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Complexity of character excites Firth

'Single Man' role draws actor to Ford debut

Colin Firth has often played the flummoxed leading man, but he’s as composed as one could be in Tom Ford’s “A Single Man.”

Firth plays George, an outwardly constrained gay English professor who’s recently lost his partner and is contemplating suicide.

The attraction for Firth lay in George’s buried complexity.

“I was faced with a character who has a fastidious exterior but within that experiences despair, frivolity, laughter, lust, regret, terror, melancholy, serenity — all in the same day he’s experiencing hysterical grief,” says the actor. “I don’t know how many roles I’ve had that offer that range of emotion and experience.”

But there was more to this performance than most of his others that gave the Brit a chance to really let go.

“I felt at liberty,” he says. “In roles where the writing’s not very good, you have to suppress things. It’s frustrating playing someone stupider than you, but I had the measure of George: He was smart, and the way he masks his massive despair is poignant. That obsession with external perfection is a sign of panic. He has to control his exterior world because his interior one is chaos. His precision is all desperate measures.”

Firth conveys all that without making George an uptight cliche. Nor does his portrayal blare his character’s sexuality.

“It didn’t matter very much,” he says. “It’s a love story, and love is love. George misses the love of his life, and that’s that. It could be a woman, it could be a man. His being gay is not the salient feature of what Tom wanted. George is struggling with an awful lot but not with his homosexuality. There’s a lot of dignity in that.”

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