[1 May 2008]
Colin Firth, April 21, 2008, at the Regency Hotel in New York. (Ari Mintz/Newsday/MCT)
Thirteen years have passed since Colin Firth became, as Jane Austen might put it, “universally acknowledged” as the definitive Mr. Darcy in the lionized BBC TV miniseries of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
In the intervening time, the 47-year-old actor has established himself among worldwide audiences as a go-to guy when it comes to British romantic leads not played by Hugh Grant—who was, you’ll recall, Firth’s rival in 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
Firth describes “Then She Found Me” as straddling the edge of both his “serious” and “comedic” projects. He plays a tightly wound, recently divorced suitor of a tightly wound schoolteacher (director-star Helen Hunt) who may still be hung up on the husband (Matthew Broderick) who abandoned her.
Movie audiences will see even more of Firth in the coming months. In “And When Did You Last See Your Father?,” opening in June, he plays a middle-aged writer having a troubled reconciliation with his dying father. The romantic comedy, “The Accidental Husband,” opens in August. And in July, there’s “Mamma Mia!,” the much-anticipated adaptation of the ABBA musical, in which Firth plays one of two possible candidates for father of the bride.
So, how did Firth get to be so busy, anyway? Gene Seymour asked him about this and other aspects of his respectable—and respected—career.
Is this how life happens to you generally? All these jobs coming at you at once?
Compared to most actors’ lives and probably most creative people’s lives, I think I probably have some degree of steadiness in that there’s been a reasonably reliable work rhythm for me ... which is rather ironic, given how much my parents feared for me when I was entering this precarious profession. They said, “Well, are you sure you could live with that kind of insecurity?”
So what did your parents imagine you doing, if not acting?
No ... they weren’t prescriptive in that way. Acting was unfamiliar and frightening to them. And even though acting’s familiar to me, I’d be frightened for my children if they went into it. It can mess with your mind unless you’ve got a very solid basis to put yourself.
And did you have to work on that foundation before you dove into acting or did you do it along the way?
I had a fairly stable family. My father was a history lecturer and even though we moved around a lot, we were together throughout. I had a lot of friends. And humor was also very important. ... I was soundly mocked by friends growing up.
Mocked? For what?
Well, for everything, really. Being too tall ... you name it! And if other people took me too seriously, it certainly wasn’t going to happen on the home front. I think self-mockery and having people who keep you on edge, I think that is where you get that solid core.
In other words, if you can’t take a joke, you become one.
Well, I think so. And also, I didn’t become a megastar. I didn’t become very famous very quickly and very young. I had moderate degrees of what was, for me, astounding success. Just to get a job out of drama school after being told constantly how that couldn’t happen. Instead, I got a fantastic job, taking over for Daniel Day-Lewis in “Another Country,” and suddenly I’m on the West End and my picture’s outside the theater, and if that wasn’t stardom, I didn’t know what was. But then the next thing came along and that didn’t work out and the next thing did and the next thing didn’t and so on. So that graph had been going up and down for about 10 years until a new level of recognition came about, and by then, I was a few years older and the sense of healthy skepticism was hard-wired into me at that point.
Was it “Pride and Prejudice” that made you everybody’s first, second, third, even fourth or fifth choice for romantic lead?
Interestingly, I tend to think it was more “Bridget Jones” that did that, though it could be said that “Pride and Prejudice” led to “Bridget Jones” ... which in turn led to other romantic comedies. At the time, I did “Pride and Prejudice,” I was wondering if anyone would cast me in a comedy.
And did you get this role in “Then She Found Me” on the basis of what you had done in romantic comedy since?
I don’t mean to shuffle off the question, but that’s something you may have to ask Helen (Hunt, the director-star) because I’ve never asked her. I just got the call and the script.
If you weren’t doing this, if the acting thing hadn’t worked out somehow, what would you be doing ... teaching history?
I don’t know. Teaching is so much in my family ... but, I don’t know. I’ve always felt I would have come to no good if this hadn’t worked out, become some kind of petty criminal, I suppose, struggling with minor fraud, trying to make ends meet.
Has the passion grown over time, the longer you’re in it?
No, I have a different relationship with it, really, in that ... well, the sheer excitement of being employed at all has obviously worn off, which sounds dangerously close to being jaded. But I’ve been lucky, so if I’ve been spoiled to that extent, so be it.