Saturday 14 December 2019

Can a TV show save Colin's career?

It's been years since the Dublin actor had a hit movie, but will a move to TV turn things around, asks Ed Power

Colin Farrell.
Colin Farrell.
Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in season 1 of True Detective
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men.

Ed Power

Colin Farrell surely experienced a quiver of ambivalence as he revealed at the weekend that he is to star in the second season of HBO's cheerfully deranged procedural drama True Detective.

At one level the casting is a coup for the 38-year-old Dubliner. Coming off an extraordinary first run of episodes earlier this year True Detective - a pungent mash-up of HP Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler - became the world's most gossiped, and tweeted about, TV show, briefly eclipsing even our fascination for full-frontal fantasy romp Game Of Thrones.

Indeed, it is theorised that Matthew McConaughey's 2014 Best Actor win at the Oscars owed more to True Detective, where he appeared opposite Woody Harrelson, than to the movie for which he was nominated, Dallas Buyers' Club. McConaughey's TD character - jaded, ponytailed Rust Cohle - has already become part of the pantheon of TV icons.

Still, when he reflects on his move to television, Farrell could be forgiven for feeling disillusioned too. It wasn't very long ago that TV was where movie stars went to hide as their careers unraveled. This has changed a great deal - nowadays, you will see stars as diverse as Kevin Spacey and Zooey Deschanel reinvented for the small screen. However, few actual A-listers have transitioned to the medium (McConaughey's casting in TD came at a low ebb for the ex rom-com stalwart). Confirmation Farrell is to work with HBO must be regarded as the final nail hammered into his A-lister designation.

In a way, you admire Farrell for refusing to accept reality for so long. Really, his career as a leading man was dead the moment he debuted his chuckle-worthy blonde tresses in Oliver Stone's Alexander, the 2004 film that has become a byword for glorious miscasting.

There was always something a little cardboard and over the top about Farrell. It wasn't that he was unable to carry a part, more that, the harder he tried, the creakier his performances. With Alexander what we had suspected all along was made painfully plain: he could act but couldn't quite dazzle. From then, Farrell has rode a steady downward spiral.

Second chances have come his way, for sure. He has had leads in science-fiction movies - 2012's Total Recall remake - as well making forays into comedy noir (the overrated In Bruges) and feel-good whimsy (the super-flop Winter's Tale). Some of his performances have impressed, others have not - what they all have in common, though, was a glaring failure to put bums on seats.

Of course Farrell is hardly unique in this respect. Angelina Jolie's inability to translate tabloid ubiquity into hard cold cash at the box office is a topic of long standing fascination. Similarly, prior to the Pirates of the Caribbean mega-franchise, Johnny Depp's lack of commercial success was a matter of considerable notoriety.

The difference is that, off screen, such actors are endlessly fascinating. Whereas, in his private life, Farrell conducts himself like an average sort springboarded into a world of unimaginable opportunity. He's drank too much and had some colourful girlfriends - in other words, behaved exactly as any red-blooded young Irish man would in his position. As a celebrity, he does not live nearly outrageously enough to compensate for his inefficacy at scoring a hit movie.

The good news is that the divide between TV and cinema matters less and less. Take Jon Hamm, a star in both mediums thanks to Mad Men. Neither McConaughey or True Detective co-star Harrelson harmed their standing in Hollywood by appearing on television. Is Liv Tyler any less famous because she has taken a gig in The Leftovers, a sombre new drama from the producers of Lost?

Earlier this year, Kevin Spacey, star of Netflix's House of Cards, was upfront that interesting parts simply don't exist in cinema any more. For a rewarding career, television, he says, is where you need to be.

"For the past 15 years we have lived through what I call the third golden age of television," he says. "The people who want to make character-driven dramas are all working in television now."

If nothing else, collaborating with HBO - shooting for TD will begin shortly - should present Farrell with a meaty role, an opportunity increasingly rare in the movies.

Irish Independent

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