It’s been over 12 years since Helen Fielding’s beloved character Bridget Jones had been seen on the silver screen in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. In the time since then, it seemed like we’d never see Renee Zellwegger back in her most popular role ever again. Somehow, things finally came together for Bridget Jones’s Baby, which (as one can assume from the title) has Zellwegger’s Jones pregnant with two possible fathers.
One of the options is Patrick Swayze as a billionaire that Bridget has an encounter with at a music festival, but fans of the original movie will be more excited by Bridget’s second option, which is Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy, the emotion-free prosecutor who when last we saw him, had proposed to Bridget. In the time between movies, things had changed, and we learn that Darcy ended up marrying someone else as the two of them meet again at a funeral at the opening of this movie.
Over the course of the film, Bridget Jones is going to have to decide whether Mark is her true love or whether she’s better off with the wealthy and equally charming American tycoon.
LRM got on the phone with Firth a few weeks back, as he was calling in from the film’s London junket. Although we didn’t have much time to talk, we did manage to get in a single question about his return for Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle and his forthcoming sailing epic, The Mercy.
LRM: I spoke to producer Eric Fellner a couple years ago—must have been around the time of “Les Miserables”—and at the time, he was tentative about commenting about bringing Bridget Jones back at all. At what point, did they come to you and say, “We’re going to do another one. Can you play Mark again?” What was the conversation like?
Colin Firth: Oh, it’s hard to mark the moment, because there have been so many conversations over the years. This just didn’t come out of the blue as a done deal with a finished script and a proposal or anything. I had conversations with Eric as long ago as I dunno, ten years ago? Not ten, maybe six or seven years ago, maybe? And then I had long conversations with Helen Fielding about what might be next. Actually, I think a film even went into production about five or six years ago and then didn’t go ahead for various reasons. So there have been lots of incarnations. There have been several directors that I’ve spoken to who have been attached and conversations that went along with that. I’ve seen countless drafts, many of which are completely different to this. They all revolve around a baby. There was never a particular moment. There was a good draft--and the first draft that I felt was really feasible--came in about a year and a half ago, I think. That’s when I felt, “Yes, there’s really a film worth making,” so I expressed a willingness to be involved if it was good and if we could get everybody together. And then the other problem is getting everybody together. Usually, it’s a hard enough task on any movie, getting the right people and getting the people you want, but in this case, you’re looking for the same people again, and to get everybody available at the right time is obviously a lot harder.
LRM: Was there a version where Hugh’s character was still involved?
Firth: Yes, there was, yup, yup. There were several versions where he was involved, and he was involved in discussions. I can’t go into or don’t know really why he ended up not being in this one. I think when it seemed like Hugh wasn’t able to do it, then they decided it was worth having a shot creating a story differently without him. I had my concerns about that because Hugh was critical to the drama of the first two films, so it was quite a challenge actually to try to make something very differently. It seems to me that it’s been done wonderfully, and I think Patrick himself had a lot to do with that. He made his own suggestions and contributions to the development of the character. It didn’t feel it was quite as done a deal on who that guy was until Patrick showed up. It really leapt forward once he got involved, so I actually he now feels wonderfully integrated into the whole thing.
LRM: How important was it to have Sharon Maguire directing again, since she directed the original “Bridget Jones’s Diary”?
Firth: Well, she’s so rooted in this. You probably won’t find any director who has such a long-standing personal investment in Bridget’s story. She’s like literally a character in the Bridget Jones films. As a friend of Helen’s, she was one of the models for the character of Shazzer, or possibly a composite of Shazzer and Jude, but she’s lived a lot of this, so it wasn’t just another gig for her. It was something which she treated on a very personal basis, and I think that helped the storytelling a lot. I think one of the mistakes people fall into with genre films and specifically romantic comedies—they’re so keen to get the gags right that if they’re not careful, the writing can be a series of gags. It could just be looking for the laughs. It had to be funny, but this was more trying to be truthful, not for any high falutin’ reasons, but just because I think the best comedy comes out of recognizing truthful situations. I think Sharon has a fantastic understanding of that, especially as applied to this.
LRM: How easy or hard was it for you to jump back into Mark’s head? He’s an interesting character because he’s so emotionless and so stoic, so is it easy to get back into that after so long as well as pick things up with Renee where you left off?
Firth: It’s funny, because it’s a complicated answer… well, it’s not complicated… there’s a part of me that didn’t assume it would be easy. There was this pressure one would expect there to be, because people don’t want you to mess this up. You should be able to do it, you’ve done it a hundred times, and I thought, “Well, actually I don’t know, because I haven’t been carrying this character around in my head. I haven’t been living with him. I haven’t even seen the first movie for fifteen years.” And an awful lot of other people out there probably know it a lot better than I do, probably seen it more recently and more often. So I thought, “I’m just supposed to step into this guy as if it’s me,” and I thought, “I’m not even sure who it is.” So I looked at the first film again as a form of revision, just to see what it is I have to conform to. In reality, it’s actually not that hard. There was just an anxiety that I didn’t really own the character, so it began with the sense that I had to imitate something that I’d done a long time ago. In the end, it’s not rocket science. He is the guy he is. If it’s well-written, it’s not that hard to find it again. The secret in some ways is making sure that it is well-written, and I did talk to the writers and wanted them to… “Don’t make him too verbose, don’t make him too emotionally expressive.” I do think he is a very emotional character, actually. I think he’s perceptive. To me, the secret of the character is that one of the reasons he’s so bound-up is I think he’s a very, very passionate man. The problem is he isn’t able to find a way to express it. As long as it’s written in a way that makes that playable… and then acting opposite Renee and with Patrick really and all the others, it all came back.
LRM: What can you say about your experiences returning to “Kingsman”? That was an amazing movie that really surprised people, so do you still have a pretty big role in the sequel?
Firth: I probably shouldn’t say too much. I think it’s no secret that I pop by the set from time to time, check in and see how everyone’s doing. I think the movie is going to be very exciting, I can tell you that, as someone who does know the script. I’m very optimistic, I think it could be extraordinary.
LRM: I wanted to quickly ask you about another movie you did called “The Mercy,” because I recently got into sailing myself. Did you already have some training to sail or already know how to sail before taking on that movie?
Firth: I had to learn that stuff. I sailed somewhat. I have an uncle who is of the generation of Donald Crowhurst ... and very much culturally, not far off. He even lives quite near where Donald Crowhurst set sail, but no, I hadn’t sailed since I was a kid, and I don’t think I’d trust myself as a single-hander, but I definitely learned quite a lot on the movie.
Bridget Jones’s Baby opens nationwide on Friday, September 14