The actor described the project as “about as hard as film work can be”.
Colin Farrell has opened up about his “life-changing” experience shooting BBC Two drama The North Water, which is thought to have been filmed further north than any television drama before it.
Based on the novel by Ian McGuire, the new miniseries set in 1859 follows disgraced ex-army surgeon Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell) as he embarks on a treacherous whaling expedition in the Arctic.
Farrell co-stars as harpooner and violent thug Henry Drax, who proves to be a dangerous presence aboard the Volunteer, while the ship’s captain is distracted by other matters.
Wishing to capture the “grounded” nature of the book, writer-director Andrew Haigh settled on the ambitious task of filming in real-world locations, including the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
Set in Hull, England, and on the ice floes of the Arctic in the late 1850s, the series tells the story of Patrick Sumner (O’Connell), a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up as the ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. But the ferocity of the elements is matched by the violence of his crew mates, particularly Henry Drax (Farrell), a harpooner and distinctly brutal force of nature. As the true purpose of the expedition becomes clear, confrontation between the two men erupts, taking them on a journey far from solid ground and way beyond the safe moorings of civilization. The North Water’s location work took place primarily in the Arctic, shooting on the frozen seas north of the Svalbard Archipelago. The cast and production team sailed as far as 81 degrees north to film sequences in the pack ice, the furthest point north it is believed a drama series has ever filmed before. The North Water was made by See-Saw Films for the BBC.
At a press event for The North Water, Farrell said of the shoot: “It was life changing, to be honest. Obviously, you come back from it and your life looks exactly the same, but I felt that it was a really profound experience.”
“It was one of those experiences that sometimes you’re lucky enough to have in film. Where you go through the fire enough with people that you know that if you see them in 20 years, you’ll share the mutual acknowledgement that you went through an experience that was really significant and really profound and really changed you in ways that may reveal themselves through the years.”
Farrell went on to describe exactly why the environment of the show touched him on such an emotional level, revealing that he even felt compelled to keep a video diary for his children to watch.
“Just the space, just the vastness of it, the beauty of it and the silence that was up there,” he continued. “There was just this emptiness and this loneliness to the place that was very beautiful and very honest.
“It wasn’t the kind of loneliness that we can experience in the cities as people, when we’re around people and we feel lonely. This was the loneliness of when you hear people talk about human insignificance in the face of nature and the brutality of nature, the beauty of nature, the vastness of the scope of it – it was very much that every single day.”
Farrell added: “It was so beautiful and felt like such an honour to be up there in that part of the world that very few people have seen.”
The actor, also known for his roles in True Detective, Fantastic Beasts and hotly anticipated blockbuster The Batman, also underwent a physical transformation for the role of Henry Drax, adding to the visceral nature of the project.