There’s plenty of heartwarming to be had with John Lee Hancock‘s Saving Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks‘s smile alone tugs at the heart strings, but underneath the picture’s cuddly side there’s a darkness to be found in the flashbacks to P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thomspon) childhood. Playing her father, Travers Goff, is Colin Farrell. Goff is an alcoholic who often hides his pain through storytelling. The parallel for Travers is obvious, but it’s also true in the case of Walt Disney, at least when it comes to the film’s take on Disney.
The young Travers informs the older Travers, and the same goes for Goff. It’s a performance we haven’t seen from Farrell before, but ever since Tigerland — Joel Schumacher’s best movie — you could say that for most of his roles. He’s not an actor who repeats himself often or falls back on certain crutches, and that’s likely because, as he tells us, he tries to find roles that push him as an actor. Saving Mr. Banks certainly does just that.
Here’s what Colin Farrell had to say about his wonderful time on the film, wanting his experience dictated to him, and, of course, Miami Vice:
You’ve had a very diverse career. Do you just have a broad taste?
Yeah. I’m drawn to certain characters and certain situations. I’m not sure what those characters and situations are, because they change from time to time, based on a variety of reasons. I think when you read something, whether it’s a big studio film or something you don’t recognize, both inspire curiosity. You’re wondering how you can tie yourself to something that makes it seem like you know what you know, which is, essentially, that you don’t know what you think you know. You try to ask questions and push yourself. You want to make aggressive stretches, but curiosity is always essential when reading things. It’s really just so much more fun when you find yourself asking a variety of questions.
I imagine going from saying Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths) dialogue to a period piece also keeps the job fresh.
Absolutely it does. The job is about making changes and understanding fundamental differences, whether it’s for a cultural reference point or certain subject matter. You may never see that stuff in a performance, but it’s a part of going on a journey with a new role.
Were there any small differences for Saving Mr. Banks that maybe you wouldn’t immediately notice watching the movie, but informed your performance?
Well, it’s hard to say, because you’re never looking at the performance objectively when you’re trying to break it down. You’re not doing that at all. I so enjoy the practical logistics and the experience of playing around. When that happens, I just lose my head. Honestly, I have no clue how to answer that…well, the wig! Yeah, I think I’m going to say the wig. The wig was very important. Who cares, though? Those things usually don’t have any significance, but, for me, the wig way was a strange way of support [Laughs].
Those small transformations must help.
They do at times, yeah. The essence of who you are can be taken away in a second by a mask. That can give you an anonymity and freedom that you can’t experience when you’re just yourself or worried about people looking at your face. Even wigs are physical. It doesn’t have to be something big. Whatever pushes you from yourself always helps.
I often hear the roles that don’t require any transformation are often the toughest. Is that true for you?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s harder. I’m so crap at trying to figure out what’s harder or easier in this job. I try to figure it out, though. I mean, I’ve rehearsed for three weeks before and I’ve also worked with directors who never want to rehearse. Some just want to put you in costume and get you on the set. They’re different, but I couldn’t tell you which one I prefer.
It just depends on the job.
It really does, man. You know what? Directors will ask me, “What do you like? Do you like to rehearse or not rehearse?” I’ll say, “I seriously like to do what you like to do.” [Laughs] You immediately sound like a pushover for saying that, but I do mean it. I really want the experience to be dictated to me. You’re always bringing certain habits to a role and you’ll see certain similarities, but I love to have the experience dictated to me.
How was the experience on this film?
There are certain movies that try to defy your interest in making them. They feel kind of resistant, so a certain amount of will needs to be brought into the arena to push the film into being. Sometimes that happens with even just scenes within a film. I’ve done scenes where after you shoot them you stop and immediately go, “This is not working. Something isn’t right.” Everyone kind of agrees, nods their heads, and they clear the set. Then it’s just you and the director and you reblock it or figure out how to fix it. This film was nothing like that. It was a film that felt like it was dying to be told. As weird as that sounds, it really did.
It’s lovely because the film chronicles one of the more resistant and abrasive creative experiences that I had ever heard about, and yet making this film was the complete opposite of that. There was no resistance on this. Everything from costume to the rehearsal…I rehearsed with Annie Rose Buckley, who plays my daughter in the film, just for practice and to get the words out of our mouths before we got in front of a camera. Man, there wasn’t even traffic on the way to work. It just felt easy.
When you are acting with a child, is it different or do you treat them the same as you would an adult actor?
You definitely treat a child differently from an adult, I suppose. You know, when you get into the world of treating someone different because they’re an actor then that gets a bit dodgey. You treat a child actor and adult actor differently like you would with a child and an adult. I don’t know how that is, actually! [Laughs] But Annie was a joy to be around. She was good company, along with her parents and twin brother, Max.
Our part of the story was shot in chronological order, and it very much felt like a film within a film. It had its own identity and its own heartbeat. We shot in this paradise with Annie, the kids, a few chickens, and a white horse in two weeks. Really, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had on a film.
Annie’s not a stage kid. What I mean by that is, she hasn’t gone through all these inappropriately debutante classes for kids. She just enjoyed it and loved it. I don’t know if she wants to do another film, but she was such a beautiful open canvas for the genesis of P.L. Travers to find herself.
Before I let you go, I have to say Miami Vice is one of my favorite movies and I’m actually talking to Michael Mann soon.
You’re kidding me?
Yeah, for an interview. I’m going to mention this to him as well, but Miami Vice has kind of had a resurgence over the past few years.
Yeah, especially with younger critics.
God, man, it got dealt such an iron fist when it came out. That’s really cool to hear, though. That’s really good to hear. You know, I was quoted about having some misgivings about it. There were elements of it…I understand the unspoken language and familiarity is so deep between Crockett and Tubbs that they didn’t have to buddy-buddy, but without turning it into Lethal Weapon, I think it could’ve done with a little bit more of what Jamie [Foxx] and I had off-camera. I think Michael Mann is a genius, though. He’s one of the great filmmakers. That’s really cool to hear, though. Thank you.
Saving Mr Banks is now in theaters.