Colin Firth: Singled Out
BY Brandon Voss
December 09 2009 6:30 PM ET
But consider for a moment how this film will resonate with the generation of gay men who lost their lovers to AIDS. Consider the neighbors like George’s who still use disparaging words to describe the gay couple next door. And thanks to marriage inequality, consider especially how many gay people have received a phone call like the one George receives telling him he’s not welcome at his deceased partner’s funeral because it’s “for family only.” It’s hard to argue that’s not inherently a gay experience.
Well, Tom didn’t take that scene out; he left it there, and I do think that adds to George’s isolation. But that moment hits home with everybody. If you want to call it a gay experience, this film brings it into the realm of recognition for everybody, which should be the ultimate purpose. This story conducts itself in a way that recognizes human feeling as equal, so it doesn’t have to be marginalized. Having said all that, I couldn’t help notice the irony of the fact that the day I shot that scene where the funeral is mentioned was the same day Prop. 8 got passed in California. I was driven to work past a group of demonstrators in favor of Prop. 8, and they looked like the family who live opposite George with their blond kids and their placards — happy-faced, middle-class, good Christians out there fighting to keep America in the 1950s. Suddenly, you couldn’t look at George’s situation and say, “well, that was just the ’60s.” So I realize I’m speaking in contradictions here to some extent, but this is a love story that should be given the same status as any other love story.
How might Isherwood have felt about his novel, which is practically synonymous with the early gay liberation movement, being adapted into a film that its director and star equate with any other love story?
Isherwood was very much about not differentiating between the human feeling in a person of one sexual orientation and the human feeling in a person of another. He wrote in an era where his contemporaries were hiding their sexuality in their writing. If you read the volumes of Noel Coward’s autobiography, which I’ve done, there’s a conspicuous absence of any mention of that. Terence Rattigan wrote about very messy, complex relationships that were based on his own experiences as a gay man, but he had to dress them up as heterosexual relationships because he was afraid of the consequences. I don’t know the rules Lord Chamberlain was imposing at the time, but it was scary. So there was something very courageous about how Isherwood just came out with guns blazing and characters who say, “Here’s me, here’s my professional life, here are my issues, here are my neuroses, and my sexuality is just a part of that.”
How much did George’s sexuality inform your performance?
Almost not at all. If the character I was playing was struggling with his sexuality, then I would’ve had to make that a part of the performance, but that’s not an issue here. Besides, I have too many friends of various sexual orientations to ever fall into any kind of stereotype, so it would never occur to me to “play gay” or “play straight.” If I were playing a character who flaunts his sexuality in a particular way — whether he’s a screaming queen or so insecure about his sexuality that he’s got a macho thing going on — then I’d look at that character trait and how it comes out. But that’s not George, so there was nothing to play in that respect. It was just about love and isolation.