Let's face it, no matter how hard Colin Firth tries to avoid the stereotype, 90% of the female population will always think of him as that strapping figure emerging from a lake – as the delectable Mr Darcy in 'Pride & Prejudice'. Thanks to him women of all ages can now appreciate the joys of corsets, riding boots, and even sideburns. Colin Firth, we salute you.
Colin Firth was born on 10 September 1960 in Grayshott, Hampshire. The first four years of his life were spent in Nigeria with parents Shirley and David – both children of Methodist missionaries who were working as teachers at the time. Arriving back to the cold English climes age four, with a younger sister, Kate, in tow (brother Jonathan was born in 1967), the Firths didn't stay put for long, moving around in Essex before packing up for St Louis when Colin was 12. The family spent a year in America, where Shirley had grown up, before heading back to England to settle in Winchester. Firth was somewhat of a outsider amongst his classmates thanks to his parent's strong Christian beliefs. They hadn't approved of television and when Firth tried to fit the 'cool' mode by taking up the guitar, he discovered that his lessons would involve learning biblical songs rather than trendy pop tunes. So, he instead turned to acting classes as a creative outlet. Thank goodness for that.
As a troubled teen, not helped by both his parents being teachers (not an approved career for any teenage offspring), Firth became typically rebellious against his middle class, sensible upbringing and channelled this energy by being typically cocky and dressing as a hippy: long hair and orange flares all the way. Academia wasn't Firth's bag and he had decided by age 14 that he wanted to become an actor. At 18, he left college and headed to London to join the National Youth Theatre. Sadly, his acting roles while there didn't extend past being an un-named extra, but he was super keen and stayed on after the runs had ended to work in the office answering phones. It wasn't long before he had blagged a tea-boy job in the wardrobe department at The National Theatre, which inspired him to focus harder on his acting technique and enrol at the London Drama Centre, a notoriously tough learning environment for wannabe actors.
However, Firth blossomed there and became an instant success in his stage roles. His Hamlet was spotted by talent scouts, who decided to appoint him as the lead in the West End play 'Another Country', instead of Daniel Day-Lewis. Rupert Everett had also played the part in the original production and was so impressed by Firth's performance that he suggested that he take a role in the film version that was about to be made. So it was that in 1984, Firth made his first screen appearance.
Although Firth had set his sights in being an actor at an early age, the fame game was something he was never interested in, for he was in it for the craft, not the glory. Returning to the stage, he wowed critics at the Old Vic and found his feet in several TV productions. Firth's rugged good looks would do him no harm though, especially in a business as fickle and superficial as the acting industry. Hollywood tapped briefly on the door in a big budget remake of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, to be titled ‘Valmont’ (1989). Sadly it was overshadowed by an ever bigger budget release based upon the same plot, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ with Michelle Pfeiffer.
In 1989, Firth earned his first critical recognition with a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor in the TV film ‘Tumbledown’ (1988), proving his work was truly starting to be recognised by the bigwigs in the acting world. Choosing to shy away from the call of Hollywood once again – he would later explain that he had turned down numerous meetings out of “snobbery and fear” – he stuck to familiar territory in TV productions and smaller budget films.
Meeting American actress Meg Tilly while making ‘Valmont’ sparked an intense relationship, during which their son, Will, was born in 1990. Tilly had been Oscar nominated in 1985 for her role in ‘Agnes Of God’ (1985) but similarly to Firth was disillusioned by the glare of media attention that came as a by-product of success, so they seemed a perfect match. The pair moved to British Columbia for a time, where there was little else to do in the snow other than sit in isolation in their cabin. But Firth soon began to feel disconnected from the thespian life back in Britain, and after two years, sent his CV to several Vancouver theatres in hope of work. With no replies and the claustrophobic surroundings closing in on him, it wasn't long before the pressure brought his relationship with Tilly to an early end.
Firth felt that his career had lost momentum by the time he returned to England, yet he felt at home once more, taking small steps and returning to the stage back in London in 1993 before moving onto TV movies such as ‘Hostages’ (1993) and the erotic thriller ‘Playmaker’ (1994). However, no matter how much he claimed to dislike fame, 1995 would be the year that fame became a permanent repercussion of success, when he accepted the role of Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'. Firth initially turned it down, several times, but reconsidered when he took a step back and realised that his career to date had hardly been a box of fireworks, reasoning that perhaps he could handle a bit of unwanted attention after all. Agreeing to take the part, Firth would never have dreamed of the fuss he'd cause from that lake scene (even if a stunt double was used to film his actual dive into the water. All that counts is that it was Mr Firth coming out of the water).
As expected, Firth did not welcome his newly acquired sex-symbol status, despite it bringing another BAFTA nomination with it. But Mr Darcy opened doors that Firth simply had not had entry to beforehand. His name was now well known worldwide and in 1996 he starred in the multi-Oscar winning film ‘The English Patient’ as the good-natured pilot husband of Kristin Scott-Thomas. With his career on a rise, Firth's personal life was also shining as he married Italian documentary film producer Livia Guiggioli in Tuscany in 1997. He remains happily married and has two more sons, Luca and Mateo.
Firth next starred in Nick Hornby's ‘Fever Pitch’ in 1997 and moved to yet another Oscar fest with ‘Shakespeare in Love’ in 1998 as the odious Lord Wessex. 1999 would bring no less than five film appearances for Firth on both the big screen and TV, but it was in 2000 that his female fan-base would once again begin their cooing as he returned to the cinemas as Mr Darcy. No, sadly not that Mr Darcy, but as the lead competitive love interest alongside Hugh Grant, wooing Renee Zellweger in the comedy smash hit ‘Bridget Jones's Diary’. The part notched Firth a third BAFTA nomination for Best Actor. Helen Fielding's book had been a huge success globally and ironically, as Fielding was a fan of his, Colin Firth appears in a fictional interview chapter in the book's sequel, 'The Edge of Reason'. The sequel film version was made in 2004, although that particular scene was cut so Firth could reprise the Darcy character once again.
Fame had brought a better flavour of script to Firth and he has gone onto star in several notable films, playing the archetypal English aristocrat in some, or, such as in ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ (2003), more challenging roles like the Dutch artist Vermeer. Ending 2003 with a bang, Firth starred in the choker A-list cheese-fest that was ‘Love Actually’. This collage of 10 different love stories starring Brits in abundance (Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, the list goes on...) was yet another huge hit, notably across the pond too.
As his celebrity grew, so did his variety of roles and Firth appeared in everything from the light hearted ‘What a Girl Wants’ in 2003 to British psychological thriller ‘Trauma’ the next year. His portrayal of widower and undertaker Cedric Brown in the 2005 fantasy film ‘Nanny McPhee’ alongside Emma Thompson increased his profile, while 2007’s ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father?’ brought some critical recognition in the form of a British Independent Film Award nomination.
2007 saw Firth step out of his comfort zone to wield a sword in producer Dino De Laurentiis’ ‘The Last Legion’, which was followed by roles in ‘St Trinian’s’, ‘In Prison My Whole Life’ and ‘The Accidental Husband’. Firth’s ability to be at home in whatever role he landed also earned him a nomination for his singing part in ‘Mamma Mia!’, the hit 2008 musical. While these roles kept him busy and in touch with his fans, they did not bring the critical acclaim he so deserved.
However, this changed with his outstanding role in Tom Ford’s 2009 directorial debut ‘A Single Man’, which resulted in his first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor. His portrayal of a depressed, gay university professor earned him several accolades, including a Bafta, and increased his hunger to win.
Firth’s exceptional performance in his next movie, 2010’s ‘The King’s Speech’, catapulted him to the zenith of his career as his portrayal of a stuttering King George VI delivered the goods. The independent film was an unlikely runaway hit and led to nearly 30 awards, including the ultimate accolade for any actor - an Academy Award for Best Actor in February 2011.
From that first teenage dream of being an actor, Firth has achieved all he set out to be, and more. Impressively, his success has managed to elude any stereotypical thespian crises or media outbursts and one can only imagine he will remain a long-standing hero of stage and screen to a ripe old age.