- Golden Globe Awards
Out of the Archives, 2004: Colin Farrell on “Alexander”
Colin Farrell, now playing the Penguin in The Batman by Matt Reeves, is a Golden Globe winner (Best Actor for In Bruges, 2008) and a nominee for The Lobster, 2016. In 2004 Farrell was directed by Oliver Stone in Alexander, about the life of the legendary Macedonian King. He spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press twice in 2004 about the qualities that made Alexander a great leader, the contemporary leaders he admires and how was working with Oliver Stone.
This is how the Irish actor prepared to immerse himself into the heart and soul of Alexander the Great, the ancient king of Macedonia: “As an actor you always start from the same point, from yourself, from anything you have learned as a human being or any belief you have or any experience you have felt. I’ve had a good life as a 28-year-old from Dublin, but my experience is very different from Alexander’s, because he was so extreme in his pursuit of feeling and emotion, of truth and destiny. So, for me it was all about reading books, learning to fight with swords and to ride horses, lifting weights; I had to make my voice stronger, put some weight on. I was thinking about what Alexander went through, the pressure of seeing your father die before your very eyes, of becoming king of Macedonia at nineteen, of having to attack the Greek southern states, then deciding to follow in your father’s legacy and attack Persia. I had to figure out how would that make you feel.”
He did not believe he himself possessed any of the qualities that made Alexander a great leader but described what those were: “I very seldom think of myself in those terms, but great leaders don’t necessarily get off on themselves that much, they do something for a far greater purpose than their own self-gratification. In Alexander’s case, people respected him and had to follow him, because he was the king; but his behavior and the way with which he lived his life and led his men into battle, dictated how far they would follow him. Certainly, very few leaders would be followed with such complicity as Alexander was, for that amount of distance across the earth, with the kind of vigor and passion and oneness that his men followed him with. And a large reason for that was because he led by absolute example. Alexander was a phenomenal leader, he was extremely charismatic, highly intelligent, very well trained in the strategies and tactics of warfare and still to this day one of the greatest generals that’s ever lived. But he never said to his people, ‘Do what I say because I am your king and you have no choice’, he said, ‘Watch me do it.’ He put himself in harm’s way, as much as he ever asked any of his men to put themselves there also.”
Farrell agreed that there were parallels between Alexander’s conquest of Persia in the 4th century BC, and George Bush commanding the US army to invade Iraq in 2003: “Yes, the Iraq war was going on and it came to mind that it was a scary coincidence, because literally where our story takes place is where some of the worst, most horrendous things in the world are happening today. I was certainly well aware of what is still going on in that particular country, but I kept the two very separate, because I didn’t want to become confused about what story we were trying to tell. I didn’t draw any correlation between what’s happening in the world now and what happened then, because history has been proven to repeat itself time and time again, and it’s inevitably interconnected on many different levels. I watched the news and I allowed that to affect me, but then I turned it off, because our film was existing in a different time. Yes, it was in the same place, but under a completely different set of circumstances and with a different relationship between the Macedonian Greeks and the Persians that were invaded. There was a very close relationship between these people, a lot of common history, so there were reasons for Alexander’s invasion, and I wanted to be on top of that as much as possible.”
The young actor did meet a great world leader of our present time: “I met Nelson Mandela once very briefly and even from just meeting the man, you know that you’d follow him anywhere, absolutely. And maybe Mandela himself felt a responsibility born of his times to lead his people the way he led them, but he would not have had the time or the care to stop and say or feel for a second, ‘I am a great leader.’ He was too busy caring about other people to even look at himself for that long.”
The actor admired Oliver Stone who directed him in Alexander and considered him a great leader: “Oliver is an amazing director and an incredible man. He is somebody who suffers from an affliction that is not that common in today’s society, especially in respect to people that are as fortunate, as wealthy and as successful as he is; he suffers from pure honesty and complete integrity. He also has an inordinate amount of compassion for the human race; and not many people give him credit for this. He wonders why we do the things we do to each other every day, either in functioning first-world societies or places further afield in the world. He wouldn’t be able to make the films that he has made, if he didn’t ask himself these questions, if he didn’t have that level of compassion. Making this film was very much a journey of discovery for everyone involved, including and maybe particularly for Oliver. There was no doubt that he was our leader and Oliver led by example, like Alexander; he pushed the crew and the cast extremely hard, and he didn’t push anyone harder than me, except maybe for himself. So, in that respect he is an incredible leader, he’s a director that demands that you give as much as he gives.”