The deadpan romance movie The Lobster, which premiered more than a year ago at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, opened in mid-May in the U.S. and has clawed its way almost into the top 10 at the box office. In its opening weekend, the film scored the highest per screen average of 2015 (yep, more than Captain American: Civil War or Batman v Superman), mainly on the strength of great reviews (90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), including the one by EW’s Chris Nashawaty, who called The Lobster “the most original and beautifully strange love story since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — and my favorite film of the year so far.”
Colin Farrell stars in the film’s title role — well, kind of — as a recently divorced man who is sent to a countryside resort, where he’s given 45 days to find a partner or otherwise be turned into an animal of his choosing. (A lobster is his unorthodox pick.) Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, and Lea Sedoux costar in the film, directed by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, whose unsettling drama Dogtooth was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2010.
Farrell, who is scheduled to reunite with Lanthimos in the director’s upcoming film The Killing of a Sacred Deer, talked to EW about The Lobster‘s beautiful, elliptical ending. Employing language vague enough so not to spoil the movie for viewers that haven’t yet seen it (though still, caution advised), Farrell offered three explanations for what happens — and maybe what it all means.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, congratulations on The Lobster.
Colin Farrell: Oh, thanks. It’s such a beautiful, unique, absurd piece of filmmaking and there’s nothing else like it out there. I’m so happy that it’s got a chance to have a life in the States.
Finally. It was two years ago that you shot the film, right? And put on all that weight.
Yeah, I ate like my life depended on it. I put on quite a pile in eight weeks. About 43 pounds.
What was the motivation behind that?
Well, he wasn’t written that way. He wasn’t written with any physical definition at all. But myself and Yorgos had spoken about it and because this world was so unusual I wanted to have some physical separation from what I was used to. I’ve messed around with my body for roles, whether it was losing a load of weight or bulking up for action films. And so Yorgos and I talked about me dropping a bunch of weight and looking quite famished. But then I said, “I bet this guy was something of a comfort eater.” He’s probably not someone who ever realized that there was such a term as “let yourself go,” because there really is no consideration of the self. But he might’ve liked his grub.
See, that’s quite sweet actually. I’ve been surprised by a few people who have accused the film of being cruel.
Right, the cruel thing. Frankly, there’s some friends of mine who loved it and some friends who didn’t love it, but each one of them can’t deny that it’s a completely original piece of work. Obviously I know [co-screenwriter] Efthymis Filippou and [director] Yorgos Lanthimos very well, and I can say that in spirit neither of those men are cruel at all. But they do look upon the world and they can’t help but see the cruelties that abound in every aspect of life, whether it’s political or social or in education or health or in relationships. The world, as we know, is rampant with cruelty, and they’re fascinated with those machinations and the games that are played to gain power and oppress others.
And they do it with such great humor. Very early in the film, when your character is registering at the hotel, he asks the receptionist if there’s a bisexual option and she says, “I’m sorry, sir, that option is no longer available.”
[Laughs] Oh, don’t you love that? It says so much with just one little line.
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It’s an original script but if feels like the movie version of a great, textured novel by someone like Haruki Murakami or José Saramago.
Absolutely. You could also throw Chuck Palahniuk in there. And think about Kurt Vonnegut’s work, which, as socially searing as it is, has an inherent sweetness. As much as he criticized the systems that we live in, he’s about as hopeful a writer as you could have. And hope exists on the fringes of all of Yorgis’ work. And with The Lobster, it lets the audience decide what my character might do in the name of love.
Well, since you say that, let me ask you about the ending, and we can use non-specific terms. The real question is: Does he do it?
I couldn’t tell you. The writer and director can’t tell even you — and it’s not because we’re holding the answer close to our chests, but because there is no answer. In the film, there is no before; there is no after. That’s the thing about Yorgos. He doesn’t want to get into conversations with his actors about backstory and objective and intention. He casts people based on their work and he trusts that we’d all have an understanding of the tone that he was reaching for.
But…does he do it?
Honest to God, part of me thinks he does it. Then part of me thinks that when the camera cuts back to Rachel Weisz, I’m already in a f—ing Uber, heading down the road as fast as I can. And part of me goes to the third option.
That he doesn’t do it but he goes back to her and tells her that he did. There are so many different options.
And each kind of speaks to the viewer’s sensibility, right?
Yeah, and emotional proclivities and perspective and outlook on the world. I have friends who are more romantically inclined and they say, “Oh, absolutely he did it.” And I have friend who are a little bit more cynical about the games of romance and they went, “Oh, no f—ing way.” Each are as valid as the other, man.
But what about you? As an audience member, are you more romantic or cynical?
Hmm, it’s weird, I’m too close to it. For my final shot, we rolled film for five minutes, so I was allowed to fool around with it and get closer and hesitate. I had a lot of freedom to play with it and Yorgos had tons of footage to do what he wanted with. But I never took it past that point of deliberation.
You mention that Yorgos casts people based on their work and trusts that they’ll all get it. He did assemble one of the coolest casts here and you got to work with all of them.
Everywhere, man. I mean, Olivia Colman is extraordinary. Ben Whishaw is such a beautiful person and a beautiful actor. John C. Reilly is so deadpan and funny and Rachel and Lea Sedoux. Every one of them.
And the Greek actress Angeliki Papoulia. She plays the heartless woman.
Incredible, f—ing incredible. She’s worked with Yorgos before, so it was more true in her case, especially, but everyone seemed to have an idea of the tone. None of us got together and said, “Let’s all deliver our lines as slack as possible.” That wasn’t a general consensus that was arrived at. But we all as a collective descended on the script and understood somehow from each other how to be in harmony.
You’ve talked honestly about the ups and downs in your career, but how do you gauge those? I mean, Alexander made a lot more money than In Bruges, for example.
But it was In Bruges which was a great service to me, career wise.
Right. And The Lobster is such a fantastic movie, but it isn’t going to make $100 million. So how do you judge success?
Well, the idea of success and failure does afford you to create your own definitions of those things. Alexander was an experience that will stay with me forever. It was amazing to make and it tested me mentally and emotionally as well, because of the bad reception that it got. That experience strengthened me, it emboldened me, it made me ask questions about my own craft.
That’s a very good perspective.
Yeah, but ideally you never go to work to make a film that people are going to be disappointed in. I have put three or four months into work and been much more disappointed by films of mine that haven’t worked than the people who spent $12 and two hours of their time to see it. And at the same time I have a real regard for not wasting people’s time, but you never know. It’s such a crapshoot. So many things have to coalesce for a film to work. It’s a miracle that any films work, considering all the moving parts.