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Colin Firth on Playing a Yank Opposite Emily Blunt in 'Arthur Newman': "My identity has always felt somewhat planted here."

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 11, 2012 at 12:29PM

In "Arthur Newman," a dark indie comedy that premiered Monday in Toronto, Colin Firth plays a depressed divorcee who fakes his own death and adopts a new identity to forge a new and better life. The role marks Firth's first lead one since his Academy Award-winning turn as King George VI in "The King's Speech," yet despite their obvious differences (the titular Arthur Newman is a modern day Yank), the film finds Firth once again getting inside the mind of a guy at odds with himself.
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"Arthur Newman"
TIFF "Arthur Newman"

You’re a big reader.

I am, it’s funny -- there isn’t really anything guiding me to it. I found that they both dealt with people in the middle of nowhere, reckoning with things that have happened in the past – trying to force a direction, a future, in some way. I think it’s sort of in the water at the moment.

This marks Dante Ariola's first narrative feature. Were you wary of a novice handling the material?

Not necessarily, no. You take a leap of faith; Tom Ford was a first-time feature filmmaker as well. There’s no exact science to making a decision. If something feels a little different, then I think it’s worth taking a bet on it.

How does a first-time filmmaker cast you in their movie? I'm sure many of them would like to know.

Well you start off with a script that’s interesting enough. As I said, this one was different enough and mysterious enough -- I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. It caught my attention just because it was different. And then, of course, I had to meet a director that I would spark to, and I got -- as much as one can possibly tell -- a sense that he had the honesty and the guts to take us in an interesting direction with it. I saw his reels, doing the commercials he’s done; they’re interesting, extremely versatile, showed great talent. That didn’t confirm to us that he was able to master a 90-minute narrative, but... we all took a leap of faith on each other. I had enough to go on, I found him compelling enough and bright enough. There’s a fierceness of mental energy I sense in him that appealed to me. Emily [Blunt] felt very much the same thing.

"The voice you hear me more frequently use isn’t really, authentically mine at all. It’s just people got used to it, and they started to expect it, and now I get cast that way – over and over again."

God knows a script that’s even half interesting is an oasis -- everybody would love to go and write and not everybody can; in fact, it’s a miracle that films are ever good because of the number of variables. I took this one personally from an early stage.

How much do you think the locale played a part in the film? The casting of you and Emily Blunt seems a little odd in retrospect, given that you’re two Brits, playing two Americans, traversing across the American landscape.

Brits play Americans, Americans play Brits. Dante didn’t really think about it.

Really, it never came up?

No... I mean, actors play whatever. The challenge is finding the identity, the voice and all the rest.

Two voices, in this case. Your character adopts a new one as Arthur.

Yeah, and then for it not to be the one that everyone else is familiar with -- I’m not as unfamiliar with it as everyone else is unfamiliar with me doing it. I was thinking just now how I was called "the Yank" at school in England, when I came back from America. My identity has always felt somewhat planted here. I realize that out there, in the rest of the world, where people’s perceptions lie, that's not the case.

The voice you hear me more frequently use isn’t really, authentically mine at all. It’s just people got used to it, and they started to expect it, and now I get cast that way -- over and over again. It’s not how I spoke at school; it’s not how I spoke growing up. It felt a little bogus when I started to play patrician Brits at first, and I thought -- well, we’ll do a couple of these and then we’ll start to spread it around. And then spreading it around didn’t happen as much as I expected it to. It happened more in the theater, less conspicuously. It is something that tends to happen -- as we all know, for obvious reasons. In some ways, it’ll be less familiar to people, but it’s hardly different from what I’ve been doing all of my life.

One last question: You were talking about your screen identity and how it's tied to your spoken voice. So much of that obviously is associated to your role in "The King’s Speech." Are you okay with that? How do you live down a role like King George VI?

You do something; you can’t complain about the fact that it has an impact. I think you’d go nuts if you tried to do battle with it. Instead of trying to live that down, just get on and do what you do. There’s a passage in "The English Patient," of the Egyptian Pharaoh who declared war against the wind -- you know, they take the army and they got buried in the sandstorm. Trying to fight perceptions that are beyond your control, I don’t even go there. That’s probably what I’m doing in this: I’m just doing what I do according to my own impulses, according to what comes up. There’s no master plan. There isn’t really a battle to be fought.

This article is related to: Colin Firth, Arthur Newman, Toronto International Film Festival, Interviews






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