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And I certainly never dreamed of lifting an Austen off the library shelves or at a bookstall I had this prejudice that [the novel] would probably be girls' stuff. I had never realized that Darcy was such a famous figure in literature. I don't think any script has fired me up quite as much, just in the most basic, romantic-story terms I knew I had to listen to the voice inside me which said, 'You enjoyed this.

It's the only script you've been able to read for long time. I knew that I wanted to be involved. We had similar ideas about how Pride and Prejudice should be approached when we talked about it—it's just that we seem to have taken a bit of time getting round to it! It was always my ambition when I was a lecturer that my pupils would eventually get powerful positions and be able to employ me in my old age. But Sue seems to have been the only one that's managed to do it!

It was about Darcy being a bloke, diving in his lake on a hot day, not having to be polite—and then he suddenly finds himself in a situation where he does have to be polite. So you have two people having a stilted conversation and politely ignoring the fact that one of them is soaking wet.

I never thought it was supposed to be a sexy scene in any way. In a interview with The Guardian , Firth revealed that the innocent little swim was supposed to involve a bit of nudity. Instead of a stuffed shirt. He's riding on a sweaty horse, and then he's at one with the elements.

But the BBC wasn't going to allow nudity, so an alternative had to be found.

veronica mars pride and prejudice

Several meetings were held about how to make the scene work. He would never have worn underpants. They would have looked ridiculous anyway. Take them out, ITV, and shoot them. Shoot them in the head. For they have committed the unforgivable creative sin of forgetting that not everybody is exactly like them. Already a subscriber or registered access user?

We have noticed that there is an issue with your subscription billing details. Please update your billing details here. Please update your billing information. The subscription details associated with this account need to be updated. Firth has talked often about looking ordinary, about having a malleable face that is easily transformed by make-up and expression. He is one of those celebrities you have to stare at good and hard to be sure it's him.

I can't remember exactly what Firth was wearing on that first meeting: Remember, he may have smouldered as Darcy, but he was suitably lumpen as the woman-averse fan in Fever Pitch and innocently plump in The English Patient.

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Though many asked who on earth would leave him for Ralph Fiennes? His opening gag in Bridget Jones centres on exactly this cuddly-uncle-versus-sex-symbol split. Darcy stands alone beside some French windows at the buffet. The camera pans down to show him wearing an absurd reindeer sweater of the Christmas present variety. Cut to our second meeting, a week later at his local watering hole, the Almeida Theatre bar, in Islington, and it's a different story. He wears a leather jacket, he seems slim and tousled. He laughs a lot; his cheeks dimple. We talk about ordinary things: He is warm and open and, frankly, to die for.

It strikes me that this was part of the strength of the original Darcy, and other parts Firth has done well: Not a Brad Pitt rush-to-the-head, rather a repressed, diffident warm-up. This may be as much of an acting achievement as anything else, no less powerful because it comes naturally to him. When I suggest that Darcy was a triumph in this sense, he takes umbrage: There must be something about being a pin-up that jars with Firth's schoolish upbringing.

His parents, retired teachers, are staunchly leftwing, well-travelled and concerned about the social issues of the day.

Pride and Prejudice meets Life on Mars in ITV1’s Lost in Austen

His mother completed her PhD six years ago and has long fought for the rights of asylum seekers imprisoned in the UK. His brother, six years younger, is also an actor, and his sister, two years younger, is a speech trainer: Firth was born in Nigeria, where his parents were teaching. Some have commented on his faintly colonial speech, but I find him accentless. Every now and then, a strange, wide vowel crops up, but it could as easily be American as Winchester, where the family later settled.

His memories of Africa are scant, but in them he seems a rather vulnerable child: There was a dirt road that went perpendicular to the house and I would watch him go.

Pride and Prejudice meets Life on Mars in ITV1’s Lost in Austen | The Times

I could still see him when he parked the car outside the school - it wasn't far, but an unpleasant walk in the African sun. He was a little dot. And I remember thinking: There are other sensory memories, of the house or a toy, "and an African boy who I spent a lot of time with, called Godfrey, and him trying to persuade me to come round to his place, and me being scared to go". It's a vulnerability often visible on the adult Firth's face - a sort of troubled, slightly teary look, that makes him look nowhere near After Africa, there was a long spell in England, where fitting in at school was a problem.

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Like many middle-class parents, the Firths had an aversion to television's vulgar newcomer, ITV, and the children were not allowed to watch it. They found it difficult, as a result, to join in some of the playground banter. As an adolescent, Firth and his family spent a year in St Louis, where his parents were on a teaching exchange. Fitting in at a US school was even worse: Firth described himself as the English geek among throngs of earring-wearing, long-haired rockers. At least, so the mythology goes.

You know, we all have our memories and our own version of history which helps us explain ourselves, but we don't all get asked about it. It does put you in a strange relationship with it, because a sort of mythology that you've created about yourself to yourself grows up, and it's compounded by having it put in print. I didn't like school - I don't really want to weave yet another quote about that. It's hard to imagine Firth on a movie junket, where stars are installed in a suite and journalists queue to question them for a maximum of around seven minutes, timed by a PR with a stopwatch.

He is singularly unable to sugar himself with frothy chatter and would be far happier sitting in an armchair, harrumphing over the papers. Soon after Pride And Prejudice, he was called by Spielberg's "people", and had a meeting in Hollywood with the man himself. He had his feet up, and was wearing a baseball cap and sipping a McDonald's Coke.

Firth has no particular allegiance to low-budget British films - he would love to do a Hollywood blockbuster, he says, but good scripts are thin on the ground.

Prejudice & Pride: Revisiting the tragic fire that killed 32 in a New Orleans gay bar

The problem with today's films lies not in production, but in the writing. Couple that with his natural uncertainty he turned down Pride And Prejudice several times , and the halting aspect to his career starts to make sense.

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He has described himself as a "passive resister", and agrees there is something particular in him that makes him retreat. There's an adage about the fear of success being as great as the fear of failure.

I think most people have that, and I don't think it's entirely self-destructive or unhealthy. It may be that you really can get into dangerous territory - the normal things in my life are very important to me.