Brendan Gleeson has been speaking for some time already. “We do both talk an awful lot,” he says. “I often feel like, ach, why am I talking so much?” A great loud cackle goes up next to him.
“I do the same!” Colin Farrell exclaims. “Do you do that too? I swear to fucking God, I go, will someone not just tell me to shut the fuck up?”
The request was made to speak to Gleeson and Farrell separately, but the publicist said no. You might ask, who would want a thing like that anyway? Think back to In Bruges, the cherished black comedy the actors made in 2008. Cast as lovable gunmen, they were a lesson in chemistry, a double act for the ages. And now they sit together in London, Farrell with a yogic California vibe and expensive-looking motorcycle boots. Gleeson appears to have spent his cash in Cos.
They have a new film to promote. Like In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin is written and directed by Martin McDonagh; it is set on a fictional island off the Irish west coast in 1923. Farrell and Gleeson play Pádraic and Colm, neighbours and best friends. If that sounds sweet-natured, the reunion proves bitter. On screen, a grim Gleeson soon tells his pal that, for reasons of his epic dullness, he will never speak to him again. The fallout spills across the movie, one both very funny and deeply sad. And the sorrow is captured best in the film star face of Farrell, wincing in bafflement.
Gleeson says he thinks the film is about how wars start. Farrell agrees. And it might make us consider what friendship means in 2022, the younger man goes on. “Because social media gives people access to the idea of friendship. But it also lets us be unaccountable, which allows the shadow self we all have to climb into the driver’s seat.”
Farrell stands and cracks the window. On the street below, autograph hunters with glossy pictures of him are clustered at the hotel entrance. Martin McDonagh sits in another room. He has been doing TV interviews. His mood is chipper. People seem to like the movie, McDonagh says, and he has been worried what In Bruges fans might think. “Because this one does go there with the melancholy.”
Indeed, it strikes you what a rum business he is in, where a tale of two middle-aged men feuding in 1920s rural Ireland can inspire a commotion at glitzy London hotels. McDonagh beams. “I know. But it’s a relief. I thought it might just be this little indie thing 20 Irish people see.”
The tour began at last month’s Venice film festival, where Farrell won the best actor award. The weeks since have been about that other currency: celebrity. The approach has been twofold, positioning Farrell as an Oscar favourite while framing him and Gleeson as a tag-team. Together they have swept American talkshows. Like this interview, the point has been the pair of them, two actors doubling as mates: Farrell the rascal, Gleeson your ideal dad. Today they are perfectly honest about the real world limits. They actually only see each other every couple of years, they say. Still, they slip easily into memories of meeting on In Bruges.
“Friendship takes time, but the kinship was immediate,” Farrell says. “Often you’re aware that, as a judge yourself, you are also being judged. With him there was none of that.”
“We were very different people,” Gleeson says. “But I found in him a common enthusiasm for the world.”
“Though of course, I wasn’t thinking all this in the moment,” Farrell says. “This is retrofitting.”
Reality blurs further. “We were always an odd match,” Gleeson says.
“See, I think people have whispered about me all my life,” Farrell adds. It takes a second to realise they’re now talking about their characters. They do this a lot, animatedly and in the first person. You wonder if it might be two men already tiring of playing a version of themselves for journalists, closing ranks with shop talk.
McDonagh is less cynical. “Honestly, they just really like talking to each other. They’re like that at film festival parties. Off in the corner together, going on about their characters.”
But Colm and Pádraic make a grisly vision of male friendship. Men’s egos and men’s despair, McDonagh says, are his themes.
The problem with the male psyche, Farrell says, is it gets hold of the wrong end of the stick. Men want to be stoical, but they don’t see what the ancient Stoics really meant. “I think they were reaching for acceptance of vulnerability. Which is a long-winded way of saying, when I grew up, my dad told us emotions are weakness.” He repeats the phrase three times. “Literally. Emotions are weakness. That’s what we grew up with, me and my siblings. And now here I am making my living with the laughing and crying, and isn’t that a funny thing?”
And yet men are not the whole story. In the film, Farrell’s heartbroken naif seeks the counsel of his sister, Siobhan – bookish and bright. The actor playing her is another story, too: the under-the-radar Kerry Condon, her work every bit as flawless as her co-stars’. “Well, I’ve earned it,” Condon says of her belated breakthrough. She is in Los Angeles, a proper livewire on Zoom. “I’ve done three of Martin’s plays, and for one I shaved my hair off for two years.”
That play was The Lieutenant of Inishmore, McDonagh’s tale of terrorism and dead cats. Condon was 18 when she first appeared in it, a driven young actor from County Tipperary. She and the writer have been friends ever since. She also had a mid-cast part in his last film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But her career has mostly been in TV, a character actor with smallish, regular gigs in Better Call Saul, Ray Donovan and more.
McDonagh says he wrote the new role for her. “Partly because I knew Kerry would be brilliant. But also knowing how relatively unseen her brilliance has been.”
If the film brings monster success, Condon is game. “I won’t lie. I want to bank the cash, because I’m a very independent person.” She has plans to open an animal sanctuary: horses, “old timer dogs”, possibly goats. She is also well aware it’s another funny thing to be hailed as a new discovery after so much steady work. “It’s gas, because I’m getting an award this week as an industry ‘one to watch’ and that’s nice, but it’s also like, ‘How about you watch all the other stuff I’ve done for the last 24 years?’ But then there is a part of me that feels like, ‘Well, maybe I’ve only been warming up.’”
She relocated to the US to make a living in acting, but Banshees brought her back to Ireland. Other members of the diaspora joined her. McDonagh is a Londoner, the son of Irish parents since restored to Galway, just across from Inishmore, the island for which he named his early play and where they filmed this production. Idyllic as it was, the director found the shoot not without pressure. For all the success of In Bruges and Three Billboards, the movie he made between them, Seven Psychopaths, tanked. He still talks of it with a haunted air.
Farrell, meanwhile, has been in America half his life. On Banshees, he stuck to his Hollywood routine of topless jogs. Curious tourists occasionally followed. Condon felt under pressure, too, keen not to overthink a high-profile job. She and Farrell rehearsed each morning. If the whole project brimmed with reunions, they go back further than anyone. In 1999, before even The Lieutenant of Inishmore, she got a role on an episode of BBC TV programme Ballykissangel, the slab of sugared Irishness starring a fast-rising Farrell. The two were introduced at a wrap party.
“So then I met Colin Farrell. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.” Condon smiles. It takes me a moment to catch up. Oh! I say. I feel the need to check I’m following correctly. So you met Colin Farrell and …? “And we had a great time. And then he got a plane to America.” They remain friends. In LA, they sometimes hike together. Farrell, she says, is good company, a laugh but thoughtful. “What would be the word for him? Evolved.”
Farrell rarely does print interviews any more. More often they happen on chatshows, and the likes of YouTube series Hot Ones, where stars converse over killer-spicy chicken wings. (This year, Farrell spoke of his childhood love of Marilyn Monroe through tears and snot.) Shows like these make safer platforms for an actor with a lively personal history: sex tape, rehab, teenage audition for Boyzone. Here, too, the paired interview with Gleeson makes sense: a layer of protection, the spotlight shared with the sturdy figure beside him, the family man who only gave up teaching in his mid-30s to become a full-time actor.
Working together again, they couldn’t help but think of the time that has passed since they made In Bruges, their younger selves up there on screen like old photos come to life. “It is like that,” Farrell says. “And it’s so much easier to have affection for yourself looking back than to have it for yourself in the moment. We could have a good chat about that one, actually.” But Gleeson gently steps back in, and we once more amble around to their characters.
Before shooting the new film, Farrell spent the pandemic with his sons, now 19 and 13. In his own parenting, he says, he’s always asking after their emotional wellbeing. “And they’re like, ‘Would you just fuck off?’ But fellas like us like to talk about our feelings. We don’t need to be waxing lyrical about every fucking thing, but we try to find a balance.” He circles the mysteries of life, the grand conundrum of what it’s all about. “Work is just a means to find out. Fatherhood, too. Art as well, though I don’t know much about that.”
If the first sad sight of Banshees is simply Farrell without Gleeson, the film later speaks to an even larger darkness: finding out what other people really think of you. “I still read my reviews,” McDonagh admits. “I know I shouldn’t.” For actors, of course, their whole life invites that.
“It’s a mortal fear,” Farrell says. “Public ridicule. I’ve had it at various stages with the this and the that.”
At home in LA, Condon shrugs. “I don’t need the affirmation. As obsessive about acting as I am, I’m happy hanging out with my animals. So I don’t really give a fuck if people like me.”
Between now and the Oscars, Farrell will shoot miniseries The Penguin, spun off from his role last year in The Batman. (For his part, Gleeson is newly cast in rival Bat-sequel Joker: Folie à Deux.) Promoting The Batman, Farrell talked of feeling freed by the facial prosthetics he wore for the part, unchained by no longer being visibly himself. “Course I was,” he says.
“But I loved the flickers of Colin in the eyes,” Gleeson says. “I was like, there he is!”
Without the makeup, Gleeson says he experienced something similar on an old Irish movie, The General, cast as real-life gangster Martin Cahill. “I found that terribly liberating. Because playing him, I didn’t give a shit. About anything.” All the stuff you normally fret about, he says – matters of conscience, the state of the world – could briefly be forgotten.
Farrell grins like he just heard a great dirty joke. “Fucking brilliant, isn’t it?”