Colin Farrell says he feared for his life filming The North Water series in the Arctic
‘I did feel that death was just around the corner at any given time’
Colin Farrell has revealed how he felt “death was just around the corner” during filming for the TVNZ+ period drama series The North Water.
The Dubliner said there were moments that he feared for his life as shooting in the Arctic Ocean posed frightening challenges for the crew.
“I did feel that death was just around the corner at any given time,” he has said. “That we were just one mistake away from someone falling into the Arctic sea and either very quickly getting hypothermia or sinking under the weight of the waterlogged costume.
“There were also polar bears around, who were beautiful and elegant and majestic but also apex predators. It was a very profound experience for us all to share.”
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Ian McGuire and is set primarily in 1859. It takes place aboard whaling ship The Volunteer across the Arctic landscape, with disgraced surgeon Patrick Sumner (Jack O'Connell) and harpooner Henry Drax (Farrell) playing the two lead characters.
Farrell, who was recently Academy Award nominated for his role in The Banshees Of Inisherin, said that working on North Water was a chance to be “immersed in this world that was so exotic, so brutal and so different”.
“Usually they would shoot this film in a tank,” he revealed.
“You might go out on to the Irish Sea, or maybe off the coast of England or Scotland, a little bit towards the North Sea, and you’d do a week or two out there and get grand vistas. But Andrew (director Andrew Haigh) insisted we went up there, up to the 82nd parallel.”
The crew were isolated on a boat with no mobile or internet reception over the four weeks of filming.
And while there was a bar on the observation deck that was open for two hours each night, Farrell, a teetotaller, stayed down in his cabin and watched The Hobbit.
The crew kept a watch out for floating ice packs where they could film while spotters armed with riles to fire warning shots kept a look out for polar bears.
Haigh later admitted, “I was terrified. We all were. None of us really knew what to expect. I’d been on some scouts up there, so I had seen the environment already, but it was nerve-racking to know that we were going to be on a boat for a month, all the crew, all the cast, in very close quarters.
“You feel very privileged to be in that environment and that part of the world. We had very few days off in the Arctic, but you’d go on to the deck and see a family of polar bears climbing across the ice.
“And I like a challenge I suppose. I knew that it would be challenging and that brings an energy to what you’re filming.”
However, Farrell acknowledged how filming in such a harsh environment was crucial to the success of the production.
“It instantly created a sense of tension and pressure. Your body, physiologically, is responding in a way and with an aggression that my body has never responded to the environment with before, because it’s never been in an environment like that. Even that, instantly, whether you like it or not, removes you from what is familiar in your reality, my reality.
“There wasn’t much room for rehearsal, but we had a little time to get familiar with boats and rowing. We had this collective communal experience and then each of us had our own individual profound experience of being up in that beautiful, hostile part of the world.”
Some cast members even embraced the polar dip which is considered a rite of passage while shooting so far north
“God, it was cold, to state the obvious,” says Farrell. “It was terrifying. I only went in the once, but I think Jack O’Connell went in a couple of times. He got the bit in his teeth. I was in and out fast.”
Speaking previously, Farrell revealed the physical transformation he went through to take on the role.
“I put on a pile of weight for it,” he said, “which I won’t be doing ever again.
“That was the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself physically. It gave me all sorts of heart palpitations, swollen feet, all fu**ing weird stuff.”
In order to embody the character of Henry Drax, Farrell said he lifted weights and ate.
"Anyone could do it really, although I wouldn’t advise it. And that was it. You couldn't take off the costume.
"I couldn't really step away from the character. I couldn't get out of the costume, he was always with me.
"It was a great benefit to me because it just meant 24 hours a day, seven days a week for however many weeks we shot, I was constantly inhabiting this physical space that was very different for me.
"But I never lose sight of what a fortunate position I’m in to be able to make a living telling stories,” he added. “You know, that’s it. It’s an incredible job that I get to share with other people.
“In a world that’s as fractured as it is, we share a sense of common purpose on a film set. You don’t walk on set and hear ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’; they can be very tense places. But there’s a sense of togetherness that’s awesome to experience.”
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