Sobriety Suits Him: Reaching Tenth “Sober Birthday,” Colin Farrell Is Becoming a Tour De Force


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What’s your favorite scene from the 2005 reboot of Miami Vice? Do you have it in your mind?

That puts you one step ahead of star Colin Farrell, who maintains to this day that he doesn’t remember filming the movie. In fact, he told The Mirror that watching the premier was strange because he “didn’t know what was happening next.” You read that correctly: despite being the movie’s star, Farrell didn’t remember how the plot of the movie actually unfolded.

If that seems inconceivable, think again: immediately after the movie wrapped, Farrell’s family and friends pressured him into rehab. Now ten years sober, he has evolved from the fiery, seething character actor that first emerged in Minority Report. That role, as Tom Cruise’s foil, used an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story to firmly plant Farrell in the dreams of American schoolgirls and housewives.

From there, he anchored the high-intensity thriller Phone Booth and the FBI drama The Recruit, both of which landed him in his first true blockbuster: Oliver Stone’s 2004 drama Alexander.  That film led directly to the aforementioned Miami Vice, and the end of Farrell’s decade of decadence. Although he was culturally relevant – he even had a cameo on the NBC sitcom Scrubs – none of his work was exactly the stuff of legend.

In part, Farrell says he kept drinking and using because of fear; he told Ellen in an interview near his tenth “sober birthday” that for years, he “subscribed to the notion that to be able to express yourself in an artistic form in life you have to live in perpetual pain.” These days, he calls that notion “nonsense. There’s enough pain in the world already.”

In retrospect, Farrell’s belief that his substance abuse contributed to his acting abilities seems unfounded. If anything, it may have hindered his development. Today, fans see a sober, wiser actor—one that’s already reflected in a much broader swath of casting decisions, from HBO’s True Detective to a wider range of box-office roles. His turn as Travers Goff in Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks must have drawn heavily on his own story, as Farrell portrays the alcoholic father of P.L. Travers.

Farrell’s own experiences as a father may have contributed to maintaining his sobriety. His son James was born in 2003 with Angelman syndrome, which causes developmental delays. Farrell calls his son “dynamite…magic…[as he deals with]his trials and tribulations.” Six years later, Farrell’s second son Henry was born; these days, the actor averages a couple of major-release films a year and splits his time between Dublin and Los Angeles, bringing his sons along whenever he can.

Farrell is transitioning from up-and-comer to industry titan quite well. The days of jock-film blockbusters are gone, and in their place is more substantive work: in 2009 Farrell received a Golden Globe for In Bruges; this year, he’s nominated again for The Lobster. And in addition to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, this year will see the release of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Beguiled, both serious films with early awards buzz.