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Colin Farrell spins a great 'Tale' NEW YORK - There are surly actors. Difficult actors. Withdrawn actors. And just plain weird ones. And then there's Colin Farrell, who by way of greeting wraps you in a bear hug and says, "Hi, love! How's your little boy?" When told that the boy in question just threw two pairs of shoes at his mom's head, Farrell bursts into laughter. "He sounds just like me! Were they the same pair? No? At least he's creative." Farrell is in frigid Manhattan to promote his romance, Winter's Tale, opening Friday. But during a lively chat at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, he has to be continuously nudged toward talking about his film. He'd rather discuss the difficulty of saying no to son Henry, 4, because he wants to be the likable and fun dad. Or how he's always been, and remains, terrified of flying and hitting turbulence. Or most impressively, in an industry that glorifies bad behavior, how he's stayed clean and sober for nearly a decade. "It's a huge thing. Eight years. Booze can be rough. All or most of my mates drink and I can be around drunk people. I have no issue with it in that way," says Farrell, 37. "For me, removing booze and drugs from my life freed me up to experience all the fears I had in my life so I could attempt to get over a few of them." Part of that has manifested itself in choosing roles not for money or acclaim, but based on his gut. In Tale, the Irish actor plays a thief who falls in love with a consumptive upper-class lass (Jessica Brown Findlay, best-known as Downton Abbey's doomed Lady Sybil Crawley). Farrell's Peter Lake has been abandoned by his parents and seeks a stable, loving place in a turbulent world. "Peter is a survivor, but a decent guy. He's not a bad guy. He's somebody who didn't have anyone to lean on, no familial structure, no societal structure. He does only steal from people who can afford it," says Farrell. Director Akiva Goldsman cast Farrell precisely because, he says, the actor can convincingly play a troublemaker with inner goodness. "He is somebody who has lived, he has experienced life, light and dark, and he carries that with him. It comes across that he's a good person. That's a rare commodity in our industry." Farrell makes no effort to airbrush his life or his reality: his time in rehab in 2005; the rewards and challenges of co-parenting his oldest son James, 10 (with former girlfriend Kim Bordenave), who suffers from Angelman syndrome , a disorder that results in intellectual and developmental disabilities; and the fact that quite often, films he was thrilled to be shooting wound up being less than masterful. How does he choose his roles? "Blindfolded! I don't think of stuff conceptually of what is happening in the industry, and maybe I should. I'm leaning more now towards stuff that's more affecting, that stays with me longer," he says. "Guns bore me, guns and politics." And while he loves being an actor, he's less than enamored of being away from his boys for months at a time when he could be home in Los Angeles. So he's become a lot more choosy. "It took me a long time to stop feeling so beholden in a kind of slouch-shouldered way to my good fortune. I remember the second film I did after Tigerland (2000),I was offered $300,000 for it," recalls Farrell. "And I was like, 'Oh my god!' People are starving and I can't say no to $300,000. But now, if I'm going to go away from home for three months, it better be something I'm drawn to and have an interest in." And while Farrell has worked with a Who's Who of directors - Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, Michael Mann - many of the films haven't turned out like he'd hoped. His next project is The Lobster, a science-fiction thriller directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos that starts shooting in Ireland in March and co-stars Rachel Weisz. "I'd like to have a better strike rate of films that work better than some of the things I've done. It's weird, and you never know," he says. Speaking of unexpected, can we please discuss his platonic friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, who died in 2011 at age 79? "I gotta be careful what I say. (Stupid) Internet. Friends were like, 'You were having an affair with Elizabeth Taylor?' I wish. I'd tried. She rebuffed me," Farrell says with a laugh. He met her in 2009, she invited him over, and he went to her home, where he sat in her garden. "She kept me waiting, rightly so, for about 15 minutes. She was late for her own funeral. That was in her will. We became friends. I got to know her for the last two years of her life." They'd chat on the phone a few nights a week because both were lousy sleepers. "We talked about love and dreams and traveling and a person's place in their own lives in relation to themselves. I had the deepest awe for her as a person. She really was my friend," says Farrell, still seeming to be stunned by the turn of events. "If I find myself sitting alone watching the sunset, I can find that romantic and I'm on my own. It was me having a conversation with Elizabeth Taylor at 2 in the morning in my back garden, smoking a cigarette, with the Santa Ana winds. And if that ain't romantic, I'm dead, I'm dead. I haven't got a pulse anymore or I have to go back on the sauce, because sobriety isn't working for me." "I saw the window come down and the lens come up, and I took Henry and I rushed him the four yards to my car,'' says Farrell. "I thought to myself, 'I'm sending signals to him of fear and anxiety and he has no idea why.' Paparazzi are a pain. But the onus is on me to dilute whatever effect they have on me. "The biggest interesting thing about me is, has he had a venti or grande chai latte? I do nothing now. I am so boring. The furthest thing from bored, but so boring, and that's just fine."