• Golden Globe Awards

Out of the Archives, 2001-2004: Colin Firth on playing Mr. Darcy

Colin Firth, winner of the Best Actor Golden Globe for The King’s Speech (2010) by Tom Hooper, spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 2001 and 2004 about playing Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in the TV miniseries Pride and Prejudice (1995) from the 1831 novel by Jane Austen, and a modern version named Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) with Renée Zellweger from Helen Fielding’s novels. Firth would reprise the role in Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016).
Firth was already an established actor before playing Mr. Darcy on television in Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. But he was surprised by how popular that role made him: “It comes as a surprise when you’ve been doing this job for more than ten years, because starting in the mid-1980s I was doing film and television work and some of it was actually quite high profile, certainly in England. So, I thought it was all going very well, I was constantly in work, I was playing leading roles in projects that had a reasonable profile, but this went on to another level in terms of the response. It was quite bewildering actually; it was a complete bolt out of the blue and I certainly didn’t expect it from a television series. But I was quite lucky not to really be ambushed by it, because it happened incrementally.”
The actor explained how he interpreted the romantic lead in Pride and Prejudice then in Bridget Jones’s Diary: “I didn’t look on playing the first Mr. Darcy in the television series as a romantic prototype, I took it on as a character role. Ironically, it was a stretch for me, it was something most people felt I wouldn’t be able to do in a million years, so I had great doubts about it, in fact, I turned it down for weeks. But I found that it wasn’t the most difficult role of my life, and after a few hesitations, it came totally easy to me. The second time I played Mr. Darcy, I saw myself as playing a very distinct, rather idiosyncratic part as well. To see me playing the romantic guy who gets the girl is a lot more fun for my mom, but it’s not the only thing I want to do. I don’t find that playing the winner is necessarily the most interesting thing to do for your entire career.”
Playing Mr. Darcy changed Colin Firth’s perception of people’s expectations when they meet the actor: “I found that people expected something different when they met me, instead of basically having no expectations. I was being compared to something they had in mind, and the word Darcy certainly became something I heard every time I spoke to the press, or I read anything about me. I’m stuck with it forever, and if I changed professions tomorrow and became an astronaut, the first man to land on Mars, the headline would be ‘Mr. Darcy Lands on Mars.’ It doesn’t matter what else I do; this tag will stay with me. But there are worse things. It’s wonderful to have made an impact with anybody in your life, so I can live with it.”
To the question as to why the dashing and self-assured Mr. Darcy would fall for the insecure and clumsy Bridget Jones, Firth replied: “People like that can often be charming, while people who are radiant, successful winners aren’t necessarily very attractive; it’s quite the opposite, vulnerability can be very appealing. In this specific case, Mark Darcy is a person who is socially inept as well, so, bizarrely and a bit paradoxically, he sees himself in Bridget. They’re both ill at ease when they first meet. However snooty he seems to be, he’s not comfortable in a social situation, he hates it just as much as she does and something in him connects with her. He senses that she’s not stupid, and that’s a crucial element to her character; if she were ill natured or an idiot, her klutziness would be intolerable, but she’s actually got something to say. There is a considerable wit to her, which offsets some of her clumsiness and hopelessness. So, I find Bridget an extremely attractive character, partly because of all her disasters.”
The British actor felt he was quite different from the repressed Mr. Darcy in real life: “I am not a human rights lawyer, and I don’t go around the world rescuing political prisoners, but I can’t imagine a man like that deciding to be an actor.  Darcy’s disability in relationships is that he is incapable of demonstrating any emotion, he’s emotionally illiterate, disengaged, profoundly disabled, physically restricted. I became an actor because I do make gestures and show emotion, which is the complete opposite, so a man who can’t demonstrate anything couldn’t possibly act. Darcy’s problem is that he’s an extremely passionate man, and the English have always been a very passionate nation of people, but through the Victorian era they’ve become largely confined, they learned to repress that passion, which did not stop it from existing. If you trace English history back to pre-Victorian times, to Shakespeare’s time, you’ll find some wildly demonstrative, passionate behavior amongst the English, such as pirates, ambitious, highly sexed, violent people. It’s an aberration of the Victorian era that created the present ethos, which now we’ve broken out of.” 
Firth explained how the English stereotype of the stiff upper lip, emotionally repressed man no longer applies to the modern era. “You can still find a man like that in England; if you look at the Conservative Party and the Royal Family, you’ll see one or two of them right there, and you’ll find them in various walks of life, but there are other stereotypes which people miss. It’s very odd how that we persistently associate English people with that, because there’s not one guy I went to school with who wanted to be that man when they grew up. Nobody said: ‘I want to have a poker up my ass, to wear a pinstripe suit and be emotionally constipated for the rest of my life. That is what I’m aspiring to.’ Most of us wanted to learn to play the guitar, and that’s what a lot of people have done for the last 45-50 years in England, I don’t know whether Sid Vicious or Boy George or David Bowie or David Beckham are more stereotypically English than Prince Charles. So, the stereotype is out of date, it’s not really the truth about most of the English and the way they operate anymore.”