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A Would-Be Tiger, Burning Brightly

Irishman Colin Farrell packs a punch in 'Tigerland.' For now, though, the star thing seems like a game to him.

October 01, 2000|JOHN CLARK | John Clark is a regular contributor to Calendar

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of where Colin Farrell is these days is on the recent cover of a magazine, where he is shown shirtless and poised to throw a football. The picture screams handsome, virile, sexy. It's also bogus.

Farrell, who is Irish, doesn't know a thing about American football. In fact his father, Eamonn Farrell, was a well-known Irish footballer (soccer player).

But reality is one thing, stardom is another--and that's what Colin Farrell is being groomed for. He is what we want him to be--the next Paul Newman, the next Brad Pitt. In person, he's still himself, recognizably human, not yet obscured by the roles he's played. He's soft-spoken, fond of cigarettes and beer, unpretentious, unguarded (he told nationally syndicated columnist Liz Smith an anecdote about shaving his pubic hair).

"It's kind of funny," he says of his newfound semi-fame. "I'm looking at scripts. I'm not being offered anything at all. But I have to decide what I like and what I don't. Whereas two years ago, if I'd been offered 'Debbie Does Dallas Part 2,' I would have jumped at it. I want to keep working, I want to do good stuff. I'm in no rush to chase something that people think I should chase."

Farrell is in the unfamiliar position of throwing footballs and fielding scripts because of "Tigerland." In the Joel Schumacher film from Fox that opens Friday, he stars as an antiwar troublemaker drafted into the Army at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Through the sheer force of his personality--rather than his convictions--he manages to turn his hawkish fellow recruits into doves as they go through boot camp. The film is down and dirty, and Farrell, exuding confidence, toughness and vulnerability, delivers the kind of performance that leaves everyone asking, "Who is that guy?"

"I've never had the chance to do anything so challenging, so tough, so emotional, so aggressive," Farrell says of the role of Bozz in "Tigerland."

He comes by some of these qualities naturally, given his father's--and his even more famous football-playing uncle, Tommy Farrell's--former occupation. In fact, he wanted to follow in their footsteps but ended up at the Gaiety School of Drama in Dublin. He left after a year when he auditioned and won a role on a four-part miniseries for the BBC called "Falling for a Dancer." This was followed by two years on a series called "Ballykissangel," about a village in Ireland.

He took a small role in Tim Roth's harrowing "The War Zone" and was cast as a criminal in "Ordinary Decent Criminals" after the film's star, Kevin Spacey, saw him on stage. Then he was called in for a chat with Schumacher in London.

"We had a little laugh," Farrell says. "He was on his way out shopping. He had more important things to do. I thought it was a waste of time. And then he called and said he'd like me to read the part of Bozz."


Schumacher says he was impressed with Farrell's energy, his irreverence--apparently he had told the venerable Gaiety School to stuff it--but he didn't know what to do with him, and he certainly didn't have him in mind for the lead. That notion came on the flight home to L.A. He called Farrell and asked him to read for Bozz and tape it. If nothing else, he figured he could slot him into one of the lesser roles.

"[Critic] Roger Ebert said I should put it on the DVD when it comes out," Schumacher says. "He [Farrell] did the audition in his living room in Dublin with his sister holding the video camera and doing all of the off-screen dialogue in this thick Dublin accent. She's saying, 'Oh, Jesus, I don't want to go to Vietnam.' I would think Colin and his sister had a few Guinnesses before they did this. Colin was great."

Schumacher says the real hero here was producer Arnon Milchan, who was willing to finance the film with unknowns, although he admits there was "a moment of hysteria" when Schumacher proposed that a kid from Dublin play the lead.

The moment passed, but there were others to come. At a table reading with Schumacher and Milchan, actor Shea Whigham, who plays Farrell's psychotic nemesis, became so immersed in the scene he was doing--in which he threatens to kill Bozz--that he leaped over the table and started pummeling Farrell.

"Colin totally took him down," Schumacher says. "Pictures fell off the wall, furniture was crashing. Arnon and I were sitting on the floor in the corner. [Actor] Matt Davis was in the scene too. And we were all stunned. We'd never seen anything like it. There were rug burns all over Shea's face. And it all happened so quickly, the way real fights do. I thought we were going to be arrested, or Arnon was going to have to buy the hotel or something."

Schumacher says that Farrell has a quick temper, and that during the film's many fight scenes, he would cut loose for real. Apparently, however, Farrell can turn it off as quickly and as completely as he can turn it on.

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