Is that Mr Darcy taking part in an orgy?
The cocktail of drugs,
sleaze and sex in their new film, Where the Truth Lies, might shock
some of Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon's fans. They talk to Sheila Johnston
At early screenings
of Colin Firth's new film, Where the Truth Lies, it was hard to know
what confounded his fans most.
Was it his presence
as the ham in the sandwich, as it were, of a three-way, bisexual orgy?
His generous pill-popping? The scene in which he batters a bystander to
within an inch of his life? Or, most alarming of all, perhaps, the
spectacle of Britain's eminent heartthrob in naff 1970s vintage
sideburns, moustache, hipster trousers and gold chain?
The film begins in the late 1950s when Vince, Firth's character, forms
half of a phenomenally popular lounge act: the cool, debonair straight
man to Kevin Bacon's brash, manic comic.
Offstage, both men's voracious and mostly illegal appetites draw them
into a scandal that ends their partnership. Then 15 years later, after
the two have long since gone their separate ways and entered discreet
semi-retirement, a nosy female journalist (Alison Lohman) starts to
probe their story.
Despite raised eyebrows at the film's world première in Cannes,
Firth's performance should not have come as too much of a surprise;
after all, as he helpfully pointed out, to play a drug-addled swinger
hardly requires a great leap of imagination for most actors, and
certainly involved rather less research than Mr Darcy, the lord of the
manor from Derbyshire.
Ten years after that iconic role in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice,
Firth has placidly resigned himself to embracing Darcy's memory. In the
two Bridget Jones films, he played an ironic modern version of the
character, and now Where the Truth Lies draws knowingly on that suave,
The original novel, by Rupert Holmes, was widely supposed to be a roman
à clef about the spontaneous combustion of the relationship
between Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
In it, Vince was an Italian-American singer. "I've got some crooning
issues—or rather, other people around me have
them," Firth says. "But I would have loved to have a go at playing
Vince as an American and I felt it was within my grasp." However, in
the film the character has become immaculately British. "I realised,"
he says, "that it was valuable to bring my baggage and use a bit of the
The film's director, Atom Egoyan, cast Firth partly to avoid
"irrelevant" echoes of the Martin-Lewis story (and, possibly, any
He conceived the character as a composite of David Niven, Rex Harrison
and Noël Coward, and says he was attracted to the "veneer of
civilisation" that Firth could bring to the role.
But Egoyan adds: "I've also seen him be really brutal in earlier work,
like Tumbledown [the 1987 BBC drama], where he was absolutely
terrifying as a Falklands soldier. He used to play much darker
characters, and I thought it would be great to summon that up, even if
some people will be shocked that Vince is so reprehensible."
Firth and Bacon had never met before making Where the Truth Lies. None
the less the director, somewhat dauntingly, expected them to devise
their own comedy routine from scratch, apparently even hiring a
"professional laugher" to encourage them in their efforts.
Happily, the chemistry between the two actors appears to have gelled;
in interview together they perform as a double act, with a barbed but
friendly line in mutual banter.
gave me silk boxers from Harrods as a wrap present, so that gives you
an indication of how we got on," Bacon reveals.
Firth counters, "I just wanted him to
wear something. We've been through a lot on this movie and there are
things I never want to see again. [To Bacon] You gave me a nice silver
thing, which I thought was a bit camp, actually, with a very suggestive
engraving on it."
The film's cocktail of drugs, sleaze and sex—in particular that three-way encounter
between Firth, Bacon and an impressionable chambermaid played by Rachel
Blanchard—caused a minor scandal and attracted the
unwelcome attentions of the American censor.
After a series of arguments, Where the Truth Lies was released in the
US unrated, due, reportedly, to an excess of "thrusting"; it will have
an 18 certificate when it opens here on Friday.
Aside from its more lubricious elements, one of its presiding themes is
the shifting sands of showbusiness and, in particular, the seismic
shift between the star-struck 1950s and the ruthless 1970s when
celebrities' secret lives became fair game for the media.
It's something that both Firth and Bacon—though both men's lives are mercifully
scandal-free—are well-placed to comment on.
"My parents get weird phone calls and people showing up at their
house," Firth says. "They're innocent about it—they want to be nice to absolutely
everybody because that's the kind of people they are, and they answer
questions politely. Then they'll get me on the phone saying, 'How could
you tell them about the Batman outfit I had when I was 19?' The press
are pretty determined and they'll do anything. It doesn't matter to
them what the wreckage is in someone's life after the one-day story."
"In the 1950s there was much more of a wall protecting the stars," adds
Bacon. "The media co-operated more, there was no internet and you
couldn't tap into somebody's cellphone. You've gotta keep it in your
pants more these days.
"I would say 95 per cent of being famous is pretty good and the other
part, the idea that you are never anonymous, is a strange kind of jail
sentence. Personally I don't like to complain about it too much,
because I worked my whole life to become famous—that's what you do if you're an actor—but for my children it's a real
Bacon, whose own first major box-office hit was Footloose in 1984, has
been hovering on the edge of major stardom ever since (most people now
probably identify him most with the game he inspired, Six Degrees of
Kevin Bacon, which recently spawned both a book and a photography
Firth, meanwhile, is girding his loins to play a Roman soldier in a
historical drama called The Last Legion. "I wear a little mini skirt
and a thong," he reveals.
Bacon sees his chance for one last parting shot, and seizes it
immediately. "Yup," he chimes in. "You'll be swinging your lance around
all over again."