Possibly Ireland's hottest cinematic export since Liam Neeson got his kilt off in Rob Roy, Colin Farrell enjoyed a generous helping of trans-Atlantic buzz for his work in Joel Schumacher's 2000 military drama Tigerland. Previously known in his native Ireland for supporting parts in film and television productions, Farrell earned both industry recognition and international heartthrob status for his portrayal of a young drifter recruited to fight in the Vietnam War, winning over critics and audiences with talent, charisma, and his fearless assumption of a Texan accent.
The son of famed footballer Eamon Farrell, Farrell was born in Dublin, on May 31, 1976. Growing up, he planned to follow in the footsteps of his father and an uncle, who was also a well-known footballer in the 1960s. However, Farrell's plans changed when, while he was still in high school, his sister enrolled in acting classes at Dublin's Gaiety School of Drama. His interest piqued, the nascent actor followed suit, signing up for classes at the Gaiety School and then making his film debut in a low-budget production called Drinking Crude before he even made it to the Gaiety's classrooms.
Having dropped out of high school in order to pursue acting, Farrell dropped out again -- this time from the Gaiety -- after a successful audition for the Irish TV series Ballykissangel. Joining the show in 1996, he earned a degree of fame in his native country, which opened the door for further work in the U.K. In 1999, he could be seen in the family drama The War Zone, Tim Roth's directorial debut, and on TV in Love in the 21st Century, a segmented series that also featured such up-and-comers as Ioan Gruffudd and Catherine McCormack.
His first glint of overseas recognition came the following year, when Farrell was cast in a supporting role in Thaddeus O'Sullivan's Ordinary Decent Criminal, an Irish gangster drama starring Kevin Spacey and Linda Fiorentino. Criminal, which didn't fare well on U.S. shores, was quickly followed by Joel Schumacher's Tigerland. Although the low-key ensemble film, which was set in a Louisiana boot camp in 1971, received a lukewarm reaction from critics and audiences, Farrell's performance was the subject of almost ubiquitous praise.
Quickly labeled as one of the most exciting new actors to be detected by the Hollywood radar, the young Dubliner subsequently found himself enmeshed in the distinctly American phenomenon of almost overnight success; before the year was out, he had secured starring roles in a number of projects, including American Outlaws, in which he starred as Jesse James alongside Scott Caan and Kathy Bates, and Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth, a thriller about a young man (Farrell) fighting for his life inside the titular enclosure. Although the long-delayed Outlaws did little for Farrell's career, far more ticket buyers were able to see the young actor alongside Bruce Willis in the somber POW drama Hart's War in early 2002.
The following year, Farrell was virtually unavoidable. Not only did 2003 see the release of the aforementioned The Phonebooth, is also found the actor on the right side of the law in both The Recruit and SWAT and on the wrong side as the villainous Bullseye in the comic book superhero film Daredevil. As if the year was busy enough, he also turned up in a pair of smaller films, Veronica Guerin and Intermission.
The two ensuing years might not have seen Farrell churning out a half-dozen pictures apiece, but he continued to grow in stature, first with a supporting part in the indie period piece A Home at the End of the World, then the title role in Oliver Stone's ambitious flop Alexander (both 2004). Indeed, Farrell's most notorious appearance around this time was, like so many before him, in a much-circulated sex tape leaked on the Internet. Two major roles in films by well-respected directors followed: The lead in Terrence Malick's critically-acclaimed but, again, little-seen The New World (2005), and the challenging role of author Arturo Bandini in Robert Towne's Ask the Dust. 2006 brought Michael Mann's much-anticipated remake of his own groundbreaking '80s TV show, Miami Vice, which he quickly followed with a turn in Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, as well as the critically acclaimed crime comedy In Bruges in 2008.
Having all but completely cemented his position in Hollywood, Farrell joined the ranks of other leading men like Johnn Depp and Jude Law, who all stepped in to play various incarnations of the universe-hopping protagonist in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, filling in for the film's original lead Heath Ledger, who died tragically, midway through filming. Farrell would
spend the coming years enjoying a variety of projects, most notably in movies like Crazy Heart, Horrible Bosses, and Fright Night.