Elle, January 2004, by Andrew Goldman

Firth Love

Colin Firth, cinema’s favorite wounded Brit,
imparts his tips on girl hunting for married men,
why the spaghetti vongole doesn’t impress
the ladies like it used to, and how love isn’t half
as fun as you’d think.

Has any actor been tossed to the curb as much as Colin Firth? As if being cuckolded by Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient wasn’t enough to hobble him romantically, two years later in Shakespeare in Love, Fiennes’ brother Joseph hoovers up the last of Firth’s on-screen dignity by stealing Gwyneth Paltrow away. In Love Actually, there’s Firth again, horrified to discover that his girlfriend and brother have been sharing some naked laughs while he was out. When does he get the girl—as the brooding Mr. Darcy in both Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary—he wears that hangdog look, as if expecting to be whacked again by the relationship reaper. Now, as the Dutch painter Vermeer in Girl With a Pearl Earring, Firth whips himself into a tortured froth over Scarlett Johansson, his young servant muse. But hold on to your reindeer jumper: Mr. Gloomy Heartache Guy has a little surprise about his own breakup history.

Elle: I happened upon a Web site devoted to you called Firthfrenzy. Could you describe what a Firthfrenzy looks like?

Colin Firth: I don’t have any idea!

Elle: Were you obsessed with any movie stars as a kid?

CF: I did have a sleepless night over Doris Day when I was eight and Bye the Light of the Silvery Moon was on TV. She had that pure quality, but she always seemed within an inch of giving in to being absolutely, um, ah...

Elle: Giving in to a Firthfrenzy?

CF: Giving in to a frenzy of some kind, yes.

Elle: You get your heart broken pretty mercilessly in Love Actually. Describe the most humiliating way you were ever left.

CF: This might sound nauseating, but it’s never happened.

Elle: What! Never been dumped?

CF: I’m afraid I haven’t, really.

Elle: A real-life serial dumper. So do you do it humanely? Or is it a question of just ripping off the Band-Aid?

CF: You can rip off the Band-Aid humanely without being an asshole about it. Doing it nicely isn’t necessarily kind.

Elle: Your parents were both professors. Do academics have a particular way of talking to their kids about sex?

CF: Liberally minded intellectuals tend to be less prudish. I was told about the facts of life pretty damned young. I think my mother tried to get away with telling me when I was one.

Elle: What do you remember about your first date?

CF: Do Americans have the tradition of kiss chase? It’s like tag but with kissing. I remember playing kiss chase in a very, very small room, with just one girl.

Elle: Tongues?

CF: No.

Elle: So what’s the official British position on sex these days? You guys still sticking to that national moratorium?

CF: It’s a highly cherished notion, this idea that it’s miraculous that we even reproduce. I think the British are actually quite rampant.

Elle: Do British women still do it for you?

CF: They really do. And I’m married to an Italian. My head turns in the streets of London all the time—or pretty much anywhere. When you’re married, your window-shopping instincts are heightened. You’re rooted, so you browse.

Elle: What the biggest lie you ever told to pick up a woman?

CF: I’ve never said that I was president of a South American country, but I’m sure I’ve claimed to be interested in her mind or that I’m the committing type. I have actually pretended I’m not who I am.

Elle: Wait—you would actually pretend to not be a famous actor in an effort to pick up women?

CF: Yeah. It would be kind of nice to get the eye from someone who has no idea who I am.

Elle: Is there a dish you prepare to impress women?

CF: I do a spaghetti vongole and a tagliatelle with porcini. I thought I was great on the Italian front until I married into that culture. Whatever I was doing to impress anybody in England wasn’t really going to cut it in Italy.

Elle: What does love feel like?

CF: I think the word is too small for what it is. It is bizarre that you can use the same word for your lover and your firstborn child as for your piece of pizza.

Elle: Pizza love is a different column. I’m talking head over heels love.

CF: It’s a very dangerous state. You are inclined to recklessness and kind of tune out the rest of your life and everything that’s been important to you. It’s actually not all that pleasurable. I don’t know who the hell wants to get in a situation where you can’t bear an hour without somebody’s company.

Photo by Colin Bell

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