Colin Farrell enjoys second chances

Monday, August 20, 2001

— When Edward Norton pulled out of the upcoming World War II flick "Hart's War," it was Colin Farrell who stepped in. It was Farrell who also took over Jim Carrey's part for "Phone Booth" and he's set to star opposite Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" � a role originally offered to Matt Damon.

"I have no problem being second place in people's minds to Matt Damon, Jim Carrey and Edward Norton," says the Irish-born 25-year-actor.

But before moviegoers get a chance to check him out in those roles, they can see him as Jesse James in "American Outlaws," in which he fulfills a childhood dream of riding horses, running atop trains and shooting large guns.

"I didn't think they'd let a Dublin boy play Jesse James, you know?" Farrell says, with a grin.

It's a western without irony. Set in Liberty, Mo., the film is so corny, you can taste the husk. The outlaws are honest, the country doctor is kindly and his daughter is beautiful. There's even an evil railroad baron � who wears all black.

At one point, Farrell utters the line, "Doc, go home. They ain't gonna hang no more Liberty boys."

Farrell knows this isn't exactly "Unforgiven."

"It's not that deep," he says, smiling. "It's never meant � in its design and in its nature � to change anyone's life. I wanted to just enjoy myself."

As for how an Irish lad got to portray an icon of the Old West, Farrell has a simple answer.

"There could be American actors out there going, 'Why don't they hire from our own back garden? Why do you have to go to Ireland?' But Irish actors say the same thing about Tom Cruise in 'Far and Away' and Brad Pitt in 'The Devil's Own."'

Jesse James is a leap from Farrell's previous work in "Tigerland," director Joel Schumacher's gritty film about GIs at a Louisiana training camp waiting to be shipped out to Vietnam.

Farrell played Bozz, an iconoclast Texan who delights in thumbing his nose at Army brass and figuring out ways to help get desperate fellow soldiers out of combat.

It was a great film that few people saw. Shot with handheld cameras, starring unknowns and dwelling on the brutality of an unpopular war, "Tigerland" didn't get into many theaters.

So Farrell used it as an audition reel.

"I did GREAT out of it," he says. "One of the most frustrating things about it really was that I did great out of it but a lot of the other actors didn't."

Farrell got the "Tigerland" job in an unorthodox way. After meeting Schumacher briefly in a London hotel room, the director invited the Irishman to submit a sample of his work.

The actor � enlisting his sister, Catherine, behind a camcorder � did two scenes in a Texas accent. The director would later muse that the whole thing seemed fueled by a few pints of Guinness.

"I sounded like Blanche DuBois," says Farrell, who recently married English actress Amelia Warner of "Quills."

Nevertheless, Schumacher offered him the role. Farrell called Ireland with the news and he heard his family clinking glasses filled with champagne over the receiver.

Born in a Dublin suburb, Farrell is the youngest of four children and the son of a famous Irish soccer player. He toured Ireland in a dance troupe and worked in Australia for a year, returning to enroll at the Gaiety School of Acting.

He won roles in the BBC series "Ballykissangel" and the miniseries "Falling For a Dancer" before snagging a small part in "Ordinary Decent Criminal" with Kevin Spacey.

After "Tigerland," Vanity Fair called him "the Irish Brad Pitt" and Harper's Bazaar gushed that he was "the most irresistible Irish import since Guinness."

"With everything that's being said about him, I believe that he'll live up to his billing and more," says Will McCormack, his "American Outlaws" co-star. "He really does come from a place that is very real."