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updated 08/07/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/2006 01:00AM

Perennial party guy Colin Farrell has always thrived on living dangerously, but even he was unprepared for Miami Vice's tumultuous shoot last summer and fall. First, the actor broke a rib and suffered two herniated discs while lifting weights to bulk up. Later, Hurricane Wilma shut down production in Miami and shooting was twice disrupted by real-life gunfire nearby (unrelated criminal activity on location in Santo Domingo and later in Miami). But for Farrell, who was taking painkillers for his injuries, the biggest trouble came when he tore up the town each night. "There was a lot of partying," he told the Today show July 25. "I had a good time, but I paid a heavy price."

The bill came due last December, when Farrell entered rehab shortly after wrapping Miami Vice. "I was burning the candle at both ends and the flames met in the middle," the Irish actor, 30, told London's Daily Mirror. "It was a long time coming, but I had my arse handed to me on a plate. Now I haven't had a drink for six months." Indeed, as a leaner, livelier, joke-cracking Farrell makes the promotional rounds for the film, in which he plays Det. James "Sonny" Crockett to Jamie Foxx's Ricardo Tubbs, he seems to have bested his Miami vices. "I think he's doing terrific. He looks sensational," says Miami Vice producer Pieter Jan Brugge. "I'm doing great," Farrell told reporters. "I've taken some time off, and I'm really happy."

Vice's grueling 105-day shoot was decidedly not a happy one for Farrell. The chain-smoking actor was struggling to keep his composure ("We were originally going to go with a costume that was made of Nicorette patches," he jokes, "but it kept melting in the Miami sun") while coping with his back injury. Despite being on painkillers, he was regularly spotted at Miami's clubs and strip joints until the wee hours. His partying "changed his physical appearance," says a Vice source. "He looked like he gained 20 lbs. just in his face." Even so, "I didn't miss a day's work," Farrell told Today. "I might not have been fully aware when I was there every day, but I turned up." Soon after filming wrapped, however, the actor entered rehab for what his rep called "exhaustion and a dependency to prescription medication."

Farrell says he "stepped away for a bit and had a look." Now he likes what he sees: The actor told PEOPLE that things have been "wonderful" since exiting rehab. Much of the credit for persuading Hollywood's reigning wild thing to tame his ways goes to his son James, 2, with former girlfriend Kim Bordenave, 36. "He's the greatest priority in my life," Farrell told the Daily Mirror. "I wasn't suicidal, but I never had much of a will to live a long time. Now I want to watch my son grow up." During filming, father and son "would spend weekends together," says costar Elizabeth Rodriguez. "He was pretty hands-on, giving him love."

Farrell again served as the protective papa on July 21, when he obtained a restraining order for himself, James and Bordenave against Dessarae Bradford, who approached Farrell from the audience during his July 20 stint on the Tonight Show couch. "I am concerned for the safety of my family," said Farrell in the legal filing against Bradford, a former phone-sex operator who has sued him three times for harassment (the first two suits were dismissed), "given Ms. Bradford's ... escalating unwanted personal contact." Farrell's rep said the two "had never met or spoken" until the Tonight Show incident.

The actor's wild love life also seems to have settled down. Lately, Farrell has been stepping out with Surface's Lake Bell, his costar in the upcoming drama Pride and Glory, who arrived with him at his L.A. Vice premiere. Still, the actor insisted to the Daily Mirror that he is single, adding that because he has lived primarily in hotels while shooting films over the past seven years, "it's better for me, at 30, to be on my own."

While he won't commit to staying sober forever ("I'd never say anything for good," he told the Evening Standard), Farrell, who is in London shooting Woody Allen's next film, has no regrets about finally putting the lid on his roaring 20s. "I have to reinvent myself all over again," he told Today about ditching his bad-boy reputation. "You take it every day as it comes."

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