Just call me Mr Darcy ... what life's like when people keep mistaking you for Colin Firth
Colin Firth is back on the big screen but he's not the only one getting more attention. After 20 years of mistaken identity, journalist Marcus Field talks about life as a doppelgänger
My name is Marcus and I'm a Colin Firth lookalike. I'm not a professional - I don't get paid to dress up in a frock coat and frilly collar - but ever since the actor appeared as Mr Darcy in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice in 1995, most memorably emerging wet-shirted from that lake, I've found myself living a strange double life.
Now, with Firth reprising his role as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Baby, as well as hitting the headlines with revelations that he is secretly ginger, I feel another bout of doppelgänger syndrome coming on. It started in Firth's Pride and Prejudice period, with people looking at me strangely in the street - gangs of girls sniggered as I walked by. At first I couldn't figure out why, and then a friend turned up at my 29th birthday party with a present: a framed photo of Mr Darcy to put on my wall. "You look just like him," she said. The photo was held up next to me for comparison - other guests laughed and agreed. The joke has stuck.
And it is a joke, because if you look at our pictures side-by-side you'll see that my features don't really match those of supremely handsome Mr Firth.
My nose is big and bent beside his perfect Hollywood hooter; my jaw was never as square, my eyes too narrow to rival those almond-shaped beauties. But somehow my misshapen physiognomy, much aided by similarities of colouring and unruly locks of hair, has enough of a likeness for both confusion and amusement to be aroused.
At first I refused to believe it. Even when a friend of my mother's offered to pay for dinner if I would pose as Firth and accompany her to a restaurant, I couldn't take it seriously.
It took a genuine misunderstanding for me to see the truth. I was standing outside the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, London, when a man thrust his programme at me. "Can I have your autograph please?" he asked. It was 2002 and the entrance steps were chock-a-block with celebrities arriving for the opening night of a play starring Daniel Craig and Michael Gambon.
For a moment I was confused and took the pen that was handed to me. And then it dawned on me. "Oh no," I said. "I'm not Colin Firth, I'm afraid." The man looked crestfallen and walked away. I was left standing, a lonely looking wannabe.
Things might have quietened down for me if the first Bridget Jones film hadn't come along. Then, when Firth's Mark Darcy appeared on our screens a whole new round of jokes began at my expense. This Darcy is stiff and humourless, and the only time he gets his shirt wet is in a girlie fight with Hugh Grant in a fountain.
I don't really mind, of course - you can't complain when people mistake you for one of the most desirable men in the world. But the almost daily task of having to answer the question "You remind me of that actor, what's his name?" can get tiresome.
I think it was in 2003 that I reached peak Firth. That was the year of Love Actually, in which Colin plays Jamie, a gentle novelist who is humiliated by his unfaithful wife and moves to France to wallow in his sadness.
These scenes showcased Firth at his puppy-eyed best, and women all over the world swooned at the prospect of rescuing Jamie from his dark despair. No sooner had they started to dream than they were beaten to it by his pretty Portuguese maid. The pair quickly overcome barriers of language (remember the hilarious subtitles?) and separation to be reunited in one of the most joyous marriage proposals ever seen on screen.
It was around this time that I really began to understand the allure of the enigmatic Mr Firth. He says very little in interviews. He rarely gives anything away. This only adds to the appeal that he has earned by playing brooding romantic heroes - it's as if he is Mr Rochester and Heathcliff, Darcy and Don Juan, all rolled into one flawed but irresistible package.
And this, I have come to understand, is the image of Firth that some women - because it is almost always women - project onto me. While men generally scoff and deny any similarities (does Colin have any male friends, I wonder?) these women expect me to be kind but strong, charming and mysterious. I can only ever be a disappointment, not least because I'm gay.
One night in J Sheekey, the Covent Garden seafood restaurant popular with celebrities, I finally found myself face-to-face with my double. Colin was arriving; I was just leaving. "Talk to him," hissed my friend, as we dodged each other in the doorway. I looked into his eyes but saw not a glimmer of recognition. Why should there be? We don't see ourselves as others see us - even the mirror lies. There was nothing to be said and nothing to be gained. Being an imposter beside the real thing is never a good look.
By 2010 Colin and I were well into our forties and for one long summer it seemed as if the ageing process had sent our features separate ways. I thought this because, almost overnight, I became a lookalike for somebody else.
This had briefly happened before - in a bookshop somebody once asked if I was the American novelist Dave Eggers, and on a Miami terrace a woman mistook me for Matt Damon - but this new one seemed to stick. "Hey, Fabio," said a very drunk man throwing his arms around me on Charing Cross Road. "Fabio Capello."
It was the year of the World Cup and the Italian coach of the England team was on the cover of every paper. We wear the same glasses; we have similar scrunched-up faces. For the next few months there were cries of "Hey Fabio," wherever I went. He's 20 years older than me but I've learned that age difference is no defence against doppelgänger syndrome.
I hate football, so in some ways it was a relief when The King's Speech made it big and I could go back to my more regular role as Colin Firth's double. As the cripplingly shy and stammering George VI, Firth gave an Oscar-winning performance of vulnerability - and women wanted to hug him again. They still approached me with the old "you remind me of" line but this time they looked concerned, worried perhaps that I might take fright and crumple into a gibbering wreck.
Over the past six years Firth's career has moved in a new direction, most notably with his role as Harry, a comedy spy in Kingsman: The Secret Service. I am too scruffy to be mistaken for an intelligence agent so I thought my days as a Colin lookalike might be over.
There was even a moment last week when I took a selfie posing as Ross Poldark on some cliffs and posted it on Facebook as a joke to show how I'd moved on. The first responses were good. "You look very like him," commented my friend Julia. "Get your scythe out," wrote another friend. Then, inevitably, this: "Is there a six- pack under there?"
And there's the rub. Images of masculinity have changed a lot in the past 20 years. Male objectification is mainstream now and actors such as Aidan Turner are expected to be buff and bronzed, ready to strip at the merest hint of warm weather, let alone a sex scene.
So in a way I was relieved when the final comment came through: "You look like Mr Darcy got lost." Dear familiar Mr Darcy. Or, indeed, Mark Darcy, whose spirit is stalking me again this week. These gentleman heroes have never required Colin Firth to take his shirt off - and I can't tell you how grateful I am for that.
Independent News Service