“Fantastic Beasts” Set Visit Interview: Colin Farrell

Of the central cast, Colin Farrell is the one I have the most trouble reconciling into the Potter universe. Even as he walks into the room for our interview, even though I knew he was coming, I am still mildly surprised – what does this movie star have to do with Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Like so many things about this new franchise, he’ll take some getting used to, but soon enough I’m sure, it will be hard not to think of him as a part of this world. (Don’t believe me? The initial “No-Maj” uproar has already blown over. Mostly.)

The wand of Percival Graves, personal Auror to the president of MACUSA, is sleek and entirely black, with only a few silver embellishments on the handle. Farrell breaks it out with a flourish as our interview begins, having kept it hidden from view for a few moments when we first begin trading questions, relishing the moment of revelation. He’s done shooting for the day, and his manner is easy and relaxed as he shares with us what he can about his character, tongue in cheek about the restrictions imposed on him by Warner Bros. – he’s known to the world as a bit of a renegade for a reason.

Press:
You’ve been in such a variety of different roles. How is this role different or challenging for you?

Colin Farrell:
They’re all different and challenging in their own specific ways. But if you’re asking about this one, maybe it’s a bit challenging to throw wands out, and nothing actually happens until the wonderful wizards, the real wizards of the world of technical vision, come into it. But whatever is released from the tip of your wand into the world… that was a bit embarrassing the first time. Trying to figure out how to… because you have a relationship with this stuff.

I can’t imagine what it would be like for an actor for the first time when they say action to say, “Bond. James Bond.” I take my hat off to anyone who does a [makes whizzing sound]. I’ve seen all the films, and when I was kid, I was aware of wizards and magicians and witches and Wiccans and all sorts of things, so yeah, to have a wand [laughs]… which is both ridiculous and very cool. And I have wand.

Press:
Can you talk about how you got involved? How you auditioned? Saw the script and everything…?

Colin Farrell:
I got a call about a call. I got a call about a call with David Yates. And [David and I] got on the phone first, I think. I don’t know if I read the script and then talked to David, or I talked to David and then read the script. But whatever it was, we spoke and exchanged thoughts on the character and the script, and that was it, really. We spoke a good bit, actually. I think we spoke two or three or four times or so.

He’s wonderful, and obviously, he has an incredibly comprehensive and insightful knowledge of this whole universe and this world and its philosophies and ideologies and behaviors, and so he was and has been since then just a wealth of information and a stalwart for references that are really helpful. So that was it, really, and as I said, I’ve seen the first eight Harry Potter films and loved them all. And so it’s a very cool thing to be a part of. It’s fun.

Press:
Eddie told us he spoke a little bit to Ralph Fiennes beforehand, mostly about working with David Yates. But had you spoken to any of the cast members of the previous films going into this?

Colin Farrell:
Nah… but this is a different thing. Ah! If I found myself in a room with Ralph or even if I had to see “Mad-Eye” Moody – Brendan [Gleeson] – or anyone I know, I probably would’ve said, “How was it working…?” if it came up naturally. But I didn’t feel the compulsion to pick up the phone or call an agency and see if I can get an actor’s number to check if everything was kosher. I talked to David Yates on the phone, and he was lovely and gracious and smart and as he is, and I loved the script, so it was just, go to work.

Press:
The characters in this film are all adults, and it feels like it’s delving into some political and social themes that are maybe a little more grown up [here] but were also prevalent in the Potter films. So has that been fun to get into a big franchise movie that’s delving into interesting stuff?

Colin Farrell:
Yeah, sure. I mean, regardless of the scale of them, you try [to] attempt to, and sometimes you have to go, “Look, the film isn’t asking this of you.” So just relax and enjoy it. But no, I don’t think David will be interested in just rendering this world in the way that he could render it, which is one of spectacular action sequences and beautiful special effects and magnificent sets and costumes and music and lighting and camera movements and all those things. He really does come from a place, as far as I’ve observed, every time, of what the emotional truth of every single moment is, as rote as that may sound. He really does. I’ve observed with other actors, and I’ve obviously talked to him myself.

But you’re right. I think that the themes in the original Harry Potters as well are adult themes because, eh, let’s face it: we’re all just hairier kids, really. I’m still dealing with a five-year-old inside, who isn’t getting enough of this and doesn’t get enough of that. So the idea[s], and of course the friendships that were explored, and even momentary dissolution of some friendships, or the reconnection of [the] same friendships that were represented, and the journey from child to adult that was represented in the first one. The first eight were pretty significant journeys to chronicle in a film that could be just, as I said, entertainment for children. I think David is very respectful of the audience. He’s very respectful of the minds and the intelligence of children as well as adults. But yeah, there are some weighty themes in this. And they’re a burden in some way, but there should be enough for everyone to get something, either emotionally or a load of gorgeous things to look up to.

Press:
Speaking generally to who your character is, how does he fit into the [wizarding] world and Newt’s world?

Colin Farrell:
Yeah, I play the chief security officer for the protection of wizards, for MACUSA. And I am the right-hand man of President Picquery, who is played by the lovely Carmen Ejogo. And that’s it, really. [in a deep voice] I am a very powerful wizard and naturally skilled. He has a natural aptitude for magic but is also highly trained and somewhat powerful, and there is a mystery that has descended upon the city of New York in the ’20s, and I am one of [the few] called Aurors.

 

From the SDCC trailer.

From the SDCC trailer

 

We’re investigating what is going on in New York. New York is being turned on its head, and there is this Statute of Secrecy whereby the No-Majs, who are the American equivalent of Muggles…we’re completely living in absolute hiding and secrecy and denial of our own existence in relation to No-Majs, in relation to common citizenry. So there is something happening in New York that threatens to expose the world of magic, and it’s incumbent on me and President Picquery – but me in a more active way on the street – to try to figure out what’s going on. And then Eddie’s character comes into the frame, and it unfolds from there.

Press:
What about getting into character for this role? Is there anything special that you did to get into this magical world at a certain time period in America?

Colin Farrell:
You can always, obviously, go off the script as a blueprint, and I actually had some really great, very helpful constructive chats, as far as I was concerned, with David that gave me an idea of what he felt the timbre or tone of the character was, and so I just took the script and took his thoughts and my own opinions and thought about it, and then you get into the costume, and they put this thing into your hand, and shit starts to happen. You just have fun with it and try… but as you were saying, trying to honor the fundamental truth of the person you’re playing, or else you’re just going through the numbers, I suppose, or at least it feels like that. But at the end of the day, you just – water’s warm – jump in and play around.

Press:
Since your character’s high up within the struggle between Muggles and magical people, will we see him grapple with the morality of how he’s keeping things separate, or is it more responsibility driven?

Colin Farrell:
Both. Because some people find themselves as the doers of responsibility as a result of their own morality – a morality that’s been [imposed] upon themselves. So both, I think. Absolutely. I mean, my character has a very particular ideology, which he speaks of.

Press:
Did you have any interesting or helpful constructive conversations with Jo Rowling about your character?

Colin Farrell:
No.

Press:
No? Not yet?

Colin Farrell:
Well, I’ve had a conversation with her by virtue of just reading her work. That’s kind of a conversation…

Press:
What was in this project for you as an actor. What drew your interest in?

Colin Farrell:
Work. And the world that it exists within. I mean, it’s enormous amounts of fun. I have a f****** wand. I mean, seriously, seriously, I’m not even joking; and I’ve done plenty of things that have been… [sighs] more that have had a strain of despondency or pain or loss or violence and all that. So this feels very different from anything I’ve done.

And it’s nice that I’ve done something that my boys could actually see. I mean, they may not want to right now or like it. And that’s fine also, but J.K.’s imagination is obviously just an extraordinary, extraordinary thing. The energy that this one woman has put out into the world, the moods she has affected, the parents [whom] she’s created moments for – for fathers and mothers reading books to their children or children recounting to their parents. I mean, it’s amazing what she’s put out into the world. So on reading the script, I got caught up in that energy.

Press:
What can you say about the scene that you shot…?

Colin Farrell:
Nothing.

Press:
… about what you shot today or what you shot in the past?

Colin Farrell:
Pretty much nothing. Where’s the e-mail that said, “Don’t say, don’t say, don’t say. Say it’s a wonderful experience.” No, I mean, today, what did we do?

Wands transcend national borders, for sure. There’s [a] greater level of tension that builds throughout the film, as happens often in films, but it’s very clear in this one. And the tension is a result of whatever the mystery is that’s taking place in New York City that’s creating havoc. And creating an imminent threat as to the dissolution of the Statute of Secrecy and the exposure of the world of magic. So the scene I was doing today was Graves is at a particular point where he is taking charge and taking control, or at least trying to, and feeling like he’s getting close to resolving or exposing what the issue at hand might be.

Press:
Can you say a little bit about what your character makes of Newt personally? And are there other characters you have a lot of screen time with or interact with?

Colin Farrell:
I have a good bit of screen time with Eddie, nice bit of screen time with Katherine, who’s Tina, and with Ezra. The relationship with Eddie’s character, Newt… I’ve corresponded with Newt’s brother – who’s a very, very powerful Auror also, at the other side of the Atlantic – called Theseus, who’s a commander. And so I don’t know Newt, but knowing his brother… initially, there’s a fondness, and then there might be a little bit of tension.

 

Credence_Graves_Fantastic Beasts

Graves with Credence, played by Ezra Miller

 

Press:
The name Graves and just looking at the wand… is it safe to assume he’s a pretty serious guy?

Colin Farrell:
Yeah, he is. Well, he’s somebody who, I suppose, moves through life with a keen awareness of the burden of his responsibility. He feels the weight of that. He wouldn’t moan about it, complain about it. He holds his position as a great honor. But also, there’s great responsibility that has been bestowed upon him to protect this whole world of wizards [who] are teetering on the brink of potential persecution. So yeah, he’s a serious calf.

Read the rest of our Set Visit coverage here.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Additional formatting provided by Catherine Lai.