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Colin Firth: The reluctant heartthrob

Millions of women swooned when he played Mr Darcy, but Colin Firth is uncomfortable with the sex symbol tag. He would rather be known as a clown, a dad and a henpecked husband, he tells Susan Chenery.
Well, he still seems like the same old reliable Colin. Looking good, always affable. Still not taking himself too seriously, even though in the year since we last met, he has won an Oscar.
"It doesn't calm me down, nothing like that calms you down," he says. "I think you move on from good fortune in exactly the same way you move on from a crisis. It is a similar process of recovery. You have to recover from cataclysmic good fortune. You have to renew your risks, I think." He pauses. "But I don't want anyone to take it away."
A clever, witty man, Colin is the first to see "the absurdity and shallowness" in being an actor.
Besides, "if you have friends and family like I have who keep you on the ground, probably a bit more than I would like to be kept there actually, there is no chance of me getting above myself with the people I know. I've tried, believe me.
"Meet my wife [Livia]. You'd understand it if I'm humble. There is no way to get too far above myself with her around."
He makes it look so easy, as if he is barely making an effort. I have been interviewing Colin Firth regularly since he appeared in Bridget Jones's Diary in 2001 and he has hardly changed at all.
In spite of the fact that his career has been on a steep upward trajectory in recent years, he still seems to regard it all as a bit silly and frivolous.
"I think actors are essentially juvenile," he told me in 2003. "There is a retarding element to the job and I also think that it is very difficult to do brilliantly unless your ego is somewhat fractured. I think you have to be a little unstable, probably.
"There's got to be some screws loose somewhere. I am never quite sure whether I am driven by an infantile tendency to get attention and perform, or something which is quixotic and has a sense of being on a noble mission."
Nevertheless, in Venice in September, he was still "a little bit dazed" by the Oscar business. "You dream of connecting with people," he said in an interview with British TV host Piers Morgan.
"Life for an actor is full of unexpected twists and turns, which can lead nowhere. I felt we were doing something that was so personal [The King's Speech, for which Colin won the Oscar] that this was one occasion where I did have high hopes, but I don't think I anticipated the breadth of it."
Colin is in Venice to promote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the John Le Carreacute; novel about grey men in the grey world of espionage.
Asked what actors and spies have in common, he says, "They are both duplicitous and lonely, dysfunctional people. We have to examine the motives of others and try to inhabit them and see the world from their point of view, which is not naturally yours.
"Whether most actors would stay cool looking down the barrel of a gun in a hostile environment, I don't know. Learning other languages fluently and keeping a cool head is not most actors I know."
As an actor who is a staple in commercially intended British films, he has specialised in repressed Englishmen. Yet, in person, his default persona, after the costume and make-up have been removed, is one of humour.
"I learned early on that having a sense of humour is salvation, having a sense of one's own ridiculousness can keep you sane. The silly side of me is pretty dominant," he told me once.
Read more of this story in the December issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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