|We find Where the Truth Lies
(Empire, November 2005, by Sam Toy)
He's played Mr Darcy and Mark Darcy for so long that we perhaps best know him for his romantic comedies, but Colin Firth is nothing if not versatile. In his latest film, Where The Truth Lies, he plays Vince, a violent, insecure, drug-using half of a television double act, with Kevin Bacon. We talk to the man who's doing his best to put that wet shirt behind him about his dark side, why he enjoys being tortured and why Kevin Bacon's butt saved his blushes…
What was the original appeal of doing the film?
I don’t know; what was not to like really! It was Atom who had me going from the start, because I spoke to him before I saw the script. I thought that it’s gonna be thoughtful and it’s gonna have an unusually take on the subject. It’ll probably be somewhat uncomfortable; it’ll probably be specialising in or humanising something that people find disagreeable. And sure enough, it was unlike anything I was used to. I liked all the dark stuff; I liked the unpredictability of the character. I thought it had a lot of possibilities.
Looking at the stuff that you have coming up on IMDB-
I’d take it with a pinch of salt, IMDB. I find that I'm involved in things I’ve barely heard of. They’re things people try and set up, the order of things have been changed. So none of those are certainties.
But those that you have confirmed seem to be darker roles…
Some of them definitely are, yeah. You’re probably talking about Toyer, La Fenice, things like that, if they ever happen. They’re definitely around, but they’re not entirely new to me—Trauma, which I did about two-three years ago, was a darker role and through the ‘80s I was playing characters who were less than pleasant. The rom-com is not the sort of affair that anyone came to me with for the first 10 years.
Are you trying to avoid typecasting?
It's not a reaction to typecasting. I just tend to like that territory, really. I’ve got nothing against rom-coms, but I never went out looking for them. It’s something that landed in my lap somehow, I participated in it and I’ve reaped enormous benefits from having done them. My life would be much more of a struggle had that not had happened. But I feel more comfortable in drama rather than comedy.
Would you still consider rom-com roles in the future?
I consider anything that’s good, really. The criteria is quite broad for why I would take on something. As I said in the case of Atom Egoyan, a director could be the first hook. I’ve done jobs because there’s a group of people I want to work with. But a good comedy is hard to come by and I’ll definitely do it if I feel it’s worthwhile. One of the things on that list is called Gambit, which is written by the Coen brothers. Having said that I’m not really up for comedy at the moment, this came along which is so brilliantly written—it’d be stupid not to jump at it, if it happens.
Was the idea of the tortured comedian one that particularly interested you?
Yeah, tortured is always good for an actor. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to do a bit of tortured. What that usually means in reality is someone who’s wrestling with stuff internally and our job is to try and portray that stuff. It’s hard to imagine a central character in any film that's happy at the beginning, happy in the middle and still happy at the end. What story has there been? Your action hero may have obstacles that are external, but in most other genres, it’s stuff the characters have to deal with internally. Even in comedies—what’s Bridget Jones if not tortured? She’s always arguing with herself, beating herself up about something, regretting something, praying something’s gonna happen which doesn’t and suddenly it turns into a disaster. So stories are made of characters facing all kinds of obstacles and conflicts. When talking about a very dark and tortured character, we’re just talking about a character for whom those elements are quite extreme. It’s great when you see that, because it’s just all the more work cut out for you.
I saw you at last year’s London Film Festival with Kevin Bacon. Were you working on this film then?
Yeah, we must have been. We shot part of it in London and Kevin was there for The Woodsman. We were working together and probably had been naked together that day. (laughs)
How were the nude scenes?
It was a bit grizzly at first, really. I mean, we’ve been through most of it as actors and by the time you reach the mid-forties, if you’ve done a few films, there’s always sex somewhere. You even have to be naked in drama school, get your kit off and do some of that. You get over it really. You stop giggling about it and don’t register it that much. There’s still gonna be a bit of a moment to get over when you walk onto the set with your clothes on and there’s gonna have to be a moment when they’re not on anymore…but you get over it. You are more concerned after a few seconds have gone by with conveying what has to be conveyed. Presumably, you’re making a serious film and the scene has some importance. Certainly in our film it does, because in terms of the psychology of the film it’s critical.
The greatest obstacle of filming anyway is having to appear spontaneous and fresh, and you’re working under unbelievably artificial circumstances and filming way out of sequence. The room is full of lamps, lights and technicians and you’re repeating yourself and it’s supposed to look like it’s happening for the first time. So that’s difficult enough anyway and if you’re doing scenes like that, you’ve got the added obstacle of the camera going into contortions to try and frame out your privates at the same time. So you know, let’s get the vase of flowers there and the guy walking across with the plank. In the end, it’s more about that than your own embarrassment.
When they started chopping bits out for the censors, was it disappointing?
When you’ve gone to all that trouble, yeah. I think if you’re trying to tell a story that you think has some validity…that scene is so critical—if that scene wasn’t critical to our film, we would’ve saved ourselves a lot of grief by chopping it out. But you can’t even chop into it because it’s one take. But it isn’t the most explicit scene I’ve ever seen and there isn’t even any frontal nudity in the scene, so it’s not that. They sometimes add up how many thrusts there are and you’d cut a long thrust out and you may be able to get it through. But I can only think that because the scene itself is uncomfortable, intentionally uncomfortable, they’re reacting to that discomfort. I think there should be some measures in place. I’ve got kids; I don’t think there should be a total free-for-all. But I cannot for the life of me see what caused so much grief in this film.
Shooting sex scenes can be dull and difficult to remain spontaneous? Is it 50% harder trying to do that as a threesome?
Actually, probably not, funnily enough. You’ve seen those scenes in Love Actually when you’re talking about the traffic on the M3 while humping each other. But somehow, three of you tends to make it more normal. You talk about safety in numbers, really. I’d had about a week where I hadn’t been filming and I showed up and that week was taken up with solid shagging. It was Kevin and various women. By the time I came on that scene for the film, there was no interest at all. They were so sick of the sight of his ass that mine was nothing new. In a film situation, we’re asked to do all kinds of things that are not usual or normal. You pretend to kill people, torture people, you conjure up rage which is not yours or would be extremely anti-social in any other situation. We make a lot of the sexual thing, but that really only one more weird thing we have to do.
Was your character Vince always a Brit?
No, Vince was an Italian-American. There was a clear Dean Martin reference in the book, and that was never gonna happen. I would’ve liked to play him as an American, but Atom convinced me very, very quickly that he wasn’t looking for that. He thought it was more interesting if I used what people associate me with already and I think he was right. There’s something that surprises people more about the character if I play this buttoned-up Brit, who then behaves in such an venal manner. I think a lot of the Americans will be surprised. Also, he wanted it to work for the act, that the act was a juxtaposition of a controlled, almost disciplinarian Englishman and an unruly American. He made use of those features.
One of the things in the film is obviously the decline of the celebrity. Is that one of the things to think about in terms of your future?
Vince is a very, very bleak character to portray in that way. Playing him was a real stare into the abyss, actually. To desperately need your status in that way and yet to have it as a big, big part of your burden must be a kind of hell. He assumes he’s got a massive secret and the instinct is you’ve got a secret is to get out of the light and go and hide somewhere. But his whole lifeblood is being in the limelight; he has to be out there. I think if you’re investing that sort of adoration and you capitalise on some of those perks, it is going to distance you from real human beings and real relationships. And also, the fear of mediocrity spinning into that—years or years where the quality of your work just declines and declines and declines. You can’t help, people who you used to celebrate, now feeling a bit sorry for them. I don’t want to think about it at all, you’ve depressed me. (laughs)
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