Questions, questions, it's been a week of questions. First there was the premiere at Edinburgh (see last week's diary) and then screenings at the NFT and Manchester Cornerhouse, all followed by a Q&A session. Then came the press junket in London. A thoroughgoing investigation into the world of Trauma! A cathartic process in some respects and occasionally fun. But you do get tired of "talking a good game", and bored with the sound of your own voice. Shouldn't a film speak for itself?
"COLIN IS FUNNY, OPEN AND HONEST"
I have to remind myself that I, like the journalists, am only doing my job and that the paying audiences actually want to be here. This is not school assembly! And of course a good answer relies, to a certain extent, on a good question. Inevitably, a lot of the questions have been about Colin's involvement in the film and the sessions have been easier and livelier when he has been present. Though he is even more suspicious of this kind of attention than me (and gets plenty more of it), he has been a lucid and enthusiastic speaker; funny, open and honest.
Colin's biggest fear is having "to sit on a couch in a TV studio and be witty". He avoids television chatshows like the plague. I think this is a wise policy for someone whose natural mode of communication is honest engagement.
These shows can seem trivial and silly, and part of Colin's attraction to many of his fans is a Darcy-like mystique that comes from keeping a certain distance. There are some other 'celebs' out there who might do well to understand the value of UNDER-EXPOSURE. But I suppose it's a question of outlook, on whether they see themselves as actors who have achieved celebrity or as celebrities who act. The reality is that every decision a celebrity makes contributes towards their image, good or bad; it's a velvet trap.
The questions fired at Colin by audiences over the last week have been sometimes banal ("Were those ants real?"), but have more often revealed a detailed (obsessive?) knowledge of his career - for example, his role in Martin Donovan's 1988 film Apartment Zero has come up a few times, and on one occasion even his appearance in the TV drama Master Of The Moor - which I directed over ten years ago. In other words, they have been well-meaning and well-informed.
Better informed than some of the journalists, who have expressed surprise at his choice of the role of Ben. A career departure, surely, and very different from what he has done before? Well, NO ACTUALLY! Look at some of his work before and after Darcy and you will see he has played a whole range of disenchanted, alienated outsiders: in Another Country (1984) and A Month In The Country (1987), for example, and in the TV dramas Tumbledown and Conspiracy. For every Bridget Jones's Diary there has been darker stuff. (His next project, Where The Truth Lies, to be directed by Canada's Atom Egoyan, sounds very much in this vein.)
"STARS GET MOVIES MADE"
It is surprising, then, that so many journalists have suggested that Ben must be "a bit of a stretch" for Colin. As if playing an alienated art school dropout living in today's London is so much harder than playing an 18th century aristocrat who owned half of England and rode around on a horse! He is actually closer to Ben than the roles that have made him famous. Ben lives in Hackney, as Colin did before he became successful. He is an art school dropout, as Colin Firth might have become had he not found himself a career. OK, you'd need to swap that for drama school dropout, but you get my drift. In his own words, "there by the grace of God go I!" (check out his interview with Simon Mayo on FIVE LIVE).
Which brings me on to the thorny subject of celebrity and casting. In an ideal world, all actors should be unknown because this allows the audience an open mind in terms of the characters they present on screen. Being unknown allows an actor to present the character ambiguously and, if necessary, appear inconspicuous in a way that a star never can. But stars get movies made and bring people into the cinema. The fact that they have agreed to be in your film is also an endorsement of it, commanding respect from the crew and attracting other good actors to the project. And when they turn out to be likeable, hard-working, cooperative human beings like Colin Firth and Mena Suvari, then I have no complaints!
I am hoping with Trauma, that the public's perception of Colin will actually add to their enjoyment of the film. People trust him because of the other parts he has played and audiences, especially in Britain, feel that they own him, seeing him as an actor of integrity. They will therefore expect him to be honest and true, and want his character to be good. Or at least not want him to be bad.
Hitchcock was the master of this kind of audience manipulation often using "good men" in his lead roles, challenging the audience to trust them despite evidence to the contrary. James Stewart comes to mind in Vertigo. You follow his progress through the film, trusting him to be a "decent chap", and it is therefore more shocking when things are not quite as they seem, when his world becomes disturbingly off-kilter. In fact, his character in Vertigo is quite odd if you analyse it. As is Colin's in Trauma. And so the audience must decide: is he sad, mad or positively dangerous?
STOP PRESS! The fantastic new Trauma website is now live at http://www.traumamovie.co.uk
To find out Marc's detailed thoughts on Trauma, read our interview. He also talks about filmmaking and his movie love/hates in Shooting People. Trauma is released in UK cinemas on Friday 17th September 2004.