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Tim Grierson on the Return of Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell

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When you think of Colin Farrell, what comes to mind? Do you picture the Hollywood heartthrob who’s constant tabloid fodder? Or do you remember the fine actor who’s done everything from “The New World” to “In Bruges”? The betting is that, for most people, it’s the former. Lately, Farrell is trying his best to make it the latter.

On Friday, Farrell stars in the remake of “Total Recall,” the latest film in the Irish actor’s years-long project to rehabilitate his image. For a guy who only recently turned 36, he has already experienced several significant career ups and downs in the 12 years since he came to the world’s attention in “Tigerland.” It’s hardly been a smooth road from there to here, but it sure hasn’t been dull.

Farrell made his Hollywood debut in 2000’s “Tigerland,” a nervy change of pace from director Joel Schumacher who at that point was best known for making blockbuster John Grisham and Batman movies. But “Tigerland” was a gritty, low-budget character piece about young men preparing to be shipped off to the Vietnam War, and it starred the unknown Farrell as the rebellious, antiwar Private Roland Bozz. The actor gave the movie an immediate weight and authenticity — he seemed like a star with real chops.

And thus began the first phase of Farrell’s career, that of a serious actor with movie-star looks. It’s entirely possible that he could have chosen to use that momentum as a springboard for thought-provoking roles, Oscar nominations and critics’ accolades. Instead, he quickly transitioned to more Hollywood films, which proved to be a very mixed bag for him. Usually, he was slotted as the up-and-comer next to the established pro (with Tom Cruise in “Minority Report,” with Al Pacino in “The Recruit”), but too often he was involved in dull studio action films like “S.W.A.T.” and “Daredevil,” the token “respected actor” added to the ensemble to give it a little more prestige. This period of Farrell’s career was capped by 2003’s “Phone Booth,” which found him reuniting with Schumacher for a nasty little thriller about a man forced to stay on the phone with an unseen sniper, lest he be killed. While “Phone Booth” wasn’t great, it suggested the kind of star presence Farrell had, even if it didn’t show off his acting skill to its fullest potential.

But by this point, audiences arguably knew Farrell better from his off-camera exploits than by anything he had done on film. He was linked to starlets like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. He had a problem with drugs and alcohol. And by all accounts, he was pretty miserable. “I had created an environment for myself, a way of living for myself which, on the outside, seemed incredibly gregarious and vivacious,” he later told interviewer Jonathan Ross. “I don’t believe I have any chemical predisposition towards depression, but let’s just say I was suffering from a spiritual malady for years and I indulged it.” If there was a low point, it might have been “Alexander,” the critically savaged 2004 Oliver Stone historical epic that Farrell spent more than a year filming. A few weeks after “Alexander’s” release, which was met with audience apathy, Farrell hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the first time, and in his opening monologue he joked about the film’s failure and then did a bit where he played into his persona as an arrogant womanizer who got by on his looks and accent. In the span of a few years, Farrell had gone from being viewed as a promising young star to being dismissed as a hopeless party boy.

If it became easy to write Farrell off, there were still signs that he had the goods as an actor. At the time, his turn in “The New World” was deemed by some a surprise: What was a lightweight like him doing anchoring a film by the great Terrence Malick? But it was a nuanced, grieving performance that gave the film’s central love story a soul. And even if “Miami Vice” was an overblown thriller, Farrell’s haunted cop helped cut through the macho bluster elsewhere. Very quietly, Farrell was honing his soulful side.

That came through even more gloriously in two films released in 2008. In the underrated Woody Allen drama “Cassandra’s Dream,” he plays a luckless London lad who can’t live with himself after he commits murder to help pay off his gambling debts. Showing none of the sharp swagger of his earlier roles, Farrell was touchingly, painfully vulnerable in “Cassandra’s Dream” — it felt like seeing him for the first time. Then came “In Bruges,” a tart crime comedy-thriller that once again featured Farrell as a would-be tough guy who simply doesn’t have the stomach for the dark side. (He plays a hitman who inadvertently kills a boy on his first job.) This newfound lack of cockiness didn’t make Farrell dull; rather, it revealed depths that something like “S.W.A.T.” simply didn’t. Critics warmed up to him again, and he won a Golden Globe for his “In Bruges” performance.

Since then, he’s bravely bounced from role to role, seemingly freed of the expectations of his early career. Also undoubtedly helpful, he got sober. (“You develop such f***ed-up attachments that you need to be confused and in pain and high to create art,” he said in 2010 by way of explaining his earlier bad-boy behavior.) Not all of those roles have been successful — he’s enjoyably game, if a bit one-note, as the jerk boss in “Horrible Bosses” — but you can forgive a few misfires for something as eloquent as his turn as the successful country sensation in “Crazy Heart.” For as much praise as Jeff Bridges received for that film — not to mention the Oscar — Farrell’s sweetness and casual confidence in the drama make it one of his very finest performances.

This brings us to this weekend’s “Total Recall,” where he’ll play the role that was originated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990 film. (It’s hard to think of two more different actors, which is probably the point.) Despite all his ups and downs, Farrell has emerged as an actor who audiences are still willing to take seriously: a regular guy who’s got a bit of gravitas to him. But for Farrell, “Total Recall” also represents his most concerted attempt in the last few years to prove himself as a box office draw in his own right. Are moviegoers ready to see him that way? That remains to be seen, but considering where Farrell’s career was just a few years ago, it’s achievement enough that he’s come this far to even have that be a legitimate question.

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Scarface Movie Al Pacino

Wanna Play?

Say Hello to Our Scarface Quiz

Play along with movie trivia during "Scarface" tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Tony Montana is all about money, power and respect. And while we can’t promise you’ll get money or power by taking our Scarface quiz below, you will get respect if you get a perfect score. One out of three ain’t bad. Click below to take the quiz, and catch Scarface this month on IFC.

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Hank Azaria Commencement

Best Speech Ever

Hank Azaria’s Simpsons Advice For Grads, Questionable Shark Facts and More of This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Hank's Tufts commencement speech, Jason Alexander's shark facts and more.

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Photo Credit: YouTube/Tufts University

We’ve made it! Memorial Day weekend! But before we can complain that it’s over too quickly, take a moment to bask in the pre-break lack of productivity and enjoy some lighthearted videos.

From Hank Azaria channeling Chief Wiggum and other Simpsons characters while talking to college grads to “Shark-spert” Jason Alexander sharing questionable shark facts, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. Kermit Informs Fozzie Bear That They’ve Been Canceled

It’s never easy to see someone receive bad news, much less a Muppet. But if anything, Kermit’s poise and acceptance during a time of crisis is impressive, admirable even. Fozzie Bear, on the other hand, reacts with greater similarity to how we would: with baseless anger and utter despair.


2. Jason Alexander Offers Shark “Fin Facts”

Memorial Day weekend means the start of beach season, aka Shark Feeding Season. As part of IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Memorial Day marathon, “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander offers up some interesting “fin facts” about our sharp-toothed friends from the deep. You can also check out Jason’s beach tips, and catch the Jaws movies with more “fin facts” from Jason this Memorial Day on IFC.


3. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke Confirms Dothraki Is a Real Language

With eyes still dewy from the climax of this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Hold the door!), the Mother of Dragons herself Emilia Clarke dropped by Late Night with Seth Meyers to throw the diehard fans a reason to smile: Yes, Dothraki is a real language. Watch Clarke discuss the phonetics and grammar involved with vying for Westeros rule.


4. Hank Azaria Gives Advice Through Simpsons Characters

Hank Azaria — star of The Simpsons, The Birdcage, and Brockmire, premiering in 2017 on IFC — gave the commencement speech at his alma mater Tufts University. In the hilarious speech, Azaria discusses how he got through college, recounts his early career struggles, and offers up life advice via fan favorite Simpsons characters like Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy.


5. X-Men: The Animated Series Gets Honest

Screen Junkies are back this week with another round of Honest Trailers. This entry focuses on the cartoon mutants that comprise X-Men: The Animated Series — an ultra-’90s Marvel property that predates the comic book adaptation boom of the 21st Century. But looking back at the decade of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, this video finds much to mock.

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Weird Al Comedy Bang Bang Season 5

Call Him Al

“Weird Al” Talks Comedy Bang! Bang!, His Upcoming Tour, Favorite Videos and More

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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With a career spanning five decades, “Weird Al” Yankovic has defined the song parody genre and become a beloved pop culture icon. Starting June 3rd, you’ll be able to catch him as the brand new Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader Fridays at 11P on IFC.

We recently chatted with Al about joining Scott Aukerman on the new season, his upcoming tour, favorite CB!B! characters and his future dream projects. (Hint: it might involve actors spontaneously breaking into song.)

The Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader gig seems like a natural fit for you. Did it take any time to get acclimated?

Weird Al: Yeah. It’s a slightly different skill set. The accordion is my main act, but I don’t use it on the show at all. It’s a keyboard setup. The actual setup is a little bit of a combination of what Reggie [Watts] had and [Kid] Cudi had. And a few extra things thrown in. So I’m trying to do my own version of what they brought to the show.

You’ve been on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and the show many times. Do you have a favorite CB!B! character?

Weird Al: I’d probably have to say Doctor Time. Every time Scott wants me to do an evil character, he’s always got a bad English accent. [Laughs] Any time my character goes evil, he becomes sort of British.

Any favorite guests you’ve worked with?

Weird Al: Gosh, I love them all. Paul F. Tompkins is always fun. His Andrew Lloyd Webber character, Cake Boss, everything he does. And Andy Daly as well. They’re so versatile and so amazing at improv. That’s the one thing I was a little nervous about because I’ve never been super confident with my improv skills. But Comedy Bang! Bang!, particularly the TV version, is good for that because it’s all heavily edited. So it kind of gives me permission to try out whatever comes to my mind, so if it really sucks, they’re not gonna use it. [Laughs]

Scott Aukerman Weird Al

Your upcoming tour is a continuation of your Mandatory Fun tour from last year. Any new elements to the show?

Weird Al: Well, it is the same tour, so it’s not that much different. I might freshen some video a little bit. I’m hoping to use a bit or two from the current season of Comedy Bang! Bang! and slip that into the show somewhere.

The tour starts June 3rd in St. Petersburg, Florida and ends September 24th at Radio City Music Hall. How do you keep up the pace? 

Weird Al: It’s just a mindset. I’m really only working for two hours a day, so I basically just save up my energy for the show. I relax, surf online, watch satellite TV, read a book, rest my voice, and then give it all I got when I’m onstage.

Looking back at your vast song catalog, was there ever a parody that came to you immediately upon hearing the song?

Weird Al: Yeah, that’s happened a few times. More often than not, I have to think about it and analytically work out all the variations on a theme that I can and pick out the one with the most potential. But there’s been a few times where the idea came to me spontaneously. I think the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video, before it was even over, I thought, “Oh! I gotta do ‘Fat’! Super-plus-sized actors trying to get through a turnstile on a subway! I gotta do that!”

Do you have a favorite of your many hilarious videos?

Weird Al: Oh boy, it’s hard to say. “White and Nerdy” has been my biggest hit and that was a really fun video to do. But in terms of making a video, “Tacky” was really fun to do because it was so easy and I got to work with amazing people like Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, Eric Stonestreet, and Aisha Tyler. And we knocked it out in a couple of hours. We were having so much fun while making it, I kinda wish we weren’t so efficient and professional. [Laughs] I could’ve done that all night.

Was it filmed all in one take or was it stitched together?

Weird Al: That was all one take. Some people say, “Oh, I see where the edit is,” but it was all one shot. We did a total of six takes, and I think four of those takes were usable, but the last one was the best.

And you were directing while performing?

Weird Al: I directed that one, yeah. We location scouted and found a building in downtown LA that I thought was good for the shoot. I’ve since seen that building in a lot of other movies and TV shows — I think it was used in The Big Lebowski and a few others. It was difficult because I start the video in one set of clothes and I also end the video in a completely different set of clothes. So while the cameras were off me, because there’s only one elevator in the building, I had to run down five flights of stairs, quickly change my clothes, and hit my mark for the end. And after the take, we’d all just watch what we did, and say, “OK, let’s do it again.”

Is there a director you’d love to work with in the future?

Weird Al: Oh gosh, yeah, but I mean, music videos are notoriously low-budget so that’s why I end up directing them myself. [Laughs] But I’d love to be in a movie codirected by Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

Do you have a particular genre of music that you love parodying the most? Or is it more of the moment and different for each song?

Weird Al: It doesn’t necessarily revolve around personal taste so much. It really depends more on the song than the genre. But I found rap songs tend to lend themselves to parody, mostly because there’s a lot of words to play with. A lot of pop songs are repetitive, and that’s sometimes been an issue. With rap, there’s no shortage of syllables to mess around with.

Given that you’ve been so prolific and done so much, is there any type of art left that you’d like to dip your toe in? Dramatic acting, perhaps?

Weird Al: Well, if Spielberg and Tarantino want me for their film, I wouldn’t want to turn them down. But there’s no burning desire to do drama. I love doing comedy and feel comfortable doing that. Writing a musical might be something I do down the line. I don’t know when but I might take a shot at something in that area. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in my life so far. A lot of it not successfully. [Laughs] But I took a stab at it and feel gratified by that.

You’ve had such a eclectic career in music and comedy. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Weird Al: [Laughs] I don’t know what I’d attribute the longevity to. There’s a modicum of talent, but it’s mostly because I surround myself with very talented people. I’ve got a great support group, I’ve got the same band since the early ’80s, and I’ve worked with the same people for decades. And I got a very loyal fan base and I love what I do. And somehow I’ve been very lucky and it’s worked out so far.

Watch “Weird Al” in an episode from the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! right now, before the season premiere on Friday June 3rd at 11P.

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