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Colin Firth: 'I was using parts of my body I didn't know existed for my new action role'

A quick read with someone in the public eye

By Susan Griffin

The English film and television star (54) is married to Italian film producer and director Livia, with whom he has two sons, Luca (13) and Matteo (11), as well as a son, Will (24), from a previous relationship with actress Meg Tilly. He stars in new action film Kingsman: The Secret Service.

You play an action spy and martial arts expert in your new film Kingsman. We hear you got injured quite a bit during production...

Every time I got a bruise or a broken tooth, rather than get the nurse in, it was, 'Get the cameras in, so we can show you're going through it!

It's certainly a rather unexpected role for those who still remember you as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, isn't it?

When we were shooting it, the stunt guy would say, 'Let's get the B-roll (2nd unit) in to film some of this, because nobody's going to believe it'. (The part) was unexpected for me too, but it sparked my interest immediately because of that.

How did you find working with director Matthew Vaughn, the man behind Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class?

I think he's a one-off. There was no script yet, it was a work in progress and he wasn't ready to show it to me, so I just went to hear what he had to say and I found him very compelling.

Did he let on just how demanding the role would be physically?

He was full of dire warnings of the extent of training I'd be required to do. And how much it would hurt and how much I was going to hate him by the end of it, and was I up for that.

Just how much training did you have to do?

It was three hours a day for about six months, and started off in my back garden with a squat, lunge and somersaults, and then the choreography kicked in. I was learning to use parts of my body that I'd never used - I didn't even know they existed. It was painful, but I warmed to it and found it exhilarating. This wasn't the stuff I was doing when I was young. I wasn't one of the more athletic drama students. My recreation was a lot more sedate in my youth, so it was a chance in my 50s to do something completely different, and go into a bit of a physical world for a while.

Do people find it hard to believe that it's all you up on screen doing those stunts?

I said that to somebody, and they looked at me with horrified disappointment that I would tell people such an egregious lie. One of the reasons I feel so driven to tell people is that I won't have gone through all that pain for nothing.

And did your wife Livia appreciate her newly-honed husband?

It got noticed!

Although the new film is a pastiche of spy movies, there's a lot of violence...

Yes, but it's wildly implausible. It's like a provocative pantomime, and in some ways I think it's sending up the extremity. I can't imagine how anyone would emulate it because you'd need to be trained to do that stuff. It's closer to what you get in Monty Python than it is to the realistic films about the Middle East.

Will you allow your two younger sons to watch it?

I'm not going to publicly recommend this to anyone under 15. But it's different, because my children saw me train, and went to set and saw me backstage and saw me in the workplace, so they have a very different perspective. There are fights in Punch And Judy and Shakespeare, and there's violence in war films and zombie films. There's violence of all types, and unless you believe they should be extracted from all storytelling, then it has to become a conversation about where your own threshold is.

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