Colin Farrell on Suffering, Awkwardness, and His New Satire, The Lobster

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Photo: Irish Film Board

The genius of The Lobster, the English-language debut of Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos — whose 2009 wonder Dogtooth was the first Greek movie since 1977 to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film — is that it does not make the assumption that fuels every rom-com and love story known to man: that we can choose how we find love. 

In the world of The Lobster, all single people are sent to a hotel for 45 days in order to find a mate. If they fail, they are turned into an animal of their choosing — "Which is why the world is filled with dogs," a character says early on, one of many instances where you'll laugh almost in spite of yourself. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou use allegory to expose our own bizarre preconceptions and rituals of courtship.

Much of this odd little movie's appeal is attributable to the cast, which includes John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, and Rachel Weisz, a series of acclaimed actors who play characters named Lisping Man, Limping Man, Loner Leader, and Short-Sighted Woman, respectively. The only actor whose character has a proper name — David, a hapless, recently dumped bachelor — is Colin Farrell.

Few actors have had careers as eclectic as Farrell, who has oscillated between blockbuster leading-man roles and peculiar character acting. His performance in The Lobster certainly falls in the latter category, among such company as Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, Terrence Malick's The New World, and the second season of True Detective. (Scoff at the True Detective mention all you want: Farrell almost single-handedly made it worth watching.) Vulture caught up with Farrell to discuss The Lobster and, as it went, life in general. Here are the highlights.

On acting in a film as weird as this one:
"I found it really interesting to try and imagine how this world could be not just presented physically, but represented by the actors, and how it could be inhabited as if it was completely normal. But it’s so well drawn that you just do very little.

One of the objectives in what I’ve been lucky enough to do for a living is to just be present at all times without trying to play moments, without trying to squeeze drama out of this scene or that scene. You rely on your fellow actors and all that stuff, but more than ever before, this movie felt just like being present, literally just listening and observing and responding without any agenda. The objectives here were inherent in the script and they were so much bigger than any one character’s journey.

On the nature of sadness:
At times, if I’ve seen people suffer and they’re aware of their suffering, it’s less painful to observe than if they’re suffering and they’re not aware of it. It’s kind of like someone seeing a car coming barreling down on them and screaming “ahh!” and you go, “Oh no, the car’s going to hit them.” But if someone doesn’t see the car and they’re facing the other way, you will completely crawl into your own skin for the fear and the sadness of not knowing.

I felt the same way about these characters in this film. It’s such a patriarchal society they live in, they’re given no freedom, and the extent of their free will is getting to choose the animal they may be turned into. But none of them seem to know. A lot of the characters are almost unformed — there’s an innocence to them. When you see that innocence in something that’s recognized as fully grown, that can be moving.

On whether he's a Buddhist:
No! [Laughs.] No, I’m human.

On how the cast arrived at the strange, earnest nature of their performances:
There was no discourse between the actors about tonality. There may have been jesting here and there, but more in reference to the comfort that can be found by saying you’re really confused, and then laughing it off and then moving on. I think as a result of having Yorgos’s previous work as a reference point, everyone was able to just drop into the place you see us in the film.

On his co-star, Rachel Weisz, and the nature of love:
She was a dream. When she comes into the film, for me it’s this tonal shift, because — I can’t believe I’m going to refer to Wall-E in reference to [Yorgos's] work — but you know there's one plant seedling that still lives. That’s what love is to me in this film, it’s that one seedling. Where it goes I don’t know, and I’m being a bit idealistic about it, but it’s that one seedling.

I don’t know that most characters are looking for love in the film — they’re just doing what they’ve been told they have to do. That’s a form of love, a very practical aspect of the world we live in today. That’s fine as well — I know arranged marriages that have worked out, that have grown into some kind of simpatico that is a love of sorts that is maybe deeper, longer lasting, and more pure than a fleeting romance. It doesn’t satiate in the way of a fleeting romance, but that’s what comes in when Rachel comes in, that seedling of love, possibly, this stirring just beyond the convention of life.  

On awkwardness:
For a lot of us, beneath our behaviors and the tools we use to find some level of comfort in our society and our communities, there’s quite a bit of awkwardness. I believe it’s that awkwardness that births those behaviors that allow us to survive and maintain. What this script did is it rendered unimportant those behaviors and just allowed the awkwardness that actually exists. It was really liberating.