COLIN FIRTH might not enjoy public speaking but he better prepare himself. Awards season is almost upon us and if rumours are anything to go by, Firth can expect to be making acceptance speeches on a regular basis following his Golden Globe win.
The reason: his powerful performance as the Queen’s father Prince Albert, or ‘Bertie’ as he was known to family, in the film The King’s Speech.
Bertie was a shy man plagued by a nervous stammer, who detested making public speeches and took heart that, as the second son of George V, he was never expected to ascend the throne. But when his father died and his older brother Edward abdicated, he was crowned George VI. This film follows the true story of his friendship with an unorthodox Australian speech therapist called Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who helped him find a voice that would inspire a country facing war.
“What we didn’t want it to be is Crocodile Dundee meets ‘snooty’,” says Firth, 50, who’s looking tanned and impeccably turned out in a black suit and shirt.
On meeting Firth, the director Tom Hooper was immediately convinced he’d found the man to play George VI: “Everything I read about him showed that the King had this indestructible core of niceness at the centre of his being – I feel the very same way about Colin,” he says.
“He has this extraordinary moral compass, humility and kindness that I strongly felt made him the perfect Bertie.”
For his part, Firth admits he didn’t know much about the Queen’s father before accepting the role.
“Almost nothing at all,” he says.
“Obviously my parents were children during his reign and I remember my mother talking about his reluctance to take the throne and about what a crisis that would have been for him personally.
“And I remember her telling me about the stammer but those are just vestiges of my childhood memory and that would be about it.”
The crew and cast had the good fortune to discover Lionel Logue had a grandson living in London who still had his grandfather’s papers, including a diary detailing his working relationship with the King and fragments of an autobiography.
Helped by this treasure trove of information, Firth and Hooper immediately began work researching the King’s stammer by watching archive footage of the King and meeting contemporary speech therapists.
It was necessary despite this being the third time Firth’s played someone with a stammer.
“What was interesting to me was you don’t just pull out your stammer from your last performance,” he says.
“It’s not going to be the same for everybody, it won’t feel the same.
“And really what you’re playing is not stammering. That is what you have got to arrive at because that’s what the person is going through.”
Last year, the actor was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man.
On the night, he missed out to Crazy Heart’s Jeff Bridges but he must feel thankful he’s finally ridding himself of the ghost of Mr Darcy – a character that’s haunted him ever since he strode out of a lake in a dripping wet shirt in the 1995 BBC series Pride and Prejudice.
The King’s Speech reunites him, albeit briefly, with his former co-star Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennett in the adaptation.
“It was lovely to see her,” he says and reveals there were no in-jokes on set.
“Jennifer and I have had a life outside of Pride And Prejudice, so I don’t think it was a critical theme of our encounter.”
And indeed why look back when the future’s looking so bright - even if it will mean enduring making acceptance speeches.
“I don’t know what is going to happen next year but the fact that people are talking [about awards] is a sign of how positively they have responded to this. There’d be no point in this if there’s no audience and so people liking it I find it irresistible,” he grins.
“If somebody likes the work then thank you very much, I’ll take praise from anybody.”
The King’s Speech is on general release at cinemas now.