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“It’s the weakness sometimes of what people who claim to be strong, perceive as weakness, is where the seeds of change lives,” Farrell told a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival for Widows in explaining the use of the racial epithet in a scene where his character, Tom Mulligan, has a violent argument with his politician father, Jack Mulligan (Robert Duvall).
“The majority of, if not all the wrongdoings, in the world take place in silent conversations. … So this is a conversation that been going on between him and his father,” the actor explained. He added that Tom appears only marginally better than his father when he barely flinches in reaction to his father’s racially charged rant.
“Not to defend him, but God bless Jack Mulligan, because the slightest tilt of his head when his father uses that N-word is about all that man (Tom) can manage at that point,” Farrell insisted of his deeply flawed character.
McQueen — who, in his first film since 12 Years a Slave, directed an ensemble cast that includes Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo — also defended the use of the racial expletive for authenticity. “We’re no fools. We have to project reality onscreen, because that’s what art is about, and we have to transform it and reveal it,” he told the TIFF press conference.
Based on a U.K. TV series, Widows was co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and tells the story of four women who band together to repay the debt left by their criminally connected dead husbands. Davis said her character in McQueen’s crime thriller appealed to her because misfortune forces the four widows through a crucible of change.
“I think it’s only when you’re in dire circumstances that you see what you’re made of. When you have it easy, you can definitely wear the mask of grins and lies,” the actress insisted. “Change happens when you’re forced into it, kicking and screaming. And these women are forced to take control of their lives.”
The festival continues through Sept. 16.
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