Colin Firth: Caffeinated and impassioned in Toronto

05:00 AM, Sep 06, 2013

Livia Firth and Colin Firth attend Chopard Photocall during the 70th Venice International Film Festival at Palazzo del Casino on September 3, 2013 in Venice, Italy. Andreas Rentz Getty Images/


Written By by Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY

TORONTO — Colin Firth doesn’t mind aging himself. “I’ve been coming here since the late ’80s, when it was so much smaller,” says the Oscar winner regarding the International Film Festival, which runs through Sept. 15.

He’s been here for The King’s Speech and A Single Man — winning an Oscar for the former and being nominated for the latter. And this year, Firth is headlining the war drama The Railway Man, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky and co-starring Nicole Kidman, based on Eric Lomax’s autobiography of the same name.

In the film (no U.S. release date yet) and the book, Firth’s Lomax is taken captive during World War II and sent to a POW camp by the Japanese, where he is forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway and suffers almost unspeakable atrocities.

What happened was so brutal that you can’t tell adventure stories about that stuff,” says Firth. “Once you understand what individuals did for each other, it’s probably more heroic than you can imagine.”

He spent time with Lomax, an experience he says was critical to developing the role. “You do what you can. Our tools are very limited. You’re employed to represent experiences that are beyond your understanding. I’ve never been through anything approaching that. My courage has never had to be summoned for anything like that. I can only offer my imagination.”

Firth, 52, remains level-headed about buzz, or no buzz, or talk of nominations. He’s flown in from filming Woody Allen’s latest in France, and displays his usual blend of low-key, sly good humor.

Almost everything you read about a film has been written by a jet-lagged person with an insane schedule operating on caffeine, talking to a person who’s in exactly the same state. It’s this volatile cocktail of nonsense — or a bizarre recipe for lucidity,” says Firth, himself drinking a cappuccino. “There’s something of a lightness about Toronto. The selection of films is good. A festival always has an ethos. There’s an underlying, genuine love of film. It’s not just a cynical marketplace.”