Check out our interview with ‘Ondine’ lead actor Colin Farrell and writer/director/producer Neil Jordan. The new Magnolia Pictures movie, which was filmed in Farrell and Jordan’s native Ireland, is set to be released in the U.S. on June 4. It tells the story of an Irish fisherman named Syracuse, played by Farrell, who discovers Ondine, portrayed by Polish actress Alicja Bachleda, in one of his nets. His young, sick daughter Annie, played by Alison Barry, comes to believe Ondine is a selkie or mermaid. ‘Ondine’ will be available on VOD, XBOX & Amazon on Friday, May 7th.
Question (Q): How are your swimming skills?
Colin Farrell (CF): Non-existent!
Q: Can you swim?
CF: Not really. My family’s swimmers, all the kids. My brother can, but I could never swim.
Q: Why is your mermaid so special?
Neil Jordan (NJ): It’s a selkie, it’s the Irish legend. It’s a seal woman, a beautiful woman. If you fall in love with them, they mess you up and then go back out to sea.
CF: In the film, she’s very different. Syracuse is living in a small town. He’s given love a chance once. He comes from a marriage that was probably very painful. It was a mutual destruction of each other. He stopped believing. He’s someone that equates love to loss, in all aspects of life. His mother has just recently passed, his daughter’s terminally ill, a dissolved marriage, so he just equates love to loss. There’s no self-pity going on in his life. He’s okay with it. Then this woman comes in, and she’s very different. The mere nature of catching her in a net, it’s a little bit hard from the start. It’s not like he met her in a pub. This woman brings into his life something that he doesn’t quite comprehend. He stopped believing that he could comprehend and he stopped believing. She brings love into his life.
Q: Mr. Jordan, you have sort of a history with fairytales, such as with ‘The Company of Wolves’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto.’ Is that something that you like?
NJ: The reason I like fairytales, I like characters that don’t fully understand themselves. I haven’t done an entirely realistic movie in my life. I suppose I’ve been told too many myths and legends and fairytales. When I was a kid my father was a schoolteacher, he used to leave me terrified and scare the life out of me. Everything in Ireland has some kind of weird background. He told me a lot of ghost stories that I’ve probably never recovered from.
Q: What about the characters in ‘Ondine?’ What’s your opinion on that?
NJ: That’s like asking yourself, can a group of real characters who live in an incredibily beautiful landscape live real? They lead poverty-stricken lives. If a series of coincidences happen in that world, would they believe in a fairytale? That was the kind of question that I asked myself when I wrote the script. That was the way I shot it, really. I wanted to see the landscape itself tell a fairytale. I wanted to tell a fairytale without any digital interference.
Q: So next up, you have a couple of films lined up, including ‘The Graveyard Book.’
NJ: It’s a great book.
Q: Can you talk about that a little bit?
NJ: I’m trying to make it. Studios don’t seem to want to make anything that’s remotely interesting at the moment. It’s kind of distressing. I was meant to be doing it in September, but I’m doing a TV series for Showtime about the Borgia family. Hopefully I’ll start pre-production in September. The money is gradually falling into place, but it’s a bit of a struggle.
Q: Do you see any difference between directing actors in a film vs. for a television series?
NJ: I’ve never done a television show before. I haven’t got a clue. I’m enjoying writing it though. It’s like writing an enormous novel. I made a movie about Michael Collins, who had a big, huge tragic history. If I was able to make a forty hour movie, I would have done it. The subject matter would have embraced it. This ‘Borgia’ thing, I’m writing the first ten hours at the moment. It’s great to see how a long format enriches the material.
Q: Mr. Farrell, ‘Ondine’ is about the myth of the selkie. Did you do any readings on that?
CF: No. I mean, one of Syracuse’s greatest strengths is his ignorance. He pursues living in the present. So I didn’t feel the need to indulge in research. I remember some tales from when I was growing up. I didn’t have a father who read to me growing up, he was a football coach. It was very clear from day one that all I needed was in the script. I didn’t need to go outside the script. I thought a lot about it from the first time I read it. You become consumed with wondering what it would be like to walk in this man’s shoes, to immerse yourself in this world. I spent some time, two weeks before we started filming on a boat, everyday with the fishermen. We went up and down the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. It was just a magic, magic time.
Q: You’ve played a lot of brutal, aggressive characters in the past. What was it like playing a gentle, loving guy?
CF: It was a little boring! (laughs) It was really nice to be able to play a character that wasn’t burdened by the notion of responsibility or wasn’t consumed with the idea of pretense, even in an unaware way. He cared a lot about some very important things and not cared about the things that consume a lot of us that really aren’t important. There was a simplicity and humility to the character that was really, really lovely. It was somebody who both removed himself from society and was kind of ostracized from the community. He kind of had an island all to himself. It was nice, it had this sort of this lovely melancholy to him that he wasn’t even aware of. It was the first time in 12 years that it was a character that I wasn’t looking forward to leaving. It was the first time in 12 years that I was kind of like, I miss Syracuse.
Q: Why were you into this particular story?
NJ: I’ve made a lot of movies in Ireland. I’ve made a lot of violent movies. I thought, could I make a film that was simple and forgiving, where nobody dies at the end, where no one transforms into some ghoulish reality or a monstrous thing.
Q: Is there a comfortability to shooting in Ireland, as you’ve now covered the world?
NJ: Ireland is very expensive to shoot in, actually. It did get very expensive. For 10 years, we called it a ‘Celtic Tiger,’ a building boom. The area we shoot the movie in is one of the few areas that haven’t been ruined by building. One of the reasons why I wanted to do the film to is because there’s extraordinary beauty to that landscape. I thought I would love to photograph this before I die, sometime in my life. (Cinematographer) Christopher (Doyle) is a very interesting man. Every movie he does seems to have a different aesthetic. He’s the most amazing shooter of stocks. He knows the camera, he knows shutter speeds. It’s like he put on a wetsuit and went in the water for the entire movie. If someone’s willing to do that, you get this beautiful landscape, so you have to get them.
Q: Is there a kind of bond between you two being from the same culture?
NJ: We never worked together before. I wanted to work with Colin for a long time.
Q: How did that happen?
CF: There may be more similarities, cultural history. Sometimes I have more in common with Americans. I think it transcends culture, it transcends national background. I like this fellow and we worked well together. It was really easy from day one. I don’t know how much that has to do with being Irish.
NJ: When you find an actor that you can explore a character with, for someone like me that writes and directs, it’s a real gift. You can explore all of the hidden bits of the character, all the longings and unexpressed things. It’s a great thing for a director when you can find an actor that you can do that with.
CF: It was one of the few things that from the second I read it, I said I have to get this, I understand this.
Q: Can you talk about casting the women?
NJ: It’s hard to get independent movies together at the moment. You’re like, okay, I’ve got Robert Duvall and you’ve got Johnny Depp, can we also have Jennifer Aniston? Or we can’t sell it in Hong Kong or somewhere. So I cast Colin. You pitch these projects to these international sales companies, they want to sell it in places like Japan. They say, oh, you’ve got Colin Farrell and so-and-so, okay. Alicja’s from Eastern Europe. She’s an unknown, and I wanted to see someone I’ve never seen before. I saw a lot of different European actresses, and Alicja came in one day. She gave this reading, she read the part, and I thought she’s really making this work. It was really interesting. Then I watched her work. She’s a great actress. She had a really difficult part to play because she’s playing the interpretation of what other people put on her character, and that was really difficult to do.
Q: What about Alison Barry?
CF: Obviously she was lovely. She’s really smart, really bright, really kind, loads of fun to be around. Some of my favorite scenes in the film are the scenes with Syracuse and Annie. She has to get dialysis. There’s a rare kind of simplicity to them. She lacked ambition completely. She didn’t have stage parents. It wasn’t something she was pushed into or even suggested towards. She didn’t even come into audition.
NJ: A schoolteacher said that she had this girl. Alison never thought of it, so she didn’t come with any ambitious drive.
CF: She was just really, really pure, no habits.
Q: You didn’t receive credit for ‘Crazy Heart.’ Do you feel misrepresented in the press?
CF: We all do a good job misrepresenting ourselves a lot of the time. I’ve read some nasty, nasty things about me over the years, and I’ve read some really nice things about me.
Q: Are there certain types of characters you want to play?
CF: We all have a responsibility and obligation and exciting opportunities to design our lives. Some of us are born into certain demographics that are really hard. I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and designed where I want to go and what questions I want to ask or what issues I want to take a look at. The work is really interesting. I don’t do it for therapy. It’s interesting to walk in another man’s shoes.
Q: What is next to come?
CF: I don’t know yet. I’m doing some reading. It’s an interesting time for filmmakers, all the importance of being place on a big film. It’s hard for the lower bracket or middle range movies now in the $10-$20 million budget range.
Q: Mr. Farrell, is there a comfortability filming in Ireland for you, or is it more difficult? Is there an element of fear?
CF: The only element of fear is that I hope the people from where I’m from don’t think I’ve changed. I love Ireland very much. It uplifts me and it frustrates me. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Going there with a director who I wanted to work with for seven or eight years to work on a story that was so beautiful and so predominantly about the necessary need for hope and the need to believe was great for me.
Written by: Karen Benardello