Personal detailsName: Colin Firth
Born: 10 September 1960 (Age: 54)
Where: Grayshott, Hampshire, England
Height: 6' 1"
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA, nominated for 1 Oscar and 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
Few actors have ever burrowed as deeply into the national female psyche as Colin Firth. It seems that no British woman of child-bearing age can quite control herself when his name is mentioned. Or rather, when the name of his most famous character is mentioned. Try it as an experiment; walk into any pub or restaurant and shout out "Cab for Mr D'Arcy!" The result will always be the same. No man will express the slightest interest, but every woman's eyes will brighten, a coy smile of delight will appear on her lips and her head will revolve as close to 360 degrees as is possible. Just in case it's him - the Mr D'Arcy.
There is, you see, only one Mr D'Arcy. No modern woman has created her own version from the pages of Jane Austen's classic Pride And Prejudice. Neither will she recall the legions of actors who have made the role their own down the years. No, there's only one, with his naturally curly brown locks and searching look, his seemingly cruel aloofness disguising a heart brimming with sensitivity, his body buff as you like as he rises from the sparkling waters of that famous lake. That's D'Arcy, that's Colin Firth, a man beside whom most women find Brad Pitt about as sexy as his namesake Ingrid.
Now, most actors would despise this kind of attention. They'd find it demeaning, belittling their efforts at thespianism. And, for a while this was the case with Firth, who felt trapped by public perception and considered himself a victim of period typecasting. Then, having toiled for a decade and a half on stage and screen, having reached the heights of Hollywood starring roles and fallen swiftly backwards, he came to appreciate a success that meant he never wanted for work. That he'd always get another go. Mr D'Arcy made him welcome, gave him access to both the mainstream and the more experimental fare that was his joy. Firth would even go so far as to mock himself and his position by appearing as Bridget Jones's love/hate interest Mark D'Arcy (the fictional Jones worships Firth). Yes, he played the typecasting game, because he knew he could win it, and he'd be wholly justified in 2010 when he found himself Oscar-nominated for his efforts as a bereaved and suicidal homosexual English professor in A Single Man. He'd been patient and he'd reaped his just reward.
He was born in Grayshott, Hampshire on the 10th of September, 1960, but spent the first four years of his life in Nigeria. His mother Shirley and father David, both children of Methodist missionaries, had met when they were 3 and 5 respectively, and were working in Nigeria as teachers. Colin can still remember his dad driving off to work each day in his VW Beetle. He could still see him when he arrived - the school was close, but not close enough to walk under the scorching African sun. He also recalls his first real friend, a little native boy named Godfrey.
Returning to England with a new sister in tow (Kate, later a voice coach - a brother Jonathan, also an actor would arrive in 1967), the family spent periods out in Essex, in Billericay and Brentwood, before taking off for a year in St Louis when Colin was 12. Shirley had grown up in America and knew the place well, but Colin had a hard time. Back in England he'd been a bit of an outsider. His parents had never allowed the children to watch the "vulgar" new ITV channel, separating him from his classmates. He'd been taken by Marc Bolan and T.Rex on Top Of The Pops and tried learning guitar, but gave up when he discovered lessons would involve Kumbaya and Lord Of The Dance rather than Children Of The Revolution. Instead he used acting as an artistic outlet. Having debuted as Jack Frost in a play at infant school, he now took classes each Saturday.
No artistic or cultural divide from his school-mates, though, could prepare him for life in the States. Here, he's said, he felt like he'd stepped out of Just William while his new peers were just back from Woodstock. He was an unhappy geek amongst hairy rockers, he felt displaced and small, and reacted by becoming rude and defensive.
Back in England again, the family settled in Winchester, David becoming a history lecturer at King Alfred's College while Shirley lectured in comparative religion at the Open University. Colin, meanwhile, attended the local comprehensive, King's School. Life did not improve. He was a troubled teen, scruffy and cocky, and often railing against a middle class whose children progressed via academia while the working class were pushed towards carpentry and other manual skills. That his parents were both lecturers didn't seem to change his views (one supposes that just made him feel guilty), but then aren't most revolutions started by intellectuals? Winchester itself did not help. In the Seventies it was a seething cauldron of squaddies, hard lads and public schoolboys - there was nowhere for angry young Colin to fit in.
Times grew a tad easier at Barton Peveril 6th Form College, in nearby Eastleigh, where Colin would study and his father would teach. Here Colin could sport long hair, beads and orange flares and listen to his beloved Prog Rock - Yes, Genesis and King Crimson. The arrival of punk left him unmoved, he was comfortable as an elegantly wasted freedom fighter. His school-work, however, as is usually the case when long hair and beads enter the equation, went down the pan. Some forward momentum was necessary.
Having declared at the age of 14 that he wished to become an actor, his possibilities were somewhat limited. At 18 he decided to dump college and took off to London where he joined the National Youth Theatre. It didn't send him shooting up through the ranks, he got no further than "third fairy on the left", but he was keen and once his run was done he would stay on at the theatre, sitting in a little cubbyhole answering the phone for the rich and famous. Often, he's said, he was "alone in the building, alone in London".
But he was in the building, with all its contacts and rumours of job-openings, and before long Colin had signed on as a tea-boy in the wardrobe department at Laurence Olivier's National Theatre. This in turn led to an idea - if he was to be good, he had better learn his craft. He enrolled at the London Drama Centre on Prince Of Wales Road in London's Chalk Farm area. This was a hi-octane learning establishment, drawing heavily on the theories of Stanislavsky and thus combining a Russian emotional freedom with a serious Jewish introspection. Firth knew it would be tough, that's why he chose it, but having learned "the reality of the inner world" under coach Freda Kelsall (a TV writer), he soon excelled. Studying 6 days a week for 3 years, he won the lead in the likes of Tartuffe, King Lear and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, often being asked to play flamboyant types, either paranoid or psychotic. His Hamlet was the stuff of college legend, and headmaster Christopher Fettes told him that he could be the next Paul Schofield. The principal did add a very prescient proviso, though. He said Firth should beware the effect of his matinee idol looks. Even then, Mr Darcy lurked within.
Firth's burgeoning reputation led to instant stage success. His Hamlet having been spotted by talent scouts, he was chosen to replace Daniel Day-Lewis as the lead, Guy Bennett, in the hit West End run of Another Country (Day-Lewis in turn having replaced Rupert Everett who'd brought the play to the West End alongside Kenneth Branagh). So, by June, 1983, he was blowing them away at the Queen's Theatre as the outspokenly homosexual public schoolboy Bennett, battling to find a place outside a stuffy tradition that won't accept him and eventually finding it in the world of espionage - the play being based on the real life tale of Guy Burgess and his treacherous cabal.