Colin Farrell breezes into the New York’s tony Crosby Hotel last weekend surrounded by an entourage of high-heeled publicists, producers and his own ubiquitous private handler.
Everyone around him is carrying an iPhone, some actually carry two, and they’re texting and phoning last minute schedule changes even as the Irish star makes his way toward the press room.
There’s always a circus-like atmosphere surrounding major Hollywood stars and Farrell is no different, except in one way. He focuses intently on the person he’s talking to and seems to block out all the chatter that surrounds him. He’s polite and friendly, and it’s obvious he’s not into circuses.
Farrell, 37, was in New York to promote "Winter’s Tale," the $40 million Warner Bros love story that sees Farrell cast as a thief who ends up stealing the heart of the consumptive heiress Beverly Penn ("Downton Abbey’s" supernaturally beautiful Jessica Brown Findlay). In the film Farrell stars as Peter Lake, an orphan who has taken up a life of petty crime in New York City circa 1916.
There’s a delightfully daft old school romance feel to this, at times, remarkably silly fable. First time director Akiva Goldsman (the writer and producer best known for "A Beautiful Mind" and "I, Robot") has crafted a wacky and often rather wonderful tale of first love and second chances that does its best to disarm cynics from its opening frame.
“'Winter’s Tale' is magical realism, and that is either delightful to you or uninteresting,” Goldsman tells the Irish Voice.
“The book on which the film is based divided the public from the day it first appeared, and the film seems certain to do likewise. The tale itself is a message to people who have suffered loss, the people who need to believe in magic.”
Moments later Oscar winner and screen legend Eva Marie Saint, 89, who plays a pivotal role in the film, is enjoying a magic flirtation of her own with Farrell at the press conference. Asked what she enjoyed most about the film she replies huskily, “I enjoyed Colin Farrell.”
“I was partial to Eva Marie Saint as well,” Farrell shoots back, and the room erupts in laughter. Saint has acted alongside Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, Richard Burton, Tom Hanks and Henry Fonda. There’s no doubt that she sees Farrell in the same league, and there’s no doubting his allure to ladies of a certain age.
Asked if he thinks that love is overrated, Farrell gasps.
“I think if anything love is underrated,” he says. “It can make for an incredible change in a single person or a community’s life. I think it has to be the one thing that defines us as human beings.” (Here he starts to sing The Beatles "All You Need Is Love" for a moment, mocking his own sincerity).
“As for Valentine’s Day, I don’t know what that’s about. It’s whatever you make it. Some people put up a Christmas tree and other people don’t.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flowers and chocolates, but it would be nice if it didn’t take such a commercially promoted for holiday for people to make gestures of love. I think that love is what makes it all spin.”
Next to him Saint remarks that she has been married 63 years. “What do you know about love!?” Farrell chimes in, delighting her. It’s his Irish insistence that you do not take people or things too seriously that completely charms her.
In the film Farrell plays one part of a pair of star-crossed lovers. When he meets Findlay’s character Beverly he comes to steal her jewels, but it’s his own heart that gets pilfered.
But no sooner than you can say love at first sight, we learn that Beverly is a desperately ill consumptive not long for this world, a wrinkle in the tale that will work itself out over the course of 100 years.
What’s remarkable about "Winter’s Tale" is that it asks hard-bitten adult audiences to believe in flying white horses and stunning coincidences, and syrupy assurances that everything that happens in life happens for a reason.
No one in New York City believes that. But even if you don’t surrender your disbelief you’ll still have fun at the idea that someone has made a movie that tries to convince you and in the process goes this far over the top.
There is real emotion in the love and loss experienced by Farrell’s character, though.
“He is consumed by a sense of loss,” Farrell says. “The later Peter Lake (who turns up 100 years after the events of first part of the movie) exists very uncomfortably in the present. His life is almost devoid of meaning because each day is a repitionn of the day before which he can never remember.
“It’s almost like he’s living in a 'Groundhog Day.' He goes to bed each night and he wakes up not knowing who he is the next day. He’s living a life that he has no reference for. He doesn’t know what his origin is. We as human beings judge ourselves on our own origin stories. Where we were born, what our family was like, how our cultural references informed our personalities.”
Love is what we live for, "Winter’s Tale" reminds us. Love can make the most ordinary day miraculous. That’s why we never tire of hearing about it, and Hollywood knows this better than anyplace else on earth.
"Winter’s Tale" is so replete with romance that it takes hours to get over it after you’ve left the theater. You’ll cry but far more often you’ll laugh.
Poor Peter wants to turn over a new leaf we learn, or at least, he doesn’t want to be quite as thuggish a thief as he used to be. It isn’t always necessary to break a finger to steal a ring he tells his boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).
But unbeknownst to Peter, Pearly is actually one of the Devil's henchmen. For Pearly, breaking fingers and shattering delicate dreams are actually part of his job description. So, he has no time for Peter’s newfound touchy feely empathy.
If this sounds weird or even preposterous to you dear reader, take heart. It sounded a little weird and preposterous to the preview audience I watched it with too. Director Goldsman isn’t fazed by the jaded reactions of New York elitists, though.
“This is a fairytale for grown ups,” he explains. “That’s what we set out to do. The reason it’s a fairy tale for grown ups is that life isn’t simple. So we include loss, but life doesn’t end with loss. It’s a Hail Mary to faith.”
But the thing is that faith is best discovered after it’s been sorely tested. When a magical flying horse appears in the first scene to fly you away from all your problems and challenges you don’t have any reason to have any doubts later on. The miracle happened before you even knew you didn’t believe in them.
Audiences can enjoy the ride and even laugh along, but they’ll know that no one ever gets off that lightly, even if "Winter’s Tale" wants to insist they sometimes do.
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