The Today Show

interview by Katie Couric on May 27, 2002


Katie: Colin Firth has been setting hearts aflutter in Great Britain since 1995 when he starred in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Here in the States, American women are succumbing to his charms as well. [playing naked in pool clip from Bridget Jones’s Diary with voiceover]  He’s best known here as the seemingly reserved barrister who competes for the affection of Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Now he’s part of an all-star cast in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. [clip “How perfectly delightful”] Oh, how perfectly delightful. Hi Colin. How are you?

Colin: I’m well, thanks. How are you?

Katie:  Nice to see you. So, you know, obviously this is as well known in Great Britain—The Importance of Being Earnest—as Gone With The Wind is in this country. I mean, everybody is familiar with Oscar Wilde’s play. Do you remember the first time you saw it?

Colin: I saw it as a teenager in a repertory theater in England. It was rather a stiff production and in the way you normally see Oscar Wilde represented, which is actors composing their faces to look droll and playing to well-informed laughter and it’s actually, you know, you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I’m supposed to find this funny. If I’m smart, I find it funny.’ But you’re sort of slightly shut out from it. When I read it, I howled with laughter. So I always felt there was a slight discrepancy, you know.

Katie:  So obviously, when you set out to be a part of this movie, you wanted to capture the real essence of his work in a way that you felt hadn’t been done before.

Colin: Yes, it probably has been done before. I mean, I’m sure, you know, there have been wonderfully buoyant productions, but I do think that it’s slightly burdened by its reputation and if you’re too in awe of that, you’re not going to have fun with it and you lose the point.

Katie:  Well, you had a lot of fun with this movie and with the role. Tell me a little bit about the character you play, Jack Worthing.

Colin: Well, he’s a character who is expected to lead a rather dull life. He is a paragon of society within his own community and he’s totally. . . 

Katie:  He takes himself quite seriously.

Colin: That’s right. Frightfully seriously. And in order to have fun he becomes somebody else. In fact, there’s a great paradox running through Oscar Wilde that, in order to be a bit yourself, you have to be duplicitous as he had to be. So he invents an unruly brother, and he goes to town and lets the unruly brother run up all the bills and seduce the women, and then he goes back to being the bore again, you know.

Katie:  And of course the unruly brother is Ernest and the alter ego creates all sorts of problems with him and therein lies sort of the comedic value of the piece, right?

Colin: Well, yes. And I think it operates on a lot of different levels. I, you know, very crudely speaking, in a way, I think there are two ways in which the comedy works. One is the fellow who’s ahead of the game and who’s on the front foot and has all the jokes and witty lines and he makes the jokes. And the other one is the one who is the butt of the jokes. And I tend to get that role quite a lot, you know, where the joke is on me.

Katie:  Right.

Colin: It’s not, it’s not my job to, you know, to make anybody laugh with the witty lines. I just have to kind of look silly.

Katie:  You’re sort of the straight man.

Colin: Yeah.

Katie:   And a lot of it is about the relationship you have with Rupert Everett’s character and he plays a fella named Algy Moncrieff. And while it is a romance at times, it’s also a lot about their interaction, isn’t it?

Colin: I think that’s the heart of the piece, it’s that relationship, and Rupert and I watched the film last night, actually, and it suddenly occurred to me with horror that our relationship in real life is very like that I think. We’ve known each other for a very long time. And this great affection and enormous helping of overfamiliarity, you know . . .

Katie:   Meanwhile, you woo, or someone woos you, named Gwendolen . . .

Colin: That’s right.

Katie:   . . . in the movie and that’s played by Frances O’Connor, who’s I think a great actor, by the way . . .

Colin: She is. She is.

Katie:  . . . and, in this scene, you have to convince her mother, who’s played by Dame Judi Dench, that that you are worthy of her daughter’s hand in marriage. Let’s take a quick look. [Lady Bracknell interviewing Jack] Judi Dench is really funny in this because she is such a multi-layered character, isn’t she?

Colin: Absolutely.

Katie:  Looks are very deceiving when it comes to her case.

Colin: Yes, well, I think that she has given us one of the most unusual Lady Bracknells that I’ve ever seen, cause she’s normally played with very, in a very declamatory style. Judi didn’t do that at all. She kind of came underneath it and, uh, the authority is so effortless.

Katie:  Meanwhile, I understand that as you look toward your future, you may be working on a sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary. Is that true?

Colin: It’s in the air. I cannot confirm or deny anything I’m afraid. I’ve been scouring the gossip columns to find out if it’s true.

Katie:  Really?

Colin: Yeah.

Katie:  Would it interest you?

Colin: In the abstract, not particularly.

Katie:  No?

Colin: No, I mean it would interest me if it’s a wonderful script. And the others want to do it. And you know it’s a great team.

Katie:  And as long as you don’t have to wear those heinous Christmas sweaters, right?

Colin: Yeah, well, we’d have to have a few things in the contract, I think.

Katie:  Yeah. Colin Firth, well your latest is The Importance of Being Earnest. Great to see you. Thanks so much for coming by.

Colin: Great to be here. Thanks.

Katie:  Nice to see you, Colin.

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