Colin Farrell is not a movie star.
At least that’s what he told Yahoo Entertainment when we had him in our Los Angeles studio in 2017 to discuss his lengthy filmography.
Of course, considering he’s got a thriving career that’s well into its third decade, one might disagree with the 46-year-old Irish actor.
What no one can dispute: Colin Farrell is an Academy nominee. He landed his very first Oscar nod this year as a Best Actor contender for a performance in Martin McDonagh’s critical darling The Banshees of Inisherin that is at turns heartbreaking, dark and sublimely funny.
In a career-best performance, Farrell plays Pádraic Súilleabháin, a dim-witted resident of a sparsely populated Irish island in the 1920s whose best mate and daily drinking buddy (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly lets it be known that he no longer wishes to continue their friendship.
We asked Farrell about several of his most notable performances as a part of our ongoing series, Role Recall (watch above). Here are some of the highlights, as well as some more recent thoughts from Farrell about The Batman and Banshees.
Farrell was 24 and an unknown in the United States when he got cast in director Joel Schumacher’s Vietnam War-era military film. “I was kind of spoiled, straight out of the gate,” Farrell said. “It was a script that was about something — it felt like there was a kind of social or moral depth to it.”
Farrell says that he and his castmates got anything but the star treatment. “It was just like a glorified theater troupe,” he said. “We did boot camp for two or three weeks. We stayed in the barracks and did the whole thing — we got up to the rattling of a stick in a bin at 5 o’clock in the morning, foot marches for two or three hours.”
Farrell points to this film as the beginning of his movie career. “The film was pretty well received, and I got some decent notices, it all kind of went ape shit,” he said. “After that, it went mad. … I don’t know if you can ever be prepared for the kind of success that was being offered to me so fast, you know?”
Minority Report (2002)
One thing Farrell was quick to point out was that he wasn’t always the first choice for many films during his early career, including the 2002 sci-fi thriller. “I think Matt Damon was supposed to do the role, originally,” he told us. “And I think there was some clash with his schedule, and I got a call from my agent saying, ‘Steven Spielberg wants to meet you,’ which was a shocker.” I had grown up watching Jaws and Close Encounters and Indiana Jones. We sat down and we talked, and I shared a sardine sandwich with him, which was enough for me. If I didn’t get the role, just to share a sardine sandwich with Steven Spielberg — I had nailed the day.”
His co-star, of course, was a bonafide movie star, Tom Cruise. “He would be very competitive and very physically engaged,” Farrell said. “I remember him walking on the set and screaming, ‘Are you making an action movie? Then why don’t I hear action?'”
Phone Booth (2002)
Chances are Phone Booth might be the first movie you think of when it comes to Farrell, and that probably wouldn’t be so upsetting to him considering the amount of love he has for it.
“Phone Booth it was a lot of fun,” he said. “I think nine days in the booth, we shot one day in Times Square. A feature film in 10 days — it just never happens.”
Again, Farrell said he wasn’t the first choice for director Schumacher. “Jim [Carrey] was going to do it. He dropped out for whatever reason, and then Joel called me because we had worked on Tigerland together,” Farrell said. “He said, ‘Listen, I have this script, would you have a look at it?’ I read it and loved it and saw it as the challenge that it became.”
Crazy Heart (2009)
Farrell has an uncredited supporting role as a country-music star in the 2009 drama starring Jeff Bridges. While his part might have been small, the sets he acted on weren’t. “I got to get up onstage at a Toby Keith concert, which was weird, in front of 14,000 people,” he said. “I was expecting to be glassed, but everyone was supportive when they were told [we were filming]. We had 12 minutes to shoot, so they had the cameras set up. Myself and Jeff [Bridges] got out and people had been warned that we were doing a film and they were into it and engaged with what was going on.”
The Lobster (2016)
Farrell had a critical and commercial hit with this bizarre indie drama from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos about a dystopian society that’s built around finding a mate. “I read the script, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it,” Farrell admitted. “It was like, ‘What the f*** is going on?'”
One of the most notable things about the film was Farrell’s physical transformation. The normally svelte actor had to gain weight to play the mild-mannered, schlubby David. Over the course of eight weeks, Farrell overindulged his way to an additional 40 pounds.
“I ate a lot of ice cream,” he said. “I would just melt it in the microwave and chug it back. And cheeseburgers and fried foods for breakfast. It gets boring when you have to eat. Part of the fun of doing it is knowing you’re not supposed to. When you have the directive that you’re supposed to, it got very boring very fast.”
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Farrell played an antagonist in the first of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter spinoff films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Farrell was already a fan of Rowling, as he told Yahoo Entertainment. Her script said Farrell excited for the role. “A really beautiful read,” he said. “I mean, so fantastical, her imagination and the logic that she creates within this world of fantasy.”
Although he enjoyed being a part of the big-budget movie, he does tend to appreciate smaller movies. “Usually in independent films, which I probably prefer, you’re dealing with decent long takes all the time,” he said. “The process is a lot more simple, and within that simplicity, it allows you a lot more freedom.”
The Batman (2022)
Farrell had a remarkable 2022, in which he balanced films both small (After Yang), large (The Batman) and somewhere in between (Thirteen Lives, Banshees).
In his first superhero project since the 2003 misfire DaredevilFarrell was utterly unrecognizable as Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot, aka The Penguin.
The physical transformation involved “sitting still in a chair for a few hours, every morning,” Farrell told us.
“I didn’t know that it was going to be what it came to be. I’d never done anything like this. To be buried that deep behind the unrecognizable gave me such freedom. Freedom of movement, freedom of gesture, freedom of dialect. It just all started coming together then for me.”
Farrell will soon reprise the role in his own HBO Max spinoff, The Penguin.
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
After previously collaborating together on the 2008 cult classic In BrugesFarrell and Gleeson conspired to work with McDonagh again for several years before Banshees finally went into production.
“We’ve been in touch over the years, on and off,” Farrell told us. “We’d get back to living our lives and doing our thing and then our paths would cross sporadically. But I read the first iteration of The Banshees of Inisherin [about] seven or eight years ago… It was different. Kind of at its core, it was the same, but the machinations of it and the details and some of the storylines were divergent. But it was a dream, the idea to get to do this story with Bren and Martin again.”
The actor especially appreciated the film’s distinct approach in examining male friendship.
“It’s not just a romantic thing that we need people,” Farrell said. “To have people in your life that you can lean into, that understand you, that feel like, beyond words, they see who you are. It’s a huge thing. And if you feel that level of comfort, and if you feel that level of deep simpatico with someone, and that person decides one day to remove themselves from your life, it’s a gaping hole.”
Interview originally published Nov. 12, 2016; updated March 3, 2023.