Q&A;: Colin Firth Talks Genova
Posted: 09/11/08 4:29PM
Filed Under: 2008 TIFF Guide
By SORAYA ROBERTS
Since 1995's Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth has been invading the dreams of UK women. Since 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary, he has made it even further, into the rooms of American women. So, what is it about this diffident British actor that gets us so hot and heavy?
It's the same reason that Mr. Darcy himself got women worked up in the 19th century. Jane Austen's most beloved hero is tall, dark and handsome but also something of an enigma. In the same way, Firth is somewhat distant, though not what I would call unkind. When he was talking to me, however, it did seem like he was paying his dues and would probably have rather continued his conversation with Rachel Blanchard (his 2005 co-star in Where the Truth Lies) than conduct our interview.
Firth was in town for the Toronto International Film Festival to promote Genova. Michael Winterbottom's latest film is about a father (Firth) who must look after his daughters after they witness their mother die in a car accident. He decides to move the whole family to Italy to start a new life, but the past proves hard to leave behind.
The day after Firth received a cacophany of catcalls from women in the audience of the Genova world premiere, I talked to him about playing a dad and why his favourite aunt was horrified when he told her he was going to play Mr. Darcy.
Were you embarassed when all the women cooed at the mention of your name at the 'Genova' premiere?
I think it's kind of a reflex action they have amongst themselves, I don't think I really have much to do with it anymore.
What made you want to do 'Genova'?
There's nothing about it that I think I wouldn't have jumped at. Michael Winterbottom is the director I most wanted to work with - in terms of people who you genuinely think are making a difference to cinema, I think he's up there. He makes it look easy to take a little camera and wobble it around, then you see someone else do it and it does not work.
I know he uses improvisation a lot in his films, did you guys mostly improvise on set?
It's not absolute improv. I have done a film with absolute improv. I'm always interested by a process that is unfamiliar to me. People are always ready to typecast you and if I can get any room to manoeuvre in my own terms I will. I did a motion capture film with Robert Zemeckis this year [A Christmas Carol] for very similar reasons.
Michael Winterbottom is not indifferent to structure, but he never says action, he never says cut. There's no continuity, there's no security on the street to enclose you wherever you are. The flight that you see in the movie, that was just us on the plane - that wasn't chartered, we didn't buy up a block of seats. We got permission from the airline to film, got tickets and boarded the plane and started acting.
It's a bit like theatre but even theatre has a mysterious fourth wall. If I decided to go out of the kitchen and into the bedroom [in Genova], the camera would follow me. Then there would be some poor designer guy hiding behind the bed.
Was the fact that you're a dad in real life useful in portraying Joe in the film?
I wasn't conscious of using it. You can't get away from the fact that if you're telling a story your own experiences are going to come to bear. Even if you're playing a serial killer, you have to find something that overlaps - even if it's just that you pulled the wings off flies when you were five. Sometimes you're conscious of that, sometimes you're not. On this I wasn't.
What was it like working in Italy?
It was a pleasure, I have enough of the language to be a bit connected with it. To be frank, the place we were shooting at was a bit of a paradise.
You come from a highly academic family. What do they think of you taking on roles from the books they've read [Firth is currently working on an adaptation of 'The Portrait of Dorian Grey']?
They are rather used to an awful lot of what I do now. It's getting harder to surprise my parents. I don't think that the characters in Dorian Grey are particularly close to their hearts. I do have other relatives with opinions. I did have an aunt - one of my favourite aunts actually - and when I told her I was going to play Darcy she said [puts his hands up to his face in mock horror], "Oh no! Please don't. I've been in love with him since I was a schoolgirl. No, you'll ruin it forever, please don't."
How was working on 'A Christmas Carol'?
The suspension of disbelief is challenging to a point because you're wearing weird stuff. The camera's pointing at your face and you're covered in dots and a tight spandex suit...
I bet a lot of women would pay to see that.
Well, go see Mamma Mia. [Laughs]
Genova screens as part of TIFF on Saturday, September 13 at 12:00pm at Ryerson.