From 'Ballykissangel' to 'Tigerland' and 'Miami Vice', this Irish bad boy has conquered Hollywood, but still struggles with his personal demons: drinks, drugs and women.
Often described as “Ireland’s answer to Russell Crowe”, Colin Farrell was born into a typical Irish working-class family in Castleknock, a pleasant suburb of Dublin. Farrell was the youngest of four children. His older brother Eamonn now runs a school for the performing arts in Dublin, whilst older sister Claudine works as Colin’s personal assistant. Farrell’s other sister, Catherine, has also worked as an extra in several of his recent movies.
Farrell is deeply indebted to his sister Catherine, for she was the person who first awakened the love of acting within him. Brother and sister would sit up late together watching old movies, and it wasn’t long before Farrell had a big crush on sex goddess Marilyn Monroe. At the tender age of 8, he would leave Smarties under his pillow, along with a note inviting her to come down from Heaven and share them with him. But at this stage, Farrell had no desire to follow his idols onto the big screen. Instead, he dreamed of becoming a footballer, like his father Eamonn and his uncle Tommy, who both played for the team Shamrock Rovers, and were two of the leading Irish sporting celebrities of their day.
As a teenager, Farrell’s favourite pastimes were football and fighting, and he had little taste for the discipline of school. So, in an effort to tame his wild ways, his despairing parents sent him to Castleknock College, an exclusive private academy with strict rules and discipline. But instead of knuckling down to his studies, Colin spent his time smoking, drinking and chasing girls, as well as shoplifting and joyriding - the latter resulting in his spending a night in a police cell. Eventually, he was sent away to Gormanston boarding school, but he fared no better there, and was constantly in trouble for skipping classes and skiving off to the local pub. His school career came to an abrupt end at the age of 17, when he was expelled from Gormanston after punching a supervisor.
After a brief spell of treatment for depression at the age of 18 (“I just vomited for six months”), Farrell decided to take a year out and headed off to Australia with two of his friends. In between spells of heavy drinking, working in a bank and waiting tables in a restaurant, it was here that Farrell had his first taste of acting. He was befriended by Australian photographer Stuart Campbell, who introduced him to his friend Tony Knight, the Head of Acting at NIDA, the Australian acting academy. Farrell made his stage debut at The Performance Place, an open-air amateur dramatics venue in a Sydney park, playing one of Ned Kelly’s renegade cowboys in a play called 'Kelly’s Reign'.
When Farrell returned to Dublin, he took on a succession of casual jobs, and even joined a touring troupe of line-dancers for a few months. He lapsed into another fit of depression, before his brother Eamonn persuaded him to enrol for acting classes, and offered to pay for his first set of lessons at the National Performing Arts School in Dublin. Farrell took to acting instantly, and continued his studies at the Gaiety School of Drama. This led to his screen debut, for whilst still at the Gaiety, he landed a small part in 'The Disappearance of Finbar', a low-budget indie production about a group of Irish children.
Farrell’s next screen appearance was in 'Drinking Crude', a 'rites of passage' movie with a rock and roll soundtrack. He followed this up with a part in a TV miniseries, 'Falling for a Dancer'. Encouraged by these early successes, Farrell headed off for London, where he secured an important stage role, playing a semi-autistic teenager in Gary Mitchell’s play 'In A Little World of Our Own' at the Donmar Warehouse. It was here that destiny played a hand, for whilst on stage, he was noticed by Kevin Spacey, who was over in London to appear in 'The Iceman Cometh', another West End theatre production. Farrell and Spacey became friends and started hanging out together, and it wasn’t long before Spacey had introduced Farrell to the producers of 'Ordinary Decent Criminal', a film that was he was about to start shooting in Ireland.
Meeting Kevin Spacey was undoubtedly Farrell’s big break, but his acting career was already beginning to take off. He landed a part in a TV adaptation of 'David Copperfield', starring Dame Maggie Smith, and also featured in the popular BBC Irish series, 'Ballykissangel', in which he played a young horseman, Danny Byrne. Then came the actual filming of 'Ordinary Decent Criminal', in which his mate Kevin Spacey played a notorious mobster, who evades police arrest at every turn - Farrell played Alec, the youngest member of Spacey’s gang.
Keen to make the most of his success in 'Ordinary Decent Criminal', Farrell went off to Hollywood to tout for further big screen roles. True to form, he partied hard and fast, but was soon mixing socially with A-list celebrities like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and more importantly, also succeeded in getting himself onto the books of CAA, the top-ranking Hollywood agents whose client list included Cuba Gooding Jr, Elizabeth Shue and Donald Sutherland.
Farrell left Hollywood empty-handed on this occasion, but his luck changed when American director Joel Schumacher asked him to audition in London. Farrell arrived too late to audition, but Schumacher asked him to send a video showreel. Two weeks later, Farrell got a call from the director, asking: “Wanna make a movie?” The film was 'Tigerland', and Farrell played the part of Bozz, a new Vietnam recruit back in 1971, enduring the full pain of boot camp training before shipping out to go to war. 'Tigerland' received widespread critical acclaim, and Farrell was hailed as Best Actor of the Year by the Boston Society of Film Critics.
Now a rising star, Farrell next played Jesse James in 'American Outlaws', and also embarked on a whirlwind romance with Amelia Warner, whom he married in July 2001. Amelia also had a promising film career, and the future looked rosy - but the marriage soon floundered, and the couple filed for divorce after only four months.
Notwithstanding his eventful personal life, Farrell followed his performance in 'American Outlaws' with a string of prestigious, high-profile projects. His next big role was in 'Hart’s War', a prison-camp drama set in the Second World War, which also starred Bruce Willis.
Next, Farrell was chosen by Steven Spielberg for a starring role alongside Tom Cruise in his futuristic police drama, 'Minority Report'. Farrell played Detective Danny Witwer, a cop who arrests people for crimes before they’ve even committed them, and it was a smash hit. This was Farrell’s first really substantial box office success, and it paved the way for his “wonder year” in 2003, when he starred in no less than six Hollywood movies.
First was 'The Recruit', where he played a CIA operative under the wing of Al Pacino; then came 'Daredevil', where he played an assassin, who could kill people with peanuts and paper clips! Schumacher also directed Farrell in 'Veronica Guerin' during the same year, where he acted alongside Cate Blanchett in the title role as the courageous journalist who was murdered by the IRA.
Then came 'Phone Booth', where Colin was directed once again by Joel Schumacher: by a spooky coincidence, filming was held up by the real-life drama of the Washington snipers, and was an impressive star vehicle for Farrell, who appeared in nearly every scene. Next came 'S.W.A.T.', based on the 1970s TV series, where Colin co-starred with Samuel L. Jackson.
Then came 'A Home At The End Of The World', a tender movie which succeeded in causing tabloid furores, when it was rumoured that Farrell’s nude scenes had been cut because test audiences were so distracted by the sight of his penis! Causing controversy once again, Farrell’s next big role was the title lead in 'Alexander', a $150-million budget would-be blockbuster directed by Oliver Stone. The film was not well received by the critics, but Farrell was widely praised for having the courage to play a non-heterosexual role. Remaining philosophical about his latest movie’s poor reception, Farrell continued to hold out for plum roles with top directors, and next co-starred with Tom Cruise once again in Robert Towne’s 'Ask The Dust', a Depression-era romance.
Farrell hit the big time again with his role in 'Miami Vice', Michael Mann’s remake of his own 1980s hit TV series, where he played the role first made famous by Don Johnson. Colin Farrell is now widely acknowledged to be at the top of his game - indeed, his own childhood idol Al Pacino recently described him as “the best actor of his generation.” In 2008 he co-starred with Edward Norton in another police drama, 'Pride and Glory'.
Scandal and tabloid gossip about his private life have accompanied Colin Farrell every step of the way throughout his meteoric rise to Hollywood fame, and scarcely a month goes by without some juicy new tale of his exploits hitting the headlines. But since Farrell is renowned for his sexual athleticism and antics, the gossip pundits might well say that he has only himself to blame - and he’s certainly kept the gossip writers busy since he arrived in Hollywood. In 2005, 70-year-old actress Eileen Atkins reported that during the filming of 'Ask The Dust', Farrell had repeatedly propositioned her, asking her for no strings-sex. Colin Farrell’s taste for older women is well proven, as he was reputed to have lost his virginity to a 35-year old actress when he himself was only 15!
Few of Farrell’s romances have lasted, however, and one old liaison turned particularly nasty for the Hollywood star. In 2005, he was forced to go to court to seek an injunction against ex-girlfriend Nicole Narain, to stop her releasing a 15-minute sex video on the internet. The videotape apparently featured Farrell and Narain performing a variety of sexual exploits, but the actor told the judge that the film had been made with the understanding that it would never be shown in public. Farrell accused Narain of working with the owner of an internet porn business, and of contacting the international news media to alert them of the tape’s existence. Farrell also claimed that the release of the tape would irreparably damage his reputation and career, and demanded that all copies be returned to him, so that he could destroy them. Farrell won the court case and prevented the tape ever leaking out to the press.
Farrell was at the centre of further controversy in July 2006, when he was confronted by Desserae Bradford, a member of the studio audience, whilst he was being interviewed as a guest on the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno'. Bradford accused Farrell of stalking her, and said he had also bombarded her with sexually explicit phone calls and text messages. Initially, the studio audience thought it was a comedy sketch, but Bradford was later escorted from the TV studio by the police, and cautioned not to return.
The actor claims that the most important relationship in his life right now is with his son James, who was born in 2004, whilst he was involved with American model Kim Bordenave, who was five years his senior. Farrell claims that his son James has, at long last, given him a reason to reform his wild ways. “I want to watch my son grow up, be his friend and father, and hang around with him. He’s the greatest priority in my life.”
In October 2007, Farrell revealed that his son has the rare Angelman Syndrome, which is characterised by intellectual and developmental delay.
That year he starred in 'Cassandra's Dream' followed by In Bruges in 2008, as a hitman who has experienced a difficult job. Farrell won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor for his role on 1 January 2009.
He was also one of the three actors who took over from Heath Ledger, following his death in 2008, in the Terry Gillam film 'The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus'.
In 2009, he also appeared in 'Triage', 'Ondine' and 'Crazy Heart' followed by 'The Way Back' and 'London Boulevard' in 2010.
Farrell also played a comedic role in 'Horrible Bosses' alongside Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman in 2011, before donning fangs to play the vampire Jerry in 'Fright Night', a remake of the 1980s horror film of the same name. He still continues to work consistently, with roles in 'Seven Psychopaths', a remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic 'Total Recall' and 'Dead Man Down'.
The actor has also had another son in this time with his Ondine co-star Alicja Bachleda-Curus.
She gave birth to son Henry on 7 October 2009. The couple have since split.