In Atom Egoyan’s new film WHERE THE TRUTH LIES Colin Firth plays against the Darcy image that just won’t leave the public imagination, starring as Vince Collins, the English half of a hugely successful showbiz double act.
Along with Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) his star shines brightly during the 1950s. When they abruptly split the mystery of where it all went wrong endures, yet remains hidden in rumour and supposition. That is until a journalist (Alison Lohman) and long time fan of the pair begins to investigate what really happened between them.
Q: The dark and edgy tone of WHERE THE TRUTH LIES marks a return to the kind of thing you were doing at the beginning of your career, doesn’t it?
Colin Firth: I’ve been hearing year after year after year ‘well this is a departure for you, isn’t it?’ I don’t know how many departures I have to make, perhaps I’m being typecast as someone who does departures and doesn’t get known for any one thing. I think if someone hadn’t seen BRIDGET JONES , or PRIDE & PREJUDICE , and had only seen TRAUMA or going back further seen TUMBLEDOWN or MASTER OF THE MOOR they’d probably wonder why I always killed people. It’s very often a journalist’s job to look for patterns but it’s mine not to. I don’t do things in order to change the pattern really, I just do it because I like a script and think it might be interesting.
Q: The interest here would seem to come from the fact that the characters you and Kevin Bacon play have some depth to them. Something we discover as the story unfolds.
Firth: Yeah, we’re supposed to see a contrast between what’s going on on-stage and what’s going on backstage. The first few frames of the film set all of that up. Kevin and I are off stage looking very tense, we don’t know why yet but we know something’s going on. We walk onstage and present a happy face to the audience, and then the camera goes through the corridors and into the bath tub where there’s a dead girl. That’s the world of the film, it’s what’s going on after the curtain comes down. Actually it’s interesting for me to play a performer, as I am one. I’ve played soldiers and psychopaths and human rights lawyers, but this is actually my first actor.
Q: Were you disappointed not to be able to sing some great 50s songs as Vince?
Firth: Yes, I don’t think anyone else was, but I would have liked to have a crack at it. I opened my mouth trying to show Atom what I could do, and after about three bars he said ‘thanks, we’ll let you know’.
Q: While Atom Egoyan is at pains to stress that this is a fictional double act did you draw inspiration from any real people?
Firth: We went though everybody really, but we were never going to tie ourselves to any particular character and get stuck doing imitations of them. I think we were completely right to take that approach, because it gave us ownership of our own characters. And also it isn’t about anybody in particular. You can’t base it on a known double act and then imply that they have a dead girl in their bathroom, and behaved in this way. We weren’t interested in doing that anyway, this was a made up story like any other with, hopefully, an inclination to make you think about an area of life, about the entertainment business, in a certain way.
Q: It deals, on one level, with the nature of celebrity, doesn’t it?
Firth: There is an area in which very, very famous people can live according to rather different rules. But you’re only allowed to break the rules because people allow you to. You tend, if you’re extremely famous, to be protected more. Doors are opened for you, you have a lot of people dancing around you making sure that there aren’t any obstacles in your path. They’re probably going to protect against having any meaningful human relationship as well. That’s what happens. I don’t know that level of fame at all, I haven’t even had a sniff of it, so I’ve no idea what that would be like.
Q: You didn’t know Kevin Bacon going into this. Did you find you had much in common with each other?
Firth: We’re of the same generation, we’ve got various reference points in common.
Q: How did you deal with the sexually frank scene at the heart of the story?
Firth: We have to do so much weird stuff as actors anyway. I know this crosses a threshold which I think most non-actors find the least comprehensible and the most difficult to get their heads around, because most people wouldn’t want to take their clothes off in front of their colleagues. But by the time you’ve been through drama school you’ve had to go through a bit of that anyway, and by the time you’re in your mid 40s you’ve been round the houses a few times. That doesn’t mean you think nothing of it. There’s always a slightly tricky moment when you go from being dressed to undressed and yet you’ve got a scene to play. In the case of this film it was quite a tricky scene, emotionally. We had to get that right while also framing out peoples’ private parts. A lot of the time you’re wrestling with the technical requirements, as you are on any film. Even if you’re not naked you’re having to hit a mark and hit your light and move in accordance with the camera movement, while looking as if on take 15 you’ve said it for the first time and it’s spontaneous.
Q: You’re a big music fan, did you know that Rupert Holmes had written the book upon which this film is based, and does he feature much in your own CD collection?
Firth: He doesn’t feature in my record collection personally, but I was definitely very familiar with those songs. Anyone who had a radio in the 70s would have heard both of his best known songs played endlessly. His career is absolutely fascinating, though he didn’t go straight from writing the Pina Colada Song to writing this book of course. He started writing musicals and it followed on from that. It’s an amazingly diverse set of achievements, really. I met him a few times on the set, he’s a delightful man who was very generous towards us.