USA Weekend, Jan 4, 2004, by Michele Hatty

Colin Firth:
Time Traveler


Dashing. Whether he's in a 17th-century Dutch painter's flowing smock, a 19th-century Englishman's waistcoat or the dark denim jeans he's sporting on this winter day in post-millennial New York City, Colin Firth, 43, transcends time when it comes to looking dashing.

Although he's appeared in his fair share of films set in the present day, including 2001's "Bridget Jones's Diary" and its soon-to-be-released sequel, the British actor's breakout role was the gallant Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Since then, with turns as an evil  Elizabethan lord (1998's "Shakespeare in Love") and a late-Victorian comedic lothario (2002's "The Importance of Being Earnest"), he is better known for appearing onscreen in breeches than in track pants. But that hasn't stopped women on both sides of the pond from swooning over him.

The fervor likely will continue as Firth brings a brooding Vermeer to the big screen in the just-out "Girl With a Pearl Earring." The adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's best-selling novel imagines the painter as obsessed with a servant girl. In a nuanced performance, the actor adroitly channels Vermeer's inner angst with quiet intensity and smoldering stares.

Firth's friends confirm the hold he has over the fairer sex. "When he was cast in "Fever Pitch," he had to play a soccer fan, so I took him to see a game," says Pitch author Nick Hornby. "And afterward—let's just say there were a lot more people than are usually around, coming to my house for tea, just happening to drop in."

For his part, the actor is befuddled by his sex-symbol status. "It wouldn't take long in knowing me at all to blow most of it out of the water," he says with a laugh. In any case, would-be love interests, he's off the market: Firth has been married to Italian film producer Livia Giuggioli for six years, and together they have two sons, Luca, 2, and Mateo, 5 months. The actor is also dad to Will, 13, from a previous relationship with actress Meg Tilly.

"Children make you feel mortal," Firth says. "Before you have kids, there's an invisible thread that's attached to your youth and your birth in some way. Once you've got them, that thread is now attached to the other end of your life somehow. It's their turn to be beginners. You have to move over." And although he's embraced his role as a parent, he says matter-of-factly, "I'm absolutely certain that it's not for everyone."

It's with a similar frankness that Firth muses about the relationship between England and the United States. "English popular culture has absorbed a great deal of American popular culture, and vice versa. Music has been very much the catalyst for that. We've regurgitated and re-regurgitated each other's influences. There would have been no Beatles without American rock 'n' roll, and there would have been no Hendrix without the [Rolling] Stones," he says.

When asked whether he thinks there are significant differences between British men and American men, the actor balks. "It breaks down to individuals. For every Prince Charles, there's a Keith Richards [of the Stones]. And certainly most English boys would rather model themselves on the Keith Richards archetype, or [soccer player] David Beckham, than Prince Charles, bless him. There's no one out there that wants to be Prince Charles. So it's rock 'n' roll and soccer," Firth reasons. "That's what the boys go for. And America's pretty well the equivalent."

Firth concedes America's dominance in one area: "I don't think we've ever had a sexy politician. We've never had a Kennedy. Tragically, I'd say the closest we've come would be [former prime minister Margaret] Thatcher. She certainly had what some people considered charisma." But, he says with a chuckle, "It didn't work for me at all."

For now, what does work for Firth is, well, work. "Earring" is one of his three films rolling out this year, including the Bridget Jones sequel and a medical thriller, "Trauma." Here's betting Firth looks dashing even in a hospital gown.

Weekend with ... Colin Firth
The actor likes to hole up in his London home and play his ax: "It soothes me to play the guitar. It doesn't soothe anyone else, unfortunately. But I can hold one for hours, and I find it extremely satisfying. It's an anti-stress device. I tried to take guitar lessons when I was young, but the kind available to an 8- or 9-year-old where I came from were where you learned to play Kumbaya. Not exactly what I was looking for. I really began to work at guitar when I was 28 or 29." Does he compose love songs for his wife? "No," he says. "My marriage would be doomed if I attempted that."

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