Forthright Firth

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Actor Colin Firth on his stellar career and latest film; by Federico Grandesso with additional reporting by Lauren Omahen

Picture a young boy of five years old, full of character and determination, dressed in satin trousers and a white frilly shirt. This was Colin Firth’s stage debut as Jack Frost; it certainly would not be his last moment in the spotlight. “I got the attention right there,” Firth says. “It doesn’t sound very noble to do something just because you have attention. I think that is a driving force in any performer, and then we try to ennoble it with various other agendas. That’s what made me apply to drama school and want to become an actor.”

HARD SCHOOL

“I can be very lazy and complacent unless I’m pushed”

Firth attended the National Youth Theatre in London and later enrolled at The Drama Centre. The young Firth dreamed of facing big challenges. “I chose The Drama Centre because it had a reputation as a hard school, and I thought my resolve should be tested. Either you bend under pressure or you respond to the challenge. I can be very lazy and complacent unless I’m pushed so I knew I’d be weeded out very quickly if I was making a mistake,” he explains. He says the key to his success was first to recognise his weaknesses, and then find ways to overcome them.

Firth’s talent and versatility came to the fore in the popular TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and made-for-TV movies including Conspiracy and Tumbledown. But his big breaks in film came with supporting roles in Antony Minghella’s The English Patient, and John Madden’s Shakespeare In Love, both Academy Award winners. Madden wanted Firth to take the lead role in Shakespeare In Love, “but after five minutes we looked at each other, and we both realised I wouldn’t be the best choice,” Firth recalls.

OSCAR

Firth’s career took a dramatic turn when he met former Gucci fashion designer-turned director Tom Ford. The meeting led to Firth’s role as George Falconer in Ford’s film A Single Man, which won him the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice film festival as well as a BAFTA for Best Leading Actor in 2010. The following year, Firth won an Oscar for Best Actor for his remarkable interpretation of Britain’s King George VI in The King`s Speech.

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CIRCUS

In his latest role, Firth joins an all-star cast in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Based on the best-selling novel by John Le Carre, Firth plays Bill Haydon, who emerges as one of five senior figures after a power shift within the Circus, the name Le Carre gives to the higher echelons of the British secret intelligence service. Although it is not a leading role, Firth has a profound attachment to his character. “He’s seen as having a kind of glamour.

Lawrence of Arabia, I think, is how he sees himself,” Firth says. “He is a figure who has a kind of dashing, rather cavalier desire to do things perhaps not quite according to the rules.”

The story is about a group of men who, on the one hand, are united by their work, yet on the other are all individuals with their own secrets, all looking and watching each other. “Many, many years ago, I remember somebody misinterpreting the Le Carre novels as very much boy’s stuff without any emotion,” Firth says. “And I think that couldn’t be further from the truth.” Fans of Firth may now judge for themselves: after a long wait – the film was released in September last year – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been showing in Belgian cinemas since early February.