Colin Farrell has the Brad Pitt curse; he has the talent of a character actor but he's too hot to be anything but a leading man. As such, Hollywood didn't quite know what to do with him during his breakout in the 2000s.
I'd point to two directors who best understand how to use Farrell. First, there's the man who discovered him: Joel Schumacher. In their second collaboration, "Phone Booth," Farrell played Stu Shepard, a sleazy PR operative who has to confront his sins. Some early proof he was more than just a pretty boy.
Then there's Martin McDonagh, director of "In Bruges" which is, for my money, still Farrell's best movie. When I watched Farrell play Ray, a fledgling hitman hiding out in Belgium after a job gone wrong, I realized what a great, and hilarious, actor he can be. The resulting story is the funniest movie ever made about Catholic guilt and suicidal ideation. Farrell thought McDonagh's script was brilliant — so brilliant, in fact, he tried to talk the writer-director out of casting him.
Too Much Baggage
Colin Farrell told this story in a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable of 2022's Best Actor contenders. When Martin McDonagh asked why his chosen star wasn't taking yes for an answer, Farrell answered, "This script is so good. You don't want anyone coming in with the baggage that I have." What baggage does he mean?
After his promising breakout in "Tigerland," Farrell's career had a rocky start. His campy performance as Bullseye in 2003's "Daredevil" was memorable for the wrong reasons. The next year, he played Alexander the Great in Oliver Stone's eponymous epic — and according to Farrell, that's when he really started to question himself:
"They had all the printed reviews […] 'Alexander the Dull,' 'Alexander the Boring,' 'Alexander the Inarticulate,' 'Alexander the Weak.' I was like, 'Holy s***.' I thought, 'What can I do?' I felt so much shame. I found myself in a place where with everyone I met I wanted to say, 'Have you seen 'Alexander'? If you have, I'm really sorry.' I'm not even joking."
There are gems in Farrell's early filmography, such as Terrence Malick's "The New World," where he plays John Smith opposite Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas. "Miami Vice" has also been reclaimed as a classic. Still, it wasn't a hit at the time, and overall, the bad outweighs the good.
Farrell's offscreen life wasn't great either. He dated everyone from Britney Spears to Elizabeth Taylor, and a sex tape of his was leaked in 2006. Just the year before, he underwent rehab for alcoholism and drug addiction. Farrell has since been open about his regrets from this period in his life.
When offered "In Bruges," Farrell fit a lot of the negative stereotypes about Hollywood actors and, thanks to his unimpressive resume, wasn't even considered that bankable. But McDonagh wasn't listening.
According to Colin Farrell, Martin McDonagh "noted" his concerns but they didn't change his mind. Thus, Farrell accepted the part and experienced his "big turning point" as an actor. Part of that turning was how he found new creative partners — not only with McDonagh but with his co-star, Brendan Gleeson. Farrell sang Gleeson's praises at the THR roundtable:
"And Brendan I adore — he's a soulmate. It doesn't make sense — we're so different in age and look, we live very different lives, we move through the world in very different ways, and yet, I swear to God, I've known him longer than the 46 years of my life."
He also started to choose smaller films like "In Bruges." The panned 2012 remake of "Total Recall" was when he finally put being an action hero behind him and his career's been better for it. He excelled in the offbeat, pitch-black comedy of Yorgos Lathimos in "The Lobster" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," while he put his good looks to sinister use in Sofia Coppola's 2017 remake of "The Beguiled."
Farrell had an especially good 2022. He kicked the year off with a quietly moving performance as a determined father in "After Yang." And even in "The Batman," an undeniable blockbuster, he played Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin (under heavy make-up), delivering a scene-chewing performance that's purposefully funny, not unintentionally so like Bullseye. Best of all, there was "The Banshees of Inisherin," where Farrell worked again with McDonagh and Gleeson and won his second Golden Globe (the first was for, you guessed it, "In Bruges"). Offscreen, he's also avoided any relapses.
The upswing in Farrell's career can be traced to him saying yes to "In Bruges." It's also proof that you can't let your mistakes determine your potential.
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