Maybe it was ‘Alexander’, maybe it was the difficult shoot of ‘Miami Vice’, or maybe it was just that the time for a backlash had arrived, but Colin Farrell seemed to go from Hollywood golden boy to yesterday’s man almost overnight.
With his undeniable charm, good looks and foul mouth, Farrell was embraced by America for being so darn sexy, and so darn down-to-earth. Not for Farrell the traditional softly-softly approach of most young Hollywood hopefuls. Here was a dashing young actor built for the modern world – cute, rugged, and not afraid to call a spade a f**kin’ shovel.
So, what went wrong? Well, ‘Alexander’ – Oliver Stone’s overblown biopic of the Macedonian king – certainly didn’t help. Neither did ‘Miami Vice’ – Michael Mann’s overblown, straight-faced big-screen adaptation of the sun-kissed TV cop series he created in the 1980s. As both movies bombed at the box-office, Farrell began to buckle under the weight of his own stardom – and all the delirious, dazzling and sometimes skanky trappings that came with it. It didn’t help when you have sex tapes spreading through the internet like a virus, and crazies like Dessarae Bradford filing $10million lawsuits against you. Recently arrested for prostitution, Bradford was famous for being the author of the books ‘I f**ked Alec Baldwin In His Ass’ until she got the Irish actor in her sights, inspiring a second book, ‘Colin Farrell: A Dark Twisted Puppy’, and a song, ‘Colin Farrell Is My Bitch’. Add in two major flops in a row, and is it any wonder our boy’s once-glittering career was suddenly derailed?
When I met up with Colin Farrell in Dublin last week, he looked healthy and happy. The chick-repelling moustache he’d grown for ‘Miami Vice’ was long gone, as was the Supermac’s assistant manager peroxide hair he’d unwisely employed for ‘Alexander’. What was also missing was that twinkle in the eye, reduced now to a wary glance. It would seem his E! True Hollywood Story days are now behind him.
“I’m happy making the films I want to make right now,” says the 31-year old, Castleknock-born actor. “I really don’t think about anything other than the script, the director, the other actors – all the important stuff. Everything else in this business is largely nonsense.” The trouble is, when Farrell had Hollywood at his feet, he chose to make movies like ‘S.W.A.T.’ and ‘The Recruit’. Movies that even Steven Seagal might have thought twice about signing on to. And so, after a spell in hiding, as he licked his wounds and examined the damage, Farrell is stepping back into the limelight with two decidedly non-Hollywood films. Later this year, we’ll get a chance to see our boy opposite another struggling pretty boy, Ewan McGregor, in Woody Allen’s ‘Cassandra Dreaming’.
Before that, it’s ‘In Bruges’, a likeable comedy about two hit men holed up in Belgium’s medieval capital for two weeks. The man behind the camera is the celebrated playwright Martin McDonagh, making his feature film debut after an Oscar win for his 2004 short ‘Shooter’, led by Brendan Gleeson, who turns up alongside Farrell in In Bruges.
Inspired to write this ‘Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega-do-I Went Down hitmen-on-holiday’ comedy after a short but almost-instantly dull visit to the Belgian city, McDonagh has, by his own admission, always wanted to direct movies, becoming a playwright by default. His trademark mix of black comedy and bloody violence are all present and correct in ‘In Bruges’, but, away from the charity of theatre, the often obvious gags ring hollow on screen.
So, what grabbed Farrell? The chance to work with McDonagh? The script? Gleeson? Getting to karate chop a dwarf? “Well, it has to be the last one,” he smiles. “I’ve long held a wish that I would one day karate chop a dwarf, and this movie only goes to prove that, if you hang on to your dream, through thick and through thin, one day, it will come true.” Without giving too much of the plot away, Farrell’s self-confessed philistine Ray has more than a little trouble with Gleeson’s bookworm Ken, the latter keen to make the most of Bruge’s many historical landmarks. The former, on the other hand, only gets truly excited when he notices there’s a film crew in town, and they’re making a movie with midgets. And so the battle of culture and fun commences, a battle that most actors have to contend with if they want to enjoy a long and illustrious career. “I think there’s plenty of room for both,” nods Farrell, “but you do have to take into consideration what is going to be commercial and what is going to be cultural. I think there’s a balance there when you’re dealing with someone like Woody Allen, or Martin McDonagh.
“In the past, it’s sometimes been one or the other – a big, dumb Hollywood movie like ‘S.W.A.T.’, or something a little more challenging, like ‘A Home At The End Of The World’ or ‘The New World’. If I had to choose, I’d definitely go for the latter, but you can still have some fun there too.”
Having recently completed the Irish-American-family-at-war drama ‘Pride And Glory’ alongside Edward Norton, Farrell will next be shooting Phillip Noyce’s adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel ‘Dirt Music’, set in the Australian outback. “Again, movies that aren’t designed to open at no.1 at the US box-office, and then be forgotten the following weekend when the next big thing comes around,” says Farrell. “These are the kind of movies that have a life beyond the opening weekend, and they’re the kind of movies I want to make, you know. It’s not that I’ve got anything against big Hollywood movies that are designed purely to entertain – there are many great big Hollywood movies – it’s just that, for me, for now, I’d rather make a different kind of movie.”
And let’s not forget there’s 4-year old James Padraig to consider now too – his dad will one day have to stand by the work he’s doing now. “Absolutely, you want to make movies that you can be proud of,” says Farrell, “but I think that would always be the way really. It’s just that knowing someone’s going to be around in a few years time who will be perhaps your greatest critic ever, it certainly makes you think carefully about the movies you sign on for.”
Finally, In Bruges certainly gives the Belgian city something of a kicking. Does Farrell feel the need to readdress the balance off-screen? “I’m not so sure I do, actually,” he finishes. “We got there when the weather was miserable, there were no tourists around to relieve the boredom, and everything just seemed to be cold and shut. “It certainly helped me get into the character of Ray, but that was the only positive side to it all. I didn’t need to go Method on playing someone who wanted to get the hell out of Bruges…”