British sex symbol Colin Firth became a star following his pivotal turn as the cool Mr Darcy in the TV version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now, in the eagerly anticipated screen version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Firth plays another Darcy, reluctantly falling for the film’s pudgy central character (Renee Zellweger).
For Firth, this movie affords the classically trained Brit the chance to send up his famous literary character. Adept at playing the proverbial stuffed shirt, it clearly an unstuffy Mr Firth who talked to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles about the two Darcies, coping with unexpected stardom and dealing with the British press.
Question: Colin, how reluctant were you to play yet another Darcy?
Answer: A little bit concerned. Concerns like that are answered by just accepting it and doing it. It had to be a good script and had to be done in the right spirit. As far as I’m concerned, the exercise was almost entirely tongue-in-cheek.
Question: Were you satirising that [Austen] character?
Answer: I was having fun with it for my own sake. I didn’t want to satirise the FILM by satirising it and appropriate it for that reason. For it to work as a romantic comedy, you have to invest something in it, but nevertheless, the whole Darcy thing has followed me around to such an extent now, that it has made far more sense to have fun with it than try to vainly shake it off.
Question: You seem to be very good at playing stuffed shirts. How much of those characters are within you?
Answer: The business of acting is taking parts of yourself and reorganising them a little bit. You take some very gregarious and passionate aspects of your character, put a mask on it and see how that comes out. I find the results of that kind of thing rather interesting. I think those conflicts and paradoxes in people ARE fascinating; you know, the unhappy clown or the little speck of good in the cruel person or the reserved man who’s in fact passionate. I think those things ARE fascinating and very polemic to the English.
Question: There was a lot of initial controversy surrounding the casting of Zellweger.
Answer: I was neither aware of it nor would I have any tolerance with that, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. She’s a good actress, which is far more important than actually finding out where you were born. I know there IS an issue of being specific about a culture, but if someone has a talent for acting on the scale that SHE does, one of those talents is the ability to recognise and appropriate a culture, other than her own.
Question: Why do you think Mark Darcy falls in love with Bridget?
Answer: I think that, again, there are all sorts of contradictions in that relationship, and on the face of things, you’d think they were nearly opposite: He has poise where she has none, he is pompous where she has low self-esteem, he is taciturn, where she can’t stop talking. But on some level, I think they’re quite similar. He recognises her agony in certain social situations because he shares that, and I think he also recognises her vulnerability. She’s also wry about her own clumsiness, which he finds appealing.
Question: I read that you decided to lose weight for this movie.
Answer: No, I did not decide to do that at all. What happened was, I was threatened with the prospect of having to take my shirt off, which was a chilling thought. So I thought that rather change profession, I will get a trainer and try and do something about it. Actually, what was going to happen was that during the fight scene with Hugh [Grant], it was going to culminate with our shirts being ripped off from our rippling, sweaty backs and have our dynamic torsos unleashed upon the female population of the world and they would barely recover.
Question: What was it like to fight Hugh Grant?
Answer: It was a delicious experience. Hugh will tell you that I fight like a girl, which he’s been saying a lot lately. All I can say in response, is that it takes one to know one. He was the first one to pull my hair; I would never have dreamt of doing that. And he scratches as well. So that should give you an idea of HIS character.
Question: Do you think you’re sexy?
Answer: I don’t find myself sexy, and I don’t have an erotic experience when I look at myself in the mirror, or think about myself. But does anyone find himself or herself sexy?
Question: But Pride and Prejudice did something to your image, yes?
Answer: Well I DEVELOPED an image is what happened. I’d been working away in this business, to my OWN satisfaction, for a very long time before that, and I felt I was benefiting from an EVASION of an image, in that I didn’t think I had one.
Question: How did you cope with the media intrusiveness?
Answer: There wasn’t much to cope with. The media intrusiveness in terms of paparazzi attention was intense, but brief. It was new to me and attached very quickly to the fact that I was getting married, and I think I found it threatening because of THAT. If it were to happen now, I think I’d take it more in my stride, but I got paranoid, simply because I didn’t want paparazzi at my wedding; I didn’t want my wedding day spoiled with THAT. And they were absolutely determined to find out when and where I was getting married and storm the wedding. So that was unacceptable.
Question: Did you avoid them?
Answer: I did by taking pains to do so, by not being overheard, not talking on the telephone; you get paranoid.
Question: Is it because of that that you moved to Italy?
Answer: No, but it’s because of that I enjoy Italy very much; I’m completely unknown there which I take great pleasure in.
Question: Which parts of Italy do you love?
Answer: My favourite spot is in Umbria.
Question: In Bridget Jones, Bridget peruses a lot of women’s magazines. Do you ever read any with your wife? What do you think about them?
Answer: I have mixed feelings actually. I often find that if I’m at an airport and I want to and I want to read a magazine, however destructive it might be about projecting images that women might feel they might have to conform to, they are usually fairly free from racism and sexism and abhorrent political polemics that I cannot stand. But for that reason if you’re trying to avoid English tabloid newspapers —
Question: Yeah but they’re different to those magazines.
Answer: True, but we have some truly noxious press in my country, and I think that the women’s magazines are very harmless by comparison. I mean we had 15 journalists who came t Italy for our wedding and threatened and bribed the .Portieri’ of our flat in Rome. Abhorrent stuff.
Question: So do you read much about yourself in the press?
Answer: Less now. Basically if I enjoyed the interview and I fell that the journalist is a sensible person, then I might be inclined to have a look. But it’s like reading about someone else, so it’s almost not worth bothering. Even when the person is intelligent and well disposed, it’s difficult to read what’s written about you; it always FEELS reductive, because you don’t ever feel that you could be defined in that particular way. Very often it’s going to be wildly inaccurate.
Answer: Sometimes it’s just EXTRAORDINARY fabrication.
Question: Can you give an example?
Answer: One paper serialised my LIFE after I did Pride and Prejudice and there was hardly anything in it that bore ANY relationship to my life. I remember friends of mine phoning me up and saying: I didn’t know this and that about you. Part of this was they invented a story about a passion I supposedly had with an actress who I never knew and never met. They said I knew her but I didn’t know her from Adam.
Question: Maybe you just don’t remember.
Answer: Don’t remember meeting and falling in love? Maybe not. The trouble is denying something like that just makes you seem terribly ungallant.
Question: If they do the sequel to Bridget Jones, will you do it?
Answer: That has to get the most resounding .no comment’.
Answer: Because I don’t know if they’re going to make one, I don’t know if I’d be well disposed to it or not. The possibilities are endless.
Question: Do you have plans to work more in the US?
Answer: No, I don’t have plans to work more in the States, though I’m open to it. America to me is a foreign country with an abundantly fertile film industry and of course I would love to profit from that. In one way or another, but I’m not going to cut off any ties and come here to seek work, because what I get from home, serves me well.
Question: What are you working on next?
Answer: A film version of The Importance of Being Earnest is going to start next month.
Question: Any plans to return to the theatre?
Answer: Yes, at the end of this year I’ll be involved in an independent production of Hamlet.