Colin Farrell's Journey From An Irish Boyband Hopeful To Oscar Favorite

With nearly three decades of acting experience, Colin Farrell has played everything from an unnaturally accurate assassin ("Daredevil") to an unpredictable employer ("Horrible Bosses") to a lonely man with a dying wish to be reborn as a crustacean ("The Lobster"). His career has spanned nearly all genres of filmmaking, and has seen him star in both blockbusters and indies playing heroes, villains, and everything in between. With one of his most celebrated roles, Farrell won the 2009 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his portrayal as a haphazard hitman in "In Bruges." Farrell's later roles have proved equally popular and successful, seeing him take home another Golden Globe Award for "The Banshees of Inisherin" and earn critical praise for playing Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot in "The Batman."

But what about behind the scenes? Is the charismatic Irish actor as versatile and layered when the cameras aren't rolling? Turns out, he is. Farrell has weathered many squalls during his career, from almost being arrested for a crime he didn't commit, to a public court battle with a "stalker" who confronted him on live TV. Thankfully, though, the actor has managed to come out the other side fairly unscathed, as evidenced by his continued success and popularity. Keep reading as we dive into some of the lesser known facts about Colin Farrell's career and his life off-screen.

He grew up near Dublin as the youngest of four kids

If you've ever heard Colin Farrell speak, then you're probably aware that he hails from Ireland. He grew up in Castleknock, a suburb of Dublin, specifically. It was a pretty sleepy town, and the actor recalled that there wasn't much culture for him to indulge in when he was younger. "I remember wishing there were more stories about Ireland and more music in the house. It wasn't a household where we were brought to the theater," he said to the Irish Times. That said, he has fond memories of his childhood home and time in Castleknock. To indulge his nostalgia, he revisits it whenever he gets the chance. "I drive back to Castleknock at maybe two o'clock in the morning and park outside my house as if I am in my own self-indulgent film," Farrell revealed to The Independent.

The actor grew up as the youngest of four kids, with two sisters and a brother to look up to. Much of his childhood was dominated by sports, though, since his dad Eamon Farrell was a professional footballer for Shamrock Rovers FC. His uncle was, too, playing for the same team. However, even without trips to the theater, he still managed to forge his own path, nurturing his passion for film and TV from a young age. The poster of Marilyn Monroe he kept on his wall didn't hurt either; Farrell admitted that she was his first childhood crush on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in 2017.

He was almost in a boy band

Colin Farrell's career almost went in a drastically different direction, but, thankfully, his acting chops were a bit better than his singing skills. As he's recounted a handful of times, Farrell auditioned for Irish boyband, Boyzone. Although he didn't get the part.

During a night out clubbing, Farrell caught the eye music manager Louis Walsh. And apparently, he had just the look that the man behind Ireland's biggest boyband was looking for. "I was wearing a tight rubber t-shirt and a pair of rubber pants," he said on "The Late Late Show." Walsh thought Farrell would be perfect for the band. Farrell recounted: "He said, 'look I'm getting this band together. It's gonna be great and you'd be wonderful.'" And so, Farrell came in for an audition. His tune of choice to show the panel his stuff? George Michael's saxophone ballad, "Careless Whisperer." But singing wasn't his strong suit. "I murdered it," he said. "It was so bad that they asked me to do it again. I sang it a second time, and I didn't feel great about myself after that."

Boyzone went on to become one of the biggest acts to come out of Ireland in the 1990s with millions of records sold worldwide. And Farrell, well, we know what he went on to become.

His professional soccer player dreams crashed and burned

Before he got into acting, Colin Farrell wanted to follow in the footsteps of his family members and become a professional soccer player. But, as a young kid, Farrell realized that he wasn't good enough for the soccer superstar life.

"I wanted to be a footballer, but I wasn't good enough," he said, according to RTE. "Certainly, when I was 13 or 14, I knew for sure that I'd dropped the ball, so to speak." His dad was much more dedicated to the game, compared to Farrell, as he "was kicking a punctured tennis ball up against the wall in his back garden from the time he was four, on his own, six hours a day. The knowledge of the game, it was so deep in the marrow of who he was."

The path of a soccer player, like his dad and uncle, wasn't meant to be for Farrell. However, ultimately, he did have the drive to pursue something else. "I just didn't want it enough," he said. "He always used to say that to me, 'You're not hungry enough,' and he was right. But I was obviously hungry enough to get on a plane to LA."

E.T. inspired him to act

Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" was a groundbreaking movie in many ways. It broke box office records, it brought sci-fi into the mainstream, and it went on to win a handful of prestigious awards at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. It also had a huge effect on both old and young moviegoers of the era -– then seven-year-old Colin Farrell included.

In an interview with The Sun (via Digital Spy), Farrell recounted how "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" motivated him to pursue acting from a young age. "I cried and I just loved it," he said. "I was taken away completely to another world. It inspired in me all sorts of thoughts, emotions, and it has stayed with me very much. 'E.T.' really did it for me."

As for his own involvement in the sci-fi genre, Farrell has starred in a number of otherworldly projects. In fact, he even got to work with Spielberg on a sci-fi film in 2002 -– although, there were no friendly, finger-glowing aliens in this one. That was "Minority Report," in which Farrell plays a government official tracking down a man after a futuristic crime prevention system goes awry. Of course, Farrell was more than eager to work with the director of his childhood favorite movie -– even before he read the script. "It was a case of such top secret 'you're not reading the script until you say you're going to do it,'" he told the Irish Echo. "Of course, I was going to do it!"

He got his start in British dramas

Colin Farrell kicked off his professional acting career with uncredited roles in the romantic war drama "Frankie Starlight" and the mystery "The Disappearance of Finbar" in the mid-1990s. At the same time, he attended the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin (actors like Colin O'Donoghue, Aiden Turner, and Olivia Wilde would later follow suit), where he studied hard to hone his craft. In 1998, Farrell got his first big break, landing a main role on the BBC drama "Ballykissangel." The show follows a young English Roman Catholic priest who is transferred to the fictional village of Ballykissangel in Ireland. Farrell played one of the locals, Danny Byrne, from 1998 to 1999. "It was one of the f****** greatest things that ever happened to me," Farrell told The Independent about the role.

At the same time, the Irish actor did four guest episodes on another BBC romantic drama, playing Daniel McCarthy on "Falling for a Dancer." After his time on both shows came to an end, Farrell made the switch back to feature films, this time in bigger roles. He played Nick in the drama "The War Zone" alongside Tim Roth ("She Hulk: Attorney at Law"), who directed and starred in the 1998 feature. The film follows a UK family struggling with a dark secret.

Farrell would go on to star in two more British projects — the crime comedy "Ordinary Decent Criminals" alongside Kevin Spacey and Linda Fiorentino, and the ITV detective drama "A Touch of Frost" — before he made his transition to bigger Hollywood films.

His transition to Hollywood was thrilling

When the time finally came for Farrell to make the transition from British projects to Hollywood features, he jumped in with both feet. He quickly secured roles in the western "American Outlaws" and the science fiction actioner "Minority Report," the latter of which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Tom Cruise. Farrell's success led to even bigger roles in thrillers like "Phone Booth," "The Recruit," and "S.W.A.T.," as well as the superhero film "Daredevil," which saw him play antagonist Bullseye.

However, his transition into Hollywood movies wasn't totally smooth sailing, and there were plenty of ups and downs along the way. One big down came in 2004, when Farrell played Alexander the Great in Oliver Stone's feature "Alexander," which had been the director's passion project since college. Farrell, along with the cast and crew, were very proud of the film that they made. "We were all like, 'Right, lads, we're off to the Oscars. This is a sure thing.' And then it came out," he recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. The reviews were so terrible that Farrell claimed to have even thought about returning the $20 million salary he received. But most importantly, the experience really made him stop and think about his future and the trajectory of his career. "What I had to do was plug back into the Colin that went into an acting class when he was 17." Thankfully, he refocused and returned to the big screen, receiving critical acclaim for his performance in "In Bruges" in 2008.

Colin Farrell was a suspect in a murder

With all the acting roles to his name from crime drama thrillers, Colin Farrell has some real-life experience with genre, too. And just like a twist in one of his movies, Farrell was wrongly accused of committing a murder. It all happened when he was in Australia during his younger, wilder days.

"When I was a late teen, I got brought in for questioning as a suspect in an attempted murder," he said during a promotional spot for "True Detective" Season 2 on "Jimmy Fallon." Farrell went on to explain that the police brought him in as a suspect in the crime due to a composition sketch of the alleged criminal, which looked eerily like him. "[The suspect] had bushy eyebrows, a mole on his face, spoke even in two dimensions with an Irish accent," he said. And due to that, they held him for six hours, leading Farrell to believe, as he put it, "I think I'm in trouble."

But luckily, Farrell was able to prove that he wasn't involved in the crime, although he was up to a lesser no-good at the time of the incident. A friend had kept a detailed journal at the time, which ruled him out as a suspect. Instead, here's what he was doing when the crime took place: "That particular night at that particular time, we were at a party on the other side of town doing ecstasy."

The sex tape

Colin Farrell hasn't directed any feature films -– yet –- although he does have one uncredited "directing" acknowledgement to his name under his IMDb page: his sex tape with his ex-partner Nicole Narain. Farrell dated the former Playboy playmate in the early 2000s and, as he told talk show host Jonathan Ross, "It seemed like a good idea at the time. Two adults having fun, and, oh a video camera! I think I was high at the time. But I might've got some of my better reviews from that, which would be depressing."

As these things do, the video made its way onto the internet. However, Farrell did his darndest to keep the public from viewing the video and especially one person –- his mother. As he told Elle magazine in a 2014 interview: "God forbid it's an On Demand movie in a hotel room and my mother says, 'Oh, I haven't seen this work of my son's,' and hits purchase."

For her part, Narain also wanted the video to remain private, and she claimed that it damaged her career. "I try not to let too many things get to me, but this is definitely stressful," she told People magazine in 2005."I really would like my name to be cleared. I have nothing to do with this."

His love life

Like many Hollywood actors, Colin Farrell has dated a handful of celebrities -– and especially during his young, "bad boy" days. A few actresses, singers, and models that he's been linked to, according to a photographic scrapbook of his former flames from W Magazine, include Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Carmen Electra, Angelina Jolie, Lake Bell, and others.

And even though he's been regarding as one of Hollywood's most enduring bachelors, Farrell has confirmed that he does believe in monogamy -– even if he may not be the right guy for it. "I certainly do believe in monogamy," he told Elle magazine in a 2014 interview. "I don't believe that it's for everyone. I don't believe that marriage is for everyone. I have been monogamous in relationships. But I'm not in a relationship now. So they haven't worked. So it wouldn't stand up in court."

Aside from his theories on whether or not he's right for a monogamous relationship, Farrell has been in serious relationships with women before. And some have led to children.

He's a family man

In 2003, Colin Farrell welcomed a son with his then-girlfriend, Kim Bordenave. Their son, James, was born with a rare disorder called Angelman syndrome, which causes developmental delays and affects the nervous system. But throughout their journey with the disorder –- which has no cure as of yet –- Farrell has maintained a message of positivity and hope for other parents who may be facing similar situations. As he told "Today" in 2017: "The struggles of a child with special needs can be so brutal that they can tear at the very fabric of your heart, but the love shared and the pure strength and heroism observed is the needle and thread that mends all tears."

Farrell's second son, Henry, came in 2009 with Polish actress, Alicja Bachleda-Curuś, whom he starred alongside in the 2009 film, "Ondine." And like a lot of parents, Farrell has said that being a father has been his life's greatest work, even more so than his acting roles. "Don't get me wrong, I know I'm one of the fortunate people who gets a certain amount of meaning from my work," he said in an interview with OK! Magazine (via RTE). "And, self-indulgently, I sometimes get off on what I do, but being a dad to these two boys is the most difficult, the most rewarding, the most meaningful and the most consequential thing that I will ever do by far."

He was confronted by a woman during a Tonight Show interview

Being as famous as Colin Farrell is, it's par for the course that he has some pretty dedicated fans. However, Dessarae Bradford was a bit too keen to get close to the actor, jumping on stage and moving toward him while he was taping a segment of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in 2006. "She said something to Colin Farrell that no one heard, then he took her by the elbow, led her offstage, asked the cameramen to turn off their cameras and asked for security," a teenage audience member recalled (via People). As she was being escorted away, she yelled at Farrell, promising to see him in court. "You're insane," he replied calmly.

Although the incident was dramatic, Farrell remained calm for the rest of the show. However, he quickly filed a three-year restraining order against Bradford to protect himself, his ex-girlfriend Kim Bordenave, and their son James. Bradford later apologized, claiming the incident was a misunderstanding. "I am by no means a Farrell stalker. I had no intention of getting that close to the stage and I apologize for that," she said in court (via People). She admitted she'd been attempting to distract Farrell while a private investigator served the actor legal papers. Bradford sought $10 million from the actor over claims that he'd been the one stalking her, but after Farrell confirmed that he'd never met nor spoken to the woman before, her case was thrown out, per The Guardian.

Farrell was special friends with Dame Elizabeth Taylor

Of all his relationships with Hollywood women, Colin Farrell's most interesting and unlikely fling was with silver screen legend: Dame Elizabeth Taylor. Mind you, Taylor was 75 and Farrell 34 when they met. So the story goes, the two met at a hospital in Los Angeles, where Taylor was having a heart procedure, and Farrell's younger son, Henry, was being born.

For a man who has a sex tape still floating around somewhere on the internet, Farrell has been somewhat coy about the nature of his relationship with Taylor. "She wasn't much of a sleeper at night, like I'm not," he told The Guardian. "I'd call her at two in the morning; the nurse would answer the phone. I'd ask if she was awake, and then on the other phone I'd hear 'hello?' and I'd go: how's it going, and we'd talk for a half an hour, an hour, into the wee hours." And even though Farrell called it a "the last romantic relationship I had" at the time, he did say that it "was never consummated."

Farrell attended Taylor's funeral in 2011, and he even read a poem. His choice of words to commemorate his special friend? Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo." As for how he felt after Taylor's passing, he said: "Even in death she had me under her thumb, sweating bricks."

His charity work

Despite the bad boy persona of his early days in Hollywood, Colin Farrell has been a vocal advocate for charitable causes. For instance, he took a stand against the bullying of LGBTQ teens and spoke about it on "Ellen": "Bullying is torture. It is another betrayal of human decency, and its scars reach way into the future of its survivors. But the saddest truth is that not all children survive it. It is a potentially fatal societal illness that must be respected and not feared –- respected and dealt with as a very real problem."

Another cause, which has hit home for Farrell and his family, is the struggles that parents of children with disabilities face. (Farrell's oldest son, James, suffers from Angelman syndrome.) During an appearance at the annual Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics' gala, Farrell said: "The gala simply represents the best of humanity for me. A world of love and compassion in the face of great struggle and ultimately a song to the fortitude of the human spirit. That is what the evening is all about, it truly is. Every year I leave humbled and grateful for our community and for the beauty of the spirits of our children."

What's more, Farrell has been an advocate of the Homeless World Cup Foundation, an organization using soccer to support those living on the street. "I have seen how the Homeless World Cup really does inspire homeless people to change the direction of their lives," he said.

Farrell's drug and alcohol addiction

In recent years, Colin Farrell has been publicly vocal about his sobriety and his prior struggles with alcohol and prescription pills. Back in 2005, Farrell entered a rehab center due to exhaustion and a dependency on pain medication related to a back injury, People Magazine reported. And that was the beginning of his journey towards sobriety. "I went somewhere for five or six weeks and that was a very safe environment," Farrell told Jonathan Ross in 2008, "and I began to come out of the haze that I was in and that I had buried myself into so deeply."

Then, in 2018, Farrell checked back into a rehab –- although this time, things were different. "He isn't drinking again," a source told People magazine. "He worked back-to-back projects and just needed a break." At the time, Farrell had recently finished production on two back-to-back projects: "Dumbo" and "Widows." The source continued, clarifying that this was simply a preventative measure. "He's been sober 12 years and wanted to do this to make sure he stays that way," the source said. "He's taking some me-time and doing a tune-up and a reset. This was all his idea."

If it wasn't for his sobriety, Farrell would have likely gone down a different path. And he credits that clean-living to saving his life and, consequently, his career. "I was very drunk or high for about 16 years, it was a tough life change," he told Jonathan Ross. "But I was dying, and I'm one of the lucky ones."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He wrote a love letter to tobacco

Along with the drink and drugs, Colin Farrell was a smoker for many years. But ultimately, in his 30s, he decided to kick that habit, too. And he said farewell to his smokes like one would to a romantic partner. "I spent the whole day with a packet of [cigarettes]" he said in an interview with Shortlist. "I didn't really see anyone and every cigarette I smoked, I smoked with as much awareness as I could. And then I wrote a little letter to tobacco."

And what did this love letter say? "Oh, just the usual," he said before elaborating on the specifics. "'I remember the first time we met and all that we've been through together. That time you helped me through such-and-such situation...' and yadda-yadda. It was very much the kind of letter you'd write to a person you were breaking up with. Because that's what it was — a break-up. It was the first time I'd ever broken up via letter, so it was strange."

But just to be sure he was done, he did something else in addition to the letter. "I got a frying pan and tossed the letter with a load of tobacco, put some paraffin over it, and lit a match that sent a big, wallowing cloud up into the sky," he told Men's Health (via E!). "Then I didn't have a cigarette for another two years."

Getting into character

Every actor has their own routine for immersing themselves in a character. And some go to greater extremes than others. Colin Farrell is perhaps more on that end of the spectrum. For example, for "Total Recall" -– the 2012 remake of the original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger -– Farrell slept in his character's bed one night on set. "I just couldn't find the key for my hotel room," he joked to The Hollywood Reporter. But really, Farrell just wanted to get in the mindset of his character, Douglas Quaid. "You do anything really, at times — that's not even doing much," he said. "But just any little bits and pieces just to create little bubbles of experience." Farrell did have a little help, however, as he brought an iPod, a book, candles, incense, and a pot of tea for the experience.

Farrell's still chameleoning into character, including his portray of real life cave diver John Volanthen in Ron Howards "Thirteen Lives." The movie is about the Tham Luang cave recuse in 2018, where rescuers saved 12 Thai children and their soccer coach from a cave in 2018. Volanthen was impressed by the actor's commitment to the role. "I've spent a fair bit of time with him on Zoom, and talking to him. And I've been impressed by his diligence," he said, via the Irish Mirror. Farrell even went on to take up running, like his character does in real life. "I do a lot of running," continued Volanthen. "Ultimately, at the end of the filming, he ran the Brisbane Marathon in a very respectable time, which I think is quite diligent for a method actor."

He earned his first Oscar nomination for The Banshees of Inisherin

After years in Hollywood putting on an American accent for films like "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "The Batman," Colin Farrell got to return to his Irish roots in 2022. He played Pádraic Súilleabháin in the black tragicomedy "The Banshees of Inisherin," written and directed by British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who Farrell previously worked with on "In Bruges."

Farrell stars alongside other famous Irish names like Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and his "The Batman" co-star Barry Keoghan. The film, which is set on an isolated island off the west coast of Ireland in the 1920s, follows Farrell and Gleeson's characters, who are lifelong friends. When Colm Doherty (Gleeson) abruptly ends his friendship with Pádraic, it has unexpected consequences for both men.

"The Banshees of Inisherin" has been an unmitigated success, holding a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes after its release in September 2022. Alongside such critical praise, the film has also been nominated for a host of awards, and took home three Golden Globe Awards in 2023. Martin McDonagh picked up Best Screenplay, while Farrell took home the award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture. Additionally, the film won the award for the Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Farrell even received his first Oscar nomination for the role, going up against fellow Irish star Paul Mescal for "Aftersun" in the category of Best Actor.

It took hours for him to transform into the Penguin

"The Batman" was not Colin Farrell's first time playing the antagonist in a superhero film, but his turn as the crime boss Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepot required a much more significant transformation than his role as Bullseye in 2003's "Daredevil." His costume required the svelte 45-year-old actor to wear a fatsuit, prosthetics, and heavy makeup to create details such as the scar on the Penguin's right cheek. The transformation process took up to four hours, but Farrell was thrilled to take it on. "I will say it was one of the most exciting, jubilant, celebratory experiences I've had in making pictures in 20 years," he gushed (via Twitter).

Farrell's transformation was so drastic that he was unrecognizable when in costume. He first took Oswald out for a test drive at Starbucks. He told Collider, "I got a couple of stares but only because it's such an imposing look." But the costume was an even more impressive disguise on set. His co-star Rupert Penry-Jones, who played Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr., was convinced that this imposing figure was just an over-confident extra telling a lot of stories on set (per MovieWeb). Penry-Jones didn't recognize his co-star at all until he started putting the pieces together. "He had a brace on his leg and these weird scars on his face, and I thought, 'This is quite a lot of effort they've gone to for a supporting artist...' and suddenly I realized, 'Wait a minute this guy must be playing the Penguin, oh my God that's Colin Farrell!'"

Colin Farrell's Penguin is getting his own spin-off TV series

Colin Farrell's iteration of Gotham crime boss the Penguin is here to stay. He'll make a reappearance on the small screen with his own spin-off miniseries, "The Penguin." At this point, the amount of times Farrell has played villains and antagonists in both movies and TV shows has caught the attention of his kids. He joked about this on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," saying, "They're sick of me being a bad guy. Yeah, which, apparently, reading between the lines, leads me to believe that they think I'm okay."

Even if they won't admit it, Farrell's kids aren't the only ones who think he's actually pretty cool. And important, according to director Matt Reeves, who told Collider that Farrell's mobster is an integral part of the BatVerse. "There's actually a whole little fabric of things we're wanting to do, the way we're doing with Penguin and how that comes back into how that will lead into the sequel, and what that sequel is going to be," Reeves said, teasing his big ambitions for the show.

While there are still very few details about the series, which viewers can expect to see on HBO Max in 2024, there is another actor currently attached to the project. Deadline confirmed Cristin Miloti ("Made For Love") will play Sofia Falcone, the daughter of infamous crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), who was killed in "The Batman."