Bruges, the Belgian port city known for its medieval architecture and Flemishness, is referred to in such unspeakable terms during the upcoming “In Bruges” that one would have expected the town to convict actor Colin Farrell and director Martin McDonagh of high crimes in absentia, and exile the movie to Luxembourg.
Instead, the daffy place has printed up a tourist flyer complete with a map of shooting locations, replete with little pistols pointing out where scenes were shot, and what happens in them.
Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon
(Focus Features; US theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 4 Apr 2008 (General release); 2008)
“`While Ray prefers the Bruges nightlife, Ken felt a ride on the historic canal - Rozenhoedkaai - was a must-see!”
Farrell is laughing infectiously. “Looks like a positive response to me!”
The actor, as any “Access Hollywood” viewer knows, is an old hand at wresting good notices out of bad behavior: Pegged as one of filmdom’s prime reprobates, he’s been involved in any number of scandals, involving sex and/or prescription drugs. But when McDonagh’s dark-edged hit-man comedy opened the Sundance Film Festival last month, the goodwill shown Farrell was of Robert Downey Jr. proportions: Finally, observers said, a film that showed what Farrell could do.
It may all lead back to the actor’s self-effacing demeanor. Asked about another “In Bruges” co-star, he quipped, “Yeah, we worked a bit on `Miami Vice.’ I was told we had a good time.”
“In Bruges” stars the Dublin-born Farrell as the novice hit-man Ray, the veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as the more experienced Ken and, in the role of writer/director, the Olivier Award-winning, four-time Tony nominated playwright-cum-filmmaker McDonagh (“The Pillowman”). That there’s a camaraderie between actor and director is apparent in their shared sense of humor, the kind that occurs “between people who really appreciate each other,” said Farrell’s co-star, Clemence Poesy.
“I’ve done films where I played American characters,” Farrell said, “and maybe it was my ill-judgment, but they had a certain swagger, a cocksureness about them. One of the most liberating things about the last few films - the Woody Allen piece (“Cassandra’s Dream”) and Martin’s piece - is that these were what would seem to be normal men. There’s a vulnerability to them, just a deep humanity to them. They’re creatures of nature, very much affected by their environment. But there was a liberation in not having to be cool.”
Just as Ray is not a very adept hit man, neither is “In Bruges” a very conventional hit-man movie. McDonagh, as he has shown in his plays (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”) and his Oscar-winning short “Six Shooter,” is all about tweaking conventions.
“It’s about setting up a cliched, fish-out-of-water, cool hit-men story, which is what it is in the trailer,” McDonagh said, “and then using that to take it to a whole different place that’s more subtle. Sadder. Darker. And just more interesting, I guess. I don’t think I could write a pure Hollywood hit- man thing - there’d always be a darker edge to it. I’d always bring my attitude to it.”
What’s next, if anything?
So, they’d work together again?
Farrell: “He’s going to take seven years off.”
McDonagh: “But I’ll be 28 then so I’ll be fine. But really, I’d love to. It was my first feature and Colin and Brendan nurtured me through the whole thing and taught me an awful lot and made the whole experience not terrifying for even a minute. Joyous really. So, yeah. Completely.”
“After seven years’ experience,” Farrell added, “it all seems really new to me. It really does. It still feels very new. I haven’t worked since `Bruges’ and I’m going back to work in April and I’m (unsure) about whether I’ll be able to do anything worthwhile. And how do you achieve that? Because it’s not a science. And the day it becomes a science for me, and I can rest on my laurels, and feel a sense of great achievement, is maybe the day I won’t be interested in it anymore.”