An Interview With Jonathan

From the TV Times -- July 10, 1998

Thanks to Martine

Me, my brother and THOSE britches

They both look simply fantastic in period costume - but is that where the resemblance ends for Jonathan and Colin Firth?

He might not thank you for saying so, but Jonathan Firth is astonishingly like his elder brother, Colin. They have the same steady gaze, the same rather intense and soulful nature. If you were in conversation with the pair of them and shut your eyes, it would be impossible to tell which of them was speaking. Similarly, they're both intolerant of fools and daft questions. 'Uhh,

Jonathan, so what's it like to be part of an acting dynasty?' someone pipes up at the press launch for Far From the Madding Crowd.

'Well, actually, there's only two of us. I don't think we qualify as a dynasty,' he replies.

Like is brother Colin, Jonathan, who plays Sergeant Troy, one of English literature's most sexually-charged heroes, is about to discover the transforming quality of a simple pair of britches when the series begin on ITV on Monday.

Those britches, after all, did more for Colin's career when he played Darcy in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice than a whole raft of agents might have done, and they'll doubtless do the same for Jonathan when he plays Troy - the sword-fighting, womanising, heartbreaker immortalised by Terence Stamp in the Sixties film version.

'But I don't want people the reduce Troy's character, or mine, to sex symbol status. That would diminish Hardy, who was a writer of great subtlety and brilliance,' says Jonathan.

It could, of course, be Colin talking about Darcy and Jane Austen. Yet, for all that, after Pride and Prejudice he became the pin-up actor, which by all accounts, he loathed. 'For six months afterwards he found it easy to book tables in restaurants,' says Jonathan. 'The rest was a bit of a pain in the arse.'

Jonathan, 30, is also on the brink of major fame. Already he's known for his role in Middlemarch and for his part in the C4 drama, Centrepoint. Troy is likely to up the ante for him considerably, but he's remarkably unfazed.

'I like acting and I want to be appreciated for it. But what I do is a job and it isn't rocket science. If you bear that in mind, then you probably avoid 90 per cent of the pitfalls of fame.'

When he played Troy - who getes Fanny Robin (played by Natasha Little), pregnant then deserts her and seduces Bathsheba (Paloma Baeza) - he tried to understand the psychology. 'Troy lives for the moment and causes a lot of damage but without malice,' he says. 'He isn't a cardboard cut-out romantic bastard. He's a victim of the time when if you wanted to have sex with a woman you had to marry her.'

In today's society, Troy's behaviour would be considered tame. Yet you suspect the actor is not the type to take relationships lightly. His parents, David and Shirley, have been happily married for 40 years. 'I suppose they're a pretty good example,' says Jonathan. 'I don't want to be single forever, but I'm quite happy for now. I certainly want children,' he admits. 'I don't want to be 60, sad and still living on my own.'

His own childhood was remarkably untheatrical. He's the youngest of three children, now all in show business - his sister, Kate, is a voice coach. 'I hate to disappoint you, but as kids we didn't put on puppet shows or anything.

' We lived in rural Hampshire, rode bikes, played outside and went to drama club. But no parent is happy about their child pursuing acting. I wouldn't be with my children. It attracts the vulnerable and the neurotic,' he says.

So how does Jonathan, who like his brother, seems remarkably grounded, keep himself sane? He bursts out laughing. 'Who said I was sane?'

Daphne Lockyer