The first time I saw Eamon Farren, he was savagely beating a young woman to remove any witnesses from a murder scene in a small Washington town. In late 2018, I looked on helplessly as his clicking typewriter spelt out cryptic acts of unspeakable horror to an ageing Hercule Poirot. So, as his six foot frame prowls towards my table at the Ivy Chelsea Garden, my instinct is to run away.
But I sit tight, and thankfully so — for it take less than two seconds for my misgivings to be swept off the table. True, Farren might have all the features of a pre-mixed villain (cut-yourself cheekbones, a relentless gaze, a sinister screen presence), but he talks laughingly in a Gold Coast drawl as we place our food order, “I was looking for a scone, but that’s too fancy for us — let’s have crumpets!”
“I think we allow ourselves to sit within the horribleness...”
We meet a few short weeks before the bumper Christmas TV guides will hail his latest project, The ABC Murders, as the unmissable drama of the season. The project is one in a string of outrageously successful Sarah Phelps adaptations of Agatha Christie novels — and will, on Boxing Day, treat the country to a quintessential Poirot mystery. Since then he’s gone on to play Cahir, the comical, musical foil to Henry Cavill’s brooding Geralt, in Netflix’s The Witcher, the second season of which is due to hit screens in 2021.
Over breakfast, the 33-year-old actor describes sharing a screen John Malkovich, wishing he’d discovered Russian literature sooner, and what it is about Agatha Christie’s fiction that continues to capture our imagination.
On sitting with the darkness...
The first thing you should know about Eamon Farren is that he has a fascination with the grisly. “Everyone is really fascinated with the humanity of the horrible,” he admits. “It’s about trying to understand the why and the how. It accounts for why true crime podcasts like Serial have gotten so huge.”
“Murder and the darkness is so intimately tied to all of us,” Farren continues. “One of the most exciting things in drama is the exploration of what it takes to make someone kill. That can be an uncomfortable question for some people, but I think fuck that! It’s true!”
Again, any discomfort Farren’s theory could have stirred up inside me is swiftly washed away by his distinctly Aussie chuckle. “I think we allow ourselves to sit within the horribleness,” he laughs. “It’s more delicious to sit within it!
“And I like playing complicated people — that’s the challenge. I like the darkness. Because nobody wants to know about your dreams. They want to know about the shit stuff — I think it’s about intimacy.”
On working with a master...
In The ABC Murders, Farren certainly had plenty of darkness to sink his teeth into as Cust, an unnerving character harbouring dark secrets in a distinctly creepy 1930s boarding house. And, when he finally goes toe-to-toe with John Malkovich’s ageing Poirot, things get really dicey.
“In the actual show, we spend a lot of time mirroring, chasing or surrounding each other” explains Farren, “so we didn’t see much of each other on set. But it was incredible to be able to sit in a back room with that guy and hear some of his great stories. He’s obviously a titan.”
"It’s really just about being nosy — I’m always looking for the shit!”
“I love actors who are able to be a bit strange sometimes — and who have an understanding of the reaches that humans can go to,” Farren continues. “Malkovich pulls stuff out of you because he’s so present, and that’s the best gift another actor can give you.”
On having no Plan B...
But grubby 1930s London couldn’t be further from the sun-soaked Australian beaches where Farren grew up. “Surfing was basically a subject at my school,” he quips.
But he didn’t spend all of his time on the waves. As a child, the actor used to watch The Wizard of Oz every night. “My mum says that I would focus on one character each time,” he smiles. “So, one day, I’d watch everything that the Tin Man was doing. The next day, it would be the Scarecrow.”
"Studies of humans who are broken, or breaking, or rising — they’re very familiar to us..."
So was acting the plan from the beginning? “There was never another option,” says Farren firmly. “And I don’t mean to be coy with that answer. I auditioned for drama school when I was just out of high school, but got told to come back in a year.”
“I hadn’t really fostered any other skill, so I asked a friend what he was doing at university. He said International Business and Economics — so I tried that! Six months into the course, my economics lecturer pulled me to one side and said ‘I think you should audition for drama school.'”
For Farren, it seems that storytelling has been about making sense of the world around him as much as entertaining audiences. “Plays and characters gave me that sense of safety,” he says, “because I was investigating everything from pain and loneliness to pride and happiness. It’s not just people in single parent families who have that experience but, if that is your situation, you are exposed very early to a lot of adult dimensions of relationships.”
This upbringing clearly brought about a natural curiosity. “I’ve always wanted to investigate people in different dynamics,” says the actor.
“Those inquisitive natures are what make really interesting people, not just actors. It’s really just about being nosy and deep-diving into other people’s problems — I’m always looking for the shit!”
On feeling troubled...
As with all great characters, be they good or bad, Farren believes there is much to be learned from the villains and heroes we see on screen.
“We have many examples of brokenness in this show,” he says about Malkovich’s Poirot — a far cry from David Suchet’s self-assured, mustachioed Belgian. “It’s that great old adage of ‘youth is wasted on the young’ because there can be so many shiftings in your life that mean you have to be reborn.”
These troubled stories, it seems, are the ones Farren loves best. “They’re brilliant,” he says, nodding his head in agreement. “You find it in all the great Russian literature, too — these studies of humans who are broken, or breaking, or redeeming or rising. They’re very familiar to us — and that’s why they work as entertainment.”
“It’s all horrible paranoia and gritty, shitty humanity.” And who can’t relate to that now and again?
Looking for more celebrity interviews? We chatted with the star of Yesterday, Himesh Patel…
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