'The Way Back’ is Peter Weir's awe-inspiring epic inspired by the true events of a group of escaped prisoners from a Siberian gulag in 1940. The film is based on several sources, most notably the Slavomir Rawicz book ‘The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom’. The book is Rawicz's account of being captured by the Red Army in 1939 and his journey to freedom with other inmates, who crossed the Siberian arctic, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas, before finally settling in Tibet and India. The film features a fantastic cast in Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Mark Strong and Saoirse Ronan. Check out what Colin Farrell had to say about the film below.
I read that you didn't see Valka as the character you necessarily wanted to play. Was it easy to research where this guy came from?
Colin Farrell: From reading the script I saw Valka as a big stretch. It was something that was incredibly disparate to anything I'd approached before. I had no relationship to that time in history, or that country, so I knew it'd be a journey of discovery, and that's exactly what it proved to be.
To be honest Valka was one of my least favourite characters to play. I felt very sad, he's a very lonely fella, but he's also somebody who's at once a victim of and a huge proponent of the system which formed him. I found that really, really interesting.
The tattoos Valka sports in the film are a big part of his character…
Colin Farrell: There's an incredible, incredible significance to every single drop of ink that appears on any of these men's bodies, much more so than the couple of drunk markings I have on my body (laughs). But each single tattoo referenced either a crime committed or an amount of time done. Again, it was just something that was very foreign to me, that was very exotic, as was the accent and the language.
Valka does this spectacular turnaround at the border post and goes into the distance. This might be a bit of a tough question, but did you ever posit what might have happened to him afterwards?
Colin Farrell: Absolutely yeah. It just kept coming to me that he died in the first town he made it to. That he died in a tavern, got stabbed in a tavern.
Do you think he had a death wish in the end?
Colin Farrell: No not at all. I mean how deep do you want to get into his conscious life and his behaviour and what he was inspired by? Nature, nurture, all that jazz. He certainly didn't have a……a joie de vivre. The world of the Gulag made great sense to him, it was something that he could exist within the confines of, or as he would imagine it the liberty of, the outside world was the world that didn't make sense to him.
What were the main challenges of the shoot for you?
Colin Farrell: I didn't have to deal with the heat, it was just freezing cold in Bulgaria. We were there right in the middle of winter. The whole city (Sofia) was covered in two or three feet of snow. We started off shooting in the Gulag which they built to extremely painful detail, it was just stunning-looking, but incredibly harsh and incredibly foreboding. The environment certainly did a lot of work for you.
At moments it smashed the line between reality and fiction, and I say that with ABSOLUTE respect for the level of comfort that we still worked within, but sometimes there were moments where the line between reality and fiction was smashed, and that was where you are literally trying to get through what you're trying to get through, to the best of your ability, without being conscious of anyone observing. A heater and a cup of tea was always within walking distance but it was very harsh.
I found the inaction, or seeming inaction hard. There were days on end where you had nothing to do but walk, and to stay focused and to stay close to whatever you deemed was your character's gait, your character's thoughts. This was actually an exercise in the patience of just ‘being’. It was interesting.