While hundreds of film-goers are filled with candyfloss emotions after flicks like Hope Springs, Love Actually and Bridget Jones's Diary, the 43-year-old actor doesn't buy into the notion of the romantic love he peddles on screen.
'I'm not necessarily an optimist in terms of romantic love,' he says. 'I'm not the type of romantic who enjoys the weepy movie and then sighs sweetly about it. I'm more interested in the obstacles and the impossible than I am in resolution and happiness'.
Whether his peer Hugh Grant shares the same belief is up for argument. But for all his recent associations with bumbling roles, Colin is doing his best to avoid the same career choices that have left Mr Grant typecast and lacking the sort of impact he once had. All this, despite his bumbling role in recent hit Love Actually. He says: 'I wouldn't be as patient and self-deprecating. I'm sporadically romantic, which means I don't have a permanent romantic view of life. I'm more interested in emotion and its complications.'
Colin's latest role, in Girl With A Pearl Earring, based on the best-selling novel, is a dark period drama in which Firth plays Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Candyfloss emotions? Unlikely. He says: 'I like to mix and match which is why I jumped at the chance to play Vermeer. I was sitting at home one day and a script arrived asking me if I wanted to do it. I said yes. I was ready to do a bit of drama, since I had done quite a string of romantic comedies and light stuff.'
For one thing, Pearl Earring meant he could drop the smarmy-one liners. 'I had been looking for years to do something like this', he says. 'In fact, it was odd, because in the first week of Pearl Earring I just wondered if I was doing something where I didn't have to be tongue-in-cheek.' Even in roles like Fever Pitch, the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's classic novel where he played a teacher obsessed with Arsenal, he still had his tongue wedged to one side.
It's no surprise, of course, that Firth is often sent the lighter stuff after he shot to stardom as the racy Mr Darcy in the TV adaptation of Jane Austen's bodice-ripper Pride and Prejudice in 1995. He says: 'Romance and comedy have obviously found a way to go hand in hand in popular culture and I think, if you get successful in one thing, it makes you employable enough.'
Maybe so, but there is still the nagging suspicion that Colin took the part in teen comedy What A Girl Wants to raise his American profile. He disagrees. 'It wasn't that conscious, 'he says. 'I think a lot of what we do is very random and, on the outside, it is often assumed everybody has some sort of strategy. I often read an analysis of an actor's career and they talk about choices, in that they made bad choices for a while then good ones, as if they were in a world of perfect choice. In fact, it is very odd, just looking back over the last few things that I have done, I can't see any pattern. Some worked out badly and some worked out well, but there is no exact science.'
Then again, so long as Brit-coms like Bridget Jones's Diary, and this year's follow-up The Edge of Reason, continue to hit the mark, then he no more needs a career strategy than Henrik Larsson needs shooting practice.
Indeed, if he was waiting for the Bridget Jones follow-up to keep his profile buoyant, then the huge success of Love Actually has been an added bonus. It was a role Colin had no hesitation in taking, having worked with Richard Curtis on the smash hit Bridget Jones.
He says: 'He has this fantastically intelligent and self-deprecating wit that you associate with the films he writes. He is doing something that, however mainstream it is, is different from what other people do and it is only mainstream because of the fact that he single-handedly made it so. It is quite hard to write about middle-class people, which is usually the stuff of sitcoms, but he manages to get some drama out of it.'
Colin thinks this is especially evident in Love Actually, a film that isn't just about those feel-good emotions. 'Great drama comprises comedy and tragedy,' he says. 'Richard has been able to enmesh both and bring a genuine humanity to his work.'
Much of Colin's sequences were shot on location in the south of France and there were no major dramas working on what seemed a complex undertaking. He says: 'It was a simple pleasure from beginning to end. I think it was easy to say that because in some ways I could just jump right in and feel little pressure, as I'm not carrying the film. My whole storyline could have been a total catastrophe and it wouldn't be the end of the world. I decided to see what would happen if I just allowed myself to be carried by someone who hasn't proved himself to be a master of this form. Also, when my stuff was confined to the south of France, the schedule started with my scenes, so it felt like it was my little movie for a while. It was easy to have a good time and get things right in three weeks.'
His role as Darcy was one which not only won him critical acclaim and the attention of casting directors the world over, but it also won him a legion of female fans. So much so that he was voted one of the world's sexiest men.
'Everyone likes to be flattered, ' he says. 'But it is weird because there is no one way you feel about that. You do wonder, I suppose, especially as your career has to continue, what it is going to mean yet I don't think it has meant that much except what I have talked about it in most interviews.'
And, besides, he's only interested in one woman, Italian documentary maker Livia Giuggiolo, who he met while he was filming in Columbia. They have a son Luca and last August she gave birth to their second son, Mateo. He also has a son, Will, to actress Meg Tilly, who lives in LA, a place Colin visits regularly to catch up with his boy.
'Hey, I have a great life, ' he says. 'I've got a nice home, great kids and a wife I love. So I feel blessed. But I consider myself a jobbing actor. I have to pay the bills. So I choose roles that interest me and allow me to get on with it.'
Perhaps for that reason he allowed himself to play the predominantly silent, internal and not particularly sexy Vermeer in the fictionalised story behind one of the 17th-century artist's most famous works, suggesting the girl in the painting was a maid (Scarlett Johansson) and his wife and family were scandalised that he would use her as a muse.
Not much is known about Vermeer, so Colin had to invent him by looking at his paintings, which happen to be scattered all over the globe. He says: 'The tacit nature of the character has been drawn somewhat on the tacit nature of the paintings. You have this sense of quiet in the work within what must have necessarily been a chaotic household. There's no question about it, with 11 children running around, it was an active world. He grew up in a pub. The beer consumption was enormous. This was a world that wasn't as calm and tranquil as the paintings might lead you to believe.'
Colin relishes the risk of starring in a slow-moving, painting-like drama that is as distinctive from the likes of Love Actually as you can get. 'But that's the fun of being an actor,' he says. 'There was a friend of mine who asked me years ago if my primary instinct was to make people laugh or cry. I'd never seen it in those terms, nor do I, but it was an interesting question to think about. I suppose it was in my early twenties and so, without hesitation, I said, 'cry'. It's more satisfying to try to move people, hit darker emotions rather than to uplift them, and, of course, comedy is a lot harder.' But he's making a right good go of it nonetheless.
Next on the emotional menu? Laughter, in The Edge of Reason, the follow-up to Bridget Jones. 'Everyone feels the same about sequels,' he says. 'It's worth doing if it's brilliant, otherwise you go into sequel purgatory. The first film is still so fresh in everyone's minds, which is what makes it so difficult to put together, because you need the same three people to be available at the same time. That's a challenge.' But challenges are what a diverse actor thrives on. Let's see if Colin brings us laughter or tears.
COLIN FIRTH LOVES ITALY'S TRADITIONS, RENEE ZELLWEGER AND THE PAINTINGS OF VERMEER
Art galleries I like going to art galleries now and pretending to be this bloke Johannes Vermeer who I play in Girl With A Pearl Earring. But the physical side of painting is beyond me.
Renee Zellweger Hugh Grant and Renee Zellweger made Bridget Jones's Diary into something far bigger than any of us imagined. When it came to filming the sequel last year, it was a joy to see Renee and to see how much Hugh Grant has deteriorated in three years.
Writing It's all rather convenient to have other strings to your bow. I would love to write stories but it's a fantasy, not an ambition.
Italy I love its sense of tradition. When I met my wife, Livia, I had to present myself to her father. I had never met a 26-year-old woman who still lived with her parents.
The wisdom of jazz legend Miles Davis I've always followed the advice of Miles: 'Don't play what you know. Play what you don't know.' That could be the watchword of my career'
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