Mr. Darcy trades in horse for a motorcycle

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

British actor Colin Firth is perhaps best loved for his roles as Mr. Darcy - in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

He loses the name (and the period clothes) in "What a Girl Wants" and trades in his horse for a motorcycle.

"I had one lesson on the motorbike, and thought that was good enough," Firth says of the scene where he whisks his daughter (played by Amanda Bynes) away on a bike.

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"When the time came, several weeks had elapsed. I rode the bike for a few minutes feeling rather brilliant. There was this rather steep hill I had to go up. I did it thinking there wasn't that much to it, and promptly ran into a ditch and fell off."

Based on the 1958 movie, "The Reluctant Debutante," with Rex Harrison and Sandra Dee, the comedy tells the story of an American teenager (Amanda Bynes) raised in New York who travels to London to find her British father.

"I enjoyed it because I play a father ... and also, I didn't have to leave England," says Mr. Firth, who plays Lord Henry Dashwood. "I was home each night with my wife and young son."

Moviegoers will be seeing a lot of Firth this year. In addition to "What a Girl Wants," he has three movies: "Hope Springs" with Minnie Driver; "Love Actually" with Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson; and "Girl With a Pearl Earring" with Tom Wilkinson and Scarlett Johansson.

For "What a Girl Wants," director Dennie Gordon was so set on Firth portraying Dashwood that she personally financed her trip to London to convince him.

"He was my first and only choice for the part," Ms. Gordon explains. "Colin has depth and restraint, yet just the right amount of sexiness that the role required."

Born in Grayshot, Hampshire, in England, Firth and his family didn't settle in one place for too long, traveling from Nigeria to St. Louis.

His professional career got kickstarted while he was still studying acting. "When I went to drama school and did 'Hamlet' [in 1982]; that started everything for me. That same year, I did 'Another Country,' first on the stage and then in the film. It was an absolutely dizzying experience," he says.

While he says that the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice" was obviously important to his career, for him, the TV role that most resonates is the British soldier he played in the 1989 drama "Tumbledown."

"I played an actual person, who was my age, and was injured in the Falkland [Islands] War," he explains. "I came to know this chap very closely. He was on the set every day, and we became twins in a way. It's probably the most lasting impression that has stayed with me."

When Firth isn't working, one can find him reading. That is, unless he is with his Italian-born wife, vacationing in Italy.

"I love to travel to Rome. I really enjoy visiting the little villages near there," Firth says. "One of the things important to me is to try my hand at cooking their specialties.

"Don't ask my wife about my cooking. She'll agree the food is quite wonderful, but after I'm finished, the kitchen is far from tidy."

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