with a beard and an earring. There was just an automatic vibe that said, “This is Mitch.”
How far along was the script at that point? Was it just an idea that you wanted to do or was the script ready?
Farrell: I had read it by the time we met.
Monahan: This was a completed script. I was just sitting there hoping that he would do it.
Farrell: I had read it and loved it. There is almost something more original about a story that isn’t original that feels original. [laughs] It is a really hard one to crack, and you find it every now and then. I think that Drive was made very original by Nicolas Winding Refn’s vision and by his particularity, the way he told the story, the way he colored it, and the shadows that he allowed in. It was incredibly original, but that story is so stuck, you know? It’s in the way that it’s rendered. It is same in good writing. It is the way that something is presented and the way the writer or filmmaker allows it to unfold for the viewer or to the reader. With this, the story was about a man getting out of jail, he is trying to stay away from the life that got him in there, and he is pulled back in through some crisis of conscious, or through some emotional waking of love that he has. It didn’t scream originality, but the way that it was rendered and written, and how it found itself from Bill’s pen, was kind of extraordinary for me. It was spectacular. It was selfishly as well. It was a character that was a man of few words, but the words that he did speak were words that were always going to count. Not that I have played incredibly verbose characters, but there was a certain stillness to Mitch that was kind of foreign to me.
At times, I play characters that have a more frenetic energy and are busy. I love the idea of…I was very conscious about that initially. Schooling myself in stillness was the hardest thing for me to do when we were working together. By the time we got to the set, I had done a lot of work on it in just preparation. But I loved the way the story was rendered. I read the full script and was dying to sit at a table with him after that.
Monahan: The stillness and presence on screen in that state of stillness is really extraordinary. It is amazing how much he can communicate through that English mask, if you want to call it that.
Can you talk about the conversations that you guys had? Once you agreed to do the project, how did you guys talk about how you wanted to play the character? What was the collaboration process like in finding the character of Mitch?
Monahan: As far I was concerned, Colin knew exactly what to do, and he came in and did it. [laughs]
Farrell: We had a good rehearsal period, though. You’re constantly dealing in negative returns when it comes to looking for rehearsal in film. It’s just about how negative is the return going to be when you make the request of, “Are we going to get to rehearse?” Sometimes you are spoiled. We were spoiled on Phone Booth. That was by necessity because we only had ten days to shoot the whole film. So we had to know when we got to the street where exactly the fucking cameras were going to be. My blocking was pretty easy. It was, “See that box standing over there? Stand in that and pick up the receiver.” But in this, we had a week or eight days or something in the production offices out at the studio.
We were sitting in an office table reading. Lots of stuff began to speak to me in and around that. You can theorize and intellectualize all you want, but until you have somebody close to you to either allow you an opportunity to reinforce what your opinion, or somebody to alter your opinion, or to take it to another level, then it is kind of shit really. You may as well creatively be Ted Kaczynski, you know? But don’t quote me on that because I think he may have killed people and that is inappropriate.
Monahan: But in a sense, you’re getting able to come out of your cabin in the woods.
Farrell: There you go. That is what was great. That was so cool to have. Even to just have a week to sit around and batter stuff out. It really gets you closer and more familiar with the material.
You guys filmed on location in London, which I think is one of the elements of the film that is just cool. Any time you are not in a studio it is fantastic. Can you talk about filming in London and what you remember about making it?
Monahan: I remember that we went pretty quickly. We kept a good pace. That is one thing that was really important to me as a so-called “first time director” It was to just keep it moving, you know? It is like being given command of the ship. So it is kind of like, “Are we moving fast enough? Are the 200 people getting fed? Is the crew getting decent curry?” Just moving like that was pretty good. London is a very cool city to shoot in. It is not the easiest city to get around in, but it was cool to shoot in. We had a very good crew. Redmond Morris, who was an executive producer on the film, was great and he really kept everything moving.
Farrell: You’re hacking into someone’s internet access. Do you know what I mean? You’re kind of using someone else’s telephone line and you are plugging into the energy of the city, and it is doing you all sorts of favors. You are just trying to blend the story that you are telling into whatever multifaceted mosaic city. A city like London raises the bar to the story and adds so much texture to it. I loved shooting there.
Monahan: You’re still observing even as you are making the picture. You are observing and finding things because you are operating live in a city like that. So if you see something, you can turn around on it. What I liked best was doing something that I had never done before, which was realizing the extent to which a film is made on location. So when you walk on to a location, you know exactly how you are going to shoot it immediately. For example, in Pottery Lane, you need a crane. There is something about it and there was a little curve at the road. You just say, “Okay. I want to go up. I want to go up here while Mitch is walking down the street.” You get to respond to the live city and you get to respond to the locations. That was just cool because there is a little bit of an improvisational aspect to it. I just adored working in London. It was in London where I first had the idea of making a film. The funny thing is the film that I had in my head when I was 18 or 19 years old actually started with the riff from Heart Full of Soul. So to be able to do all of that time later was kind of a full circle.
Monahan: In our trousers maybe. [laughs]
Farrell: He went straight to fecal humor. [laughter]
But was there a moment on screen that was discovered on set?
Farrell: Me and Ray [Winstone] not knowing if we were going to headbutt or fucking kiss. [laughs] I don’t remember that ever being spoken about. It was always designed as a tense moment, of course. You know in the car park when Mitch and Gant…it was always an intense moment, but it was never fucking that.
Monahan: Absolutely. These guys launched. Colin just launched and came out of the cool withdrawn persona. As sensitive and engaged as he is during the film while still being withdrawn, he just exploded in the scene with Ray.
Farrell: It was cool because it was a chance to explore the kind of gift/courage that Mitch had been born with. It was just an incredible ability to harness his natural existential anger in the form of violence, and to make a living doing that. It is something that he was born with and something that he had a proclivity for, but it was something that he had consciously decided to quell, and it was time for that to come to the surface. That was cool. Ray was on fire that night.
Farrell: You were on fire. You had a temperature of a 103 at that point in the day. You were sick.
Monahan: Exactly. But they went nose to nose and it was just a matter of keeping the camera spinning around them.
Farrell: In between takes you were going, “Fucking hell!”
Monahan: Yeah. Ray apparently…when Ben Chaplin screams in that scene, it is because I believe Ray actually hurt him with the pistol. I think he dug him in the ribs with it and that is why Ben screams at one point. He is a very game actor. [laughs]
Farrell: I thought that Ben was fucking great in the film. I thought he was really great in the film.
As long as I have you here, are you doing Seven Psychopaths?
Farrell: Yeah. I’m starting in a few weeks. If you held a gun to my child’s head, I wouldn’t know how to break down that fucking plot. [laughs] Martin [McDonagh] wrote a great and really original script. We are shooting it here in Los Angeles, which is magic. So I will get to be home with the boys and stuff. We start in about 5 weeks.
I loved you guys’ last movie.
Farrell: Thanks, man. It is good stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fucking fantastic writers – present company very much included. That is kind of the fundamental launching point for all of these films. It is the good words on the page. I start in about 5 weeks and it is an 8 or 9 week shoot, and I am dying to do it. To be honest, I really did enjoy Total Recall. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, actually. But there wasn’t a lot of dialogue. So it is nice to get into some. I was ready for that at that period, but you run out of roads with everything.