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Gambit - Colin Firth interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

COLIN Firth talks about being trouserless at London’s Savoy Hotel and overcoming his fear of being face to face with a lion in Gambit.

He also talks about the technical challenges posed by the physical comedy in the film, why he doesn’t view it as a remake and the responsibility of playing the late Eric Lomax in the forthcoming film, The Railway Man. He was speaking at a UK press conference for the film….

Q. What masterpiece would you most like to steal?
Colin Firth: Obviously, I had a bit of an adventure with Vermeer a few years ago, and there are quite a few Vermeers. It would either be the View of Delft, which rather blew my mind. I was supposed to be looking at The Girl With The Pearl Earring. It would either be that, or The Calling of St Matthew by Caravaggio would be another.

Q. Was it fun to play comedy and indulge in pratfalls here? Have you gained a new found respect for the craft, and how did you cope with going around the Savoy trouserless?
Colin Firth: Gosh. There’s a lot of questions. It didn’t have to be a newfound respect for the craft, I knew that it’s notoriously difficult and frightens a lot of people off. I don’t think anyone knows quite who to attribute it to, but the dying actor who says: “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” I hear it. I have a great deal of respect for the craft, I don’t know how much respect it has for me. But it’s a precision process. Doing it on stage would be, I think, terrifying. Doing it on film has its own difficulties, because film is not conducive to spontaneity. You might have a run through and get a few chuckles at eight o’clock in the morning, but you don’t keep laughing at the same thing all day long.

So, you don’t have laughs as a reference point any more, it becomes a bit of a science after that. And the last thing, you would love to be able to depend on a sense of spontaneity, but hours of waiting and then hours of repetition are not conducive to spontaneity so those are your obstacles. On the other hand it’s a lot of fun. Plunging into a bit of physical comedy and abandoning all dignity, no one can really hurt you much after you much after that, once you’ve done it.

Q. Did you feel self conscious at all?
Colin Firth: Walking around in the Savoy Hotel, with it being open to the public, not at all. Of course, it was appalling. And I felt with Cameron Diaz being the kind and sweet, supportive colleague that she was, would assure me that my legs… I had nothing to worry about and [that] I had magnificent specimens. [But she] burst into spontaneous belly laughs. I had to wait on stand by, then make an entrance at the lift doors and the Savoy – understandably – had not taken it on itself to advise every single one of their guests that there was a film taking place and a man without his trousers in the lobby. So, guests would be on their way out for the evening, and the doors would open and they’d seem a somewhat over-familiar actor standing there with his trousers off for no apparent reason in the corridor. Self conscious? Yes, I did [feel that way].

Q. You seem to have a paranoia about your legs, what’s the problem?
Colin Firth: Well, there’s the thought, isn’t there. And then there’s Gambit, the film. You know what, I don’t know if it’s paranoia or not. I did take my trousers off and spend 20 minutes in a feature film with the things on show, so whether that’s a way of exorcising the paranoia, the fact that secretly I’m perfectly happy with them. I wouldn’t be able to decide.

Q. How do you deal with the public when you’re trouserless?
Colin Firth: Well, you just deal with it, I don’t know. They were there and I was here, it was a bit like Harry Dean does in the film really. One lady, a little bit drunk… we actually met in the revolving doors and she didn’t know anything about a film going on either. I just had a whole intimate moment of ‘where are you trousers and why are you…..?’. You basically have no choice but to brazen it out and hope it’s over soon.

Q. Given the theme of the film, have you conned your way into a job by claiming a skill you don’t have?
Colin Firth: Acting [laughs]! Just driving I just was in a car on flat ground and I couldn’t make it go. Having ticked driving and taken three driving lessons, I just was unable to produce any motion whatsoever under perfectly normal circumstances. I think we’ve all been busted on driving, and riding.

Q. Have things improved?
Colin Firth: Not much.

Q. How was filming with the lion?
Colin Firth: I was beside myself with terror, under entirely safe circumstances. There were two lions…. The protective measures don’t include things like guns, or metal doors or something. It’s a little, rather unconvincing filament about two feet about the ground, which is apparently enough to deter the lion. But it’s all that’s between you and this enormous beast, which is a gorgeous thing to watch in motion, as long as it’s only interested in the little bits of flesh that are being deposited around to guide it from A to B.

And there just was a particular moment when it seemed to lose interest in those little bits of flesh and take an interest in me. It was the eye contact moment when I nearly lost control of some essential muscles. It was pretty startling actually, to suddenly be focussed on for that moment, because I don’t think he’s supposed to look at you. It must have lasted a nanosecond, and there was not very much danger. But he did go back into his little house for about an hour after that.

Q. How do you think this film compares to the original?
Colin Firth: I think any idea of it being a remake seems to be so…. I don’t think it is. I don’t flinch at the idea of that but I don’t think it connects much. I think once you’re past the initial conceit that there’s a heist in the first act, and then we realise that’s not what happens but a fantasy, and then we see it going wrong. We’ve used that, and we’ve used the names of two of the characters… And one line of dialogue, which I stole from the film… Apart from that there’s nothing. It’s not only different, I think the style and the genre [are different].

Q. How important is it to you to be making a film about the late Eric Lomax, The Railway Man? How did playing such a role affect you personally?
Colin Firth: I’ve thought a great deal about it, it’s a big question I think. That’s an immense story, both in its magnitude and its length, in terms of the fact that this man had every reason to expect he was going to die in 1942 and instead he died in 2012, having shared his story to immense effect. I think we all felt his passing very, very deeply. It’s obviously in some ways a triumph, his whole story, but I think we were all profoundly affected by it. It wasn’t entirely unexpected of course, given his age.

Q. But of course his story will live on through the film…
Colin Firth: Yes, and I think it will live forever through the book as well. The last conversation I had with him, I understood from him that in telling his story he wanted to help others like himself, and I think his initial focus was on his own generation. And of course I’m the generation behind him, and we reflected on the fact that there’s a generation younger than me involved in this now, who have heard it loud and clear. So, that will go on… in attracting all the countries and cultures that are involved in the story.

Read our review of Gambit

Read our interview with Cameron Diaz and Michael Hoffman