Colin Farrell said he wanted to star in Disney’s live-action remake of Dumbo as soon as he heard Tim Burton would be in the director’s chair.
The Irish actor plays a wounded soldier returning from war to find the circus he once starred in has fallen on hard times, while his two children are recovering from the death of their mother.
The arrival of a baby elephant with the ability to fly thanks to his enormous ears breathes new life into the circus, but problems arise when word of the animal’s extraordinary power spreads.
Farrell, 42, said acclaimed filmmaker Burton, known for his eccentric and often dark movies, was one of the main reasons he wanted to appear in Dumbo.
Speaking at Dumbo’s world premiere in Los Angeles, he told the Press Association: “I heard that Tim was doing this film and when I heard those three words, ‘Tim Burton Dumbo’, I thought what a tasty gig this would be to be a part of.
“And then I read the script and I was moved by it and I could only imagine how Tim would bring this world to life. So to be part of the elaborate and colourful world of this circus was extraordinary.
“But more than that at its core was this central message of inclusion and celebrating difference and the importance of family. It was a dream.”
Farrell, also known for starring in films such as Phone Booth and In Bruges, added: “I’ve been wanting to work with Tim for as long as I’ve been an actor and I’ve been a fan of his for longer than that, since I saw Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, I don’t know if I was 13 or 14. So it was a dream.”
Dumbo is a modern-day interpretation of Disney’s original 1941 animated film and uses a mix of live-action and CGI, with many of the animals, including the big-eared main character, computer animated.
It also stars Danny DeVito as circus ringmaster Max Medici and Michael Keaton as VA Vandevere, a ruthless businessman seeking to exploit Dumbo.
Despite his critical acclaim with films such as Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Burton has been criticised for an alleged lack of diversity in his films.
Deobia Oparei, a British actor of Nigerian descent who stars as a circus strong man in Dumbo, said “more can be done all the time” in terms of diversity but praised Burton as “very respectful”.
He said: “I guess as an actor being in the business I feel you’ve got to work and you’ve got move on and you’ve got to make your luck and make your opportunities even in the dearth of roles there are.
“But I think the game has changed. I never really liked that word: diversity. Diversity is the angel of life. I think it’s more now the entertainment world going, ‘we have to reflect the world’.
“And reflecting the world means we have to have women, people of colour, the LGBT community in prominent roles. Not just the sidekick, not just on the margin of life but at the centre of life. Because that’s what the world is and now that’s been reflected it’s really exciting.”
Dumbo will be released in UK cinemas on March 29.