Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson took the stage at the Arlington Theatre on Feb. 16 to receive the Cinema Vanguard Award at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival for their performances in “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
The award — presented to them by the film’s director, Martin McDonagh — celebrated their contribution to film over the course of their careers and highlighted creative risks the pair had taken in their previous work that expanded the foundation of their craft.
Before the presentation, the two recalled some of their past roles in a discussion mediated by Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger. Unlike recent recipients of the award (Benedict Cumberbatch, Carey Mulligan, Laura Dern and Michael B. Jordan), Farrell and Gleeson were awarded for their accomplishments made together.
“The Banshees of Inisherin,” which follows lifelong friends Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) after their relationship meets a sudden end, has earned both actors their first Academy Award nominations, as well as McDonagh in the directing and screenplay categories. The trio also received appreciation from fans for their work together on the 2008 film “In Bruges,” whose mention garnered the most applause. Farrell and Gleeson were eager to share stories about their careers and friendship, and their comedic skill was evident in the raucous laughter they were met with throughout the night.
Karger began the night by noting Gleeson’s time spent as a schoolteacher before turning to acting, about which he joked, “I was absolutely eaten alive by the pupils.” He recalled that on his first day, he warned his students that any attempts to cause trouble would be useless by telling them, “I went to this school, I know all the tricks, forget about it — they didn’t, they destroyed me.”
When asked about reinhabiting the role of a teacher in “Harry Potter,” Gleeson shared one on-set memory of “pegging a piece of chalk” at one of the child actors during a take, all of whom were completely taken by surprise “except one Irish kid … he just dodged very quickly.”
On the success of “In Bruges” and his subsequent Golden Globes win, Farrell said there was no bad blood between him and Gleeson, who had also been nominated, saying, “I know he wishes the best for me and wants only good things to happen for me, and I know that he knows that I only wish the best for him and want only good things to happen for him … and so after two months he started returning my calls.” He also credited writer and director McDonagh with helping to facilitate a positive shift in his career. Farrell confessed that he initially refused the role of Ray in “In Bruges” because he feared attaching his name to the project would deter audiences from seeing the film. However, the packed theater served as a testament to just how beloved the trio’s work together truly is.
Farrell gave a nod to fans of his more recent performance as the Penguin in the 2022 film, “The Batman.” He also confirmed that he would begin shooting the HBO Max series centered on the same character at the end of February.
Later in the night, McDonagh looked back on the early memories of him and the two actors, describing both as “wonderful, wonderful human beings.” Gleeson, whom he met at an almost nine-hour-long showing of his first Irish plays, “stayed all the way to the end, and didn’t even seem pissed off about it.” In contrast, the first time he met with Farrell was in a pub in London during a night he “can’t remember a single thing about.” Cheekily, he said there was a “much more risqué” version of the story that Farrell had forbidden him from telling.
McDonagh recalled that during the early development of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” he had sent a draft of the script to Farrell and Gleeson stating, “Colin loved it, Brendan thought it was one of the worst things he had ever read.” After finishing his next film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” he returned to the script, and eventually it made its way back into the hands of the main cast.
Gleeson took time to thank his wife Mary and dedicate the award to her in his acceptance speech, and Farrell thanked his sister Claudine for her support throughout his career. The latter also joked that McDonagh’s presentation speech made up the only “seven nice things” he had ever said about him. Despite his joke, in the same breath Farrell gave a heartwarming tribute using the words of Irish poet John O’Donohue and the phrase “Anam Cara,” a Gaelic saying he translated to “heart friend … the people you meet in your life that are your soulmates.”
Farrell claimed there was no way to make sense of his relationship with both Gleeson and McDonagh, because “[their] friendship and [their] love is not conditional.” Elaborating further, the actor said that while “the heart gets served in friendship at all times, the idea of an Anam Cara is that it defies any quantification — I just love the two of them very much and I’m so grateful for them being in my life.”
Much of the event felt celebratory of the friendship between Farrell and Gleeson — who were referred to several times as the “chocolate and the peanut butter of the acting world” — and how it informed their performances in “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Exceedingly admiring of each other, they accepted every compliment with the earnest appreciation of old friends. Farrell touchingly summed up much of their relationship in a line about his character Pádraic, who, in his words, “saw and felt the best of himself, as we often do, through the eyes of his closest friend.”