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Colin Farrell and Clémence Poésy – Love and Death in Bruges

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Clemence Poesy and Colin Farrell star in “In Bruges.” (2008)

Colin Farrell and Clémence Poésy

Love and Death in Bruges

by Jay S. Jacobs

After a few years of toiling on big-budget blockbusters that only occasionally took flight – Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice come to mind – Colin Farrell has definitely downsized for his latest two roles.

Ironically, in both Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges and Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream he plays first time hit-men who have to deal with the fallout of their actions. Farrell is particularly strong in Bruges, the first feature film by maverick playwright McDonagh (The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore). Set against the background of the beautiful-but-slightly-disquieting medieval town of Bruges, Belgium, the film is a clever and surreal tragicomedy.

Farrell works for the first time with fellow Irish star Brendan Gleeson.  They play Ray and Ken, two hit men who are sent to cool their heels in the town by their bloodthirsty boss (Ralph Fiennes in an extremely sinister extended cameo) after a hit goes horribly wrong. However, despite the fact that Ray is distraught about the botched job, he can’t help but bitch about the town, antagonize locals and tourists, visit the pub religiously and hit on any attractive woman who crosses his path.

Clémence Poésy is a French beauty who has become a star in her homeland with films like Le Dernier Gang, Sans Moi and Le Grand Meaulness. In recent years she has branched out to English language films, doing the TV mini-series War and Peace and having a significant role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Poésy’s role in In Bruges is Chloë, a mysterious woman who may work for a visiting film company, definitely sells drugs, dabbles in crime and completely steals Ray’s heart.

We met up at the Regency Hotel in New York with film stars Farrell and Poésy. The actors were continuing a long day of promotion, puffing on cigarettes and tapping ashes into water cups. (At one point Farrell mistakenly tips it into his own water and Poésy protectively moves the plastic cup away from him). However, no matter how many questions they’d answered that day, both actors smiled brightly and showed an obvious friendship as they fielded queries about working In Bruges.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, star in "In Bruges."

Colin, how is it possible you have not worked with Brendan Gleeson before?

Colin Farrell: Eh, I’ve just been avoiding him for years. No, I don’t know. I’m a huge fan of his. And, you know, the Irish connection. I’m glad to get to work with him this time. It really just seemed perfect. So perfect. So fortuitous that it was on this piece. And to work so intimately with him. Such close quarters.

Were you fans of Martin’s plays previously?

Clémence Poésy: To be completely honest, I didn’t know them. Believe it or not, he isn’t so big in France. I knew about The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Colin Farrell: No, completely ignorant to Martin’s plays. I’d been very aware of his success and that kind of a theatrical movement that was very part of his work – all the accolades that had come his way. But I wasn’t familiar with his work. I read The Pillowman, which was genius, but I only read that after meeting. Then we saw a version of (Clémence laughs)The Lieutenant of Inishmore came to Bruges in a hodge-podge of languages: French, Flemish and English.

Was it all used for the staging?

Colin Farrell: Yeah, they performed it and they really – they took the script, and they translated it into this hybrid of languages. Strange, strange language. This feral thing. I’d never seen it before and Martin was like, “I can’t believe the first fucking time you see my work…” But it was wonderful. I think English was the most minimal of the languages. Very sparing. A couple of words here and there, but I really gathered the idea of what was going on. It was beautiful. His work is always so…

Did the blood translate?

Colin Farrell: Well, it was on a shorter budget than here, so they really pulled out some tricks to replace certain things that would be more expensive.

Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson star in "In Bruges."

What’s the greatest challenge foran Gleeso you doing comedy, as opposed to playing dramatic roles like Alexander?

Colin Farrell: I didn’t really see it as doing comedy. You know the script is hilarious…

You’re very funny.

Colin Farrell: Thank you very much. The script was hilarious on reading it. In rehearsal there was a lot of cracking up. Sometimes it was difficult to get through scenes without completely crossing into uproarious laughter. But eventually you had to get to the stage where you got inured to the comedy, so you could actually say what was sincere and what was genuine and build subtext beyond the surface with these characters. Because, they had no idea how endearing they are being in their speech. Ray doesn’t even have an idea how combative he’s being a lot of the time. He’s very childlike in that way, that he has no censorship. It took a while to get to the stage where I didn’t find it funny anymore, you know? At the end of the day, I’m playing a character that is suicidal for three days and about as despondent as a man can be.

Was there one particular thing in the character that spoke to you and made you say I have to do this role?

Colin Farrell: Every page, genuinely. I mean, every page there was this incredible use of language and situation. You know, Martin’s really something. He’s just something incredible. Incredibly unique [with] the use of language. So, it was just every page. The thing as a whole, really.

Clémence Poésy: It’s just you wish you could actually be able to come up with those lines in real life. I’m never able to do that. So, it’s just great to have it written for you to say. (laughs)

Colin Farrell: Scary, though.

Ray kept saying that Bruges was a shithole. How did you find the city to be?

Colin Farrell: Yeah. He’s just projecting over shit, isn't he really? You could have put him anywhere and he would have said the same thing. He would have found something bad about anywhere that he was. Plus, Bruges, I suppose, in essence is a very real stark reminder of – well there is a reason why they are there, and the reason is the reason, you know? So, he’s constantly surrounded and immersed in an environment that is just pointing the finger at him. Even though nobody in the whole world has knowledge of why he’s there. [Personally] I think it was lovely. Bruges is a beautiful city. When we arrived, it was the middle of winter, and it was dark every day at four o’clock. There was an eeriness to the place – cobblestone streets and all this old medieval architecture. There was kind of a draconian feel to it in the middle of winter. No tourists around. That suited me fine to go with that train of thought and allow the environment to watch over me and use that. Whereas Brandon kind of went the other way and said, “Hah! Lovely.” He was full of that, you know. The two of us would kind of have arguments about the fact that it was a shithole and it had nothing going for it once you see the tower. Once you’ve done it, [you’ve done] the town. Which isn’t true.

Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson star in "In Bruges."

In eight years, you’ve gone from Tigerland and now you are an A-list actor in Hollywood. I just wondered how your perception of your career has changed.

Colin Farrell: I don’t know. I don’t know, man. I’ve been lucky enough to get incredible opportunities over the years. I certainly didn’t carpenter the last three films to be the size that they are... which is smaller. Certainly, budgetarily smaller than some of the things that I’ve done. But I’m just so fascinated with people and situations. Human beings are incredibly interesting to me; beautiful and ridiculous, gentle, and incredibly horrible at times. So, it’s nice to be involved with things that kind of ask questions of why we are the way we are at times. Yeah, you know, jeez, I’m lucky to be still working in that respect. (chuckles) It’s good. I enjoy what I get from it.

Do you find you get more creative on lower budget films?

Colin Farrell: Sure. There is an argument that characters can be a little more off what is perceived to be the center in smaller films. There has to be a kind of common denominator with the bigger pictures. There’s usually a protagonist or two protagonists and the language is usually… I don’t want to say more rudimentary, but possibly more rudimentary… which is not necessarily a bad thing or ugly on the ears. But certainly, with the themes that have been explored are probably lower than this. The use of language; I felt I could push the bottle a little bit more. Especially on In Bruges, it was such an almost ridiculous world to inhabit, and the characters had such an extreme way of conversing that I could kind of understand reading it but then at the same time it was scary. How the fuck do I say these words? How aware is Ray of what he is saying? Or how completely unaware is he of how offensive he may be being or how outlandish his viewpoint is? That’s the beautiful thing about Ray. It goes back to your question. He’s not really aware of how ridiculous he is at times.

You have two movies right now where you play a man who has his first hit and has to deal with it – this and Cassandra’s Dream. Was that just a coincidence?

Colin Farrell: Uh, yes, absolutely. Yeah, because I never murdered someone. (laughs) It wasn’t something that I wanted to have a closer look at. Purge myself of my sins through the creative aspect of being a part of a film. Yeah, it was just a coincidence, you know? Woody [Allen] had this film. I got to meet him and read the script. Then Martin came along with this. It was just coincidence, but a fond coincidence.

What was Woody like to work with?

Colin Farrell: He’s cool. He’s lovely. Really lovely, yeah. I mean I think I probably talked more to Martin in the first day of rehearsal than I did to Woody in the whole film. (laughs) Which is not to say I was ostracized or ever felt like that, but [he’s] just a lovely, shy man. Incredibly smart and lovely turn of phrase. I really liked working on the film.

Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson star in "In Bruges."

Could you talk about the collaboration with Brandon? Much of the dialogue sounded very spontaneous.

Colin Farrell: Well, Martin only really wrote an outline. A lot of the dialogue was written by ourselves. (laughs) To tell the truth, he just gave us plot points, really and rolled the camera. You know, yeah, we had Lorne Michaels over and we workshopped. (Turns serious) No… it was rehearsal, really. Rehearsal. We already had great content and we’d just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse – to the point where we were all really familiar with the characters and the situations, but never to the point where there was a stagnancy that appeared. Never once did it feel repetitious. By the time we got to the set, we felt like we had a grasp of who these people were and why they had done the things they had done. We never felt like we were retreading the same ground. There was still a lot of room for exploration. Those were the most surprising things. A testament to how brilliant the script was… that after three weeks of talking about it and looking at it, every time we asked a question that was important, [and] we came to a decent conclusion, there would be five-ten other questions that were on the table as result of asking that one. That really was kind of regenerative.

Was it more rehearsal than you’ve done for other films?

Colin Farrell: Yeah, barring Phone Booth. We did a good bit of rehearsal there. Alexander, we did a good bit of rehearsal there in the desert of Morocco, but Phone Booth, because it was a ten-day shoot we were under the kibosh, so we had to make sure that we had an understanding of it. Two weeks long table with all the cast, and then a week on the streets in downtown LA.

How long was this shoot?

Colin Farrell: Seven and a half or eight weeks.

Your character was always complaining that he was bored in Bruges. What do you consider the ultimate cure for boredom?

Colin Farrell: I don’t know. Anything. I’ve got such a general taste on most things. Just music and films. I really do. Anything from Public Enemy to

What’s your favorite Public Enemy disk?

Colin Farrell: (laughs) I wasn’t talking of the band. I was talking about the Jimmy Cagney film. But, yeah, I used to listen to Chuck and Flavor do their thing in the late 90s. A lot of good stuff back in the day. And Ice Cube. I used to listen to all that. I have eclectic tastes as far as things go.

Clemence Poesy and Colin Farrell star in “In Bruges.”

Your relationship with Clémence in the film seems very tenuous. You’re not really sure who the person is that you’re with. How much of that was in the script and how much was you after you got the script?

Colin Farrell: Everything was fairly clear on the page.

Clémence Poésy: Yeah, yeah. It was more about the script. And then we had to forget everything that we learned when we actually shot it. (laughs)

What was the most restrictive environment you’ve ever been in and how did deal with it?

Colin Farrell: Mine is pretty obvious. (long pause) To me. (laughs) Phone Booth. It was pretty restrictive. The pants I’m wearing today are pretty restrictive.

Clémence Poésy: (laughs) Set them free. Let air come in…

Colin Farrell: Very restrictive. But if I took them off, they’d be free, and I’d be free.

So where do you like to spend your time? Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you…

Colin Farrell: Well, you did. I’m talking about my pants… (laughs)

Bruges is a pretty beautiful place. Or Ireland… I’ve never been to Ireland. I just wondered if you spent most of your time in Ireland or the United States?

Colin Farrell: I spend most of my time in Los Angeles now. Still feel very much that Ireland is home, but I’ve made a nice home as well in Los Angeles. My son is there, so that’s why I’m there most of the time.

Jordan Prentice, Clemence Poesy and Colin Farrell star in “In Bruges.”

Clémence, I know this isn’t your first English film, but how is it different acting when it is not in your native language?

Clémence Poésy: It’s – strangely – easier. It’s a bit like playing with a mask on. You allow yourself to do more than you do in your own language. You’re not listening to [the words] as much, which is the worst thing you can do when you’re acting. You’re closer to playing the emotions. Well, maybe that’s just me.

Colin, is it a relief to do a movie in your native accent?

Colin Farrell: I’m the complete opposite. I’m like… when I have to do a dialogue, there is a danger. It can be one of two things, just generally. It can be an avenue into a character and a form of separating yourself from your own natural patterns and sounds. There’s also a danger maybe it’s I haven’t worked as hard as I should before. There’s been times where I’ve heard what I’m saying, and I’ve been aware of that and… It’s different, actually, from what she’s saying, because you’re…

Clémence Poésy: It’s not my language, yeah…

Colin Farrell: You’re speaking English with a French accent and that’s fine. I’m talking about a different accent, and you can hear sounds pop in the middle of the scene. As Clémence was saying, that’s the worst thing in the world to be aware of. What you’re saying, being taken out of any given moment. So, it was incredibly liberating and fitting, again, to be able to use my own vernacular.

The film jumps around from comedy to tragedy. Do you think that makes it hard to watch?

Colin Farrell: The fact that I’m in it makes it hard to watch, really. (laughs) Makes it hard to watch for me. I imagine it could be jarring. Absolutely. You know, we seem to be creatures that get very comfortable and very fast with things being a certain way. With that in mind, yeah, it’s possibly jarring. But I think that’s one of the great tricks that Martin is capable of – to make the world and not just paint the film with one kind of emotional or intellectual theme but have an array of colors shooting through it. I’ve talked to people that come out and thought that it was a great comedy. Other people come out and thought that it was incredibly tragic and heartbreaking. I think Martin respects the audience enough to allow people to come away with different opinions, instead of saying “This is what this film is. This is what it’s going to engage with you. You’re going to feel this.” He just put a whole hodge-podge of stuff out there and let it blow. They’ll experience it however they experience it.

Colin Farrell stars in "In Bruges."

Is the way you look now [long hair, unshaven, beard] preparation for your next role?

Colin Farrell: Playing myself. No, it’s kind of laziness. No, not really.

Are there any projects you’re working on that are being affected by the writer’s strike?

Colin Farrell: No. I’ve been kind of gainfully unemployed for the last nine months or so since finishing Bruges. It’s been great. I’ve got to spend time with people I like to spend time with. Hopefully, I’ll do something in April, but nothing that I’ve been a part of has been affected by the writer’s strike.

Pride and Glory is all wrapped?

Colin Farrell: Pride and Glory was wrapped before both of these pictures. Both Cassandra’s Dream and In Bruges, yeah.

What was the attraction for that project?

Colin Farrell: Great script. Wicked character. I’d seen Tumbleweeds and was a fan of Gavin O’Connor. He wrote and directed this. I feel the need to speak up for him more than my own interests in saying that the film hasn’t been pushed back to 2009 because it’s a piece of shit. It’s actually a really strong piece. Great performances from [Jon] Voight and [Edward] Norton and Jennifer Ehle is amazing. Noah Emmerich. The cast is great. Gavin’s quite a filmmaker. I just think it’s a case of New Line lost their bollocks on The Golden Compass, and they haven’t really got money to market it, so it was pushed back. I hope – for Gavin more than anyone – that it’s resolved, and it gets an audience.

And that was shot here? [In New York]

Colin Farrell: That was shot here. All in New York, yeah.

Did you have a New York accent in that one?

Colin Farrell: That’s debatable, yeah. (laughs) Let’s just say he spent every holiday in Boston, I think. Backstory. Cover myself.

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: February 8, 2008.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#6 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#7 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

#8 © 2008 Jaap Bultendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.


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