Colin Firth has never read Bridget Jones's Diary. Well, he has, sort of.
"I've read every word of those books," Firth declared to me over a very funny and agreeable lunch Tuesday at Gabriel's restaurant in New York. Firth is most forthcoming, and not the stuffed shirt he usually plays on screen. In other words, it is acting after all.
But more about not really reading the books upon which the hit movie in which he co-stars are based.
"I have read them," he insisted. "Just not in the conventional order. I confess that I did not start at page 1 and end at page 300. But I can honestly say that I've looked through that book enough. And the order in which I read it ended up as a beautifully impressionistic literary work!"
Yes, there was much laughter when this was revealed. "So I've read both books. And there's even more of me in the second book."
In other words, he skimmed Helen Fielding's two novels that are the basis for the hit Sharon Maguire film which also features Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant.
This despite the fact that Firth himself is a character in the novels. Readers of the bestsellers know that Bridget is obsessed with the actor because he played Mr. Darcy in the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice which we saw on A&E here in the States.
"Helen Fielding herself tends to call me 'Mr. Darcy' very often. And I'm starting to feel that I am fictional, that I'm loosely based on a real guy named Colin Firth. But my name is Darcy and I am fictional."
If it makes you feel better, Firth — the son of a history professor — didn't read Jane Austen until he was in that film.
These revelations and many others were discovered during a wide-ranging interview. For one: the very British Firth actually attended a year of junior high school in a St. Louis, Missouri suburb. For another: his beloved mother was born in Iowa and did not see England until she was 18. Ditto for his dad, who was born in India.
So you see, it's all done with smoke and mirrors.
Firth appears in films like Bridget Jones, The English Patient, and Apartment Zero wearing his trademark suit and tie. So I was a little taken aback when he appeared in Gabriel's wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and leather jacket.
I wasn't sure this was the real Colin Firth, the guy who considers America a foreign country, was rejected by Steven Spielberg for Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and has a 10 year old son with actress Meg Tilly, with whom he starred in Valmont. (Tilly is now married to Columbia Pictures honcho John Calley.)
But it is. Two weeks ago, Firth had a second son, by wife Livia Giuggioli, born in Italy. Because of that, he missed the American premieres of the Bridget Jones.
But he was impressed that Universal Pictures, which distributes Bridget overseas, flew him in from Rome to London for the U.K. premiere. "It was a spectacular moment for me. I've never seen a film company get so behind a movie." In the U.S., equally enthusiastic Miramax is distributing Bridget.
And it's not like Firth didn't want to talk about the film, which is a phenomenon in the U.K. and should hit No. 1 in wider release this weekend in this country.
But first he's got a dirty joke for me: "A man comes home and finds a movie star in bed with his wife. He says, outraged. 'What are you doing?' The movie star replies: 'I've got a film coming out this week, and I've just signed to do another.'"
So you can see Firth has a slightly jaundiced view of Hollywood, although he says he wouldn't mind being in a big-budget action film.
"I'd like to do studio films," he said, "as long as I don't have to live in L.A."
He's paid his dues, even if they were maybe a little less than others'. As a struggling acting student he got a job, circa 1981, dressing up as Indiana Jones and walking the streets of London.
"I had the hat, the jacket, and the rope," he recalled. "And for some reason, people thought I was Harrison Ford. I was signing autographs all the time. Of course it could have been worse. First they wanted me to dress up as Harry Hamlin in Clash of the Titans!"
As for his co-stars, Firth says the whole issue of Renée Zellweger gaining and losing weight to play Bridget is rubbish. "She's a really lovely girl. I think she looked great in the movie. She could afford a few more pounds, frankly!"
And Hugh Grant? "I knew him a little before we made the movie. He's a rather debonair gentleman, with a little devilishness, which means he's never boring."
When I mentioned that Grant seems upset that audiences are pegging his caddish character in Bridget as the real Hugh Grant, Firth stepped in: "I don't know if he's upset about that. I'm not commenting on his sexual habits. I know nothing about them. But I think the demeanor we see in the film is more like him. In fact, he's been going around saying he's sick of playing the nice guy."
Firth's next role is in The Importance of Being Earnest — which will be his sixth or seventh Miramax film. And then? A return to the stage with Hamlet, in a production directed by his acting-school mentor, which will debut in London next winter.
And now that we know he collected Cardinals souvenirs when he was 13 years old, we like him even more!
I've been getting reports lately that Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher on The Sopranos, has been acting out a little in public lately. "Not happy," "sulking," and refusing to give autographs are just a few observations that have drifted this column's way in the last couple of weeks.
Apparently, as the season's end draws nearer, Imperioli is more and more upset about the cards his character has been dealt. Well, as they say, bada bing, bada boom, I'm seeing more now of Vincent Pastore, who played the departed Pussy on TV than before he was whacked last year. ...
Denise Rich made a surprise appearance last night at the first anniversary party for Oprah Winfrey's magazine. I guess full immunity from prosecution, which Denise just received, has emboldened her to start making the party rounds again.
But I am tired of hearing how "Denise is so naïve she didn't know what she was doing" from her various hangers-on.
Listen, Marc Rich is wily beyond comprehension. He didn't choose a dummy for his life partner and mother of his children all those years ago. I think it does Denise a disservice for her supporters to paint her as stupid or naïve. She's anything but. ...
And finally, condolences to grand gossip Cindy Adams, who lost her beloved mother this week. Cindy was devoted to her mom, and took the same beautiful care of her as she did her late husband Joey Adams. I know it is a painful loss.