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And When Did You Last See Your Father? - Colin Firth interview

And When Did You Last See Your Father?

Interview by Rob Carnevale

COLIN Firth talks about appearing in And When Did You Last See Your Father? and why the film relates to almost every viewer because of the unresolved issues it raises…

How did you go about preparing to play Blake Morrison?
Colin Firth: My preparation basically involved getting on a plane in New York and arriving just in time to shoot. It was a bit on the hoof. I’d lived with the idea of it for quite a long time. We’d met a few months before, and I’d known the book for a good ten years. And I’ve had a lifetime of having a Dad of course… [laughs] But I think the issues in this film are so wired into absolutely all of us, that I don’t really think you have to look that far to find bits of your life that overlap – even if the details are not the same. My father couldn’t be more different from Arthur Morrison, but I still had issues and I had that dreadful piece of programming in my system, that however far I think I’ve gone in life and however much I’ve moved beyond the trials of living with my family, it only takes five minutes of walking into the family home and I’m 16 again. There’s so much of this that is immediate to anybody.

Have you reached the point in your life when you look in the mirror and see your father looking back at you?
Colin Firth: When I look in the mirror, I don’t see my Dad, I see my grandmother. For a while it was my mother looking back at me. If only it was my Dad.

Has doing this film affected the way you are with your own children?
Colin Firth: I think it’s a constant issue for any working person, questioning how available you are for your children. As actors, we have quite a lot of down-time and however all-consuming the work period is, the down-time is real down-time at home, probably more so than with people who have a regular job. So one thing balances off the other. In terms of it affecting my being a Dad, I don’t know – it’s hard to quantify all that. Doing a job, or even watching a film, can make a difference to your life, but I don’t think it ever has an explosive impact where your life will never be the same again. It kind of seeps into your life, and perhaps realise you’re a little more vigilant about certain things than you might have been.

Would you like to think there was nothing unresolved with your own parents?
Colin Firth: I’d like to think there’s nothing unresolved with my parents. It’s a vain and fond dream, I think. One of the reasons why people respond so much to this story is that everybody’s got unresolved issues in any important relationship, and this story is so starkly honest about that. You don’t come out depressed. It gives you some rather difficult truths that apply to all of us, and I think there’s something soothing and edifying about that. I don’t know why, I don’t know whether you realise you’re not alone with all your inadequacies in that department. But I think it makes you feel actually better than coming out of a sugar-coated fantasy.

Were you surprised at Blake’s honesty in the book, and did that give you an added responsibility playing the role?
Colin Firth: There was something surprising about the honesty in the film and book. There’s something so sort of unflinchingly honest about the warts-and-all side of things. I heard Blake say that he wrote the book fairly shortly after his father’s death, and he was probably in an unguarded period. He might have been more cautious if he’d written it a bit later on, but somehow he was prepared to really address it all, because so many of these conflicting and uncomfortable emotions were very present.

So, the unsympathetic portrayals of himself and members of his family at times are quite startling, and that’s what I think lends power to the passionate love that he clearly exhibits. It’s a portrait of a warts-and-all character that he eventually embraces very warmly, and so it earns that moment, in a way, than if it was just a kind of love-fest, no-one would care.

Did you find it important to try and speak to Blake for this, or did you keep your distance from him?
Colin Firth: There was no conscious strategy – I didn’t seek out Blake. I didn’t feel we were going that way and when I met Blake, I considered him more the author than the character. There didn’t seem to be anything in his behaviour, speech patterns, or his appearance, that had information that was going to add anything. And it was such a self-contained piece.

The adaptation is quite a big reinvention of the book. There’s nothing of a film in the book. There are little episodes you can imagine being filmed, but it doesn’t have that shape, that quality – it doesn’t cry out to be a film at all. It’s a series of brilliant, courageous observations. But making a film of it meant in some ways starting again with the material, and to keep reaching back into the other source would almost have split the focus. And Matthew [Beard] and I didn’t do much collaborating either – how are you going to walk. We did a little bit of “let’s lose the accent through the ages..”. The little boy sounds like he might be from Skipton, Matthew’s a little bit more, and mine’s completely gone. I asked if he’s right-handed – for one scene in particular.

Have you worked with Jim Broadbent before? And did you get much rehearsal time to build a relationship with him?
Colin Firth: Funnily enough, before I’d taken off to do another job, I was working with Jim. Jim never made it onto the screen, because he injured himself – he had a walking across the room accident! So I rehearsed with him for a week or two on the film of the Pinter play, and we literally arrived on the first day of the shoot and another actor was then playing his part. But it meant we had a bit of time to talk during that period, which was just a happy accident. I’ve also worked with Jim twice before. However much you rehearse and talk, nothing makes up for the length of time you’ve known somebody, and the kind of comfort level that comes with that familiarity.

b>Read our interview with Jim Broadbent