Everyone has his or her specialty: Colin Firth, an actor by profession, succeeds in unsympathetic, haughty roles as an aristocrat with his nose stuck up in the air. So much so that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put his picture in the English dictionary next to synonyms for those words.
imagine,” he says
with a bit of an ironic smile, “how it feels to have a director tell
‘Be really unsympathetic, unfunny and unsexy. To try to be nice is a
effort and for something that in the end is not
The problem (or the good thing) is that Firth is so good in such roles that he manages to be seductive. When he became Mr. Darcy, the aristocratic suitor of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, in the television adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1995, all of England went crazy, falling in love with him. “He makes haughty so darned sexy,” says the director Sharon Maguire, “the more haughty and aloof he became, the more sexy he became. Cold, but at the same time heating things up. . . .”
That role made him a star who could no longer walk the streets without being recognized and followed. In 1997 he married the Italian Livia Giuggioli (a producer he met on the set of Nostromo) in Rome and the paparazzi of the British dailies tried everything to get a photo of the wedding.
Among the other hearts he broke at the time was that of British journalist Helen Fielding, who was starting to write her Bridget Jones’s Diary column in "The Independent," the comic story of the disastrous life of an over-thirty single, which became a best-seller under the same title. “I was so in love with Mr. Darcy: so without hestitation I called Bridget’s Mr Right Mark Darcy. And I described him exactly like Colin Firth. So much so that a part of me was worried that the actor would find my description too much like him. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that he would be Mr. Darcy in the film version.” But this is in effect what happened.
And the phenomenon of Darcymania was repeated not just in England but all over the world. Now that the film (starring an exuberant, “large-size” version of Renée Zellweger) is on Italian screens, try to find a thirty-year-old or older who exits from the cinema who is immune to FirthFascination. . . . Colin has accepted “almost against his will” that he is going to live with this character for at least the next 30 years. “If I were to change professions, become an astronaut, the headlines would read: Mr Darcy Lands On Mars.”
And when asked if he has had enough of this kind of thing, he answers with a diplomatic smile: “Not really. This second Mr. Darcy is more sympathetic to me than the first; it has been amusing to add a little irony to the character. It was a different experience. I felt that I was acting the role of someone that I could relate to directly in many ways, even if I can’t say exactly which ways. I don’t know how others will view the character. For the first time in five years I watched the TV program because, to tell truth, I wasn’t able to figure out what was so fascinating about the character. Or more precisely, I could understand how the character could fascinate but not to the point of obsession. And I never tried to be less sexy than in that role. Still when the Bridget Jones film project started up, it was inevitable that I would end up in it. How could I say no? It was more or less like Being John Malkovich. I could only raise my hands in the air and surrender.”
In respect to the type of woman that Bridget Jones represents he has no doubts: “I think I understand her rather well; many women I know have things in common with her. Probably everyone I’ve met in my life has thought herself overweight and wasn’t. You could be with the skinniest woman in the world and she would look at herself worriedly in the mirror. I can understand what Darcy would find attractive in her. The fact that, despite her problems—the smoking, the drinking, the loneliness, her disastrous public speaking—Bridget is not in fact a loser. She has a spirit that always rebounds. And even all her gaffes can become very sexy.”
Even on his role as a heartthrob he sees irony: “It’s strange to become a sex symbol at 40. And even to be described as a kind of Warren Beatty. The truth is that, until I met my wife at 35, I only had two girlfriends (Ed note: both actresses, Meg Tilly, who he met on the set of Valmont and lived with in Canada for 5 years and with whom he had a son, and Jennifer Ehle, his co-star in Pride and Prejudice). As for my attraction, I have a kind of neutral face, a face that can be transformed to look a lot better or a lot worse, depending on the circumstances.”
Firth, now 41, was born in Hampshire but spent his early years in Africa, where his parents were teachers. Back in England, he showed an interest in acting when he was in school. “Not a devastating passion,” he says, but his teachers at the Drama School of London remember him as a model student, “one with imagination, intelligence, logic, and commonsense.”
He debuted in Another Country in the ‘80s in the West End. And he was so successful that he was chosen to be in the film, which was his first. Then he was in A Month in the Country with Kenneth Branagh, Milos Forman’s Valmont,My Life So Far, Shakespeare in Love, and The English Patient.
He played the lead in Fever Pitch, based on the novel by Nick Hornby, one of his favorite roles. “I loved the book, and it was exciting, after so many roles in costume, to act in role that was closer to my life. The strange thing is that more or less everyone in England saw it as a challenge for me. Nothing could be more absurd. Many of the main character’s qualities are similar to mine: we live in the same part of London where I grew up, we are about the same age, we went to the same schools. What’s more, the author is one of my best friends. Yet, who knows why, an aristocrat of the 1800s would seem to be more like me . . .”
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