Young and restless
Colin Firth may have an impeccably aristocratic air about him in many of his films, but he actually had a restless, almost hippy-like upbringing. Although born in Hampshire, he spent the first four years of his life Nigeria, where his parents worked as teachers. More travelling followed in his teenage years when, after moving back to England, his parents relocated to the United States, where young Colin fell in love with rock music and dreamt of being a singer himself (he can still play a mean guitar today).
It was upon his eventual return to Britain that Firth decided acting was his real ambition. He trained at the National Youth Theatre and later moved to London with no connections or friends, braving loneliness to try his luck as an actor.
Colin and Rupert
After enrolling on an acting course, Firth finally started making a name for himself and eventually came to the attention of casting agents with a brilliant turn as Hamlet. This led to him replacing Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1983 West End run of Another Country, a powerful play about the Cambridge spy ring.
Rupert Everett was impressed by Firth and invited him to co-star with him in the movie version. It was a big break for Colin, but the two leading men apparently didn't get on at all (!) Everett was put off by Firth's perpetual seriousness, dubbing him a "ghastly redbrick socialist", while Firth thought Everett was pretentious and "excessively sophisticated". That said, the two men patched things up years later, and even starred in the film of The Importance of Being Earnest together.
The great escape
Firth worked and worked during the 80s, and came close to becoming a Hollywood star with the 1989 period drama Valmont, in which he played a cruel French seducer. Unfortunately, John Malkovich wowed the critics playing the exact same role in Dangerous Liaisons, a rival version of the story which trumped Valmont at the box office.
After the failure of Valmont, Firth stunned everyone by moving to the wilds of British Columbia with his Valmont co-star Meg Tilly. Living in an isolated cabin near the Arctic Circle, they spent their time carving furniture and raising their child. Firth eventually returned to acting, having to fly back and forth to film sets from his small home but, after several years, he and Meg ended their relationship and he moved back to civilisation with a new sense of purpose.
Mr Darcy, I presume?
It may be hard to believe now, but Firth turned down the part of Darcy several times before finally giving in.
He was suspicious of period dramas, preferring grittier and more contemporary roles, and he was even told by friends and family that he was all wrong for the part. His brother was even quoted as saying, "Darcy? But isn't he supposed to be sexy?"
Of course, he proved them all wrong when the show aired and the nation was rendered speechless (and a little dribbly) by the sight of Colin in that famous wet shirt. But did you know that scene almost turned out very differently? The original script called for Firth to strip naked, jump into the water and face Lizzie whilst completely starkers, but the BBC got nervous about the nudity and ordered a re-write. Meetings were held, nobody knew how to get around the problem, and Firth was eventually just told to jump in fully clothed. And lo, an icon was born.
Firth in love
The media didn't know it at the time, but Firth fell into a real-life relationship with co-star Jennifer Ehle during Pride and Prejudice. It wasn't to last, though, and it was actually on the set of another period drama, Nostromo, that he met his future wife.
Livia Giuggiolo was a producer's assistant on Nostromo, which was filmed in South America, and Colin was smitten immediately - although she had no idea he was such a big star in Britain. As Firth later recalled:
"I said to Livia and her family in Italy, 'You know, I'm a heart-throb.' And they all threw their hands up and said, 'Get outta here.' Someone sent some tapes of the series to Italy and they didn't get it. They don't find reserved very sexy. They watched it and said, 'So, do people in England find John Major sexy?'"
Further Firth facts...
- In 2001, Colin featured in America's People Magazine as one of the '50 Most Beautiful People'. Like we needed telling...
- Colin has dabbled in the art of writing. He once contributed a short story, The Department of Nothing, to the anthology Speaking With the Angel. The collection, published in 2001, helped raise money for autism charities.
- Firth and author Nick Hornby are very good mates and Colin went on to star in the film adaptation of Hornby's semi-autobiographical novel, Fever Pitch in 1997.
- By strange coincidence, Colin has twice lost his screen wife to a member of the Fiennes family - firstly to Ralph in The English Patient and then to Joseph in Shakespeare in Love.
- Author Helen Fielding once interviewed Colin for the Independent newspaper under the pseudonym of a certain Miss Bridget Jones!
- Colin's own favourite romantic movie is Brief Encounter, David Lean's 1945 classic of a would-be affair, set largely in a train station. Very steamy!