Why Colin's happy to bite back

Paul Byrne

It's been a while since Colin Farrell has appeared front and centre on a big Hollywood movie poster. Even his latest, a damn fine remake of the blackly comic 1985 vampire classic Fright Night, has Farrell front and back, as the menacing presence looming over leading lad Anton Yelchin.

There was a time, of course, when Hollywood couldn't get enough of our boy, throwing flipping great wads of cash at the casually cursing Castleknock Casanova, largely for forgettable fare such as Hart's War (2002), The Recruit and SWAT (both 2003). At least his breakthrough, 2000's Tigerland, was decent.

The wheels on this overnight sensation began to wobble, though, with the release of Oliver Stone's much-mocked historical epic Alexander in 2004 and spun completely off their axles with Michael Mann's critically lashed Miami Vice big-screen reboot two years later.

Shortly after the latter's release, Farrell checked himself into rehab -- his career right behind him.

A quick glance at Farrell's Wikipedia chapter headings can tell you why. Alleged Proposition For Sex is followed by Drug Addictions, then Sex Tape, and then Dessarae Bradford's Accusations.

All that crazy dust seemed to settle soon after though, as Farrell began rebuilding his career as a character actor. Being a father of two (seven-year-old James Padraig, with US model Kim Bordenave, and one-year-old Henry Tadeusz, with Ondine co-star Alicja Bachleda-Curus) has no doubt grounded him somewhat.

When I caught up with Farrell recently, he was halfway through the four-month shoot in Canada of Len Wiseman's Total Recall remake, in which he plays the lead. Which should put him front and centre on the posters. Hopefully.

For now, though, I ask him what attracted him to Fright Night? Tom Holland's 1985 original? Working with director Craig Gillespie? The fact that he got to play a lust-filled vampire . . ?

"It was kind of an amalgam of all of the above," says Farrell. "Initially, before I read the script, I was looking for something that was a little lighter. Something that was going to be designed purely for entertainment purposes, and not shine any light on aspects of society, or history -- something that didn't have that much emotional weight to it.

"I had just come off the back of Triage, and then Ondine, and then I did The Way Back with [Peter] Weir, and they were all incredibly, crazily satisfying, but I was looking to have a big sea change. And the only way I could see that was to say, okay, something light.


"And this came across my path. I read it in about 50 minutes, and I asked who the director was. And they told me it was Craig Gillespie. I had seen Lars & The Real Girl, and I could see a director who was about to bring something very interesting to an old genre."

Of course, at the core of just about every vampire movie is the sexual awakening aspect that has seen the likes of Twilight and True Blood become such a hit with today's young audiences.

Did Farrell go exploring the genre, to find his feet here?

"The way that my character, Jerry, in Fright Night designed his house, and had these cells built behind a wall, there was this sense of the common serial killer who preys on innocent people, and who gets enormous amounts of gratification from fear, from innocence, and if there was anything emotional to the character of Jerry at all, it was his desire to feed off that innocence and that fear of others, that's all.

"I know Craig was very much interested in going, this guy is a serial killer, moving from town to town, feeding on the innocence of whatever community he finds himself in.

"It's strange to take fear out entirely. You remove fear from a character and it's chilling."

The reviews, so far, have largely been positive for Fright Night, with Farrell in particular getting a major pat on the back. Which means that his comeback is right on track.

Is Farrell keen to become known as a character actor now, or are these smaller movies just a slow climb back to the A-list?

"Oh, man, the way it happened, my trajectory into this, after Tigerland? You could probably ask any casting director in Hollywood, this was one of the top five meteoric rises -- and this is not saying anything about me.

"It's got nothing about ability, as you well know; it's to do with madness, and it's to do with frenzy, and I was in this machine, I was at the whim of this machine, and I was capitalising from this machine. But within it, I wasn't really understanding what it meant to me, as an actor, and what the work meant.

"I knew that none of it was important, and I knew that it didn't make me a better man, or this or that. I just didn't have an understanding of it.

"So, in the last five or six years, I began focusing on the work. It wasn't exactly a plan, but, what happened was, there were a couple of gigs lined up after Miami Vice, and they happened to be smaller gigs. And the phone stopped ringing as well. I can guarantee, the phones for the bigger films stopped ringing.

"So, you know, necessity being the mother of some invention, it was six of me, half of my agents deciding that we had to look at more eclectic films.

"And since then, I love it more than I ever did. More than when I was 17 and did a workshop with Conal Kearney in Digges Lane."

How close did Farrell come to throwing in the towel after the double-whammy of Alexander and Miami Vice derailed his Hollywood career? The critics were not kind . . .

"I've gone on record in interviews saying that around the time of those movies -- and they were both big body hits -- I really did think twice about what I was doing," he replies.

"To have these things said about you, to have this much of an effect, you have to question why you're in this job.

"After Miami Vice, I was going, 'Ah, f**k this!'. It takes me away from home too. I know I'm an incredibly well-paid young man, which is a place of great fortune to be in, but it's taken me away from weddings, funerals, major family events.

"I've missed big parts of the lives of those I love. So, that's okay, but you have to understand why you're doing it.

"It was a healthy time, in a way, because it brought better clarity to my life."

That Farrell is happy to leave his hunk-of-the-month days behind him was much in evidence in the recent, crass comedy Horrible Bosses, our boy going the full Les Grossman gross-out as a balding, pot-bellied, coke-snorting, hooker-banging scumbag.

Not a lot of Hollywood pretty boys would let it all hang out like that . . .

"Ah, sure, I'm not a pretty boy anymore," laughs Farrell.

"I'm old enough to be called a pretty man. Either way, I'm free of that chain now, I think. I'm free of that."

Fright Night hits cinemas on Friday