Interview: Colin Firth and Emily Blunt are American misfits in 'Arthur Newman'
The two British stars play troubled souls looking for new identities
Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) hates his job. His ex-wife and son want nothing to do with him, and as a former golf pro, he’s blown his one shot at living his dream. Not wanting to face all this, he stages his own death and buys himself a new identity as Arthur Newman. But on the road to his new life, he meets the beautiful but fragile Mike (Emily Blunt) who is also trying to leave her past behind. Drawn to each other, these two damaged souls begin to find a connection as they start breaking into empty homes and briefly taking on the identities of the people who live there. Through this process, Arthur and Mike discover that what they admire most about each other are the identities they left at home.
Colin Firth and Emily Blunt are two of England’s most respected actors. Blunt received much acclaim for playing the 19th-century British monarch in “The Young Victoria” and Colin Firth won an Oscar for playing Victoria’s great-grandson George VI in “The King’s Speech.” When I joined a group of six other journalists for a roundtable discussion with the two actors, we greeted them with the appropriate pomp.
Can we just say, “Welcome, Your Majesties?”
Emily Blunt: Oh, yes! I love that.
Colin Firth: Yeah, we should put those two characters together in a movie and see how they get on! And add some zombies.
So, Colin, you’re in the middle of filming?
Firth: No. I’m done. You’re talking about “Before I Go to Sleep?”
Firth: That’s wrapped. It was great.
Blunt: I love that book!
So who’s better, Nicole Kidman or Emily Blunt?
Firth: Nicole Kidman.
Blunt: Whatever, whatever, I know the real truth!
I see the same rapport right here before us that we saw on screen!
Firth: But without the dog. (Everyone laughs, remembering the scene in “Arthur Newman” in which their characters break into a couple's house and make love on their bed with the homeowners’ dog sitting the bed watching their every move!)
Blunt: Without that poor traumatized pug. Scarred for life!
Firth: No animals were harmed in the making of this film! But he may need a dog psychiatrist.
Blunt: Poor dog.
Did they have a “dog whisperer” on set?
Firth: They did!
Blunt: So as we were going at it, we had this woman going, “Snuggles! Lay down! No, stay. Stay. Sit. Stay.”
Firth: “Stay! Lie down!” I thought that woman was talking to me!
How many takes did you have to do of that scene?
Blunt: We only did it a few times, thank God. So embarrassing!
The very nature of your job as actors is taking on other personas and getting into other people’s skins. How is it playing characters who take on other personas?
Blunt: I think at some point in their lives a lot of people want to be someone else, to run away and escape in some way. And we have jobs that allow for that, we have an outlet for it.
Firth: I think a lot of people have lives that seem unremarkable to others—they may be stuck in a rut. In some ways I think Arthur’s life up to that point is ludicrous. This kind of proper Boy Scout—I don’t think it had much to do with him at all. I think people do get stuck and try to do the appropriate thing at every stage and it doesn’t necessarily give them what they need. His marriage obviously didn’t work, his relationship with his son was catastrophic as was his relationship with his subsequent girlfriend. He’s not getting anywhere with the golf or the job or anything so all of this “doing the right thing” in this precious, prissy sort of way hasn’t worked out at all. So in a way, rather escaping his true self and trying to reinvent himself, he was probably shedding something that was bogus from the start.
What interested you about these characters? They’re both very complex with multiple layers. Emily, we see that your character is a bit lost at the beginning, but there’s a kindness underneath.
Blunt: Oh good, I’m glad that she’s not just a hot mess! But I think Arthur’s much kinder to Mike than she is to him. I think she finds it kind of baffling at first cause she really tries desperately to keep everyone at arm’s length by adopting this crazy persona.
Firth: I think they’re both looking for a connection. I mean what could seem like an implausible coincidence—that two people who change their identity find each on the road—isn’t really chance. I think she would’ve gone her own way right in the beginning had she not found out that he was lying about who he was. That’s actually the reason she's curious about him and decides to stick with it for a while. She’s driven by some sense of commonality there. These are two people who managed somehow to deny themselves any real intimacy for years and they somehow find it in each other through the paradox of pretending to be other people. It’s only when they literally dress up as others and talk like somebody else that they can actually express something a little deeper and allow themselves to get intimate.
Blunt: Don’t you think Colin looked so sexy in his salmon polo t-shirts and creepy glasses?
Firth: You know, by the end of it people said I was rocking that look and everybody was pulling their pants up higher.
Blunt: Up to their nipples!
Firth: When I first tried on that costume, I thought, “Oh, come on, this is too much! Aren’t we overdoing this?” And then I walked into environments where Arthur’s way of dressing was subtle!
At least you weren’t wearing a green jumpsuit to do motion capture.
Firth: Yeah, the motion capture jumpsuit. I did that for “A Christmas Carol” and it was very heavy manhood-cancelling spandex! I thought, “I’ve got to do something about this—I can’t go to the set in this indignity!”
Blunt: (Laughing.) Was it tight on the legs as well?
Firth: Yes. But let’s not go down that road!
Blunt: I told Colin he had spindly legs one day, that’s why I’m laughing about this.
How did you like playing Americans? Your accents were insanely good!
Blunt: Oh, God bless you! I like it! It helps that I live in the States and I’m married to an American and have lots of American friends. I think if you’re immersed in the sounds on a habitual level, that helps you a lot. But I don’t necessarily think of it as an accent. I think that you’ve got to find a voice for the person, not just concentrate on getting your vowels right. You’ve got to do all the technical stuff and then hurl it out the window and just play the character.
How did they end up using English actors to play these American characters?
Blunt: God knows!
Firth: I asked Dante (Ariola, the director) that and he said it had barely occurred to him. He just picked the actors he wanted.
And of course we don’t have any good American actors.
(Blunt and Firth laugh.)
The scenes where you’re trespassing and putting on other people’s clothes could’ve so easily come off as creepy and awful but instead they’re sort of sweet and poignant. Did you worry about that when you were shooting?
Firth: Yes! No one wants you in their house doing what these guys did, but I think there’s a kind of warmth towards the people they target, they’re not just mocking them. In some ways they’re sort of celebrating lives that were denied to them.
So how is your golf game, Colin?
Blunt: It’s terrible!
“Arthur Newman” is currently in theaters.