Colin Farrell, Jamie Lee Curtis Confront Sobriety, Being Unemployed

Jamie Lee Curtis and Colin Farrell are two of Hollywood’s most charismatic figures — and for both actors, magnetism can sometimes disguise contemplative depths. Curtis, who played an unforgiving IRS inspector opposite Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and Farrell, who performs an acting duet as an Irish farmer who has a falling out with his best friend (Brendan Gleeson) in “The Banshees of Inisherin,” spoke about the complex roles they took on this year. In both cases, deep introspection, and lessons learned in recovery, informed their work.

Jamie Lee Curtis: Ireland is an incredibly friendly country.

Colin Farrell: It’s amazing. I’ve lived here in Los Angeles for 16, 17 years now. I’m raising my two sons here. LA means more to me than I thought this city ever would. But when I go home, it makes sense to me in a way that no other place would have the business making sense to me. If I’m in Los Angeles and I say, “I’m going home,” I drop it about two octaves. That place is deeper in me.

Curtis: And you dropped it in this movie. You got to go home.

Farrell: Yeah, I did. I’ve gone home once every three years to do a film over there. Where were you born?

Curtis: Born and raised right here in the City of Angels. I went to boarding school once. Connecticut. One year. mistake.

Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

Farrell: I did boarding school for a year and a half. Mistake, mistake. You were half a year smarter than me.

Curtis: I used to play Joni Mitchell’s “California” in my room and sob. Because when you’re from somewhere, it’s you.

Farrell: It’s like there’s so much residual energy of mine there. The place shaped me and sent me out into the world.

Curtis: The movie is so much about Ireland. It’s such an Irish movie. It’s so deep and exquisite.

Farrell: The film was about two friends falling out. Literally one lad saying to another lad, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” Today’s culture, you don’t bother sending a text — I believe the kids call it “ghosting” — you just cut the person out. Hard to do that on an island where there’s one pub and one church.

I understood my character, Pádraic, and where he’s coming from. But I felt such a deep sympathy for the struggle of Brendan’s character and for the lengths that he had to go to find this peace, this solitude, so that he could reckon with his own mortality.

Curtis: You’re younger than I am. I’m at that place right now where the time is much shorter that I have left on earth. It’s just shorter. And that resonated so deeply. Because, ultimately, you’re going to have to say to some people, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”

Farrell: Anyway, enough of my stuff — talk to me about yours.

Curtis: No, no, no, no. I want to talk about this.

Farrell: You’re the boss — we’ve established that today. I should be lying down. Could we get a chair in here?

Curtis: You and I have been doing this for a long time. And we’ve both had a lot of focus on us at times. And then a lot of focus on other parts of us at times. And then a lot of time away and not playing in the game. And it is the game. I don’t give a shit, but here we are.

And why are we sitting here today? Because you did that work in that film. I did this work in the movie with the Daniels. And I don’t know how a movie made two years ago in Simi Valley, California, in 38 days, in an abandoned office building, has landed me in this chair opposite you, any more than you running off and making a movie that’s so deeply Irish, that’s such a beautiful, intensely quiet, conversational movie about human emotions…

Farrell: Well, yours is about the exact same thing: the awareness of the ticking of the clock. And as long as the clock has enough breath to go from 11 to 12, there’s an ability to reverse course.

Curtis: So there’s a redemption. And a reconciliation. And
the healing.

Farrell: It’s so beautiful. Because the only two things I know as certainties are, we’re going to die and we’re going to make serious mistakes. Whether we atone for our mistakes.

Curtis: Did you know that before you got sober?

Farrell: No. I had suspicions, before I got sober, of how painful life could be. But I had no ability to hold that without being self-destructive and without living in it. I don’t live in that now. I feel these things that we’re talking about, at times. And I consider life greatly at times. And other times, I’m as frivolous as I was when I was 6 years old on a good day.

I want to know a little bit about what your film meant to you.

Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

Curtis: Daniel Kwan has talked about the origins of the movie. And he talked about our phones and the society we live in, which is this digital input: In one second, we’re seeing the catastrophe of the nightclub shooting last night. And then in one swipe of our finger, it’s a cat video. And one swipe of our finger, it’s politics and Twitter. And then the amount of information that we’re processing as human beings now, demanding it from our brain…

Farrell: They transposed that chaos, that kind of instantaneous agitation…

Curtis: … and found the center. Which is love, kindness, family, forgiveness, living with regret. We all live with regret.

Farrell: I thought it was one of the best-written and performed scenes. Two little plasticine animated rocks talking to each other.

Curtis: I don’t think they were animated, friend.

Farrell: Were they Play-Doh?

Curtis: I think they were rocks.

Farrell: But then, ultimately, the strain that was heard at the end was one of simplicity, one of redemption, one of forgiveness. To get over regret, I suppose, you have to forgive yourself; but if you live in it so long, it can almost become a sin against the self, depending on how it’s articulated. Everyone got a second chance.

Curtis: These two movies are about the human condition. And here we are, sitting in velvet chairs in a fake midcentury coffee lounge somewhere talking to each other. And there are actors hustling out on Hollywood Boulevard, very near here, just trying to get a gig.

Farrell: Three Spider-Mans. Ninety-nine percent of us are unemployed.

Curtis: I’m unemployed today. I like to tell people I’m a freelance actor, which means I’m an unemployed actor.

Farrell: If somebody says, “I have a script,” I go, “I’m around.”

Curtis: But aren’t you going to play Penguin?

Farrell: Yeah.

Curtis: Well, that’s a job.

Farrell: I did it in the film. I hope I’m going to do it for television in February or March. So I’ll be employed.

Curtis: I’m not employed. I have nothing.

Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

Farrell: Do you think about legacy at all? What does legacy mean to you on your journey?

Curtis: I think about it a lot. Being sober is going to be a legacy, for sure. Because I’m stopping what has been a generational issue in my biological family. It’ll be the single greatest thing I do, if I can stay sober. Because generations of people have had their lives ruled and ruined by alcoholism and drug addiction. For me, sobriety first. Always.

Farrell: The whole reason art exists is because it’s an expression of the human condition. And no matter what blessings
I have or what wealth I experience in my life, I have no more
or less of the human condition than the gentleman who lives without a roof over his head. We’re in exactly the same place internally.

Curtis: And that’s the gift sobriety gives you, is that the rules apply to you just like they apply to other people. That’s what legacy is: making friends and loving your people really well. And bringing art here. I’ve seen “Tár.” And although she’s a very complicated character, Lydia Tár, the music that she’s communicating through was written long ago and still. . .

Farrell: . . . resonate

Curtis: . . . move us And that’s the beauty of art.

Farrell: But as quaint as it is, life is the great art, isn’t it? I love my children with an artist’s heart — a heart that’s open, that’s not afraid of its pain, that aspires to reach for joy — not with a clenched fist, not with white knuckles, but with an open hand. Nobody gets to say to somebody else what is and isn’t art. Some critics do, and that’s their path. Good luck to them. But art is everywhere.

Curtis: Aren’t we lucky?

Farrell: Mad lucky.

Curtis: Are you an intellectual actor?

Farrell: No. I don’t like to talk too much about it.

Curtis: And you just do the work yourself.

Farrell: I do the work myself. I do my work in the hotel room and in my bed at night and going up for a hike and thinking and finding a piece of music that stirs me. And then I listen to that for the film.

Curtis: Tell me a piece of music for this movie.

Farrell: It’s beautiful. It was an accident that it’s an Irish composer. Patrick Cassidy is his name. There’s the acceptance of sadness — not just the presence of sadness, not the acknowledgment of sadness, but the acceptance of it as a part of our life. I listened to that quite a bit. But sometimes you listen to something so much, you can feel it begin to lose its voice inside. So you have to stop.

Curtis: I didn’t have music. I know so many women like Deirdre Beaubeirdre.

Farrell: Who are they? How do they present themselves?

Curtis: I’ve put them in recovery. People who wield power in their job as a replacement for having any actual human contact, any love or affection. No one recognizes them anywhere other than in their position of power. That’s the only thing that they’ve spent their life nurturing.

So that’s what gets them off, is that power. And then what happens to them at the end of the day when they go home and they sit alone in their apartment? It’s incredibly sad. Ninety-five percent of my work in that movie was shot in the first two days in that office building in Simi Valley.

Farrell: Did it hurt you, the film?

Curtis: What surprised me was when we did the hot dog universe, because both of our movies involve fingers and hands. But when Michelle and I met, and the Daniels talked about the hot dog universe, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand the movie. And I was trying to figure it out. And then we went into the set and what happened, which was so beautiful, was Michelle and I just found this gorgeous emotional place with each other.

Farrell: Fluidity.

Curtis: It was just a beautiful dance with her. And that’s that level of finding reality within a universe that looks so bizarre, and yet it’s not bizarre at all. At the end, you believe everything about it.

Farrell: Because it gives shape and form to the ridiculous. And the ridiculous is something we all contend with. Life is very ridiculous. I don’t know why or how I’m on the right side, so far, of wrong. The world is so unfair and imperfect. I don’t know why we’ve gotten to where we are. But some of the ridiculousness in the world is joyful.

Curtis: By the way, if you’re going to write a book, that’s the title. “The Right Side of Wrong.”

Set Design by Jack Flanagan

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