The actor is earning raves for his performance in HBO's True Detective, and on Monday, Farrell, 39, spoke candidly with PBS' Tavis Smiley about his career and why he no longer believes his own hype.
Recalling two of his high profile roles in 2004 and 2006, Farrell said, "It all happened really, really fast. Alexander and then Miami Vice were films that were very big and that didn't work so much critically and didn't work so much financially. I was made to feel aware of the fact that all of a sudden, things that I was in weren't working. It just made me go, 'Wow, OK.' So I can't believe in the lie that's being presented to me anymore that I'm a movie star and that everything is great. I have this No. 1 movie [Miami Vice]. Everyone is telling me now that that's gone. So it was kind of like, ugh." In hindsight, Farrell said, "All of it's a delusion. Telling me it's gone is a delusion. Ever believing that it was there in the first place is a delusion."
That said, Farrell doesn't regret starring in either movie.
"Life works in such contradictions, you know? Don't get me wrong: I really want everything I do to be appreciated, to find an audience. I want people to think I'm good at what I do. I want to feel good at what I do. We all have a self-worth in our lives that unfortunately and by virtue of being part of human existence we look outside ourselves and see how we're doing with our peers. So, I'm there very much," he said. "But at the same time, I don't relate to the importance of it all with the depth that I used to, when I used to say I didn't care about it. When I used to go, 'I don't care about any of it.' I really cared then. I just didn't know how to acknowledge it or express my caring. I didn't understand it. Now, I still care, but I care less, really. And it's freed me up. That's the irony. It's freed me up."
So, how does Farrell pick roles today?
"It's lovely to read a character and be able to invest in, as I said, a particular ideology or an experience that you see reflect maybe something that you can relate to in your own past and trajectory of your own life's map," said the Golden Globe-winning Irish actor, who has been sober for just over nine years. "But at the same time, that's a trap you can fall into and the experience of trying to portray this character can become a form of purge acting where you bring too much personal stuff to it and you lose yourself in it and it because an exercise in self-service and it becomes an exercise in your own self-therapy."
"I was in theater school in Dublin, when I was 20 or 21, and I remember JoeDowling coming into the room...He said, 'If any of you are here for therapeutic reasons, leave now, because you'll just get lost. You'll just be serving yourself and not serving the story and not serving the character and not serving the narrative.' He made a very valid point. At the same time, if you don't realize that you are actually going to be purging some of your own demons and you are going to be exposing some fundamental questions that you have inside you, or some curiosities or concerns that you have for the human race and our condition and the way we relate to each other, if you don't admit that, then you'll get lost as well."
"So it's kind of this tricky thing of admitting that you are going to bring your own experience into it," Farrell continued, "but at the same time, trying to be aware of how much your own experience you're bringing into it."