Firth has the Midas touch again
Colin Firth seems to have the Midas touch, as his latest film is being tipped for awards glory.
Who didn't cheer when everyone's favourite Mr Darcy received an Oscar for his role as stuttering monarch George VI in The King's Speech?
Finally the industry was ready to acknowledge that Colin Firth has evolved from middle-class totty, best known for his brooding and breeches in Pride And Prejudice, to become one of the finest actors of his generation.
For almost 30 years, he's been quietly beavering away, slowly but surely making his steady ascent to Hollywood. Then fashion designer Tom Ford cast him as the lead in 2009's melancholic A Single Man for which he earned his first Oscar nod.
He lost out to Jeff Bridges that time around, but in February this year came the moment to pop the champagne and celebrate - he'd finally done it.
It's just a shame the 51-year-old actor was five months too late to (mentally at least) join in the fiesta.
"I remember thinking I'd probably wake up in July and get very excited about it - and that's exactly what happened," says Firth, who's in town to talk about his new spy film Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, which is already generating Oscar buzz.
"It was all a bit lonely because the party was over," he says with a grin, those infamous dimples softening his features.
He still can't remember receiving the golden statuette: "No, that's what's completely extraordinary but I think when major things happen to us, whether good or bad, there's a slight shock. It has a slightly numbing effect."
From the moment his Oscar nomination was announced, Firth's life became a whirlwind of press junkets, red carpets and award ceremonies. It's a time he describes as "turbulent".
He explains: "That doesn't mean bad, just things were operating at quite a pitch. It's exciting, but can also make you a bit neurotic."
He toured the world picking up gongs including a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, a BAFTA, a British Independent Film Award and Critics Choice Film Award for Best Actor before finally scooping the Academy Award.
And with each statuette came a charming, self-effacing acceptance speech, underpinned by a droll sense of humour - which is exactly what Mr Firth exhibits in the flesh.
There's no fanfare as he walks into the room dressed in a black suit and grey shirt, before taking a seat on an enticingly cushioned sofa.
Crossing one leg over the other and clasping his hands in his lap, he proves to be witty and smart - and doesn't take himself too seriously.
Asked how he feels about being displaced as 'Britain's Best Looking Man' by F1 driver Jenson Button in a recent poll, he says: "Lorraine Kelly just told me this in front of a rolling camera. I'm crushed."
How about appearing on Time Magazine's most influential list? "One of my children [he has two sons, Luca, 10, and Matteo, eight, with Italian wife Livia] has pointed out to me that I'm not even the most influential person in my own household," he says, flashing another grin.
Then talk turns to the rather more serious subject matter of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.
Based on John Le Carre's novel, it's a suspenseful, slow-burning spy film of the old school variety.
Set in the early 1970s, the tale centres around George Smiley, a recently retired M16 agent, played by Sir Alec Guinness in the 1979 TV series and here by a brilliantly restrained Gary Oldman, who's drawn back into the murky world of espionage to unearth a double agent.
It's a veritable who's who of British actors, including John Hurt, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones.
"I don't think any actor is so selfless to only luxuriate in ensemble work, but I was absolutely up for it," says Firth, who plays spy Bill (Tailor) Haydon.
"He's vain and cultivates certain eccentricities. He's a bit of a bohemian. An artist who has a slightly flamboyant twist to the way he dresses and is sexually very active, let's say," says Firth.
"And despite the vanity that drives us to find something meaty for ourselves, it's a thrill to be surrounded by brilliant people - not only because you get to watch them, but it also lifts your own game," he explains.
But even Firth admits to first-day jitters: "There's an initial moment when you walk on the set and think, 'Oh, I might be out of my league'," he says.
He hadn't read the book before taking on the role, but he has now. He can't remember watching the TV series but the idea of bringing the book to the big screen "seemed very cool to me", he says - the word 'cool' sounding foreign coming from his lips.
Describing the film as a beautifully melancholic story, Firth says: "I think the thrust of it is much more emotional than intellectual.
"To me, it's a very tender and moving portrait of lonely men, disappointed idealists.
"These are all men who've made considerable sacrifices within their personal lives in order to do what they do. That puts all the more emphasis on the fraternity they have at work.
"For them to realise that one of them is betraying all of them is not just a threat, it's also heartbreaking."
Firth has only shot one film since the Oscar win, a comedy called Gambit, directed by the Coen brothers. "I took enormous pleasure in it and loved that it changed the tone," he says.
Now he looks set to reunite with Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant for a third outing of Bridget Jones.
"There's a script and I'm always interested," he says.
"This character [Mark Darcy] has obviously inhabited part of my life, so I'd like to see where it's taken, and it does look as if it's going somewhere interesting."
Then he adds with a laugh: "It'll be like one of those rather fraught family reunions at Christmas."
It's comforting to see Firth isn't going to focus solely on dramatic roles. If anything, he believes the Oscar win has freed him as an actor.
"In terms of one's attitude to it, you can either see it as pressure to live up to something or as taking the pressure off and going, 'Well, I've got that now. I'll do whatever the hell I please'. And that's a far more pleasant way to see it."
EXTRA TIME - A FEW INSIDE SECRETS
:: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is directed by the Swede Tomas Alfredson, who is best known for the melancholic vampire film Let The Right One In.
:: The Circus is the code name for the British Intelligence Service, aka MI6.
:: Author John Le Carre has a cameo appearance in the Christmas party scene.
:: The film was shot in London, Hungary and Istanbul.
:: Actor Stephen Graham said being cast in the film was like "getting picked to play for England".
:: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is showing in cinemas now