The name’s Firth, Colin Firth.
The 54-year-old actor who won the 2010 Best Actor Academy Award for The King’s Speech and has also starred in such movies as The English Patient, the two Bridget Jones films, Love Actually and A Single Man, has finally realised his dream.
“Playing a spy is one of my ultimate childhood fantasies, and this role is the closest I will ever get to James Bond.” He’s talking about his rather unlikely role as Agent Harry Hart, a quintessential 007 archetype, in the upcoming movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service.
“And yes,” he smirks, in his inimitably charming fashion, “I am the last person on the planet that anyone would imagine would be able to kick anyone’s arse!” It’s a notion that is especially delicious for this very handsome British actor, given that he was targeted by bullies during his formative school years. Based on the comic book 6 was more challenging than Firth first expected.
“Looking the part in terms of putting yourself together, behaving like a gentleman in beautifully dressed suits, is as important as being groomed to fight and perform martial arts. There were lessons in table manners and deportment, how to wear cuffs and a tie.”
But surely, Firth, who exudes an inherent classiness, with or without the help of the costume department’s Savile Row tailoring, needed little or no improvement in perfecting the desired demeanour?
“Oh, I took my turn at classes, believe me. I’ve been on the other end of My Fair Lady,” he laughs. “It’s amazing what elocution lessons and a good script can do.”
It’s a hot afternoon in San Diego and I am at an unlikely venue for meeting with the likes of Mr Firth. For those unversed in the phenomenon that is Comic-Con, it’s a festival that was founded in 1970 for comic book geeks to dress up as and celebrate their favourite characters.
It also skewed initially towards sci-fi franchises like Star Trek, but these days it’s a mecca for all aspects of pop culture that produces sights and scenes one really might not find elsewhere. As I was heading towards the designated meeting place to interview Firth, for example, I walked behind a family of four all identically dressed as Wolverine. Against this backdrop of spandex, feathers and all forms of unimaginable masks, Firth is a veritable fish out of water in his sophisticated black designer suit. It’s his first time at Comic-Con and he’s clearly not sure what to make of it.
“Hmm, they’re not very elegant, are they?” he says, chuckling. “All you have to do to stand out is to put on a suit. Actually, this morning when I walked out of my hotel, I drew looks because I’m dressed like this while Spiderman, Batman and the Wicked Witch walked by and nobody noticed them at all.” He pauses. “And last night when I first arrived I saw Doctor Octopus walking into the lobby; I wasn’t quite ready for that.” He says under his breath, as more of a note-to-self than to me, “I might have to rethink my wardrobe if I go out tonight”.
Firth is best-known for his romantic and dramatic movies but surprised himself by becoming quite proficient in the world of self-defence. “I trained three hours a day for six months,” he sighs. “It was rigorous and the first few months were pure agony but then I started to love it. I had a team of ten guys with all these extraordinary skills.” He shakes his head. “I never thought I’d feel any sense of brotherhood with people who were that physically skilled, but we were all working for the same thing. I found the experience utterly exhilarating.
“Agent Hart could be James Bond or Jason Bourne but if you loved Harry Palmer [a character made famous by Michael Caine who also stars in Kingsman], you’re going to love this. If you’re missing Man from U.N.C.L.E., then here it is!”
Firth has been married to Italian film producer, Livia Firth, since 1997. The couple lives between England and Italy with their two sons, Luca, 13, and Matteo, 11. Since his Academy Award win for The King’s Speech, Firth has starred in films covering international politics such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, or The Railway Man opposite Nicole Kidman, and is currently shooting, Eye in the Sky, a thriller set in the world of remotely piloted aircraft warfare. “I am interested in global politics and current policy and the world of collateral damage. I’m interested in not only the victim but the person who pulls that trigger and the effect on that person.”
But for now, he is relishing the fact that people will see him in an entirely new light as a true gentleman spy in this espionage caper.
Considering the various Bonds, such as Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, which of these iconic spies are the closest to Firth’s Harry Hart? He considers, “I think mine rubs up closer to Roger Moore.”
Presumably his sons are impressed with their dad’s new role as a kick-ass spy? “My sons are pretty hard to impress – for me anyway.” He smiles. “Although I personally love Mamma Mia, it might not be the coolest thing for teenage kids, so I’m hoping this film might make up for that.”