He's had articles devoted to the lustrous properties of his eyelashes, pancreatic cancer (one of the most hardy forms) and a marriage with Judy Davis yielding two children. FILMINK's Julian Shaw caught up with the warm, almost corrosively self-deprecating Colin Friels to discuss acting, religion, globalisation and Malcolm, the little Aussie film that could.
You've pulled away from a career in commercial cinema. Do you find the way those movies are made repellent?
“I don't know much about it. I'd say it's all about making money. It's ludicrous. It puts me off. Here we are, the punters, and we have to do the books. I don't want to fucking do that. There's repugnance in the amount of money that gets spent and the amount of money certain people get paid. It's obscene. It's probably all that globalisation isn't it? I remember one time I had to go to Vancouver a few years ago and I woke up in the plane and thought I could be in Sydney or I could be in San Francisco – it's all the same. I heard someone say the market will decide what's remembered. I hate that thought. The events of September 11 have shown that the market is bullshit.”
What is the difference in sensibilities between you and your wife – who obviously thrives in Hollywood?
“She's got a different view, a much broader cultural palate. I'm narrower. I'm not against anyone doing it; I'm just not comfortable. I realised to be successful I'd have to turn myself into an American actor. I didn't want to do it – it didn't ring true to me. So that's my story.”
You won the AFI for Malcolm…
“God, I did too. I didn't even think of that. I always thought Johnny Hargreaves was the standout. He was my favourite. My performance was just ok. Any Joe blow could have played Malcolm, there was so much sympathy in the role. You just had to play it real – he's real to the world, he's surveyable to everything.”
Funny that the film has such an immoral turn…
“Totally immoral. We rob a bank. We get away with it. Malcolm is pliable; he's gullible as anything. He's neither good nor bad. He is what he is.”
You appear briefly in The Man Who Sued God as Billy Connolly's brother. Where does God exist in your life?
“It doesn't. I'm not religious. Church dogma – any dogma – is blind, black, dead. You can't make people live in fear of dogma. I have faith in humanity – that's all that's going to matter at the end of the day. It's what gets me through. Organised religion is pretty dark. When I was a kid and I used to go to church it was like this big black cloud came over me. A couple of times were enough for me. But conceptually, philosophically, I really like thinking about it. It's the slant that society put on Christianity or Judaism – not always the roots. Look at the religious battles we have. As far as I'm concerned what counts is the respect you have for people. I agreed to come here and talk to you about this stuff. What's the point in me not respecting you – I don't know you. Whereas if someone is a Catholic and someone else is a Protestant, well – they're not going to like each other very much from the start. It can be a very dangerous place. I'm so lucky to have the job I do. You can get free of all those shackles and you can examine them. 'Why is that? Why do I have to agree to that?' When things don't make sense there is usually a lie behind them. When somebody is telling you something and you don't believe it there is usually some bit of bullshit behind it.”
You've rebuked so-called 'method acting'…
“If you've got a method of how to act or how to make a film the end result is a sham. Look, I have no regrets. I sometimes go into deep states of depression when work dries up. I wouldn't change places with anyone though. In my true heart of hearts there's no way. Every time I start to work I feel like it's the first time and I'd hate to lose that feeling. I don't feel any different to when I was 18 and starving. Now that I'm 49 I'm probably more keenly enthusiastic than I was then. If you think: 'I know how to do this – I'll just walk through it', then you're dead.”
Judging from the mercurial prowess that coils in Friels (the warm-hearted, family-geared antithesis to his less-resolved contemporaries), just behind those cobalt eyes it seems safe to say that his most essential and lithe performances may be in the works; he is an actor prone to epiphany and his course should remain (thankfully) unpredictable.