It's hard to know which rumor is a surer sign of Hollywood heat: scoring an $8 million-to-$10 million asking price or scoring with Britney Spears.
Until now, the reported Britney hookup may have been Colin Farrell's most newsworthy act (there was a supposed kiss with Demi Moore, but that's so yesterday). After all, the 26-year-old has gotten as much notice for his drinking, smoking, and smooching as for his roles, which have included a critically lauded turn in 2000's ''Tigerland'' and a gig opposite Tom Cruise in last year's ''Minority Report.''
What a difference a No. 1 box office bow makes. With the $16.3 million opening of ''The Recruit,'' in which Farrell costars with Al Pacino, audiences are focusing on more than the star's love life (or duds like ''American Outlaws''). That trend may continue with his scene-stealing role as baddie Bullseye opposite Ben Affleck in this month's ''Daredevil,'' and in April he gets a chance to prove he can open a movie on his own with ''Tigerland'' director Joel Schumacher's ''Phone Booth.''
Studios are banking big-time on the Dublin native. Farrell reportedly earned $5 million for ''The Recruit'' and $8 million for August's ''S.W.A.T.'', costarring Samuel L. Jackson. Why are so many putting their money where Britney's mouth may have been? First, there's screen presence: ''Daredevil'' producer Gary Foster describes Farrell as having ''one of the most infectious cases of charisma I've ever seen.'' Then there's his acting. ''He'd be saying 'Maybe'I should try this, maybe I should try that,''' says Foster, ''and [director] Mark Steven Johnson would say, 'I appreciate that you're thinking about all these intricacies, but he's just a guy who can pick up weapons and kill people.'''
Charisma, acting chops, sex appeal: Such triple threats are in short supply -- witness Farrell snagging the title role in Oliver Stone's upcoming ''Alexander the Great.'' ''There are so few possible leading men that when people find one, they're willing to pay -- and overpay,'' says ''S.W.A.T.'' producer Neal H. Moritz. ''After 'Tigerland,' he got lead offers right away,'' adds Schumacher. ''People start competing and throwing out more and more money. Are you worth it? If the market says you are, yes.''
Fox chairman Tom Rothman, who oversaw ''Daredevil'' and ''Phone Booth,'' thinks salary talk ''gets blown out of proportion -- that isn't the issue for the audience.'' Nor, it would seem, for Farrell: He made ''Phone Booth'' for scale, and he'll star in the indie (read: cheap) adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel ''The Home at the End of the World.''
Even Farrell's party-boy persona probably won't cause a backlash. ''Making out with Britney and Demi doesn't hurt,'' says one agent. ''There's a double standard -- a man scoring with women makes him a commodity.'' And ultimately that's what counts. Says another agent, who isn't yet sold on Farrell: ''He's been in five or six bad movies and nobody cares. But his asking price is $8-to-10 million, so yeah, I'd love to rep him.'' Whatever his rep may be.