St Trinian's - Colin Firth interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
COLIN Firth talks about his character in St Trinian’s, being humped by a dog, his relationship with Rupert Everett and forthcoming film projects with Uma Thurman and Michael Winterbottom…
Q: How would you describe your character in St Trinians?
A: Oh, I’m a suit again. Basically, it was: “Do you want to play the Minister of Education?” Yeah. I’m very much the stooge, the patsy, the guy who’s set up for a fall.
Q: Do you have fond memories of the original St Trinian’s films?
A: I have almost no memory of them. I don’t think I’ve seen them since I was quite young. I was a bit frightened of the girls. I fancied them. Even though I was young, I found them attractive and rather frightening. I’ve always been attracted to frightening girls! I’m married to one!
Q: And how would you describe the older women in the film?
A: They’re a bit naughty and very, very confident. A great sense of entitlement and a little bit sexy – inclined to a drink and a cigarette. And they can be frightening too!
Q: How would you describe Rupert’s take on Miss Fritton. Like a pantomime dame?
A: It’s not a pantomime dame. I’ll say that. Rupert plays her convincingly as a certain kind of woman. But Rupert and I have a love scene at the end of the movie. I can vouch for how difficult it is to grapple with all that extra material!
Q: How do you think modern audiences will react to the film?
A: I saw bits of the old films after we did this. To be honest, I was surprised how much the old versions are like this. Obviously, some of the lingo had to be changed – no one was talking about Emos and Chavs and Posh Tottie in the 1950s.
Q: Maybe the current Minister of Education might raise objections in the House!
A: He might not like the way he’s portrayed! But we don’t show any girls smoking. There’s some very strict film rules about that now.
Q: Did you get to meet Russell Brand? How did you find him?
A: Well, we don’t have any scenes together. But it’s interesting. Our job is trying to inject some freshness and excitement into a very dull job description, which is repetition. To work effectively in a film, you have to repeat and work consistently. Basically, you shoot a big master then you do close-ups. You’re supposed to be in the same moment, the same 30-second moment, for a day. The skill of a good actor is to make it always seem like you’re in that fantastically spontaneous moment. Very often, a stand-up comedian has a different instinct, which is to reinvent. Once you’ve laid down some material, and made them laugh, you move on and find some new material. I often think it can often be very difficult for comedians to revisit the same gag. I think Russell’s a bit more than a comedian.
Q: I believe he trained at the Drama Centre, where you trained…
A: Did he? He must be such a mess! We all are! I enjoyed drama school – it was very exciting. I was a ver earnest 19-year-old. I loved all that.
Q: What feelings do you have now to your own school days?
A: It’s a funny thing – the reality is I have no feelings about school. It’s long gone. Funnily enough, the bad memories – of which I don’t have any left to be honest, I can just remember a sense of tedium – have faded. And teachers that I liked have remained quite vivid. There are three or four left.
Q: Were you in love with English and drama at school?
A: Yes, obviously. I probably ended up in those areas because those were the inspired teachers. If I’d loved my chemistry teacher and my maths teacher, goodness knows what direction my life might have gone in. I remember there was a primary school teacher who really woke me up to the joys of school for about one year when I was ten. He made me interested in things I would otherwise not have been interested in – because he was a brilliant teacher. He was instrumental in making me think learning was quite exciting.
Q: How was it to shoot the scene where the dog humps your leg?
A: It was a bit of a pain. There was a little ball of nylon, which they used to substitute the dog, because the dog was not co-operative all the time. But there was a real dog. The only dog they could find in England that was prepared to shag me was a female called Dolly, who proved not to want to do it when the time came. Dolly would intermittently be persuaded to play the game for two or three seconds. Then they gave up and they stuck the nylon on me instead.
Q: So you weren’t embarrassed about doing it?
A: When I read, it was the thing that gave me the biggest laugh. Then once you’re working on the business of the laugh, on the set, the old adage is how comedy is a rather serious business.
Q: Do you find comedy easy?
A: It’s an unknown quantity. It’s actually almost a cliché to say it, how hard comedy is. What’s that famous quote? “Dying is easy, comedy’s hard.” I think the broader it gets, if you miss by a millimetre, you’ve missed completely. It’s a very hard thing to do.
Q: You’ve worked with Rupert Everett before. How has your relationship evolved?
A: It’s quite hard to say how it’s evolved over this afternoon! It is piss taking… but I think there’s a slight feeling of us being a couple of survivors, really. It’s almost a quarter of a century in a business that does claim a lot of 15-minute flash-in-the-pan scalps. And meeting again after Another Country, where we famously didn’t get on, [for The Importance of Being Earnest], even the fact we didn’t get on very well 18 years before was already a source of connection somehow. There’s something quite reassuring – “Oh, it’s you again!”
Q: Do you hang out now off set?
A: We don’t hang out. We’ve come close to hanging out. After The Importance of Being Ernest, if we’d kept up phone-calls… I sat and listened to him holding forth on spiritual matters for hours on the set [of St Trinians]. I was glazing over and he was talking matters of the soul, in his trailer.
Q: You’ve just done The Accidental Husband next with Uma Thurman. How was that?
A: That’s fairly straightforward rom-com fare. Griffin Dunne directed, who I loved as an actor. After Hours was one of the great comedies. Griffin did tell me stories about it, but for him it was a rather long time ago, and I know what it’s like answering questions about a film you did twenty years ago! But it’s interesting being directed by someone who is a very good actor. There’s nothing like it. It might sound like a territorial thing about what I do, but I don’t think you can understand what it is until you’ve done it. I know that to be a fact. However good a communicator a director is, unless they’ve been actors, it’s just not the same as the shorthand you get with someone who’s been an actor.
Q: You’ve also just done Genova, the new Michael Winterbottom film. A ghost story, is that right?
A: It is, yes. I think like a lot of his films it’s not that easy to label what it is, certainly until you see it. But it has a ghost. It’s about two young girls, who lose their mother in a car accident. I’m the father and the mother appears to the younger of the two and has a relationship, so in that respect, yes, it has a ghost element.