Evening News - Scotland Saturday, September 9, 2000 

Firth among equals 

Phil Gould 

WITH his tousled hair and impeccable English accent, he's the image of the actor best known to millions of television viewers as dashing Mr Darcy from the BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. But at a second glance you realise that the handsome actor sitting in the London restaurant is not Colin Firth but his younger brother Jonathan - and he's busy cutting out a successful acting career in his own right. 

Next week the 33-year-old actor can be seen in the two-part BBC drama A Likeness In Stone, playing Stephen Gilmore - the chief suspect in a ten-year-old unsolved police case involving the disappearance of a female student. 

"The show starts with the discovery of a body and really deals with the after effects of this event, even though it is years after the girl died," explains Firth. "It really is a psychological drama looking at how the incident has affected the three people who knew her the best." 

Firth already knew one of his co-stars in the production, This Life actor Andrew Lincoln, and had also earlier worked with Cherie Lunghi on an American production. "It was set in medieval times and was a bit like Robin Hood," he says looking slightly sheepish. "I don't know what it is about Robin Hood but as soon as you mention it people start taking the mickey out of you.

"But although he seems to be following in his brother's footsteps, Firth believes his achievements have been on his own merit. 

"There is always this presumption that I've been riding on Colin's coat-tails," he admits. "There's this notion that I must have thought it all looks easy and I'll have a piece of it." 

And Firth, who lives in Islington, north London, says that all the hype which surrounded his brother's role in Pride And Prejudice had no effect on him - because at the time he was working in another part of the world. "I was on tour with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Colin was in Venezuela when Pride And Prejudice was screened so we both missed out on all the things which went on around the show. 

"But when Colin came back I think it was very easy for him to book tables in restaurants for about a year. After that it went back to normal - that's the currency of show business." 

Born in Essex, Firth's desire to be an actor did not come from his elder brother but from performing in a school play when he was 11 years old. 

"It was the most exciting thing I've ever done," he reveals. "I was hopeless at sport, but this was something I was really good at." 

There were seven years between the two brothers so Firth never felt any sibling rivalry. "It's only as we've got older that we've become closer," he says. 

Firth did not set foot on the stage again until he went to sixth form college and by then he knew he wanted to act as a career. "I never wanted to do anything else," he admits. 

This must have come as something of a shock to his academic parents. His father was a lecturer in American History at Winchester College Of Higher Education, while his mother lectured in psychology at Surrey University. 

Yet all their three children, including sister Kate, only ever wanted to act. 

"They were bewildered by the fact that none of their children wanted an academic career," he says. 

"It was Colin's fault - he started it. He went to drama school, not as a career but as something to do. After that we became actors by default. 

"But by getting work and making a success of things, Colin showed our parents that it could be done and that made it easier for me to persuade them. Even if he had been a disaster it wouldn't have put me off. 

"I had very few expectations anyway. I saw going to drama school as a way of continuing something I enjoyed, but I had no ambitions beyond doing some rep and being a spear carrier." 

He admits that he is less than proud of some of his previous work. 

"The problem is that it's really difficult to tell how something is going to work out until you see the finished piece," says Firth. "There are times when I have been working on something and thinking to myself: 'How did I get into this?' "Then it's turned out to be good and there have been times when I have thought something was pretty damn good and it has ended up being awful." 

Although he has been successful in his own right, Firth would not like all the attention which his elder brother has attracted. 

"When Colin did Pride And Prejudice he had people following him into restaurants and other public places to get a look at him," he says. "I've seen the price of success and I really don't want that." 

A Likeness In Stone is on BBC1, Monday and Tuesday at 9.30pm. (Thanks, Anne R.)

Firth Impressions 

Playing a rich boy at Oxford brought back very 
different memories for Jonathan Firth. 

Submerged,but not forgotten,secrets resurface when the body of a woman is discovered at the bottom of 
a reservoir 10 years after she disappeared in BBC1's thriller A Likeness In Stone . 

Oxford student Helena Warner (Rebecca Palmer) went missing in 1990 after a raucous party at the home of her college pal Richard Kirschman ( Andrew Lincoln). 

And Bill Armstrong (Liam Cunningham),the policeman in charge of the investigation,was convinced her boyfriend Steve Gilmore (JF) was responsible.He also believed Kirschman and Helena's best friend,Joan Poole(Ruth Jones),colluded to protect him,but he could never prove it.Finding the body causes shockwaves in all their lives. 

'Steve can't get on with his life,'explains JF.'He was a carefree,bright and quite spoilt student with a path laid out for him.Now he's a broken man.There's a relief when the body is discovered,because he can'tgo on that way. It's a living death. Whatever happens,atleast he'll get out of the rut he's in..' 

But is he a murderer? 

'I'm not about to give the game away,'Firth laughs 'But I'll admit Steve's in the frame.He's a nice guy, but when he feels he's been betrayed or rejected he can react very aggressively,particularly with women.' 

Filming certainly brought back memories of Firth's own time as an undergraduate at London's Central School For Speech and Drama in the late eighties- alongside Graham Norton,Caroline Harker and Rufus Sewell. 

'It was fun reliving student days-putting those clothes on and hearing that music again,'smiles the younger brother of Pride & Prejudice star Colin Firth.'Being an irresponsible20-year-old was great-the chance to regress is always worthwhile in my opinion!' 

However,one thing Firth isn't in a hurry to experience a second time is appalling student accommodation. 

'I was in disgusting digs,'he grimaces.'I briefly shared a flat in my first year with Rufus and that was the worst.A classic cowboy job.There was a crappy cooker where only one ring worked,the oven didn't work at all and the grill was either maximum or nothing.There was no way of switching the hot water on without the heating,so if you wanted a bath in was insane.And if it rained,slugs came in. It was pretty foul.

  • A Likeness in Stone is on 11th & 12th on BBC1 according to TV & SatelliteWeekly

OK! Issue #230 9-15 Sep 2000
A Firth Class Act 

Anyone who was seduced by Colin Firth's smouldering Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is set to fall in love again on Monday night, this time with his equally handsome younger brother, Jonathan. He talks to freetime about nudity, romance and how it feels to playa murder suspect 

He's melted hearts as the dashing hero Troy in Far From The Madding Crowd and romped naked with British actress Emily Mortimer in Midsomer Murders. Now Jonathan Firth, younger brother of Colin Firth, who starred as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, is set to show his nastier side in a new role. Jonathan, 33, will hit our screens this Monday in a spine-chilling two-part thriller, A Likeness in Stone. Jonathan plays murder suspect Stephen Gilmore, who is haunted by the mysterious death of his girlfriend, Helena. When her body is discovered ten years later, a potent mix of jealousy, obsessive love and long-buried secrets is unleashed, culminating in a shocking climax. 

What is your opinion of A Likeness in Stone now it's finished? 
I'm really pleased with it. Audiences now are so sophisticated that they are going to be sitting there trying to guess things, and this drama has some brilliant twists to it. 

Was the role of Stephen Gilmore very challenge? 
Yes, that was the attraction of the part, because there is so much contrast in the character. You have this guy who, on the one hand, is Mr Carefree with everything going right for him, and then in an instant his world turns upside down. enjoyable, Filming them is oddly impersonal and not erotic at all, believe me! 

Do you find nudity quite difficult? 
I don't really like taking my clothes off, but I'll do it if I have to. When you have ten or 15 fully clothed men around you and you're the only one naked, it's pretty embarrassing! 

Far From the Madding Crowd is widely viewed as your big break. Did it change your life? 
I've had quite a few 'big breaks', so I'm a bit suspicious of them, Often you think something is going to be your big break and that your life will change when it comes out, but in actual fact it doesn't have the impact you thought it would, 

Are you ever tempted to make the move to Hollywood? 
If there was some specific reason to go, then maybe. If I'd done something popular in the States, I might go out there to try my hand just on the back of that, but I wouldn't like to live there permanently. All my friends are in London and there's so much to do here, like going to the theatre, art galleries, parks and so on -I'm very happy being a Londoner, 

Why did you want to become an actor?
I've never really wanted to do anything else, When I was 16, I was doing a lot of plays at school and it was the thing I liked doing best, I knew that I wanted to carry on and the best place to do that was at drama school. 

Were your parents happy about your choice of career? 
Not really. They didn't try to discourage me, but I think they would have preferred me to do something a bit more practical. 

What was your childhood like? 
Very happy. We grew up in the country until I was about ten and spent a couple of years in the States when I was about six, which I loved. 

Has having a famous older brother helped or hindered your career? 
I can't see that it has either helped or hindered me, really. As far as I'm aware, the connection hasn't opened any doors. 

Is there any sibling rivalry between you and Colin? 
I think that because of the age difference, there isn',t really a lot of competition. Colin left home  when I was about 11, so there was a big gap. 

Are you close?
Colin lives not far from me. Ever since I moved - to Islington in London everyone else seems to have moved there too, including my sister--we are all within walking distance of each other. J We definitely see more of each other now than we did a long time ago, although Colin does spend a lot of time in Italy, because his wife's family are there, and in California, because his son is there. 

Are you single at the moment?
Yes. It's not a conscious decision. My work involves travelling and being away a lot of the time, which makes it quite hard to keep a relationship going. Everyone I've ever been out with has been an actress, and it kind of makes sense if you think about it. If your girlfriend has the same career as you, she's going to be more aware of the pressures, especially with something I like acting.

What sort of woman would you say you are looking for? 
I don't have a particular type that I look for. I don't think you can approach a relationship in that way--making up a wish list and ticking things off--you'll just end up disappointed. 

Are you looking for marriage and kids in the future? 
I'm not particularly worried about getting a ring on my finger, but I do want kids eventually. 

What sort of work do you want to do in the future? 
I'd happily do more film and theatre, because I haven't done as much of those, and more television because I enjoy it. So basically more of everything, please! 

Would you ever like to work with Colin? 
We've never been asked. I think we'd both do it if something good came along. There were a couple of times a few years ago when it was very loosely discussed, but it never came to anything. 

  • A Likeness in Stone BBC1, Monday 9.30pm and Tuesday 9.30pm
INTERVIEW: Amanda Rimmer

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