Colin Firth is no stranger to romantic comedies, after wooing Renée Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and being the jilted suitor in "Shakespeare in Love". Now he's involved in a bizarre love triangle with Minnie Driver and Heather Graham in "Hope Springs".
You fell love with Charles Webb's novel ("New Cardiff") before there was talk of a film. How did you come across it?
It just came recommended. I was having dinner with a friend who had a preview of the book and said: "This has got your name on it," and then a couple of days later I got the same message from another friend. I went to find it and by another coincidence, the guy who had the rights to it was the producer I was employed by at the time. So I was in very good position to lobby for it.
Do you accept there is a 'Colin Firth' role or character?
Yes, I think it is far more easily identified by other people than by me. I usually find when I get asked questions it's about assumptions about the types that I have been playing. It used to be that I was [playing someone] who was always paranoid, or a loser, and there is usually [a type] that you associate yourself with at one time or another.
Do you think all parts are essentially autobiographical?
I think so. I think like most creative pursuits you are drawing on aspects of yourself. [With acting] there is an emphasis in people's minds on changeability and versatility. I don't see it like that. Although I have made attempts at transformation, to a greater or a lesser success, I do find it quite a fun exercise. [But] I find it far more interesting taking a thing that I might bring to a situation and applying it to particular problems presented by a story - how can I make it truthful? In fact, I think it's harder in some ways to play a character closer to yourself. The nuances and the details that you are asked to deal with - that's where the challenges are. In this case, it appealed to me partly because it felt close to me in some ways - it's about a confused middle-class man adrift in smalltown America, and that has definitely been me!
Do you ever feel tempted to escape and hide away somewhere like Hope Springs?
I sort of try to do that at the same time as keeping [the career] alive. Funnily enough I lived in the place where we shot the film for five years [Firth lived in British Columbia in the early '90s, during his relationship with Meg Tilly], and it was five years in a log cabin, really. I came home, did work, and went back. So I wasn't totally escaping from it, but I do have a tendency to go and find a retreat somewhere.
You're playing an artist in this movie. Do you have any real artistic talent?
None whatsoever. I have the level of talent where I could never aspire to the sort of pictures you see in this film. I have just played Vermeer [in "Girl with a Pearl Earring"] and so you can imagine how far away I was from that. It was basically hours of lessons to look like someone who wouldn't drop his paintbrush.
The romance in "Hope Springs" involves matchmaking. Has it ever played a part in your life?
Not as applied to me, but I did make the mistake of matchmaking once - a heartbroken friend of mine and a girl I thought would be right for him, and I arranged some errand they could go on together. It worked, they fell in love and it was the most disastrous relationship. So that taught me a lesson.