In case you aren’t aware, it’s Colin Farrell week. You probably are aware that he plays the Penguin in this weekend’s new release, a little movie called The Batman. But he also has one of the talks of Sundance coming this weekend, too – Kogonada’s beautiful A24 film, After Yang. It’s interesting to listen to them talk about how they teamed up. On one hand, Farrell loved the script, but it’s such a meditation on life and love and loss that he, as an actor, was afraid he’d mess it up. (It’s interesting to hear such a pro like Farrell admit he feels like that before almost every movie and knows examples where he feels he did mess it up.) And then for Kogonada, well he bluntly just says it never even crossed his mind he could get an A-list movie star like Farrell to be in his movie. (It’s actually really nice to listen to Kogonada talk about Farrell because it’s so obvious he’s a huge fan. And he honestly seems as interested in Farrell playing the Penguin as much as the rest of us – to the point Kogonada even started asking Farrell questions about The Batman.
After Yang starts with the best opening credits of the year, a dance-off competition as multiple families try to win. And there’s Jake (Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) with their family, including Yang (Justin H. Min), an artificial intelligence who has become part of the family. When Yang breaks down, Jake tries to get him fixed but finds no one has interest in fixing Yang, and the company that made him would much rather just replace Yang as if he was a broken iPhone. It’s an extremely interesting premise because it seems destined that this will be something that happens in the future, and what happens when we grow true emotional bonds with technology that becomes more and more human. After, Jake tries to get Yang fixed on the black market and discovers, let’s just say, a lot of secrets he didn’t expect.
Ahead, Farrell and Kogonada break down this beautiful film. Also, it really was a pleasure listening to these two talk about each other. And I really did love it when Kogonada asked Farrell about all the actors now in the Penguin fraternity. Also, it does seem kind of weird that in one of Farrell’s last big films, Dumbo, he worked with Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, and Danny DeVito. Farrell addresses this and does say he’s heard from DeVito about playing the Penguin. But first, on the day I talked to these two, I had just watched Farrell do a The Batman interview where he referred to himself as “a grump about the movies I’m in.” Which is surprising because, at least in interview situations, Farrell is honestly one of the most thoughtful actors to talk with who truly makes this job fun. (I cannot say that about everyone.) So I had to take a little umbrage with his self-analysis.
I watched an interview today about The Batman where Colin calls himself “a grump.” I’ve interviewed you a few times now and you are not a grump.
Colin Farrell: No, no, no, but I just mean about like my involvement in films sometimes. I do think that.
Okay, I see. Well in this kind of setting that’s not the case.
Colin Farrell: That’s good. That’s cool. Thanks, Mike, for saying that. It’s nice to be reminded.
Now the rest of the interview you’re going to be like, “How dare you.” after every question.
[Farrell joking crosses his arms and gives an angry stare.]
Yeah, exactly. There’s the grump.
Colin Farrell: How dare you.
I’ve never seen anything quite like After Yang. It brought out an emotion I’ve never really felt before and it crept up on me.
Colin Farrell: That’s so lovely. I’ve got to tell you, man, I was bent around the head by Kogonada as a result of watching Columbus. It was the same. It crept up on me. I was like, what moment? Nobody screamed. Nobody cried. I didn’t see a body die. It’s just these two people talking. How the fuck am I feeling such kind of despair and care and hope and fear and all of it? So that’s lovely to hear you say that, because I just think he’s one of the most stealthily kind of emotional filmmakers that I’ve ever worked with. Because when I read the script, again, it’s not histrionic. There are no major moments, per se. It doesn’t say anyone’s crying or screaming or any of that. And all that stuff holds true when you see the film.
And yet you’re not the first person say that it crept up on them, and all of a sudden people felt that they were sobbing and crying and they had no idea really why. I find Kogonada is an incredibly emotional filmmaker. I find the questions that he asks and the areas of the human condition that he explores to be things that if you are in any way open to yourself and how messed up you are inside, you’re going to have stuff exposed that is going to just come to the surface in a plethora of emotion.
And keep in mind, I’m watching it by myself at home, and I’m feeling this way. As opposed to a theater where I’m more susceptible. But it got me anyway.
Colin Farrell: It got me. Look, I’m going to be honest. I got emotional. I was crying right when I saw it. And it was kind of almost – almost, not fully – embarrassing to say that because I’m in the damn thing. Of course, I can’t remove my own presence from the film. But why was I crying? Why was it emotional?
When it went into Yang’s memories, and that fucking haunting piano comes in, and you see the simplicity and the beauty of life as it happened? And it’s all very simple, little snippets, three-second snippets of simple things in nature. And it just made me think about my life and my children and the loves that I have and loves that I’ve lost and the loves that I’m going to lose and all that kind of stuff. And what I leave behind. And will somebody cry when I’m gone? And all that self-interested stuff, even what it is to be a human being. That’s an incredibly profound thing. So, for me to feel that, and as I said, I’m in the damn film. And Justin is so beautiful as well. Something about his performance and his stillness that was just so empathetic as well.
How do you two get together? Who goes to who? Do you see Columbus and say, “I want to work with him.”
Colin Farrell: I hadn’t seen Columbus yet. I was really lucky that, for whatever reason… I don’t know. I’m not asking if any actors were seen before me. I don’t fucking care. But the thing was that I heard that there was a script written that was going to be made by filmmaker Kogonada. And so I went and I watched Columbus. And, as I said, I was incredibly moved by it and just thought it was extraordinary.
And I wasn’t familiar, and still I’m not familiar, with any directors who give the audience so much space to fill with their own complexities and what they bring to the filmmaking experience. It wasn’t telling me in Columbus how to feel. I didn’t feel like it was in any way kind of reductive or didactic or guiding me anywhere. And then I read After Yang and had the reference of Columbus, and I had to stop reading After Yang after about 40 pages and make myself a cup of tea, because I was so moved by it. I didn’t have to stop reading it. I wasn’t sobbing. I wasn’t like, Oh my God, I’ve got to step away. But I did decide to step away and put the kettle on and make myself a cup of tea for 15 minutes, and then I went back in to read it. Because I was feeling a lot. Yeah, I was feeling loads reading it, man. And then, so, it was a no-brainer. I was dying to do it. So I consider myself really lucky to have gotten the chance.
Did you always have Colin in mind?
Kogonada: Not then. I’d made Columbus. It was out in the world. So I was just kind of making my next film. Again, I don’t think I imagined that someone like Colin… It just wasn’t in my imagination, the A-list or whatever.
Oh I see, you didn’t think a famous movie star would be realistic?
Kogonada: Of course. I had a real appreciation. Like a lot of people who love film, there’s a real appreciation for Colin. I think, like, Tigerland, when he first shows up? There’s like, oh God, there’s a real presence. And tracking that career…
I remember when that came out. It was a huge deal. Yes.
Kogonada: A huge deal. In Bruges, the Yorgos films. So yeah, I think if someone would’ve said that to me while I was writing, I probably wouldn’t have been able to write it, honestly. But at the time I was just writing it, and then when I got wind that Colin was a possibility, I just…
Colin Farrell: It’s funny, isn’t it? How we perceive our own things, our own selves? Because I literally read the script, and I swear to God, I was a bit fearful of it because it was so still and it was so gentle. But also I really had a sense of, Aw, fuck, I’ve got to do this. You know?
Colin Farrell: Honest to God. No, totally, man…
I guess if I’m you I’m like, what if I mess this up? But you’re very good at what you do, so you’re not going to mess it up.
Colin Farrell: You always feel… it’s right there, Mike. I always feel I’m going to fucking mess it up. I’m not going to get into the titles because it’s disrespectful to those who put all their energies into in, including myself, but I can still point to certain things where I totally messed up, and only other things where I messed up a little bit less. So I was nervous about it, it was just a very uncommonly unique and moving script, very uncommonly. In 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to read certainly hundreds, if not a thousand plus scripts, and to read this and be as moved and be as kind of bewitched by its sincerity, by its awkwardness, by its probing, and by its gentility. I was just blown away that I had the opportunity to work on it.
See, that’s interesting. Is that really it? You feel if you don’t deliver, you might ruin this beautiful script?
Colin Farrell: I mean, if you read something that you really like, and I thought In Bruges was brilliant and extraordinary, and it didn’t move me in the way that After Yang moved me. It wasn’t less than, of course. It was different. But you read something like In Bruges, and you think it’s brilliant, and you read The Lobster, and you think it’s brilliant, and you read After Yang – there are these scripts that come that you’re just blown away by. They’re so singular and so different from everything else that you know to be a part of them as an actor means that you are going to inform, of course, how that brilliant thing then becomes something else and goes out into the world. So I think it’s probably pretty natural to go, Fuck, I hope I don’t be the one that messes it up.
I don’t know how much either of you pay attention to social media, but the opening credits of Colin and numerous other people in a dance contest, got quite a bit of attention during Sundance. I am curious how many takes that was? How was that filmed? Because that looked like a lot of practice went into that whole thing with a lot of different people.
Kogonada: I think because we just had that plain background, we just kind of brought each family, each team, and they did it. Except the main family, because they also had to do the dance in the house as well. I mean, some families took seven takes. And I think the main family took a lot of takes because we knew that they were the primary family. But they had to kind of practice it with the choreographer whenever they had time. The choreographer had made videos. So it was a bit of an effort to kind of get that shot there.
I’m curious what was going through your head doing that because for me, watching it, it’s like the movie is such an emotional experience, but that opening is this nice moment of kind of pure joy before you go on this journey that I kind of needed before I went on that. Does that make sense?
Colin Farrell: Yeah, totally. To be honest, it kind of represented the family at their best. Of course, as in they’re literally dancing, moving in harmony with each other, so it represented them as a unified front.
And we don’t need a lot of backstory about Yang, but we see them all doing this together.
Colin Farrell: They love each other, and there’s a bit of a laugh. And there’s a laugh, the fact that Yang is still going, and who made the mistake, and who got us out of the dance. So it was this lovely moment, yeah. And it was fun to do. It was fun to prepare and rehearse for, and it was a good way for us all to kind of get to meet each other and shake off the nerves and stuff. It was Jodie’s first day, her first scene. So it was a really cool way to start. Plus I think you should always, kind of each film you do, maybe you should always at least do one thing or learn one thing which you’ve never done before.
Right. Now you can do that dance.
Colin Farrell: It just kind of literally allows you to go, I’m literally not the person I was before. Whether it’s experiencing teen drinking rituals or doing a ridiculous, kind of, but awesome, dance like this.
Before I go, I do want to point out the last time I talked to you was for Dumbo. You’re playing The Penguin in The Batman and it is funny to me that with Dumbo you’re doing a movie with Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, and Danny DeVito.
Colin Farrell: I know…
Come on, that can’t be a coincidence.
Colin Farrell: I was thinking that the other day, man. Yeah, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton…
It’s really weird.
Colin Farrell: Yeah. We were working. He had the whole lot, all from Batman. The only one that was missing obviously was Michelle Pfeiffer. I thought, wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Oh, hopefully it all works out.
So it is just a coincidence? They weren’t like, Hey buddy, you’ve got to get on this Batman train.
Colin Farrell: No, but Danny was cool. Danny, who I love, and I’ve known a little bit for years now, and then we obviously worked together closely on Dumbo. Danny sent me a lovely text when he heard that I was doing Penguin, we texted back and forth.
Oh that’s nice.
Colin Farrell: Yeah. Danny’s cool, man. Danny’s deadly.
Kogonada: The Penguin brotherhood is just you two, right?
And Burgess Meredith…
Colin Farrell: Burgess Meredith, of course. And then there’s an actor… I haven’t seen the show Gotham, but there’s an actor I believe does an extraordinary job on the show. Wait, wait, wait. One second… I’ve heard from many people. Robin Lord Taylor.
Robin Lord Taylor. Yes.
Colin Farrell: He does an extraordinary job playing the Penguin in the television show. So there’s like four or five of us.
‘After Yang’ opens in theaters on March 4th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.