Disney's A Christmas Carol - Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
COLIN Firth and Bob Hoskins talk about playing, respectively, Fred and Mr Fezziwig in Robert Zemeckis’ remake of Disney’s A Christmas Carol and getting to grips with the performance capture technique…
Q. Bob, what effect did A Christmas Carol have on you the first time you read it? Were you scared?
Bob Hoskins: Well, the first time I read A Christmas Carol was when I was seven, when I first learned to read, and it scared the life out of me. But it gave me this incredible sense of redemption at the end. I’ve seen so many dramatised versions of it since and none of them really come up to the business. But when I saw this one, I came out at the end feeling full of redemption. And it scared the life out of me.
Q. Colin, what’s tougher – performance capture and the suit that involves, or the 18th Century breaches and boots?
Colin Firth: The 18th Century breaches and boots are designed to flatter… the spandex that we were put in bulges in all the places you don’t want it to bulge, and resolutely refuses to bugle in the places you do! It’s not an edifying experience.
Q. What do you think is the enduring appeal of the Scrooge character?
Colin Firth: Well, I think one of the things that turn us all into Scrooge… and there is a bit of Scrooge every Christmas for all of us – you can hear one [Christmas] song on the radio and become homicidal… I think everyone is throwing happy stuff at you, and that’s when you come over all humbug. It’s happy stuff in your face, happy stuff is being sold to you… I actually think that’s why this is the best Christmas story you’re going to find because there’s the fear, the regret and the stuff going wrong and you’re ready for a bit of joy by the time the story is over.
Q. What is your favourite and least favourite Christmas memory?
Bob Hoskins: My finest Christmas memory is my daughter, when she was very, very small… I was just about to get out of bed at Christmas when she came into the room, lifted up my eyelid and said: “It’s Christmas!” I said: “I know!” The least favourite was a burst water-pipe, but I won’t go into that here!
Colin Firth: I suppose the fondest was when I was six-years-old and in that gap between understanding anything about it and the realisation that it was all a depressing lie. My grandfather did an amazing appearance as Santa Claus. He came and had all the dialogue that went with it, and in order to disguise himself he did this amazing thing by putting some false rotten teeth in, which I thought was an incredible touch. It was very magical. I suppose my worst Christmas memory was when I found out they were his actual teeth.
Q. Do either of you think children might find this version a little too scary in places?
Colin Firth: Well, if you don’t go through the dark stuff, you don’t earn your ending. Very small children might not know this story but, again, if you know your child you can guide them through it and you tell them what it is. Actually, however scary the ghosts appear they’re actually his friends really… they’re some aspect of himself. The whole point of this is that it’s supposed to be an act of kindness [from them] however much they appear as demons. They’re all there to heal this terrible old man. Kids love to be scared as well. I know with my own kids, they’ll go on the ghost train ride at the fair, give me hell for taking them on it, and then want to get straight back on.
Bob Hoskins: You can’t really shield your children from fear; the best thing you can do is give them the chance to cope with it.
Q. [Producer] Steve Starkey has said that Robert Zemeckis provides a challenge for everybody who works with him. What was yours? And have they got bigger since Roger Rabbit?
Bob Hoskins: Bob always puts you in an impossible world that you’ve never been in before. But he’s always inspiring and you always come out with your creative best.
Colin Firth: Being thrown into an unfamiliar process… there’s definitely going to be a challenge in that. The process of being scanned even before you start acting is quite an extraordinary thing to go through. Again, did they really need to do this? You have to put your head in this pink gummy thing that’s normally used to take impressions of your teeth – but your whole head goes into it. You also stand in your underpants and they scan you with a laser. So, there’s all of that. The actual acting goes by pretty damn quickly. But there’s also the thing that Jim Carrey has said about having to know it [the script]. I came in and had three scenes, but I talk a lot and I really had to know things well. In the theatre, for instance, you’re probably going to get four weeks of rehearsal for that and in the other, so-called conventional way of filming it’s broken up, so you can make a little mistake.
But this time we didn’t stop for our mistakes. I was quite shocked to find out that if I got a line wrong I’d have to do it all again… and everybody would have to do it all over again because you’d made one mistake. So, basically when you’re on, you are on. But the technology doesn’t just make it possible for people to fly through the air and achieve special effects, it also means that a middle aged man can play a little boy. So, the possibilities for actors to show their versatility are limitless… Jim gets to play 85 different characters and I get to show the many facets of Fred!
Q. Did you ever have any concerns about taking the character of Fezziwig and making it your own, or following in the giant paw prints of Fozzy Bear [from A Muppet Christmas Carol]?
Bob Hoskins: No, I never had any trouble. My reservation… when I met Jacquie Barnbrook, who plays my wife, I just said: “How are we going to do this?” And we agreed that we’d just adore each other. That was it… we just played it as though we adored each other. If you play Fezziwig, that’s the only thing to do because he loves everybody.
Q. Do either of you have any Scrooge-like tendencies?
Bob Hoskins: I’m the reverse of Scrooge. I’m too wasteful. I’m a terrible waster. My missus is always saying: “Turn the kettle off! You’re filling it too much. We’re trying to save the planet! Don’t wash three things in the washing up machine!” And I’m like: “Why not?” So, I’m the reverse.
Colin Firth: A profound loathing of Christmas? It’s just that really. I’m just very careful not to switch on the radio around Christmas time. I guess novelty Christmas jingles plunge me into the heart of Scrooge territory! But I think that’s why everybody loves Scrooge. But nobody really likes Fred, let’s face it… Scrooge is a hero, or an anti-hero for some reason. He’s a great Christmas hero. People adore this terrible old curmudgeon. I think there’s more identification with him than there is with the cheerful chap.
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