Interview: Colin Firth Takes The Oscar, Performance by an actor in a leading role
by Daniel Haim
Firth gained wide public attention in the 1990s for his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 television adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his role in A Single Man, a performance that won him a BAFTA Award. At the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011, Firth won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of King George VI in The King’s Speech, a performance that also earned him the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.
Firth’s other major film credits include The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Mamma Mia! and Love Actually. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.
Colin Firth 2011 Oscars Acceptance Speech
I have a feeling my career has just peaked. My deepest thanks to the Academy. I’m afraid I have to warn you that I’m experiencing stirrings. Somewhere in the upper abdominals which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves. Joyous as they may be for me, it would be extremely problematic if they make it to my legs before I get off stage.
So I’m going to do my best to be brief with my gratitude first for being on this extraordinary list of fellow nominees. Something quite formidable and possibly the greatest honor of this. All the crew and my fellow cast members, those who are not here, and those who are, Geoffrey, Helena, and Guy, whose virtuosity made it very very difficult for me to be as bad as I was planning to be. And David Seidler whose own struggles have given so many people the benefit of his very beautiful voice and Tom Hooper for the immense courage and clear sightedness with which he interpreted that. The men who finessed this to the screen, Gareth, Emile, Iain, Xavier, and of course, Harvey, who first took me on 20 years ago when I was a mere child sensation.
And all the people who have been rooting for me back home. Also Jessica Kolstad, my friend, Paul Lyon-Maris, and Chris Andrews for bearing with me through some of the less fortunate moments as well as the good ones and my very fortunate friendship with Tom Ford who to whom I owe a very big piece of this. And to the Anglo-Italian-American-Canadian axis, which makes up my family and Livia for putting up with my fleeting delusions of royalty and who I hold responsible for this and for really everything that’s good that’s happened since I met her. Now if you’ll all excuse me, I have some impulses I have to tend to backstage. Thank you very much.
Here’s the interview with Colin Firth during the 2011 Oscars
Q. I just want to say that THE KING’S SPEECH apparently has gotten the royal nod of approval from the Queen. And now that you’ve won the Best Actor Oscar for your portrayal of His Majesty King George VI, do you think that you might possibly be getting an invitation to the royal wedding now perhaps?
A. As I understand it, the invitations have already gone out.
Q. Make another
A. Mine’s almost definitely lost in the post somewhere.
Q. One of the reasons THE KING’S SPEECH actually got made in the first place is that it got a 1 million pound grant from the UK Film Council. That Film Council has obviously just been scrapped by the incoming government. What do you think your success tonight and the success of the film says about that decision?
A. I don’t really want to get entangled in the political judgment on that. I tend to find that my rather insignificant opinions get more attention than they deserve, but I do think that on the face of it, that that was a short sighted decision. I do however think that the fact that the BFI seems to have taken up that role is very positive and I think that it was probably a sign that the government has recognized a need for a body like that, that they need to work closely with to find a way to get films financed with government cooperation. So I’m optimistic at the moment.
Q. THE KING’S SPEECH has taken up so much of your time in the last few months, I wonder now that you’ve won the Oscar, are you actually looking forward to taking a break from Bertie?
A. Yeah, I am. Yeah, I’ve started having fantasies about what I’ll do, I’ll have to talk to you about. No, it’s lovely company. No, I think I’m going to cook a lot. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it but I’m going to inflict my cooking on anybody within range, but I tend to find that’s a very good way to decompress. I’ll probably be the only one eating it but that’s what I’m going to do.
Q. Colin, I’d like to ask you, we talked to the man who wrote the screenplay. We’ve seen this movie. What message do you think this story sends to people?
A. I don’t believe in messages in what I do. I don’t think we’re preachers. I don’t think we’re philosophers. I personally happen to be an annoyingly outspoken person, but that’s not because I think the storytelling involves prescribing what people should think or hear, so I’m not in that business. What has struck me is the emotional response to it seems to be very, very personal. It’s quite diverse. Quite obviously speech therapists and people who have difficulties with their speech of whatever kind, have responded to it, and that is very powerful to me to be on the receiving end of that kind of feedback because what we do is very often, it’s justifiably judged as completely and utterly frivolous. I think frivolity is also very important. That’s a whole other argument.
But the fact is that it overlaps with something that has connected with or resonated with people who’ve, you know, feel they’ve been heard about something for the first time. It’s probably the most valuable thing of all to me. I don’t think it sent a message. I just think maybe it shines a light on something which badly needed it.
Q. I was wondering what you think of the new PG13 cut of the film?
A. I haven’t seen it. I don’t know anything about it. I got some secondhand information about it. Have they cut the scene? What’s the
Q. That’s what I hear, but I hear that they’ll be screening it tomorrow, or some people are screening it tomorrow.
A. I don’t support it.
Q. Why do you not support it?
A. Because I think the film has its integrity as it stands. I think that scene belongs where it is. I think it serves a purpose. I’m not someone who is casual about that kind of language. I don’t relish I take my children to see football games, soccer. And I wouldn’t be able to, if I wanted to protect them from those kind of words at the expense of all else. I hate hearing that language around them, but I’m not going to deny them an experience of a live game. You know, it does distress me to, you know, to hear that language bawled in the ears of my kids. So I don’t take that stuff lightly. But the context of this film could not be more edifying, more appropriate. It’s not vicious. It’s not to do insult or it’s not in any of the context which might offend people, really.
It’s about a man trying to free himself through the use of forbidden words, and he’s so coy about it. I mean, I just can’t I still haven’t met the person who would object to it. So I think the film should stand as it is.
Q. On stage, you spoke of impulses that you’re trying to control. Now that you’re backstage
A. I’m not doing it here. What’s the next question?
Q. You don’t want to let loose?
A. No. I was struggling with the containment in that moment and I think I need some quality time alone. I don’t think this is the particular forum to display that. Anyone having seen MAMMA MIA will know what I’m talking about.
Q. Listen, when we talked about this early on, you were very good about noticing how the director and the choice of lenses, the way he placed you in the frame helped you create the feeling of isolation that you got?
Q. Would you like to take an opportunity to mention that again?
A. Yes. In some ways, the way of working was conducive to the kind of tension and anxiety that I needed to draw from for it. The very first thing that Tom shot on me was a single shot of me in the first scene where Bertie meets Logue. That’s kind of baptism by fire in a story like this. Normally, you would kick off with something easy like walking down a corridor or getting out of a car and then the crew will get to know each other and once we’re all safely in the zone, then you can start to get into the more serious stuff, and then you might eventually start with a wide master shot with two actors, three actors. And you’ll know that that you’re establishing the scene first, the critical stuff.
The stuff on your face, most of that, is not going to play on this shot. So you get a chance, it’s like a rehearsal. Tom didn’t do any of that. He decided to take a ten minute scene which was basically a three act play and said kick off on my face. And there is nothing for it but to commit. And I think he made a very, very good decision, not just for me, but for him, where we thought, “Okay, you know, you don’t have much time in film, I think, has a misperception that you try and try again until you get it right and you can keep doing it.”
That’s not how it works. You get three goes, four. It’s expensive. You know, it goes into the can and you move on. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t really nailed it. This is like a feeling of being pushed out in the royal upper house and told to sing on the first night without much rehearsal and you just have to dig for whatever you can. And then, I think it was very good because I put both feet in and so did he and he committed to a style he wasn’t quite sure about yet. He still had a few options open, but after we completed that day which could have ended up being about ten percent of our entire film, he realized he had committed to a cinematographic style. And I had committed to my approach and to be squeezed down in the corner of a sofa and Tom kept telling me to shrink myself physically because I’m much bigger than George VI. He was very slight and he had a famous small disposition.
So Tom’s note to me was, “Try to disappear as much as possible.” And I think that’s partly why he put me on the edge of the big sofa and part of why he put me on the edge of the frame, surrounded me by what he thought was negative space. And I could feel all that going on and so it definitely informed what I did.