Being part of Dumbo a ‘no-brainer’ for Colin Farrell
Irish actor says working with director Tim Burton was 'an absolute joy'
Colin Farrell and heartwarming family films may appear to be strange bedfellows, but there is always a first for everything.
For the 42-year-old Irish actor, that movie is the live-action remake of the 1941 Disney animated classic Dumbo, which opens here tomorrow.
In it, he plays Holt Farrier, a former circus star who finds his life turned upside down when he returns from World War I.
Not only has he lost his wife and their horse-riding circus act, he struggles to connect with his two children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins).
When the widowed single father is asked by the circus owner (Danny DeVito) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughing stock, Holt does not exactly jump at the opportunity - but his children do, which opens the door to a future bond he never saw coming.
Farrell said: "He has also lost his left arm in battle, so he is both physically and psychologically wounded. He comes back to a life he doesn't recognise. He doesn't know how to deal with the grief of having lost his wife."
This is the first time he has worked with US director Tim Burton, who said his leading man instantly found the heart of the character.
Burton added: "Plus, he can ride a horse one-armed, and you can't say that about everybody. He was a real collaborator and really fun to work with."
Farrell is no stranger to horses, having appeared in several films that required extensive horse riding, such as Alexander (2004) and Winter's Tale (2014).
"Any of the times I've ridden horses in films, there's always a specific reason or scene that will demand a certain new skill set," said the father of two boys aged 16 and 10.
"So I've been doing a little bit of roping on this film that I hadn't really ever done before, and that's been tricky. But I've had some great guys working with me."
Why did you want to be part of this film?
Tim Burton, more than anything. I've been a fan of Tim for 20 years - Edward Scissorhands was the first film of his I saw. When I heard he was doing Dumbo, it seemed like such a beautiful marriage of magical, fantastical material and a director who is so renowned for his incredible imagination and artistic virtue. It was a no-brainer.
So what is it like working with Burton?
An absolute joy. He really is so intuitive. Obviously, the story is imbued with this pervasive sweetness and sense of hope and playfulness to the whole thing. It could dip into the realm of being too sickly sweet, but Tim is constantly looking to pull it back. He has a high regard for the audience and doesn't want to beat them over the head with the sweetness of the film.
Having said all that, he has designed these incredible worlds. They're so beautiful and so evocative, and if you have any sense of a child inside you, that is provoked as soon as you walk on set.
What was it like being on the set of Dreamland?
In 20 years, I have seen some beautiful sets, like on Total Recall and Alexander. Dumbo is like nothing I've ever seen. It's astonishing what they've done.
The set is both interior and exterior, but all takes place in this huge hangar in Cardington (in Bedfordshire, England), which was used to build airships.
The first time I walked onto it, they had prepared and choreographed a scene where myself and the kids arrive with Dumbo and the Medici Bros Circus.
It is this great big fair that (ruthless entrepreneur) Vandevere (Michael Keaton) has created, so it is like Coney Island.
There are 400 people lining up on the left and the right, 200 on either side, waving balloons. We are coming through these big gates in the back of a convertible, there are maybe 10 horses, four automobiles, a troupe of 60 to 80 dancing around us, and we are walking down this boulevard of a theme park which is supposed to be outside in the real world. And it is all inside this hangar. It is kind of mind-bending.
What do you hope your own children get from this film?
I hope they get from it the same thing anyone gets from it, whatever age they may be, which is just a sense of buoyancy and seeing magic - but a magic that is grounded in the reality of the interaction of all the human beings around this magical event that takes place. If that can wash over people and entertain them, then that's enough.