Neil Jordan and Colin Farrell, in New York for the screening of their film Ondine at the Tribeca Film Festival in late April, make an amusingly mismatched couple: Farrell, guarded with dark good looks and mix of bohemian and working-man apparel; Jordan, rumpled in an oversized shirt and a skeptical sneer.
The pair share an Irish background - and careers whose fortunes seem to rise and fall based on their films' relationship to the Hollywood studios. Jordan, 60, won an Oscar (and was nominated for another) for the indy classic The Crying Game - but his last film before Ondine was The Brave One, a studio bomb starring Jodie Foster.
Farrell, 34, had a reputation as an actor of range and subtlety, then nearly squandered his reputation by allowing himself to be slotted into one big-budget Hollywood dud after another: Alexander, SWAT, Miami Vice. But by moving back to smaller-scale independent films - such as In Bruges, Triage and now Ondine - he has reestablished himself as an actor to watch.
The two of them chatted about Ondine, in which Farrell plays a fisherman, a reformed alcoholic in a small Irish town, who gets a new lease on life when he pulls a young woman up in his fishing net - and suspects that she might be a mythical selkie, a sea creature capable of shifting to human form on land.
Q: Why would this guy believe that this woman is actually a selkie?
Farrell: The sea always offers up incredible stories of survivors' fortitude. Myths of a lot of countries have variations on that. This particular man has spent a lot of the past 10 years in a marriage that was dying or flat on the floor. Here's the perfect opportunity to take what his business is and offer it up. I think he allows himself the suspension of disbelief. He doesn't ask questions. He's like Marlon Brando in Last Tango: Don't tell me too much. Until the myth infects him with the reality of the circumstances.
Q: Where did the idea come from?
Jordan: Just an idea I had. When the idea came into my mind, I began reading all the things I read when I was a kid. I thought of western Ireland because things were not extremely real.
Farrell: Magic is at the core of myths.
Q: Is the world too modern for a myth like this to really capture the imagination?
Jordan: The country has become very quotidian, with its projects of modernity. With the economic collapse, it's all coming back.
Farrell: He says to her, "What are you?" He can only stretch to a certain degree and then he crumbles. The reality becomes a fairy tale, a better alternative than the life he's dealing with. He's somebody who's experienced pain, who equates love with loss. He can make her be what he wants her to be.
Q: A good chunk of the film was filmed on the ocean. How challenging is that?