The Man Who Stole The Movies From anonymous actor to Hollywood's most wanted, Colin Farrell makes it all look easy

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So who is colin farrell? the 25-year-old Dubliner has acted in four movies in two years. He has worked with Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker. He has been directed by Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever) twice. And he's recently been filming with Steven Spielberg alongside some guy called Tom Cruise. Last year his turn as Roland Bozz, the lead in Schumacher's low-budget Vietnam flick Tigerland, had American journalists branding him the One to Watch, the Next Big Thing. Now he's asking more than $2 million a film. Still, few people have heard of him.

Technically, Farrell isn't famous yet. Apart from a handful of film critics, hardly anybody has seen him act. Tigerland was a box office failure, bringing in a measly $140,000. But Farrell's performance, complete with spot-on Texan accent, burned him into cineast consciousness and created a buzz akin to hysteria. "It's mad. None of this was planned," says Farrell at a bar in Prague, the filming location for the World War II drama Hart's War. "I always just auditioned for jobs and hoped I did well, so I could move on to the next step. Now I've skipped so many rungs on the ladder, and I'm working with Cruise and Spielberg. It's insane."

With Tigerland opening in Australia next week, having recently screened across Europe, and his next four films following close behind, Farrell won't be unknown for long. Later this year, he'll appear as Jesse James in American Outlaws, and soon the lad who previously could be seen only in the bbc's Irish drama series Ballykissangel and a few below-the-radar movies will perpetually be at a cinema near you. Is he ready for impending stardom? "I don't know. How do you ever know?" he replies between sips of a vodka tonic. "I just have to take it day by day."

As a teenager, Farrell contemplated a career in professional football-his father, Eamonn Farrell, played for Shamrock Rovers-but "I'd drink two liters of cider, smoke a joint and start looking at birds. Couldn't make training after that." Acting proved more of a challenge, and he went from drama school to the stage of London's Donmar Warehouse to film and television. Then one day he heard Schumacher was holding auditions in London for Tigerland. Not having read the script, Farrell-who uses swearwords as freely as most people use nouns-earned himself a callback on charm alone. After a few more auditions, the actor was awakened by a phone call. It was Schumacher: "You wanna make a movie?"

As Bozz, the rebellious soldier who helps his friends escape the army before they're sent to Vietnam, Farrell displays a kind of cool that's rare in today's leading men. A sensitive brooder with rugged good looks, he's Russell Crowe without the ego. It's no surprise that admirers are bandying about words like "hunk" and "heartthrob." (About this, Farrell is characteristically ambivalent: "It doesn't piss me off. But it doesn't make me horny, either.") Even his magnetic screen presence, however, can't explain how Farrell has become such hot property so quickly.

A threatened actors' strike earlier this year forced A-list stars to prioritize and left juicy parts open to hungry newcomers. In the upcoming Phone Booth, Farrell plays a New York exec who answers a public phone and is told he'll be shot if he hangs up-a plum role originally intended for Jim Carrey. He was cast in Hart's War after Edward Norton dropped out and jumped onto Spielberg's $60 million sci-fi thriller Minority Report when Matt Damon bailed. Farrell is the first to admit his success is due as much to luck as talent. "If that's part of the reason I got Hart's War, I couldn't care less," he replies. "For whatever reason, the stars have aligned themselves in the right place at the right time. I'm loving what I'm doing right now, so I'm just going to see what happens."

What happens next is nothing. After Minority Report, Farrell is taking time off to travel the world. "I'm going to get a backpack, grow a beard," and give moviegoers the chance to catch up with his career. Of course, there's always the threat of overkill. "If I were a casting agent, I'd want a piece of Farrell," says Adam Smith, senior features writer for the British movie magazine Empire. "But he should pick his roles very carefully. Filmgoers are notoriously fickle." Which, for now, doesn't bother the young actor. "Acting is not where my happiness in life comes from," he says. "I won't be shedding any crocodile tears if it's taken away. I've had a good trip so far." Spoken like a true trooper.