How Colin Firth learned to stammer for his Oscar-winning role in 'The King's Speech'

Actors are paid for their way with words. Colin Firth had to go above and beyond his usual craft to come up with a credible stammer for his Oscar-winning role in 'The King's Speech,' which also won Best Picture.

Joel Ryan/AP
Colin Firth plays a convincing monarch, stammer and all, in 'The King's Speech.'

"I have a feeling my career's just peaked," Colin Firth said with perfect diction when he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor at the 83rd annual Academy Awards.

Actors pride themselves on being articulate. They spend years learning dialects and enunciation, and faithfully do vocal exercises to keep themselves in good voice. So it was a particularly daunting challenge for Colin Firth, one of Britain's most esteemed thespians, to learn how to make himself practically unintelligible for his role as George VI of England in "The King's Speech."

Mr. Firth had at least two things going for him.

First, his sister Kate is a voice coach. She gave Firth insight into the plight of people who have trouble making themselves understood – and came up with the eccentric-looking movements that Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) encourages "Bertie" to try.

Second, Firth had a physical challenge with his vocal chords as a young man that made it difficult for him to be heard. So he was well-acquainted with the frustration of having a speech impediment, which gave him the experience he needed to take on a stammer of epic proportions.

"I had to learn to stammer and play someone trying desperately not to," Firth told The Guardian. "All you want to do is to get to the end of a sentence. You'll order fish instead of beef at a restaurant because you can't get the 'b' out."

"The psychological damage of not being able to speak properly to people – in the way they expect – is underestimated," Firth went on. What's not underestimated is Firth's performance in the film, which made him a lock for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. He brings a heroic quality to a character plagued with self-doubt, inspiring the audience to identify with a royal personage who seemingly has had everything handed to him, yet still has to fight to succeed in life.

IN PICTURES: 2011 Oscar nominees

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