Colin Firth

Hope Springs

Interviewed by Jen Foley

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.