On the surface, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell have little in common other than their Irish origins. Gleeson is more than 20 years apart and a consummate character actor who only started acting in middle age and kept a low profile, while Farrell was shot out of a cannon to stardom in his 20s and for years kept gossip columnists busy to record his offscreen antics.
But appearances can be deceiving, of course – and when Farrell and Gleeson shared the screen as a killer couple in Martin McDonagh’s 2008 black comedy In Bruges, it clicked. Since then, the two have hoped for a chance to work together again. “Honestly, I’ve been waiting for it to happen,” says Gleeson. “Me and Colin just have something very special. It doesn’t matter if there are years between the times we see each other; we just pick up where we left off.”
Now Gleeson, 67, and Farrell, 46, have reunited with McDonagh in the wildly funny yet melancholy The Banshees of Inisherin, which opens in theaters on Friday. Set on an impossibly beautiful, fictional island off the coast of Ireland during the Irish Civil War, the film focuses on a much smaller, more prosaic conflict: Gleeson’s brooding fiddler Colm Doherty abruptly decides to end his friendship with Farrell’s kindhearted, if rather dull finish Pádraic Súilleabháin. Determined to cut Pádraic out of his life so he can focus on his music, Colm threatens to cut off his own fingers if his old friend even speaks to him, creating a rift that soon tears the entire community apart tear begins.
McDonagh’s last film, 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, with Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell receiving Oscars for their performances in the film. Following the premiere of “Banshees” at the Venice Film Festival in September, where Farrell picked up the Best Actor award, Oscar forecasters have already identified Farrell and Gleeson as possible contenders in the Leading and Supporting Actor categories, respectively.
From the start, McDonagh had Farrell and Gleeson in mind when writing the screenplay for Banshees. “If they had said no, I don’t know if I would have done it at all,” he says. “I definitely wanted to get them back together, but go into very different territory. ‘In Bruges’ is in a way a love story between the two, while ‘Banshees’ is like the ending of that and explores different qualities that they have as actors.”
Just days after Gleeson first hosted “Saturday Night Live,” The Times spoke to the pair via Zoom about playing the deadliest enemy of all — and navigating the perils of Oscar season — while remaining best friends .
Before we talk about Banshees, Brendan, I have to ask you about your experience hosting Saturday Night Live, which seemed to come from left field. As a former “SNL” host, has Colin given you any advice himself?
Brendan Gleeson: I was very opposed to the idea – I actually said no. But I listened to Colin because he knows the business better than I do and I listened to Martin who also pushed it. I said to Martin, “Will you come in and help with the monologue and be part of the writing team?” And he agreed. And Colin said, “I’ll be there.”
I had a fantastic time. It took me back to the 80’s when I was part of a theater group, running around, doing lots of costume changes and wearing wigs and dodgy moustaches.
Colin Farrell: Brendan has been hesitant about it, as have I been and a lot of people are – it’s not our stock. But I sold the s— of it. I wanted him to do it more than I wanted him to do Banshees or In Bruges. [Laughs.] And it was magical.
You both had great on-screen chemistry when you returned to In Brugge. Was that connection obvious to both of you from the start?
Farell: From the first day of rehearsals on “In Bruges” there was a shorthand that was deeply organic and familiar. There was just a lightness and also a bit of dizziness. An excitement ensues when you’re both open to exploration, not quite sure what you’re looking for. That kind of certainty mixed with uncertainty is a nice sandbox, and we’ve had that from the start.
In the years since its release, In Bruges has become a popular cult film. I’m sure you’ll get people to quote you lines.
Farell: [Dryly] My lines are not quotable in today’s culture.
However, Banshees is a very different film. No less funny, but also quieter, sadder and stranger. What drew you to the idea of working with Martin?
Farell: Martin’s writing really is the tastiest stuff. It’s so funny, but ultimately it’s so moving and emotionally connected to all of the things that we struggle with as human beings: the need for love, our loneliness, our inevitable propensity for violence, and the consequences of that violence. And it’s so sneaky – you think you’re seeing something irreverent and macabre with this gallows humor, but at its core there’s a tenderness and longing and a deep exploration of what it means to be human, how fallible and fragile we ultimately are and how much we need each other
Gleeson: What Martin is doing with this tiny story is exploring the metaphysical. All the different areas he gets into really add to the meaning and humanity in some ways. That connects people.
It’s easy for audiences to empathize with Pádraic because he’s so gentle and open-hearted. In a way, it seems like you had a bigger challenge, Brendan, in getting the audience to understand why Colm is being so cruel to him and going to such extremes to cut him out of his life. How did you find your own way into the character?
Gleeson: Martin said, “Think about where you are at the beginning of the movie,” and suddenly a light went on. Colm is already in a place of despair before the film begins. He screams for survival. He has to make a difference or he’s in the pit. Its abyss gapes. So I understood that the desperation to do things differently is total and that was what allowed me to be so brutal. Because I knew he wasn’t a monster.
Colin, Pádraic is definitely a bit somber, and everyone in the film talks about how boring he is. But there’s more to him beneath the surface, as we see when he gets drunk and takes out his anger on Colm.
Farell: There is much more for everyone. There are people who bore me – that’s my experience with them. But a human cannot be boring. When you find a way to remove all your own trauma or your own prejudices and all that jazz, people, all 8 billion of us, are fascinating to watch.
Pádraic is pretty dimwitted and I understood where the accusations of total stupidity came from. But there’s also a beauty and purity about him, and how that simplicity and that childlike quality was captured in the writing was so magnificent. But it didn’t take much to bring everything down, either.
It’s not often that we see a film that examines the ups and downs of male friendship as closely as this one. Has working on the film made you think about your own friendships?
Farell: Sometimes work makes you think about things in your life, and sometimes things in your life flow into work. I felt this was more of the latter. I don’t have many friends in the world like true friends do, and the ones I have I care deeply about and feel like they care about me in a similarly sympathetic way.
Gleeson: I don’t think either of us have a problem talking about our feelings. But there are other people who really have that archetypal male silence, and I get it [that] also. I have friends who speak and friends who don’t, and I don’t see much of a difference in the way it works. Often male intimacy can be communicated non-verbally. Sometimes a good friend is someone who doesn’t say anything, and “Banshees” explores that too. It’s not all talked about, that stuff between us.
You are both considered early Oscar contenders for your work in this film. Neither of you have ever been nominated before. Is it hard not to get all of the awards season’s chatter in your head?
Gleeson: It would be great if it happened and all. But that’s not why we do it. I don’t like the competitive aspect – it’s apples and pears – and all the nonsense about it. But it’s part of the business and keeps people interested in going to the movies. And right now we need people who care about movies to keep all these cinemas open for as long as possible.
Farell: The whole thing is totally ridiculous, but there are a lot of ridiculous things in life that can also be fun if you don’t take them too seriously. You’re not the first to ask this, so of course it’s on my mind, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. It would be laughable if it happened. But if not, I’ve already laughed so hard.
To be honest, if I had a choice [for who would get nominated] between the two of us I would choose him and he would choose me. That is the truth of the gospel. If I got a nod and he didn’t, I’d be devastated.
Gleeson: Colin won a Golden Globe for “In Bruges” and he said, “A hemisphere belongs to Brendan.” Which I thought was the cutest. And this is how I feel now.
This interview has been abridged and edited.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-19/colin-farrell-brendan-gleeson-banshees-of-inisherin-oscars-in-bruges-snl ‘Banshees of Inisherin’: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson reunite