Brigitte, September 2004, by Stefanie Hentschel
translation by Nicole Baake

Costume dramas made him famous; Bridget Jones longed
for him. Now Colin Firth plays the painter Vermeer in
the film Girl With A Pearl Earring, though he himself is

. . . a picture of a man
What’s your favourite colour? Pardon?

What’s your favourite colour? Blue.

What’s your favourite dessert? Hmmm, Crème brûlée.

Are you still going out with your girlfriend? Yes.


Okay, that’s not what we talked about. I’ve copied this from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones–The Edge of Reason. You might remember that wonderful Bridget Jones has a crush on the real-life British actor Colin Firth. And, in the second book, she even gets to interview him for an English magazine. As she is so in love with him, she interviews him in her typical Bridget Jones-like manner and behaves like a complete idiot.

Through these two books Helen Fielding has made Colin Firth into a prototype of the unreachable idol. He actually became an object of desire in England after playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (This is what Bridget and her friends watch nonstop.)

He seems to be a man for whom you might lose your senses. Who makes you do lots of stupid things with just one deep glance out of his dark eyes. Well, we’ll see.

The interview takes place in the exquisite Dorchester Hotel opposite London’s Hyde Park. After yesterday’s nonstop rain, the sun is shining today. Colin Firth, 43 years old, is sitting on a small couch. His right hand is lying on his chin while he’s talking and covers his mouth. He signals distance throughout. Restraint. He doesn’t open up easily for sure. He isn’t impolite though. One could easily feel, when we shake hands goodbye, the better part of his afternoon is to come.

Okay, but he does look good. Very good. Dark curly hair, dark eyes, wine-coloured velvet jacket. If Bridget could see him like this...

But it’s not about her, it’s about Colin and his new movie Girl With A Pearl Earring, starting September 23rd. It’s an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s book that tells the imagined story behind Jan Vermeer’s painting. Firth plays the Dutch painter, Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) stars as the maid who poses for this painting. There is a magnetic attraction between the two, which the film portrays in a wonderful soft way that is hardly ever seen nowadays in movies.

Every shot of this movie is set up to look like a Vermeer painting. Girl With A Pearl Earring received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best cinematography. The award ultimately went to Master and Commander.

Colin Firth said he has seen about fifteen of Vermeer’s paintings thus far. That’s quite a few, considering that only 36 exist throughout the world. One of them “The Geographer” can be seen in Frankfurt. “We shot in Luxemburg, not far away from Frankfurt, and I always asked myself ‘Should I take a free day to drive there and see it?’” When they finished filming, Colin Firth still hadn’t made it to Frankfurt.

But he is quite interested in paintings. He is from an academic family; his father is a history professor, his mother in religious studies. Colin, his brother and his sister grew up without TV; reading and discussions were encouraged at home. Naturally they went to museums together, and if Colin Firth is in a new place “I am likely to visit a museum.”

Especially in Italy. He lives there part time with his wife (in Bridget, she is still his girlfriend) Livia Guiggioli, a documentary filmmaker, with whom he has two children. He also has a 13-year-old son with his former wife [sic] Meg Tilly.

“In Italy, I’ve seen great art,” he says very nonchalantly of course and without much enthusiasm. “But I don’t approach it scientifically. It either works or it doesn’t. If I “click” with an artist, I can’t get enough.” This happened with Caravaggio, whose work he discovered in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

“Next to the door is the painting ‘The Calling of St. Matthew.’ Jesus looks pretty young and very, very Italian. I love the drama in this painting!” And suddenly his practiced distance is gone. Colin Firth grows animated, describing who sits where in this painting and how the light falls onto it. His eyes shine and we are somewhere inside this painting, sitting at the same table with the men and “Jesus points to one of them, most interpreters say it’s Matthew. But there’s one really young guy sitting to the right of Matthew, who has lowered his head. You can feel how this guy thinks: don’t take me! And I think Jesus means him. That is far more interesting.”

Colin Firth has thawed, suddenly and absolutely surprisingly. He’s another person. Suddenly he’s enjoying the interview. And now it’s definitely time for melting knees. This man is amazing! If I now turn into a complete idiot and start doing all sorts of things, tormenting him with what I learned in art history class, this would be the perfect moment.

Concentrate. Quick. A movie question about costume dramas. He has done quite a lot of them: Valmont, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love or The Importance of Being Earnest. His newest one: Girl With A Pearl Earring. Are they his preference or is this just what he gets offered?

“What does it mean, costume film? he asks back. “You always wear costumes in every movie. Movies set in the present are as artificial as movies set in the past. I find it more peculiar to wear modern strange shoes and modern strange jeans than a shirt from the 17th century. A costume is a costume.”

In his last movie seen in German cinemas, he didn’t wear clothes from the 17th century. It was the surprise hit Love Actually by Richard Curtis, which was set around Christmas, and Colin Firth and the Portuguese actress Lúcia Moniz have probably the loveliest dialogue in all of last year’s movies. He doesn’t understand Portuguese; she doesn’t speak English. He drives her home after work, then looks at her and says in English, “Driving you home is my favourite part of the day.” She doesn’t understand a word, looks at him, and replies in Portuguese: “Leaving you is the saddest moment of my day”. Sigh.

In Love Actually Colin Firth plays a writer. In real life he wrote a short story, “Speaking With the Angel,” for an anthology published by Nick Hornby in 2000 to benefit a charity. Does he like writing? “Definitely!” Does he write? “Yes (hesitating). As a hobby. I’m not disciplined enough.” One can sense he doesn’t like talking about this, but he does it anyway: “It’s always easy doing something different. I therefore just write down fragments.”

He talks theoretically about writing and then admits that he already written “several short stories. But these are just for me. I put them in a drawer and there they stay. Sometimes I show them to friends who do similar things.”

Aha, will we eventually have the pleasure of reading more of his stories? “I don’t know. Honestly.”

His story for Nick Hornby’s book was done as a favour for a friend. They’ve known each other since Colin Firth played the main character in the film based on Hornby’s book Fever Pitch. “We are not best friends,” he says nonchalantly, “but we have many things in common. We’re both from English suburbs, have travelled a lot, and like many of the same books and music.”

Returning to Bridget Jones, Colin’s part in Fever Pitch is the reason for her interviewing him. He remembers, “First friends told me that I was in the ‘Bridget Jones’ [columns]. I then read them and later met Helen Fielding. Of course I’m proud of being seen as a pop-cultural reference!”

It was highly ironic to have the book’s Firth playing Bridget’s love interest Mark Darcy in the movie adaptation of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

The sequel will be filmed this winter. Colin Firth’s in it again, creating lots of problems, like: How are they going to film the interview mentioned earlier? Colin can’t play both, as he already plays the part of Darcy. Three years ago Colin joked that they will have to ask Russell Crowe to play me.” Now there are rumours that George Clooney might play this part.

Colin Firth sees the funny side of this problem. “Clooney might have been an option, but he isn’t doing it. I think they might drop it altogether.”

What he can promise is that the idiotic reindeer sweater he wore when he first met Bridget will be back. “They didn’t let me keep it,” he says ruefully, “but there was a second one, which was slightly less obnoxious, that is mine now.” “Funny,” he thinks, “that I will be remembered because of this sweater. It is humbling.”

He sounds both amused by this thought and a little astonished. He sounded like this quite often during the interview, especially whenever we were talking about him. One had the feeling he’d love to say, ‘I just do my job. What exactly do you want from me?’ He won’t die of self-importance. That’s for sure.
The sun is still shining after the interview. Hyde Park appears golden. I survived! I haven’t said too many stupid things; I didn’t ask him if or when he will leave his wife. But now I’ll go for a walk in Hyde Park, enjoying the sun, and listen to the tape. What did Bridget say after her interview with Colin? “Have to relive the day; was simply too good. Hmmm.”

I haven’t got anything to add to this.


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