Glamour (UK), December 2004, by Lucy Cavendish

Hugh Grant and
I would make a lovely couple


King of romantic comedy, Colin Firth claims he’s a reluctant sex symbol...but that won’t stop him cooing over Renée Zellweger, fighting Hugh Grant and getting his shirt wet for the camera.

Meeting Colin Firth is a very strange experience. For a start, when I arrive at London’s Portobello Hotel, he’s nowhere to be seen. In fact, the place is empty. So I loiter for a while and then take a wander down the road. Then, as I come back to the hotel, I bump straight into him. And I mean, into him. Colin Firth is coming out of the door as I am going in and we end up cannoning into each other. “Whoops,” he says, as we shake hands clumsily and I fell like a prize idiot.

Colin Firth is, of course, completely used to this type of thing. Nearly every movie he has ever been in—most notably as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary and the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason—is about mismatched, embarrassingly charged moments and terribly English types of faux pas. In fact, he first came to the nation’s attention, well, to the attention of the nation’s women at least, when he emerged clad in a clinging shirt from a lake in the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. Come to mention it, the 44-year-old actor seems to have a bit of a thing lakes (he dived into one in Love Actually to rescue a manuscript). But this first lake incident, the putting-on-the map moment, was ten years ago when he played the terribly proper, darkly passionate Mr Darcy.

“Yes, yes, yes,” he says, with some embarrassment mixed with a teensy bit of frustration when I ask him about the white shirt moment. “I know that people did go mad and thought I was some kind of sex symbol, especially when I came out of the lake but I’d never ever thought of myself as sexy. I still find it hard to believe. I thought it was a joke really. I still find myself wondering why anybody would find me sexy.”

Well, let’s think. He’s tall, he’s dark and he wears beautiful clothes, which I suspect have been influenced by his Italian TV producer wife Livia, 33. Today he’s in a black shirt and nicely cut black trousers. He has ruffled hair and brown eyes. But there’s something else about him. He’s quite hard to warm up. He’s utterly charming, it’s just that at first, he’s also a little detached. He does a lot of looking into the distance. He’s very like the characters he plays—wordless and brooding in Girl with a Pearl Earring, forlorn and stumblingly inarticulate in Love Actually—but when he relaxes he’s very funny, and slightly naughty. In fact, he’s pretty lethal when he wants to be.

When asked about  his long-running, rather hammed-up feud with Hugh Grant, he says, “God, I feel as if I’ve turned into a replacement Liz Hurley. My name’s always being linked with Hugh’s. Do you think there’s something in it?” It turns out that he and Grant barely see each other between films and that, contrary to popular belief, they’ve only made three movies together. “We’ve done the Bridget Jones ones and Love Actually but we shot all the scenes separately for that, so I didn’t see him. I actually hardly know the poor man, although I’m sure we’d make a lovely couple.”

They do have another fight in Bridget Jones 2, (as the cast call it) and lo and behold he falls into another lake. “Or is it a pond?” he says. “I can’t remember. All I know is that I think this film is very funny, funnier than the last. If the first one had bombed then we’d never have made this second film, but it was a sort of unwritten rule that if the first was successful we’d all agree to do another one. I also like getting the chance to take a swing at that obnoxious Hugh Grant again,” he says with a wry smile.

The star of the film is, of course, Renée Zellweger. “She’s truly very funny,” says Firth. “We all had a ball making it. I do feel sorry for Renée because there’s such a fuss over her weight. I mean, it’s ridiculous because she looks so good with a bit more weight on her and she’s hardly fat! Most men prefer her with her curves. She’s a very good actress and very game and the looks thing gets in the way. I can understand the obsession. It’s the same for all actresses. Actually, it’s probably the same for all women. They get judged on the way they look.”

Firth seems to be terribly well balanced for such a big star but that’s not to say he’s always been that way. In fact, he spends quite a lot of time telling me about his “wilderness” years. Essentially, in the late ‘80s, he met actress Meg Tilly on the set of Valmont. They got together and had a son called Will, now 13. “It was rather amazing,” says Firth. “I met Meg in my twenties and it was all pretty sudden and passionate and we ended up basically opting out of everything.”

They were both successful at the time. Firth was doing his usual projects, plus a few “Euro turkeys” as he calls them, and Tilly was an up-and-coming young actress. But they turned their backs on it all and moved, lock stock, to the wilds of British Columbia, Canada. Firth was 29. “I had this real attraction to living this isolated existence,” says Firth. “So did Meg. We had Will and we wanted him out of the city, so we bought this wonderful, beautifully crafted log cabin and just lived there. It was like something out of a movie. We had bears in the garden and we drove to the local town in a pick-up truck to check our mail at the post office. It was only two hours out of Vancouver but, if you drove the other way, you’d just go miles and miles into the outback. It was so remote in many ways that it freaked me out. I couldn’t cope with it. I thought I could but I couldn’t. I always imagined there was a party going on somewhere and that I was missing out.”

In the end, Firth and Tilly split up with him returning to London while she moved to California with Will. How did he feel about having to leave his own son? “Of course, I didn’t feel great,” Firth says, “but Meg and I get on well and I spend a lot of time in the States, every summer, with Will. And he comes over here.” It all sounds pretty uncomplicated. “It is,” he says. “It’s modern life.” It also helps that Firth loves America. “When I was a child, my father took us on a drive across the States. It as the most incredible thing. It sort of changed my life because I fell in love with the whole country. I don’t live there because I love London. But the idea of getting metaphorically lost for a while in the States, in the mountains or something, definitely still appeals.”

Running away again? I wonder why? He has, in the past, talked about feeling that his parents (both academics) may have been disappointed because he didn’t go to university. “Oh, yes, I’ve said that,” he says, “but I’ve talked to my father and that’s not the case. I can’t even remember now why I didn’t go. I don’t think it appealed to me. I don’t think I have an academic brain but maybe that’s because I didn’t go to university rather than vice versa. It’s pretty untrained!” Instead, he went straight from his Hampshire secondary school to the National Youth Theatre. He’s one of those annoying people who just “fell” into acting. He was discovered while playing Hamlet in his final term at drama school, and went on to take over the lead from Rupert Everett in the hit West End show Another County. “I’m not sure why,” he says. “Maybe I’m just fortunate.”

The most fortunate thing that has ever happened to him was meeting his wife, Livia in 1995, on the set of Nostromo. They married two years later and now have two sons, Luca, three and Matteo, one. “Livia’s a very intelligent, very beautiful woman and I am constantly awed by her,” he says. The same goes for his children. “You know, when I’m with them I think, ‘God get me out of here!’ but as soon as I’m gone—five minutes even—I miss them so.”

And so the future holds, what? “Pretty much more of the same,” he says. “I’m not rocking boats at my age. I shall plod on and look for good roles and see my children and travel and...” Fall into ponds? “Oh, lots of that,” he says sweetly. “Where would life be without me falling into a pond?”  A lot poorer, I say. We can’t possibly consign his wet shirts to the archives of celluloid history just yet now, can we? “Oh no!” he says with mock outrage. “What would the nation do without them?”

Photographs by Julian Broad
Article courtesy of Felicity

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