‘I'm fully aware,’ he says slowly, in those by-now familiar, measured tones, ‘that if I were to change professions tomorrow, become an astronaut and be the first man to land on Mars, the headlines in the newspapers would read: Mr Darcy Lands On Mars. No matter what else I do, this tag will stay with me.’
Not, as he’s quick to add, that he's complaining too much.
'There are far worse things to have to face in this world than that! It’s actually a wonderful thing to have made an impact as an actor. And it’s a lot of fun for my mum to see me playing the romantic guy who gets the girl in the end. But since Mr Darcy, I’ve had to make adjustments in my life. People expect different things from me when they meet me. Before, they didn't have any particular expectations at all. But these days, I'm compared to someone who’s really not me. Let’s face it, I'm stuck with Mr Darcy forever.’
Not that Colin has too much cause to be unhappy right now. Because of Bridget Jones's Diary, in which he plays Bridget's loyal love object Mark Darcy, Hollywood is greatly interested in him. And his Italian wife Livia Giuggiolo, whom he married in 1997, gave birth to their first child, a son, days before the Bridget Jones premiere.
Colin was thrilled that they managed to keep Livia’s pregnancy a secret, apart from family and friends, even though she was, he says, 'enormous’.
'I'm absolutely over the moon,' says Colin, who also has a 10-year-old son, Will, from an earlier relationship with American actress Meg Tilly. 'No one sussed it. Ever since I met Livy, people have been speculating that she's pregnant and it's never been true. Weirdly, people stopped pursuing it.’
In person, Colin could hardly be more different from Austen’s haughty hero—a genial, no-nonsense actor of 40, who's paid his dues.
When he signed on for the role of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, he had no idea it would change his life. 'I'd been acting for a few years and I thought it was going very well. I was constantly in work, playing leading roles in things that had a reasonably high profile. I didn’t actually look upon Mr Darcy as a romantic role—I took it on as a rather idiosyncratic character role. It wasn't the most difficult I'd ever done, but it was fun. The effect it had came as a complete bolt from the blue.’
The part has also has left him saddled with the image of the stereotypical Englishman.
‘Now, hold on here,' he interrupts. ‘When you use that phrase, are you talking about Mick Jagger? Or John Lennon? Or Johnny Rotten? People still have this fixed idea of Englishmen as being like John Major. But when you think about it, the biggest rock ’n’ roll producing country outside the United States has been Britain. We specialise in it, for heaven’s sake!
‘I’m not pretending that John Major doesn't exist, but I don’t think he represents my generation of English men and I certainly don’t think he represents the generation coming up behind me. I grew up with kids who pierced their ears, wore their hair long and played guitars.’
Colin was born in Grayshott, Hampshire, and spent the first four years of his life in Nigeria, where both of his parents were teachers. 'I remember odd things, such as talking to my next-door neighbour, who was a Nigerian boy about my age. I've since been told that must have been impossible because I wasn't talking very fluently in any language at the time, let alone Yoruba. But I do remember talking to him, so we obviously communicated in some way. I still have a great affinity with Africa. I love African music, for instance, although I’ve never been back there. One day, perhaps.'
Meanwhile, Colin's hard at work, playing, of course, another Mr Darcy. This time it’s Mark Darcy, the awkwardly gallant barrister who wins the heart of Bridget Jones in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. The casting is an in-joke, since in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason—the second of the novels by Helen Fielding—Bridget has a crush on Colin Firth.
‘It looks inevitable now, doesn't it?' he agrees of his being offered the part. ‘When the diary was a newspaper column, I was told I was being mentioned occasionally. Then I met Helen Fielding and it sort of grew gradually over the years.
‘So it seemed natural that I should play Mark Darcy, although if they decide to make a sequel it would become an issue because Colin Firth features in the second book. I suppose they’d have to find somebody like Russell Crowe to play me!’
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