<>When Colin Firth last graced the red carpet at the Toronto Film Festival, it was in support of Tom Ford’s A Single Man, where he played a man so steeped in grief he could barely bring himself to speak.
This year, Firth’s here for Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, in which he plays a man who desperately wants to speak, but can’t. He’s George VI, who had to overcome a crippling stammer before he could address his subjects>—<>a serious problem in the age of radio. (Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, the Australian expat who became his trusted speech therapist.)
It’s a 180-degree turn for any actor, but even more challenging for Firth, who essentially had to put away his most recognizable characteristic>—<>that marvellous voice>—<>to play the character.
“If I felt directed, it was in that direction,” he says of Hooper’s approach. “He did make that comment – ‘I need you to disappear a bit more, I need you to be more apologetic.’ I needed to be ill at ease in these big, empty spaces. I think that’s fair. It’s very easy to put a suit on; it’s very easy to feel debonair. And he didn’t want any of that.”
It should be pointed out here that Firth is, in fact, the picture of informal elegance in a black shirt and jacket during our conversation. It’s part of his overall strategy to keep himself sharp>—<>and it’s something about which he’s particularly passionate.
“I’ll tell you what I think happens to people,” he says. “I think the conventions that we operate in need to be skewed sometimes, or changed, in order for us to understand ourselves better. And I think that if you’re lazy with language, or you’re lazy with the way you dress, you may find you’re missing the chance to express a part of yourself that could be really productive, if that makes sense.
“I’m not suggesting people should go around being elegant all the time,” he elaborates. “I mean, Tom Ford wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything he didn’t consider to be perfectly elegant, and I think he lives up to it. And I think if you use language better, you live up to it. And it can hone the way you conceptualize things. So if you just speak in shorthand all the time, maybe you think in shorthand, you know?
“The wonderful thing, the gift of my job, to me, is that I get a chance to get my mouth around language which is incredibly intricate and beautifully thought out. And it exercises my mind. I haven’t written it>—<>I don’t have those skills>—<>but to actually just appropriate someone else’s skills and try them on for size can raise your own game as well. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s good to tell a story that’s set in the 18th century. Let’s speak that way for a while. It’s the joy of Shakespeare, as well; that poetry is enriching. It doesn’t take us into the past, it just smartens us up in the present.”><>
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