The man who made breeches sexy talks about his new film and why he finds skinny Hollywood women scary.
Almost eight years have now passed since Colin Firth became the biggest wet shirt fantasy since Sam Fox, when he strode manfully from a lake in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice wearing a frilly shirt and breeches. But the sexy spectre of his aloof character Mr Darcy stalks Colin still.
For a start, there’s his new film What A Girl Wants. He plays an upper-crust politician—the brooding Henry Dashwood—who only discovers he has a teenage daughter when she tracks him down from her home in America. At least in this movie Colin gets to swap his horse for a motorbike.
Then, of course, there’s the planned sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary—and there’s no escaping Mr Darcy, either. In Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Bridget is sent to interview Colin, who she’s lusted after since Pride and Prejudice. But the man himself played Bridget’s boyfriend Mark Darcy in the original movie and is due to return to the role in the sequel. So scriptwriters have the added problem of distinguishing between the real and the fictional Colin, plus two fictional Mr Darcys.
Confused? Probably not as much as Colin, who confesses to being completely baffled by the intricate twists of his Darcy-strewn career. ‘It’s like a bizarre hall of mirrors—I can’t trace all the little kinks in it,’ he says.
But Colin is keen to point out that he’s nothing like the character in real life. ‘If you went to a party and met a guy who was like Darcy, you’d think he was really ridiculous,’ he says. ‘In real life I’m a nerd. If I went around trying to smoulder at people, they’d just laugh. That only works in drama.’
Except for the fact that women still act as though Colin—who was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People of 2001 in People magazine—has been smouldering at them for all he’s worth. At 42, the 6ft 1in star still turns heads wherever he goes, which he says he finds utterly bizarre. ‘Women shout at me in the street and, while I have no objection to it, it’s very peculiar,’ he says. ‘But it’s better than being ignored.’
Not that there’s any chance of that happening. What A Girl Wants—which is due for release this August—seems sure to enhance his reputation as a romantic hero, although Colin admits that the director had to twist his arm first.
‘I’ve done romantic comedy before, but not for kids. Let’s face it, Bridget Jones talks about anal sex,’ he says. ‘But it seemed like such a great project, so any resistance I had was down to snobbery.’
Yet he was a bit taken aback to be cast as the father of a 17-year-old-girl. In real life he has a son, two-year-old Luca, from his marriage to 33-year-old Italian documentary producer Livia Giuggioli, who’s expecting their second child in August. Colin also has a 12-year-old son William, by actress Meg Tilly.
‘That was a bit of a shock—and I’m not that comfortable with it,’ he admits. ‘I’d rather be eased into it, playing a dad to a baby, then a five-year-old and so on.’
He did, however, enjoy sharing a screen with rising star Amanda Bynes, who plays his daughter Daphne, and was overwhelmed by his other co-star Kelly Preston. ‘I’m always very cautious about working with a Hollywood actor—and Kelly’s also married to John Travolta, one of the most famous people in the world,’ he says. ‘So you think: “Are they going to be aloof and different from me?” But instead I met this beautiful, extremely warm, charming and entirely professional person.’
But whatever the box office fortunes of What A Girl Wants, they’re unlikely to equal those of Bridget Jones’s Diary, which was one of the most successful British films of all time, taking in £1.7 million on its opening day in 2001.
Now Colin says the good news for all thirtysomething singletons is that plans for the sequel seem to be finally back on track, after on-again, off-again rumours. Shortly after the film was released, Renée Zellweger—who gained 20lb to play Bridget—insisted that she had no intention of returning to the role. According to Hollywood gossip, Colin then persuaded her to reconsider and last year, after months of dithering, she relented, saying ‘I’m ready, willing and able—Bridget’s a character I really identify with. I’ll put the weight back on with pleasure.’
It was even announced that George Clooney had been pencilled in to replace Colin as the object of Bridget’s lust in the troublesome interview scene. But two months ago Renée again threw the sequel into doubts when she announced that neither she nor her other co-star Hugh Grant had a clue what was going on with the film. ‘Neither of us has committed because there’s nothing to commit to,’ she said.
Now Colin says the project is back on track—albeit wobbling along in a rather uncertain fashion. ‘There’s been a recent flurry of activity, with a new deadline to deliver the script,’ he says. ‘We’ll all have to look at it, but they won’t make me do it if the script sucks. We’ve had a big success and loved doing it, but we shouldn’t try to recapture the magic if it’s not up to scratch. But if the script strikes out into fresh territory, then I’m more interested—and the pitch I’m getting on the new one so far is very encouraging.’
One of Colin’s most prized memories from the first movie was the sight of Renée Zellweger downing pints of Guinness. ‘It’s not something you see very often. Renée was doing it aggressively and with gusto,’ he laughs. The actress also packed away loads of pizza, chocolate and fry-ups to gain weight for the role. But Colin refuses to accept that she looked too heavy as a result.
‘Renée didn’t look fat to me as Bridget—not at all. It didn’t even occur to me that she was in any way overweight,’ he insists. ‘And I don’t think Bridget Jones is supposed to be fat. How many women have you met who don’t think they’re fat? Most seem to think their bums are too big or whatever. They’re very harsh on themselves and usually make a judgment about their bodies that’s certainly lost on me. There’s all this self-torture going on when it’s not necessary.’
And he’s even more scathing about Hollywood’s obsession with excessive skinniness. ‘There are so many women in Hollywood who are staying thinner than can possibly be healthy,’ he says. ‘And you often don’t even realise how thin these girls are because they look bigger on screen. But when you go to an awards ceremony and see what they look like in the flesh, it’s quite scary—they must be starving themselves to look beautiful. Most guys I know don’t find that a turn-on at all, they prefer curves. It’s not attractive, it’s not healthy and it’s not sexy.’
And let’s face it, who could be better qualified to talk about what’s sexy in a woman than the man who played Mr Darcy?
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