Caffe Europa, July 12, 2002, by Annarita Caroli
Translation courtesy of Antonella
Prisoner of Darcy

Colin Firth was born on 10th September 1960 in England in Grayshot, Hampshire. The son of two teachers who worked for many years in Nigeria and in Saint Louis, Missouri, and a grandchild of missionaries who worked in India, Colin spent his childhood as a wanderer.

When he was fourteen he announced to himself and others that he wanted to be an actor: his grandmother having been an amateur actress. After leaving school he worked first as a telephonist and then as a cloakroom attendant in London theatres until he was admitted to the prestigious Drama Centre, where he commenced studying drama.

Since 1983 he has acted in over 20 films, 15 TV serials and ten theatre productions. He achieved popular acclaim for his portrayal of the character of Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, from Jane Austen’s novel, produced by the BBC in 1995 and also aired on television in other countries. Writer Helen Fielding drew inspiration from the character played by Firth to create the character of the barrister Darcy, the politically correct [counterpart] of the charming publisher in the best-selling novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, from which Firth himself, together with Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant, achieved enormous success on the big screen.

Colin lives in London with his Italian wife Livia and their son. He has another son, now twelve years old, who lives in California with his mother, Meg Tilly, Firth’s co-star in Milos Forman’s Valmont.
The Importance of Being Earnest was released in the cinema in the US last May, after a preview in New York during the Tribeca Film Festival. Is it the first time that you tackled a part from an Oscar Wilde script?
A:  I was one of the few British actors who had never performed Wilde...not even in the theatre. I know his work very well but I had never acted in one of his plays.
A: I don’t know! I was offered to play The Importance... in the theatre but I didn’t accept; it seemed to me a bit boring...
How can an actor recreate Wilde’s rhythm and spirit in the cinema?
A:   It has been a challenge for me. I was interested in the opportunity of doing it in a new, different way. 
In the film you sing a ballad together with Rupert Everett accompanying yourself with a guitar.
Can you play music well?
A: I’ve been playing guitar for a long time, I’ve studied a bit of music...Rupert on the other hand plays the piano.
You met again on set, after the cinema debut of both of you in 1984 in the film Another Country....
A: It is true...18 years have gone by. The relationship between our two characters is similar: he is the wittier one, more ingenious; on the other hand I’m more serious, more earnest.
Was it difficult to work with Everett?
A: Maybe it was difficult for him to work with me! I’m joking; it went very well; we are great friends!
You are an eclectic actor, you go from one role to the next without compromising your image.
How do you manage?
A: There are only few actors who transform themselves to play a certain role: De Niro perhaps or someone else. I read the part and do what it takes to play the role, as I see it myself. I never decide before how to tackle a character. In any case I always put a bit of myself into my acting. It is impossible to act well without drawing on oneself.

I draw on a part of myself but not always the same aspect. In Wessex [Ed note: Firth’s character in Shakespeare in Love], for example, I saw a rich and bored man, rather ignorant and without imagination, and I found all of these qualities in myself. Even though you play a role of a murderer, you have to find the cruelty in yourself, that bit of cruelty for instance you need to kill a fly.
Over twenty films, many TV series, a lot of theatre...fame however arrived with Darcy. First
Jane Austen’ s in Pride and Prejudice and then Helen Fielding’s in Bridget Jones.
A: Yes, even though I am not that famous in Italy! I am very pleased about that as I spend a lot of time here…divided between Rome and Umbria. Nobody recognizes me here and I can lead a quiet life. I’ve never been an international star and it’s perfect for me like this. You have to be crazy to long for fame.  It is pleasant, sure, to be loved, respected, well paid, but not the’s not normal.

You think that success brings work and above all freedom of choice. But, ironically, it is not necessarily so. Now I’m making a film called American Girl—it is the remake of a Vincente Minnelli comedy, in which I play another Darcy. I refused many similar roles I didn’t like; I eventually accepted this one as it is a nice job, I like it, but Bridget Jones’ s success has led me in a specific direction. Many offers of work, but all of a certain kind.
Is it true that you didn’t want to play the lead role in Pride and Prejudice as you thought that Jane Austen created wonderful female characters, while the male ones were not of the same stature?
A: Jane Austen never describes the men’s motives, maybe she cannot understand them. She was honest and never attempted what she herself could not comprehend. In her novels you can never find a conversation scene between two men without a woman present. But Jane Austen had a great instinct and her men are very credible, and are described with great subtlety.  I had to guess what Darcy was thinking: an apparently arrogant man, but in reality a bit shy and inexperienced.
Is it more difficult to play characters from literature or roles specially written for the cinema? How do you approach the novels of great writers?
A: It depends….The English Patient was so different from the book from which it was derived! My character, the betrayed husband, was practically invented. It is difficult for the screenwriter and the director; the deeper the text the more difficult it is to translate it onto the big screen. It is very, very complicated to create a film from Dostoyevsky’s novels. It is very complicated to capture the concept at the base of a more profound text; it is easier to act in a thriller or an action film. It is up to us actors to find the substance; it is easy to work within a framework.
British cinema is experiencing a golden period, productive and rich in ideas.  There are successful actors and directors; it seems to be back to the richness of the ’60s, to the films of John Schlesinger
and Tony Richardson.
A: Tell that to the British critics, they always write about a cinematic crisis in their articles which complain of an intolerable situation. They talk about shit films, of a cancer in the cinema...
Which cancer?
A: Four Weddings and A Funeral, The Full Monty, my [own] Fever Pitch....
What do you need then to do good cinema?
A:  You have to be able to take some risks. Talent always exists, but sometimes you rest on your own laurels. Maybe social conflict helps; in Italy after the fascist era and the war you created the best cinema in the world. Even in Spain after the Franco era something started moving in Barcelona. In England after Mrs Thatcherwith clearly acknowledged differencesas Thatcherism has nothing to do with dictatorshipthey started to create something different. Who knows, now that in Italy you have a centre-right government with Berlusconi .... Among the Italian directors I really like Gabriele Muccino.
You wrote a children’s story as part of a collection of stories edited by Nick Hornby, a book which has sold very well, and with the proceeds going to a charity for autistic children. Do you like writing and
will you do it again?
A:  I like writing very much and I would like to go on doing it, but unfortunately I don’t have enough time!
And what about writing a film script?
A:  I don’t even think about that! The discipline you need to write for the cinema is too similar to the one you need to act. What I like about writing fiction is that it’s something totally different from what I usually do. I enjoy “escaping” every now and then.
You pay a great deal of attention to the reality around you. You intercede to obtain visas for asylum seekers in Great Britain, and promote appeals to defend intellectuals. Do you get positive results?
A:  Oh yes! And it is funny, as I am not an expert in this field. Once I took part in a demonstration for immigrants outside the Houses of Parliament. There were clergymen, political activists, social workers: all people who had been working in this field for years...but the press only wrote about me.  I was told that my involvement looked a bit pretentious; all in all I’m only an actor.

I told them [the press] that they had answered their own questions [by] asking me instead of talking to the experts who were there. Fame is worthless for an individual; it is only good for reserving a table at a restaurant. In certain instances, though, you need to exploit it. I love these kind of demonstrations; I feel embarrassed to respond to the press, as I don’t enjoy preparing on one particular subject.  But when I read about something unjust I feel I have to intervene. My popularity allows me to be heard more than other people.
In Pride and Prejudice you were confronted with Lawrence Olivier who played Darcy in 1940 with Greer Garson as Elizabeth. Which actor has influenced your career the most?
A: Definitely not Olivier, as he is not the type of actor I prefer. Spencer Tracy used to capture my attention when I was a kid, but the actor I learnt most from was Paul Scofield. I worked with him at the beginning of my career, when I played his character as a young man in Nineteen Nineteen, a very small film about one of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical cases. It was a real privilege!

Original interview in Italian:
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