With his breakout role in Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland” in 2000 at the age of 24, Irish actor Colin Farrell became an overnight success story and one of the most sought-after actors for projects.
At the time, he bounced between studio films and indies – taking on success stories like “Minority Report” and “Phone Booth” to less well-regarded titles like the early “Daredevil” adaptation and “S.W.A.T.” along with some smaller films like “Veronica Guerin” and “A Home at the End of the World”.
Then he had his most high-profile role to date as the lead of Oliver Stone’s long-in-the-works Alexander the Great biopic. The film actually made it to the finish line, unlike another version planned by Baz Luhrman that would’ve starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
It was a massive production that spanned three continents, took half a year to shoot, had a solid marketing campaign, and boasted a strong cast like Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, and Christopher Plummer. Hopes were high.
Then the reviews came out and the tide turned overnight. The movie was widely panned as an overlong, ponderous and messy bore that played far too dry as compared to the more sword and sandals fun of “Troy” earlier that same year which was much more designed a popcorn movie than Stone’s feature.
Appearing on a THR Actors Roundtable this week, Farrell spoke about his experience with the release of the film and revealed it seriously made him question his ability as an actor and reprioritise what he wanted from life:
“Expectation is a dangerous thing. ‘Alexander’ was a story that Oliver Stone had dreamed of since he was in college. So, as grand as it was, as global as it was, as political as it was, as thrilling as it was, as violent as it was, and as sensual as it was, it was really personal – to Oliver and to me.
When I say ‘expectation,’ we all had our tuxedos ready [for awards shows]. I’m not even joking. We were all like, ‘Right, lads, we’re off to the Oscars. This is a sure thing.’ And then it came out. The reviews came out, and I remember someone going, ‘Oh God, it’s not good.’ And my publicist going, ‘It’s really not good.’ I was like, ‘Well, what do you mean ‘not good’?’
There wasn’t any Rotten Tomatoes then, so they had all the printed reviews, and one after another was telling me to pack my bags. I’d been found out: ‘Alexander the Dull,’ ‘Alexander the Boring,’ ‘Alexander the Inarticulate,’ ‘Alexander the Weak.’ I was like, ‘Holy s—.’ I thought, ‘What can I do?’ I felt so much shame. I found myself in a place where with everyone I met I wanted to say, ‘Have you seen ‘Alexander’? If you have, I’m really sorry.’ I’m not even joking.”
Farrell says he retreated to a Lake Tahoe ski resort for three days to unplug. After that point, he said:
“I did question. I went, ‘I’m just s— at it. I’m a crap actor. I’ve been found out. I came blazing onto the scene with a bit of moxie and a bit of Irish this and that – ‘F—, I don’t give a s— about it!’ I was 23. When you’re 23 and you actually care a lot, and you don’t know how to articulate that or have a relationship with that care, the easiest thing to do is to say you ‘don’t give a s—.’ This is not to apologize – I was a young man – but ‘Alexander’ really made me go, ‘I don’t know.’
And what I had to do was plug back into the Colin that went into an acting class when he was 17. And not only the fellow that went in the first time, but, more importantly, the fellow that went back for the second workshop. I had lost that. I was shot out of the cannon, as you said. I was given so much opportunity. It was insane how much money I was given, the keys to this, the keys to that.
That’s why, when I heard years ago that Justin Bieber threw eggs at his neighbor, I was like, ‘He deserves a medal if that’s all he’s doing.’ He raced a car on Ocean Drive? I’m like, ‘If that’s all he’s doing, that kid is trying the best he can to be a good human being.’ So anyway, it’s been an interesting trip. And I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to reconnect with the simplicity that should never leave the core of what we do.”
The film went on to gross $167 million worldwide against a $155 million budget, a commercial bomb. Stone, of course, went on to release multiple recuts of “Alexander” with four versions of the film ultimately being released – the 175-minute theatrical cut in 2004, the 167-minute director’s cut a year later, and then the ‘Final Unrated Cut’ in 2007 which clocked in at 214 minutes.
That 2007 two-disc release sold nearly a million copies and became one of the highest-selling catalog items from Warner Bros. Pictures. Even reviews generally dubbed it a far superior product to the theatrical release. As a result, they convinced Stone to release one more version, a trimmer ‘Ultimate Cut’ in 2014 which came in at 206 minutes.