By Karen Butler
Colin Farrell swears he doesn’t mind that it’s Bruce Willis’s face — not his — gracing promotional posters for their new movie, “Hart’s War,” even though Farrell plays the title character and appears in the majority of the film’s scenes.
“I actually couldn’t give a damn,” the 25-year-old Dublin native said recently between drags of his cigarette. “The reason it’s Bruce Willis is because no one knows who Colin Farrell is — or really cares. I’m not exactly going to bring a lot of people in. I haven’t had a hit.”
Hit or no hit, Farrell isn’t exactly a stranger to American film fans. Indeed, he gave a memorable performances in Joel Schumacher’s film “Tigerland,” and was in Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s Dublin gangster movie “Ordinary Decent Criminal” and the shoot-’em-up flick “American Outlaws.” What’s more he has a slew of current and future projects all but guaranteed to make him a familiar face to Americans in the near future.
A Dublin native and son of former Gaelic footballer Eamon Farrell, Farrell studied at the Gaiety Drama School in Dublin for a year, then dropped out when he landed a role on the BBC series “Ballykissangel.”
Of his most recent undertaking, “Hart’s War,” Farrell said he was offered the part of a privileged law student who is captured and placed in a prisoner of war camp near the end of World War II after actor Edward Norton dropped out of the running. Farrell said director Gregory Hoblit (“Frequency,” “Primal Fear”) first approached him while he was filming “American Outlaws” in Texas. The two met for dinner to discuss the project.
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“I’d read [the script] and really liked it and thought it was a really nice, honest piece of writing with really well-defined characters,” Farrell said. “We talked and I was surprised, very surprised to get an offer from him.”
Farrell recalled feeling pleased at the idea of working with action king Willis as well.
“I grew up as a film fan,” he said. “I’ve only been an actor for six years. . . . I grew up on ‘Moonlighting,’ as well as many other American shows, so it was very exciting, an exciting prospect,” he added, referring to the 1980s TV series that brought Willis to the attention of the American public.
To prepare for his role as a young Ivy League attorney defending a fellow POW against murder charges during a court-martial in “Hart’s War,” Farrell enlisted the help of a dialect coach and spent two weeks at Yale University.
“Side notes are really important to me,” he said. “As much research as you can do, it’ll give you a sense of confidence to go forward. . . . I went up to New Haven. I stayed up in Yale for two weeks, watched squirrels run up trees. Snow was on the ground. The bells were ringing. Students everywhere with scarves and notes and I checked out the lecture halls, wrote a little bit, read the script 1,000 times. My dialect coach was with me, so we worked every day. It was a great time for me — for two weeks just to try to zone in and focus on what was coming up.”
One problem Farrell had to surmount was learning to speak legalese, the convoluted language of lawyers.
“It got tricky sometimes and sometimes when you don’t understand a line or what it means, you actually can’t remember it,” Farrell said. “You can’t say it and if you do, you say it really fast and you trip over it. So, I had to figure it out as I went along.”
Since the film was set decades before Farrell was born, the actor faced the additional challenge of having to mentally transport himself to another time and place so he could see how to make his character believable. Although he immersed himself in music and books written during and about the time, what he discovered was the simple fact that people are people, no matter where or when they live.
“Some things change,” he noted. “Ideas maybe change. Some values change, but a lot of it stays the same for many, many years.”
In one noteworthy aside to the filming of “Hart’s War,” Farrell acknowledged that he was attacked on location in Prague. Dismissing rumors that he “beat up six gypsies” in the scuffle, Farrell calmly explained: “I got hopped on one night at 2 o’clock in the morning on the way home. That was it. Fairly boring. It was one guy got me in a headlock. I got the better of him and I ran home. I think he was more drunk than I was. It was the clumsiest attempt of a robbery I’ve ever heard of in my life.”
Despite his success in Hollywood, Farrell insists that his life has not changed much, since he never gets recognized by fans in the United States.
“So far, to this point, I have the best of both worlds: I get to work on all these fantastic jobs and I get to walk down the street and go wherever I want and nobody knows who I am,” he said.
That may change, however, later this year when Steven Spielberg’s eagerly anticipated film, “Minority Report,” is scheduled for release. In it, Farrell appears opposite Tom Cruise.
And if that weren’t enough, his current project is “The Farm,” with Al Pacino. Later, he plans to do an independent film with Irish actor Colm Meaney, which he described as something like Robert Altman’s “Shortcuts” at “street level with a Dublin vernacular.” He has also signed on to play the villain Bull’s-eye to Ben Affleck’s Daredevil in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of the comic book “Daredevil,” due out next year.
So, is he ready for the star treatment?
“I don’t know how one does prepare [for fame],” he said. “There’s no degree you do. No three-year course on how to deal with celebrity. So, I’ll see what happens. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
One place he does get recognized a lot is Dublin, where he was born and still lives.
“My whole life is still in Ireland,” Farrell said. “The day I wrapped ‘Minority Report,’ I went home, and the day I wrap ‘The Farm,’ I’ll go home — not the day; I’ll get drunk that night and the next day I’ll get on the first plane and I will be back in Dublin and I’ll stay there until whatever the next job is.”
When he’s home, the actor said he is careful not to get caught up in the trappings that can come with movie stardom in America.
“A lot of people seem to be proud; it’s a nice feeling,” he said, but then he cautioned, “[The Irish] can be watching and waiting to make sure you don’t get too big for your boots, which I hope never happens to me.”
Though he said signed on for “Daredevil” because “it’s a lot of fun,” Farrell said his more attracted to parts “that have a little bit of pain or a little bit of drama.”
“Life is so good that maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to those parts,” he said. “I mean, I have such a great life. I’m so lucky with the family I have and the friends I have in my life that when I go to work, I don’t need to be all ‘Isn’t this fantastic?’ when I get in front of the camera.”
And that’s a good thing, considering that “getting in front of the camera” is something Farrell finds himself doing more and more of these days.
“I did five [movies] in 15 months, which is fairly hard going,” he said. “Good going, but hard going. I’m 25, you know? I have so much energy, I don’t need to, at this stage, be thinking about doing only two pieces a year.”