“Colin is the sort of name you give your goldfish for a joke.”
Colin Andrew Firth was born on this day in Grayshott, Hampshire, England in 1960. He is 52 years old.
He spent much of his first four years in Nigeria where his parents, Shirley and David Firth, were missionaries.They returned to England where his parents took up University posts and Colin and his younger siblings, Kate and Jonathan grew up. In 1972 the family moved to St. Louis, MO,for a year. The transition did not go well and, he says, he reacted badly, becoming rude and defensive.
The family settled in Winchester when they returned to England with David at King Alfred’s College lecturing on History, and Shirley at the Open University teaching comparative religion. Colin’s rebellion streak continued.
He was a troubled teen, scruffy and cocky, and often railing against a middle class whose children progressed via academia while the working class were pushed towards carpentry and other manual skills. [TalkTalk, Colin Firth-Biography]
At 14 he declared that he wanted to become an actor, and by 18 he had joined the National Youth Theatre in London. S-L-O-W-L-Y he built his career, at first doing grunt work, like fetching tea and answering phones, then enrolling in more acting classes — this time at the London Drama Center and learning the Stanislavski method. After 3 years of study he started to see lead roles — including Hamlet — come his way at the school.
In 1983 a talent scout saw his portrayal of the great Dane and offered him a spot replacing Daniel Day-Lewis in the West End production of Another Country
. He went on to play another role in the movie production of the play, his first film. Though the movie was a success, and his role it was critically acclaimed, he went back to the theatre — working at the Churchill Theatre and the Old Vic. He also did some television, including Camille
with John Gielgud and Ben Kingsley, and the mini-series Lost Empires
with Laurence Olivier.
Firth and Tilly in Valmont [Image Courtesy: Pure Cine]
He stepped easily from stage to screen (small and large). Another film of note from his early career is Valmont
, “An earthy, physical take on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses…
” [TalkTalk]He co-starred here was Annette Bening, as
‘Lustful, manipulative aristocrats in 18th Century France, they would toy with the affections and bodies of others, until real emotions leads to the downfall of them both.’ [TalkTalk]
During the film ing of Liaisons he fell in love with actress Meg Tilly who played Madame de Tourvel. They dropped out the acting world, moving to a cabin in the wilds of British Columbia. The two had a son William. After the two-year hiatus he returned to the stage, Almedia, the small screen Hostages, and the indie film circuit, The Hour of the Pig (aka The Advocate).
If you want to see Firth as a creepy bad guy you can rent Playmaker (a film not even he likes) or The Deep Blue Sea (in which he plays a no-good cad.) He also plays a bit of a cad in Circle of Friends.
But nobody wants to see Colin Firth play a cad…am I right? In 1995 he was offered, and REFUSED, the role of Fitzwilliam Darcy in Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There is a certain Darcy-esque story behind Firth’s refusal of the role. For a serious actor trying to build a serious career — an actor who was NOT trying to make it on his pretty face — the role “seemed tiresome and predictable.” [Talk Talk] He was as aloof about the role as Darcy is about society in Meryton. He just wasn’t looking for a role that simply required that he throw on a Waist coat, snarl in a period costume, and pick up a pay check. He also didn’t think that Austen’s story was too female centric, and that just wouldn’t be enough for him to do. But Sue Birtwistle, the show’s producer, was persistent. She got him look at the script and rethink what he could bring to Darcy.
Filming began in June 1994.
“As Mr. Darcy in the acclaimed 1995 television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth induced record increases in estrogen levels on both sides of the Atlantic. Imbuing his role as one of literature’s most obstinate lovers with surly, understated charisma, Firthcaused many a viewer to wonder where he had been for so long, even though he had in fact been appearing in television and film for years.” [New York Times, Movies & TV]
The series was wildly popular and is THE standard against which all other Jane Austen adaptations are judged. Firth’s stock as both movie star and sex symbol sky rocketed. But instead of taking on another leading role, his next turn on the silver screen was a relatively minor role as Kristen Scott Thomas’ lightweight husband in The English Patient. He looses Scott Thomas to Ralph Fiennes in that movie. He played an even bigger cuckold (and a less amiable one) in Shakespeare in Love, where he looses his screen love — it’s Gwyneth Paltrow this time — to another Fiennes brother, Joseph. Speaking of Shakespeare…He’s an American farmer in A Thousand Acres which is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, then does a comic turn AS Shakespeare in Blackadder: Back and Forth.
It must have felt like he was looking in a mirror when he took on another Mr. Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary
and Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason,
(especially as the former loosely echos the plot of P&P.)
Here’s a rundown of most of his other post Pride and Prejudice work:
- Other Rom-Com work includes… Hope Springs, Fever Pitch, Love Actually, The Accidental Husband, Relative Values, Four Play, Then She Found Me and Easy Virtue. I suppose you can add Mamma Mia to that list as well. (I can vouch for Firth’s performances in the first three. I think Hope Springs is his best Romantic Comedy, Fever Pitch is funny if a bit too sporty for me, and he was the best thing in Love Actually, actually.)
- For period pieces you can choose from… Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Importance of Being Earnest, Nostromo, The Turn of the Screw (briefly) and Dorian Gray. (Pearl Earring was excellent, if a little slow-moving — in a beautiful kind of way. Earnest was funny — but it’s Wilde, so, you know, that’s kind of a given. Dorian Gray was based on a Wilde novel too… but I didn’t like that one nearly as much.)
- Looking for more modern drama? Try… My Life So Far, Conspiracy, Born Equal, Trauma, Where Lies The Truth, Main Street, And When Did You Last See Your Father? and Genova. (Of this lot I’ve only seen Conspiracy, which is a chilling drama about a Nazi conference where officials discuss the “Final Solution.” It is a beautifully acted film all around with Firth in a lessor role.)
- He seemed a little out-of-place in the family films What a Girl Wants and Nanny McPhee and the historical action flick The Last Legion.
Then came A Singe Man in 2009, and suddenly Colin Firth went from being movie star (small caps) to MOVIE STAR (big caps) all over again. His performance as George Falconer (in the movie based on the Christopher Usherwood novel of the same name) was understated and amazing. It’s 1962 and Firth’s George plays a university professor who is in mourning after the accidental death of his long time partner, Jim. Firth was nominated for an Academy Award, and won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.
The next year, 2010, was golden, and Firth finally got his Oscar for The Kings Speech
. On the brink of WWII King Edward VIII abdicates the throne of England, leaving the job to his ill prepared brother “Bertie” (Firth). Bertie must overcome a terrific stammer and self-doubt to lead his country in its time of greatest need.
In 2011 he took a supporting role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
as Bill Haydon (the “Tailor”) to Gary Oldman’s George Smiley.
Next month Gambit co-starring Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci and Cameron Diaz will hit theaters. This remake of the 1966 Shirley MacLaine/Michael Caine comedy caper is a Joel and Ethan Coen project.
Firth also hasArthur Newman, Golf Pro, The Railway Man, Bridget Jones’ Baby and Devil’s Knot on the way.
Still from the upcoming Arthur Newman, Golf Pro with Emily Blunt [Image Courtesy: Best Movies Ever]
The actor has rather famously down played his sex appeal.
“I think it’s quite extraordinary that people cast me as if I’m Warren Beatty: until I met my present wife, at the age of 35, you could name two girlfriends.” [Colin Firth on Brainyquote.com]
Besides his romance with Tilly, he had an affair with Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice) and has been married to Italian film producer/director Livia Giuggioli since 1997. The couple has two sons, Luca and Matteo.