Colin Farrell is a crier. While accepting his Golden Globe for Best Actor for his poignant, masterful performance in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin earlier this month, he admitted as much to Ana de Armas, who presented him with the award. “Ana, I thought you were extraordinary. I cried myself to sleep the night that I saw your film, Blonde,” he told her. She looked on awkwardly, smiling but clearly surprised that Farrell was addressing her when he was supposed to be basking in his own glory. “I cried myself to sleep,” he emphasized. “It messed me up so bad. Not a joke!”
The speech Farrell went on to give was majorly charming. He roasted his costar Barry Keoghan (who’s also superb in the film) for stealing his Crunchy-Nut cornflakes while they cohabitated on set (“peak Irish da behavior”), then effusively showered his primary scene partner, Brendan Gleeson, with love and praise. “Brendan, I love you so much. I love you so much," he said. “All I did when I came to work every day was aspire to be your equal. I'm not saying I even got there, but the aspiration kept me going.” Writer Meecham Whitson Meriweather tweeted the video of the speech, adding, “The emotion. The charisma…Toxic masculinity found dead in a ditch!!!” GQ ran with the same frame: “Colin Farrell’s Golden Globes Acceptance Speech Says No Thanks to Toxic Masculinity.”
If you aren’t a fan of wonderful, weird little indie films, you might have kinda forgotten about Farrell for the past decade or so; his last and only other Golden Globe was for 2008’s In Bruges, when he first worked with both Gleeson and McDonagh. That film — a black comedy about two bumbling assassins that fails to condemn Farrell’s character’s repugnant prejudices — was your typical Colin Farrell vehicle at the time: a thriller showcasing the Irish actor’s broody sexiness and goofy sense of humor. His career started on the BBC and in moody English dramas, but he hit his stride in the early aughts with crime thrillers that would position him for In Bruges: Phone Booth, The Recruit (costarring Al Pacino), S.W.A.T., Miami Vice. His biggest breakout was Stephen Speilberg’s 2002 science fiction film Minority Report. Geoffrey Macnab recently argued in the Independent that 20 years ago, Farrell had been on the fast track to become the next Tom Cruise until a series of flops (like Oliver Stone’s Alexander, a 2004 role for which he was ridiculed for a silly blonde dye job) sent him on a different and, in the end, far more interesting path.
When he was first famous, Farrell was your classic Hollywood bad boy. He dated Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, and Demi Moore, and was rumored to date many others. A year after Alexander flopped (“I felt so much shame,” he recently told the Hollywood Reporter, in an Oscar contender roundtable, about the terrible reviews), he checked himself into rehab for drug addiction.
In the mid-aughts, after plenty of early promise, Farrell became a bit of a joke, especially after a sex tape of him and his then-partner Nicole Naraian, shot in 2003, was made public. If the video had come out today, Farrell might have been given more grace in our era of reexamining the harms committed by a ruthless press and mocking public to the young stars of the aughts. Though he didn’t suffer from the sexism and misogyny wielded against, say, his former flame Spears, he did sue Naraian in 2006 for the unauthorized release of their 13-minute video, accusing her of trying to sabotage his acting career and make money off the scandal. She denied the allegations, and the suit was eventually settled for an undisclosed sum.
If you aren’t a fan of wonderful, weird little indie films, you might have kinda forgotten about Farrell for the past decade or so.
Waylaid by the tape, rehab, and a number of flops, Farrell kept up a steady output of blockbusters — mostly forgettable fantasy dramas and war epics. By the next decade, however, Farrell had a number of fascinating turns in artsy small-budget projects from darlings of arthouse independent cinema, like the thrice-Oscar-nominated Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.
Farrell played David in Lanthimos’s absurdist comedy The Lobster (2015). David’s wife just left him for another man, and he is escorted to a strange hotel where he and other singles have 45 days to find another mate, or else they’ll be turned into an animal of their choice. (David is determined to become a lobster.) Alongside an excellent Rachel Weisz, Farrell captures with his signature deadpan humor the absurdity of modern dating mores and our culture’s obsession with monogamy. And it manages to be a surprisingly moving love story. Two years later, Farrell teamed up with Lanthimos again for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the kind of heady psychological horror film for which the production and distribution company A24 has become beloved to the point of self-parody.
2022 was the year when the breadth and depth of Farrell’s work finally started becoming more apparent to wider audiences. He was fresh off of 2021’s After Yang, Kogonada’s moody sci-fi drama with what is perhaps the best opening title sequence of all time. Farrell, alongside Jodie Turner-Smith — the two of them together made a strikingly gorgeous couple — played the parent of a little girl whose emotional support robot was shutting down. He was unrecognizable as Penguin in The Batman, a genuinely frightening menace of a character who also manages to inspire that dreary film’s few laughs. (He’ll reprise the role for an upcoming TV series.) He saved the day as a British cave-diver in Ron Howard’s biographical drama Thirteen Lives, about the Tham Luang cave rescue of a stranded soccer team. And most gloriously of all, Farrell plays Pádraic Súilleabháin in McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, which nabbed him the Golden Globe and, by most critics’ predictions, will almost certainly get him nominated for his first Oscar when the awards shortlist is announced this week. Hell, he might even win the thing.
Farrell and McDonagh’s most recent collaboration couldn’t be more different than the first one. In Bruges is an odious movie. Farrell stars as a bigoted moron of an assassin whose sexism, racism, and plenty of other -isms are played for cheap laughs. McDonagh’s fascination with oppressive ideology plays heavily into 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which won lots of awards for its resonant tale about female rage despite how much it sucked on the racism front.
Banshees is McDonagh getting back to his roots. Chris Plante writing for Polygon does a fine job explaining how the filmmaker went from making his worst film to his best by returning to the Irish islands of his playwriting past, when McDonagh’s work centered on “messy men, adored pets, and the ‘I love you so much I could kill ya’ tension of brotherhood.” Farrell seems as though he was born to play Pádraic, a simple, kinda boring guy who takes life day by day and gets his heart broken by his longtime best friend and drinking buddy, the folk musician and violinist, Colm (Gleeson), who’s suddenly decided he won’t fritter away the rest of his life spending countless hours listening to Pádraic talk about what he found in his pony’s shit that day.
While obviously allegorical, and with the small-scale intimacy of a play brought to the screen, the world of Banshees — the tiny fictional island of Inisherin — is so real, so lived in, and so embodied by phenomenal performances by fellow Irish actors Kerry Condon as Siobhán Súilleabháin, Pádraic’s long-suffering, book-loving sister, and Barry Keoghan as Dominic Kearney, a lonely local boy. The relationship between Pádraic and his donkey, Jenny (played by a donkey of the same name), is so sweet, so precious that watching fancams of the two of them can bring me to tears.
Pádraic’s love of his home, his animals, and the very few people in his life — a love that’s corrupted over the course of the film — is beautiful to witness. And you get the sense that Farrell himself is a great big sentimental mush. He hasn’t only cried while watching Ana de Armas in Blonde; he cried on camera in 2021 while discussing LA’s homelessness crisis, cried while watching himself in Banshees, and while talking to Jamie Lee Curtis about the music he listened to while making Banshees.
The promotional cycle for the film has paired Farrell with a number of his fellow actors, and so many of the resulting conversations have been totally delightful. Vanity Fair reunited him with Emma Thompson, his costar for 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, and it’s clear the two have a similar buoyant, drily funny energy. At one point, Thompson asks Farrell if he’s having good sex at the moment, and he responds, “Oh, God. That’s a different Zoom, darling. Email me.”
After many years of his relationships being tabloid fodder, and after fathering two sons with two different women (who, from interviews, seem to be the pride and joy of his life), Farrell now keeps his love life extremely low profile. The last time he publicly mentioned a girlfriend (without naming her) was on Ellen in 2017. Sleuths determined he was referring to Kelly McNamara, a manager for U2, whom Farrell has been friends with for a long time. It’s unclear whether the two are still together, and I don’t think anyone really cares either way. Farrell’s public image is no longer inextricably tied up with his sex appeal; he’s now the handsome gentleman who helps Jennifer Coolidge up the stairs at the Golden Globes and charms everyone’s pants off with his love — of film and his love for his fellow actors.
Ever since Angelina Jolie’s horrifying abuse allegations against Brad Pitt have made my formerly favorite hunk impossible to root for, I’ve been grateful to Colin Farrell for filling that role in my heart. The guy’s funny, charismatic, handsome as hell, and on the verge of his first Oscar nomination for the role of a lifetime. Let the Colin Farrell era begin. ●
Shannon Keating is a writer, jeweler, and culture critic. She lives in northern England.