Despite offscreen antics that threatened his Hollywood career, Colin Farrell has emerged a respected actor and a wiser man. The Best You discovers the story behind his wild years, and how he has changed.
For a young, attractive man to make the leap from Irish television star to Hollywood sex god at the age of 22 sounds like a dream come true. But as Colin Farrell concedes, when it all catches up with you, it can be a frightening experience, especially if you have been living as a Hollywood wildchild.
Before he arrived in America, he remembers: “I was not full of self-confidence. My main ambition at that time was to work, to work, to work. As an actor, you understand very early on that you’re in a low percentile job for getting consistent work… The practical thought every day was just to get work as an actor.”
All that changed when the Hollywood studios heard about the new Irish kid on the block: “There was so much on offer. It was Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, or the keys to the exact city of your dreams. I remember Steve Martin introduced me at the Oscars some years back with the words ‘the next step is rehab’. Let’s put it this way – it wasn’t hard to find 20 strangers who wanted to go back to my hotel room till 8 o’clock in the morning.”
During those wild years, Farrell was voted the world’s sixth sexiest man by Company magazine and was romantically associated with a string of high profile women, including Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Playboy playmate Nicole Narain.
It all took its toll. He was embroiled in court cases regarding a leaked-online sex tape, and spent time in rehab for exhaustion, and drug and alcohol dependency.
Farrell recalls how those wild times came in a block of seven years up to 2006. “It came crashing down like a house of cards. It doesn’t make a noise but you can see the structure is gone. Initially, I was fearful – you know, ‘Jesus, what’s going to happen, the phone isn’t ringing’, all of that.”
“Without any self-aggrandising, the myth had shown itself to be fallacy,” he says.
Nevertheless, there were people on his side. “I’m glad to say I have a bit of goodwill in Hollywood; it might seem a contradiction but it actually exists. …I know that people rooted for me during those wild years, and that was lovely to discover after the fact.”
The studios were cautious and it was Farrell’s passion for acting that kept him heading in the right direction. “Some big films went away from me, but that was kind of okay because I had other work lined up that provided an opportunity for me to go back to the more simplistic elements of what I was trying to do, which were the elements I fell in love with – being a good actor who tells a story in a way that your voice comes across, but also that you allow the person who is perceiving it to have their own interpretation and experience of it. So I went back to that, and through that period I did movies such as Pride and Glory, Cassandra’s Dream, In Bruges. Those films allowed me to reconnect, and that’s where I find myself now.”
The Colin Farrell of 2013 is far removed from the 22-year-old Irishman who came to Hollywood in 2000 after appearing in the BBC series Ballykissangel and a few independent films in Europe. With the carousing that threatened to derail his career behind him, he is a thoughtful and modest father of two who no longer drinks and has found peace with himself.
“I’m an actor who has a lot of choice in his life. I only realised fairly recently how ridiculously uncommon and privileged and decadent it is to have that level of choice.”
With success there also come other responsibilities. Rather than just take the work, he now has to consider whether the film will be a success. “You have to put into the mix as many factors as you can – the directors, the genre of the movie, and all of that.” It is still an art to select the right film: “There are so many contributing factors for the result of a movie – God, even the blowing of the wind is one of them.”
His latest movie, Seven Psychopaths is written by Martin McDonagh who also wrote the Golden Globe-winning In Bruges. A low budget affair, it is very different from his previous movie, the remake of sci-fi blockbuster Total Recall. So how does he adjust to these two contrasting genres?
“One is something you can relate to and find something in the script that keeps you interested for a four-month shoot. The other is completely for the heart and passion of it. What I like about Seven Psychopaths is that it pokes fun at the myth of the writer, while simultaneously being sharp-witted.”
Ironically, while he has reconnected with his work, he is no longer defined by it as he was when he was younger. He says of his acting: “I have a newfound respect for it and I love it, but at the end of the day the other things in my life that are on the personal side are the ones that really mean a lot more.”
Colin Farrell has learned much from the extremes of his younger self and looks back at how he has changed. “The Colin Farrell at 15 was suspicious of certain things and dynamics in the world and society, of behaviours and interactions with people, and all that jazz. He didn’t know how to disassemble them or articulate them or understand them at all. But he did that eventually – he burst the bubble and discovered understanding of a more general human experience.”
“And here I am.”