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Another 'Tale' for Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell at the London premiere of "Winter's Tale."
Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Colin Farrell plays a burglar who learns that he has the gift in reincarnation in the fantasy drama “Winter’s Tale.” The epic romantic film, written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar winning writer of “A Beautiful Mind,” was adapted from the Mark Helprin bestselling novel.

The talented Irish actor stars alongside Jessica Brown Findlay (of “Downton Abbey” fame) and Oscar winners Eva Marie Saint, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.

Farrell plays Peter Lake, who falls in love with a beautiful heiress who dies in his arms. Set in an alternate reality of New York City, the story spans more than a century and is a tale about miracles, destiny and good versus evil.

The 37-year-old actor spoke about what attracted him to the role and his thoughts about love, love scenes, miracles and destiny.

Q: Is love overrated? How about Valentine’s Day?

Farrell: Overrated? No. Possibly underrated the importance of it in its prevalence in a single person’s life or in the life of a shared community, it can make incredible changes or promote the idea of peace and harmony within a society or within a person’s individual existence. Love is … (starts singing) All you need is love. It has to be the one thing that defines us as human beings—our ability to care for each other and to understand each other and have compassion for your fellow man. Valentine’s Day—I don’t know what that’s about. It’s whatever you make of it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flowers or maraschino cherries. It would be nice if it take such a commercially promoted holiday for people to extend themselves in gestures of love. But I think love is really what makes it all spin.

Q: Your character jumps back and forth in three different times throughout the century. How was it doing that?

Farrell: (He laughs.) Tiring!

Q: How did you keep it straight?

Farrell: If I was wearing the wig, it was contemporary. It was all very clearly demarked in the script and in the shooting of the film. The later Peter Lake is somebody who exists very uncomfortably in the present. It’s an uncomfortable present for him. Each day is kind of devoid of meaning because it’s a repetition of the day before, which he can’t remember. It’s almost like “Groundhog Day.” He goes to bed each night and wakes up the next day, and it’s the beginning of a life to which he has no reference point for. He has no idea what his origin is. We, as human begins, we judge ourselves in our present based on our own origin stories: where we grew up and where we were born, what our family was like, how our cultural references are formed and how that forms our personality. So it was interesting and fun but it was much more comfortable and much more grounded playing Peter at the beginning of the movie, as flighty as he seems at the beginning of the story, because as much as he had a battle and an internal rub based on his upbringing and his orphan status on his disassociation from any sense of family until he meets Beverly (Brown Findlay) and her family, the Penns, then he’s OK in his discomfort. Later in life, when he’s consumed by this sense of loss, but he has no idea where the loss comes from, that he experiences this kind of profound discomfort that is agitating and disturbing more than anybody else.

Q: How do you feel about doing love scenes?

Farrell: I like them. Maybe that’s awfully cheap and sleazy of me. It’s not that I get personal kicks or gratification from them but I do think human touch, in whatever form it comes in, as long as that form is one that is mutually compassionate and respectful, is a really gorgeous thing. While the (love scene) atmosphere is an absolute artifice, and it’s not romantic and it’s never going to be sexy, if the two people involved in it are on the same page with each other, there are worse days at the office.

Q: What would be a good double bill with this film?

Farrell: I think a good double bill would be this with Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” (He laughs.)

Q: Does your performance change in playing this character in a magic realism world?

Farrell: One of the cruxes and bedrocks of this film is the presence of a love that defies linear time and the kind of eternal existence of something that is felt but can’t be defined by thought. Poets are still trying to do it centuries later through language—and some of them get close—but love will never be defined in an empirical way where it can be judged or measured. So with that in mind, many of the more fantastical or magical elements of the film, like the flying horse or time bending in on itself or someone existing for 100 years without aging, were things that you became a subject of. They were almost easier to write off as awe-inspiring events. The depth of love between Peter and Beverly is much more magical and fantastical element of the whole film. It’s much more magical and fantastically and yet beautifully much more possible than a flying horse. The whole script and story was an exercise in the defiance of disbelief and things happening in a person’s life that they never thought could happen. Peter wasn’t looking for love. All of a sudden this world opens up to him. And the world of his former existence and the self-preservation and the defensive energy with which he had to carry himself through life just to survive begins to crumble and fade away. And this path of love and gentility and light and true interconnectedness presents itself. So for me this was the most magical and fantastical element of the film.

Q: What did you learn from your character?

Farrell: It just kind of solidified a suspicion I already had that I’m OK with life being defined by more by mystery than by certainty because certainty has done nothing but get me in a lot of trouble. So I learned about my own certainty and my own ideals and my own attachments. I’m OK the older I get. I’m reaching and hoping and aspiring to know less and less and less.

Q: What about the film did you enjoy most?

Farrell: I was partial to Eva Marie Saint.

Q: What was it like working with her?

Farrell: Working with her was a dream. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in the past 15 years on a film set. I’ve been aware of her work since I was in my early teens, which is not that long ago. I love working with actors who are just slightly older than me but have a greater depth of history with regards to life in film. Working with Eva Marie Saint, as it was working with Christopher Plummer, were two of my favorite experiences. She’s one of my favorite actresses but more importantly, as a person I adore of the bones of her. I was really spoiled to be able to spend time with her on the set. It will stay with me all my days, which I hope are plentiful.

Q: You ride a horse in this film as you have done in previous films. What was it like working with this particular horse?

Farrell: The horse I worked with on this was beautiful. He was a really nice character, because horses are people too. They differ in the way they carry themselves through the world, and in the way they interact with each other and the way they interact with people. I had a very understanding horse named Listo. There were actually two horses, but the other one was more like a relief pitcher. Whenever Listo was tired or agitated, which you would be having me on your back eight hours a day, inevitably. But he was a wonderful wonderful beast. It was also the first time I flew on a horse, which wasn’t as scary as it would seem. No altitude sickness or fear of heights involved because I was actually in a green screen studio sitting on a barrel. It was one of the more mortifying experiences that I’d take shooting a love scene over a flying horse. But I love working with horses. People say you shouldn’t work with animals and children, but that’s wrong. I say you only should work with children because then you work only eight hours a day. And I love working with animals because they have an honesty human beings reach to find in their lives at the best of times. So I had a great time.

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