Colin Firth: 'I'm under death sentence from Helen Fielding, but there's no reason why the films should not go on forever'
As the latest part of Bridget Jones' life hits the big screen, Susan Griffin asks did Colin Firth jump at the opportunity of reprising Mark Darcy? How did Patrick Dempsey feel about being the new boy? Did they miss Hugh Grant?
Producer Debra Hayward has been with the Bridget Jones franchise from the very beginning, and was part of the team responsible for getting everyone back on board.
Explaining how the new movie's plot came about, she says: "In the first film, Bridget was 32, in the second she was 34, and although Helen (Fielding, Bridget Jones' creator) has written a fantastic book (2013's Mad About The Boy), we all felt there was a gap in the story and that fans would love to know what happened to Bridget in that interim.
"Everybody was definitely tentative," she admits. "It would be so easy to make a poor third film, but we really wanted to do justice to the character. It took a long time to get it right, a lot of thinking and planning and everybody was involved in that, Renee and Colin included.
"There's a humanity in Renee, it sounds a cliche, but there's an everywoman quality. She's so synonymous with that character now, it's quite hard to imagine Bridget in any other way. To have had the benefit of taking a character and following her journey over 15 years, seeing her age, seeing what happens to all her friends. I think that's a real privilege and I hope there is more. I'd love to see what happens with Bridget in her menopause or with older children."
Former Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey (50) plays Mark Darcy's newest adversary, the rich and charismatic American Jack Quant.
"Prior to coming in for the reading, I was very, very nervous," confesses the Maine-born star. "Then when we did the table read, everybody started talking about their own nerves, and that allowed us all to bond.
"It was nice to be able to watch Colin and Renee work in the rehearsal process. There were things we needed to do to improve the script, and it was nice to enjoy the process again. In television, you can't ask those questions sometimes, you've just got to get on with it. It was nice to take the time and to fall in love with acting again in many ways.
"With Jack, it was important not to have the same tone (as Hugh Grant's Daniel Cleaver). We had to make him an American and stick with that, that's where conflict will be. Shooting in and around London was a lot of fun, and to make the slapstick scenes somewhat believable, even though they are completely absurd. I would have to say those were our favourite scenes together. As for Jack's algorithm for love, I can understand it, but then there's always a little bit of magic that makes it happen that's unexplainable."
Meanwhile, Colin Firth (55) returns to play uptight human rights barrister Mark Darcy for a third time, but faces a new challenge for Bridget's affections.
"I was a bit sceptical about this whole operation, until I saw everybody together again, and seeing Renee on such fantastic form," he says.
"We'd exchanged emails and conversations over the years, about what this version has to look like if we're ever going to do it," reveals the actor. "Just getting as many of the old team back suddenly gave us a confidence boost, and also realising - and this surprised me - that there seemed to be an appetite for the film.
"I knew it was expected I would just slip into the character, and other people may associate me with it, but I don't," Firth adds, of getting back into Darcy-mode. "So I had to have a quick look at those early films to see what Mr Darcy looked like. It's a bit brutal (to see yourself age), but I thought being older was going to be important to ever doing this again."
Has he heard from Grant?
"I haven't heard a peep. I did miss him - until Patrick showed up - but I'm probably inherently superficial because Patrick replaced him very quickly," Firth teases.
"I'm under death sentence by Helen Fielding unfortunately, so I think there may be a limit for my character, but I don't see why they (the films) shouldn't go on forever."
The newest addition to Bridget Jones world is Sarah Solemani (34), who plays our heroine's work colleague and close friend, mucky-mouthed newsreader Miranda.
"I got the call that I was going to play Bridget Jones' best-friend, and I honestly felt like I'd always been her best-friend - loved the films and the books," the actress enthuses. "Miranda likes to put Bridget on Tinder, take her to music festivals and stuff, so to be able to be so naughty and cheeky with Bridget Jones was a dream come true. My screen test was the first time I met Renee. I was so nervous but she was really cool, had the accent down and we just played and tried things. Behind the camera she gave me a thumbs up, which I thought was really nice.
"In one of the scenes, we meet Ed Sheeran. He was just like an actor, really open. He serenaded me for about six hours, and by the end, I was just like, 'I get this Ed Sheeran thing now'.
"As part of our research, we went to the BBC news studios and met Fiona Bruce, who talked us through how it operates. It's so fast-paced how they have to build the news every day, and also they have a real hand in what they are saying. Is Fiona like Miranda? Oh totally. She's having fun on the weekend."
And the film wouldn't be complete without Bridget's mate Shazzer with Sally Phillips (46) returning to the role. Now, though, she's a mum-of-two and forced to curb the swearing.
"I think I went on record saying, 'A third film will never happen', but look, it has, and I think it's better than ever. I think what's so nice is it's a sequel that doesn't feel like a sequel," Phillips adds. "It's really touching to have known these people so long, and all of us turning up with our wrinkled faces. It was really easy to return to Shazzer. I'm a lot closer to her now than I was at the time, weirdly, in that now she's happily married, she's got a couple of out-of-control kids and money worries.
"When we were shooting, there were was paparazzi absolutely everywhere and in the end, the costume department just started using the paparazzi photos as our continuity shots."
As for whether there should be a fourth movie, she adds: "I think it's the right time to leave them, as I can't imagine bettering the film."