Sun-Sentinel, November 15, 2004, by Jane Wollman Rusoff

Firth gets uptight –

Ensconced in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, Colin Firth thrusts his high-top-sneaker-clad foot on the arm of a posh sofa. It's hardly a move his neat-freak character in 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary and, now, the sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, would make.

In the flesh, the actor, 44, is just as British-accented, tall, curly-haired and great looking as on film. But Firth is hardly his ultra-reserved character, Mark Darcy. Indeed, today, Firth is wearing a pair of dark-blue jeans, a blue sweater with sleeves pushed up above the elbows and the aforesaid sneakers.

"When I first played Darcy, everyone was saying, `You couldn't possibly be that guy in a million years,'" Firth says. "It was the biggest stretch I'd ever made. But ironically, Darcy is whom I've become identified with."

In the sequel, the scatterbrained thirtysomething Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is still ga-ga over the hunky Darcy. When the film opens, Mark has been plump Bridget's perfect boyfriend now for six weeks. But can she hold onto him? And what about that cad of an ex-boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), who's still hot for her?

our starry-eyed Bridget has to cope with a slew of mushrooming challenges.

And Darcy is right there for her
for example, looking after the jolly heroine after she gets tossed in prison. An unlikely pair, but protocol-driven Darcy is ever-captivated by Bridget's candor. Still, notes Firth, "he's just a romantic device. We're not engaged with his main lifebeing a human rights lawyer. That all takes place in the wings."

The movie's climatic water-fight scene has rivals Darcy and Cleaver having at it over Bridget in the middle of the fountains in Hyde Park's Italian Gardens. "London in November: It was freezing!" Firth says. "I came down with something afterwards and lost my voice."

For camera and lighting requirements, a number of takes were done over a few days. Between each take, Firth and Grant, in cold, soaking-wet suits, were warmed by sitting in "a kind of hot tub and having a cup of tea. It was very bizarre. We didn't stay in it for very long, though, because it smelled of sulfur or something. Very strange."

It was in winter decades ago that the Hampshire, England-born Firth caught the, er, acting bug. Part of a Christmas pantomime, the schoolboy played Jack Frost. He's gone on to appear in lots of British theater and more than 40 films, including The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love.

Last year, Firth starred opposite Scarlett Johansson as enigmatic painter Vermeer in Girl With a Pearl Earring and as an infatuated writer in Love Actually.

And as different as Firth and Darcy might be in real life, it's a part the actor played even before the Bridget Jones films. Well, sort of. Darcy is modeled after the dashing Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a role that Firth portrayed in a 1995 BBC-TV adaptation.

To do publicity for Bridget, Firth is taking a few days off from filming Where the Truth Lies in Toronto. "It's Rat-Pack-type stuff
repartee and music," Firth says. He and Kevin Bacon play a '50s Las Vegas comedy duo, and the drama involves a woman found dead in their hotel room.

But rather than talk just about his movies, Firth shares a tale about the quirky work habits of the painter Rene Magritte.

"I don't know if it's true," Firth says, "but the story goes that he'd wake up punctually at the same time every morning, pack his portfolio as if he were going off to work at an office, kiss his wife goodbye and leave the house. Then he'd walk around the block, come back to the house, go upstairs to his studio and paint. At 5 o'clock, he'd reverse the process and come back home. I think everybody, to some extent, leads two lives, maybe even five, six or seven."

The anecdote calls to mind the pride the actor takes in compartmentalizing his own life. Firth, who has two boys with his wife of seven years, documentary film producer Livia Giuggioli, and a son from a previous relationship with actress Meg Tilly, says:

"A lot of us change channels when we work and when we're home. It's probably more pronounced if one of your lives is quite public. That certainly isn't something you want to bring home and affect your family. A person who's ambitious to do things creatively [can] feel different from the person who wants to be a good dad."

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