In True Detective’s second season, Colin Farrell is playing exactly to type. As the washed-up, corrupt Detective Ray Velcoro, his skin looks leathery, his temples are gray, and he pours endless glasses of whiskey under his push-broom mustache. If brooding were an Olympic sport, Farrell would be a repeat medalist, and so it seems hardly notable that he’s endured in an industry that loves haunted male protagonists. But Farrell’s career in many ways has subverted the typical Hollywood model. After becoming a pin-up early in his career, and taking on high-profile roles in huge studio movies, he flamed out, personally and professionally. But failure, rather than ending his career, allowed him to tackle more daring and versatile roles, and find subsequent credibility as an actor.
Farrell entered show business as a ready-made star, thrust at audiences in the kind of pandering Hollywood way that almost guarantees backlash. He had the charisma to sell subpar work, but whenever he was given the chance to cut loose, it was in trashy genre exercises like Phone Booth or Daredevil that critics largely ignored. Following the initial boom and bust of his early years in Hollywood, though, Farrell has carved out a more serious reputation by working with legendary directors, taking on offbeat projects, or both. It’s the opposite of the typical A-list trajectory: Actors like Jennifer Lawrence or Leonardo DiCaprio started small and built up credibility in independent movies before transitioning to blockbusters. Farrell, by contrast, was thrust into that territory instantly, and it almost proved his undoing.