'Phone Booth' at 20: Star Colin Farrell on how Mel Gibson, Will Smith and Jim Carrey all almost took the role before him

Farrell spent nine days in an actual phone booth filming the acclaimed 2003 thriller directed by Joel Schumacher.

Phone Booth, the tense 2003 thriller starring Colin Farrell as a man forced to remain in a phone booth during a time way back when people still used them, celebrates its 20th anniversary Tuesday.

It could've almost been its 60th.

Screenwriter Larry Cohen first approached Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock with the basic premise of a man trapped within the confines of a phone booth in the 1960s, but Cohen didn't have sound reasoning on why he couldn't leave. It was something he didn't solve until the late 1990s, well after Hitchcock's death in 1980.

But once Cohen found his answer — a sniper would hold the man hostage there — Hollywood was hooked.

Bold-faced filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Mel Gibson and the Hughes Brothers circled it. A-list actors like Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Nicolas Cage and Gibson all flirted with starring in it.

"People were trying to crack this Larry Cohen script and see how it could be done, and how it could be done without being an exercise of cinematic tedium, because it was all set in one place," Farrell told Yahoo Entertainment during a Role Recall interview (watch above, with Phone Booth starting at 2:05).

PHONE BOOTH, Director Joel Schumacher, Radha Mitchell, Colin Farrell on the set, 2003, TM & Copyrigh
Phone Booth director Joel Schumacher with actors Radha Mitchell and Colin Farrell on the set. (Photo: 2003, TM & Copyright)

Joel Schumacher was eventually hired to direct, and pitched his Tigerland breakout star Farrell for the role, but the studio didn't want an "unknown." So they cast Jim Carrey instead.

“Jim Carrey was gonna do it, but he dropped out for whatever reason," Farrell said.

"I had many meetings with Jim, and he was gonna do it," Schumacher, who had previously worked with Carrey in 1997's Batman & Robin, told SPLICEDwire. "I had always thought it was odd that he wanted to do it ... And then he got cold feet and I understood — I really did. He was uncomfortable with the role." (Carrey made the Frank Capra-esque drama The Majestic instead, and later reunited with Schumacher for the psychological thriller The Number 23 in 2007.)

That opened the door for Farrell, the Irish actor who was quickly gaining heat in the industry after Tigerland and was plucked to costar with Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002) around the same time.

"And then Joel called me because we’d worked on Tigerland together and he said, 'Listen, I have this script. Will you have a look at it?'" Farrell remembered. "And I read it and loved it, and just saw it as the challenge that it became."

Farrell would play Stuart Shepherd, an arrogant young publicist cheating on his wife who picks up a call in a New York City phone booth to hear a sniper (Kiefer Sutherland) on the other end, demanding he tell his wife about the affair and threatening his life.

"Phone Booth was a lot of fun," said Farrell, who earned the first Oscar nomination of his career this year for Martin McDonagh's dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin. "Phone Booth was a challenge. [I spent] nine days in the booth. We shot one day in Times Square. To do a feature film in 10 days, it just never happens."