Colin Farrell scares up revered role for Fright Night remake

by W. Andrew Powell
Colin Farrell stars in Craig Gillespie's Fright Night

Interviewing actors and filmmakers can be a difficult job when you consider the odds that are stacked against you. Are they in a good mood? Have they done a lot of interviews today? Do they even feel like talking about their latest film right now? Those questions all make you wonder what will happen when you sit down with the next star, but then, not everyone is like Colin Farrell.

Taking a short break from filming Total Recall to chat about his latest film, Fright Night, Farrell walked into the room like he was fashionably late for a party, seeming totally at ease and welcoming as he smiled at every person in the room like he knew them all from way back.

Offering everyone snacks or a soft drink, Farrell poured himself a soda and quipped that we could start asking questions: “Go for it… by the time I come back I promise I’ll have an answer.”

Recreating Tom Holland’s revered off-beat horror film from 1985, director Craig Gillespie has created a film far more engaging than the average remake, with Farrell in the lead role of the vampire-next-door, Jerry, played in the original film by the great Chris Sarandon. With that performance in mind, I asked Farrell whether he took any influences from Sarandon’s Jerry, or how he created this creepy character.

“I delighted in the fact that [screenwriter] Marti Noxon went completely against the grain that Chris had established because I would have felt very, very imprisoned by my own self-judgment if I had to follow in Chris’ footsteps.”

“I mean,” Farrell continued, “because I was a fan of the original and the Jerry that Chris created was so elegant, so debonair, and so kind of intellectual, suave, and my guy was completely the opposite. He’s kind of base and brutal and blue-collar and not the smartest–[he] didn’t feel like the brightest, or [the most] normal, sensual vampire to have ever been put on celluloid, so I didn’t feel like I was following in Chris’ footsteps as much as I could have, which was hugely liberating for me.”

As Farrell put it, and avoiding the vast majority of supernatural films from the last few years, “The whole character was designed with getting away from the more human attributes that vampires have had in films. You know, the longing for a romantic counterpart, the sense of their own isolation from society and the world around them, the weight of burden that is immortal existence when we, as humans, judge it as something that is exotic and maybe to be aspired for.”

“So, with that in mind,” Farrell said, “it just becomes about having fun and engaging with the very black and white world that Jerry lived in, which is one of cruelty and brutality and self gratification, and nice things like that…”

Complementing him on the film, another journalist said how much he “enjoyed the hell out of this movie,” which immediately drew a smile out of Farrell who broke in, saying, “That’s so cool, because I really am a fan of the original. It was so out there… some of the performances and moments were so wicked out-there…”

That led right into the topic, following my own chain of thoughts, of how Farrell plays this killer creature that the other journalist referred to as “an eternal son-of-a-bitch.”

“[Jerry] certainly operates from a similar place,” Farrell said, “[as] serial killers–from what I’ve read and what I’ve seen… particularly Ted Bundy. There would be an ability to allow people to ill-advisedly feel a level of comfort and trust around them, and around him, but it’s really just a leap into the imagination,” he added, “You know, it really is.”

“I understand the concept of cruelty as a human being, having experienced it toward me, having been cruel in my life,” Farrell said. “I understand it on whatever level I understand it, so it’s just magnification of what you’ve already experienced imbued with whatever the capability of your imagination is at the end of the day.”

Laughing, Farrell added, “There wasn’t much method stuff to be done: ‘Farrell attacks innocent bystander in Universal Studios.’ [Making a noise like chomping on a neck] Caught in mid bite.”

“But it was fun,” the star said, “and you know, I have a relationship with vampires on film. From my life, from Fright Night, from Lost Boys, from Near Dark, from Nosferatu, from Coppola’s Dracula, Christopher Lee, Bella Lugosi; so many. Interview with the Vampire, Let the Right One In, it goes on and on and on.”

“And you know I was asked ‘did you draw on any of them’ and I thought ‘absolutely not’ but of course you draw from what you know, regardless of how deep what you know is buried. Maybe you draw more from things you don’t even understand you’re drawing from that are actually there than you’d like to believe.”

“With that in mind, Jerry was an accumulation of all that I had seen,” Farrell said, “but if I was to characterize him as being more one than the other, he is definitely more Lestat than Brad Pitt’s Louie. And I love the romantic vampire. I really am a big softie.”

“I was trying to imbue this story with [some kind of humanity]” the star said, mimicking a scene in the film where he suggested he could have captivated a woman with his mind, rather than picking her up and carrying her out of the club.

“So about two weeks into the film I just stopped trying to fit a square into a round hole and just engaged with what Marti had designed, which was a really specific guy. To be able to do that at this stage–I’m not saying we’re re-inventing the vampiric wheel, but to be able to design a really specific vampire at this stage is pretty cool, and I suppose I threatened that by myself feeling the need to have more human emotions involved.”

Colin Farrell as the bad ass vampire, Jerry
Colin Farrell as the bad ass vampire, Jerry

Shifting the topic further, the next journalist brought up the fact that Farrell has now starred in two remakes, starring in this film, the upcoming Total Recall remake, and, although it wasn’t discussed, even the Miami Vice movie adaptation.

This begged the question whether Farrell feels much attachment to doing these types of films.

“For me, my attachment to it, was literally–I heard [about] a remake of Fright Night,” and he said he thought to himself, “‘Oh God, really? Maybe not a great idea.'”

“I read [the] Fright Night [screenplay], I go, ‘Oh, fuck, I like it. Maybe not a really good idea that I’m still in it though,’ until I meet Craig Gillespie and I really like Lars and the Real Girl and I really like Craig, and I go, ‘Oh, fuck, still [not a great idea], but this really could be interesting and fun and he’s a really smart filmmaker and Toni Collette? Wow. And Anton Yelchin? Geez, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and David Tennant is playing… wow, that’s funny. It swiftly became for me a no-brainer and very hard as a fan of the film to not go, ‘I have to, I have to. I may fuck it up, I know I’m putting a big target on my head, but it could be such fun.'”

Back on the topic of remakes, one journalist raised the question whether Farrell would ever consider remaking one of his own films.

“[Laughs] It doesn’t keep me up at night, but I would love to revisit Alexander,” he said, smiling. “I would love to. Yeah. I’d just be interested. I don’t know if it would be worse, better, or whatever, but I’m still very proud of that experience and film, but I would love to revisit it–under some different circumstances it would be interesting, but I’m fine with everything the way it is.”

Farrell was then asked how he felt about the business of being an actor, and how he felt it was perceived, to which he commented with his most personal reply of the interview.

“I am more all right with how fortunate I’ve been through this thing, with this job, and with the opportunities that I’ve been given. So, with that in mind, I don’t feel as desperately beholden to go to work on whatever makes itself appear at any given time,” Farrell said. “I can afford myself the luxury of being a little more clear as to why I’m going to work.”

Stepping further into the topic of his life and career, Farrell said, “I have people in my life–and I’m in a very honourable position that I get to support, and I’m delighted that I can do that–I’m very lucky to be able to do that. That’s a very real deal, but outside of that, I’m also doubly lucky that I do something I love, and that at times–I can’t choose to do anything–but at times I get a choice, it’s just weird and lovely–but to step up to the responsibility of having that choice maybe is something that in the last few [films], maybe I feel I’ve done a little bit more.”

“And I just know why I’m going to work on something, if it’s the character that draws me to it, if it’s the ensemble that is already signed on to cast in it; if it’s the piece and the sensibility or the sensitivity that the particular piece has inherent in it as a whole from page one to one-hundred-and-ten; if it’s the director, if it’s time to have fun like Fright Night and Horrible Bosses was.”

“Eclecticism really is a [great] thing, it genuinely is,” he said. “To be able to not feel like–there are certain things in life that are good to repeat–you know, gestures of kindness, kissing someone you love, etcetera, etcetera–but certain things are not. Working this gig, if you have the opportunity, for me it’s nice enough not to feel repetition creep in, and it can do so very easily.”

Speaking then about his career, the star said, “It’s fun. I’ve enjoyed the work more in the last few years, and I had stopped enjoying it.”

Turning back to his work in Fright Night, I asked Farrell what he thought about the makeup and prosthetic process, which was obviously intense considering the changes he undergoes as Jerry’s more demonic side appears in the film. He joked, “I usually don’t do it in front of so many people. I thought, okay, should I be exposed? And then I shifted my perspective and looked at it a different way like, ‘I can finally be me!’ [laugh]”

Being serious again, he said, “the wonderful makeup artists that I’ve worked with through the years tend to–at some stage in the film shoot–joke about having to get someone in to sit on my lap, because I’m not great in the makeup chair. I do get a bit fidgety.”

“[The makeup] was certainly not daunting, but it was just one of the more tedious aspects of the film… [sitting] and just get spray painted, you know… even my Irish skin was too dark for this cat.”

“And then the makeup,” he said, “the prosthetics stuff that [they] did was fun. I mean that was fun. That took a while, but that took a while toward a more dramatic effect than just being whitened.”

Commenting on how shocking his transformation was, I said that it was also very different than what you might expect. “Yeah, that’s good, that’s a good thing,” he said, “from when he got under the car, from when I had a little nibble on Chris [Sarandon],” revealing the fact that the original Jerry makes a cameo in the film as a random snack for the new star vampire.

Jerry rides into the night
Jerry rides into the night

Near the end of the interview, the question was finally raised whether the star would consider directing anything in the future, and Farrell responded wholeheartedly.

“I would love to, yeah,” he said. “I really would love to. I would love to. In the same way that I kind of always wanted to–at some stage I would love to give it a shot. I’ve got so much fear attached to it, I’ve got so much fear of judgment, so I’d better get out with it of course. But I would love to, at some stage. I love working with actors.”

When asked what he would direct, he said, “I don’t know, something small, something personal. Maybe do a short, maybe that would be the way to do it, do a short first and do it digitally for thirty or forty grand and a few friends and write something.”

Speaking more about his fears as a child, he added, “I wasn’t afraid of much, I don’t think. No, I wasn’t, but I loved horror films when I was a kid.”

“As I said, I saw a lot of vampire films, but Freddy Kreuger fucked me up. Big time. I was bad enough at sleep anyway when I was a child, but whatever ability I had to get down at night was shot to shit after I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

“I was probably like ten or something, ‘One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. Three, four better lock your…’,” Farrell said, “You know? And Robert Englund. That was another great way of mixing comedy and horror, ’cause just some of his one liners, some of Freddy’s one liners. That really tore me up, and Jason Voorhees, Mike Myers, these cats, I saw all those films when I was young.”

Farrell also shared more about his love for the original film. “Fright Night, the original, never scared me so much. Even when I saw it when I was twelve, it didn’t scare me… and it wasn’t any less [enjoyable] as a result. It always felt very complete, Fright Night, a very complete experience. A couple of scares and a couple of laughs.”

“For me the scariest moment in the original Fright Night was Roddy McDowall seeing that Jerry didn’t have a reflection in the mirror. That’s like the scariest moment, and yet you know in that moment that nothing’s going to happen there, but some shit could happen later and that’s probably why it’s so scary. It was just so eerie.”

“I mean I’m a sucker for a good fright,” he said. “If somebody goes to a medicine cabinet I’m done. It has a mirror on it, I’m done. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

Overall, Farrell realized that he was playing Jerry a specific way after he started thinking about the character’s motivation.

“It got to the point where it’s was like, Jerry’s bored. He’s really bored. He’s like a really boring vampire, he’s really arrogant, and he’s like ‘fuck it, whatever,'” as an actor, thinking about the character’s reasoning for doing anything “frees you up to do what you want.”

The actor enjoyed the film so much, he admitted that, given the opportunity, he would seriously considering working on a sequel.

“I had so much fun doing this,” he said, “there’s no yes or no to anything. There’s really not. If they did a really cool script and if they wanted me back and if Craig was involved, I couldn’t see a world where I wouldn’t greatly consider, yeah.”

Once Total Recall wraps up in Toronto in the next four or five weeks, Farrell already has plans to start his next project in Los Angeles.

“After that… I’m going to do a thing called Seven Psychopaths that Martin McDonagh wrote and that he’s going to direct. So I get to work with me friend Martin again, and Christopher Walken, and Mickey Rourke, and Sammy [Rockwell].”

Commenting on the film he called it, “A really beautiful script, really, Martin–do you know him? He did In Bruges, he wrote and directed In Bruges, so [I’ll] work with him again on his original script. It’s really fucking mental stuff, but good.”

Fright Night opens in theatres today, August 19.


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