DUBAI // British actor Colin Firth found portraying King George VI in his latest movie The King's Speech was like walking a tightrope due to concerns the audience would tire of his character's crippling stammer.
"I was afraid I was walking a bit of a tightrope and hoping it was going to be authentic," said Firth, who is in the city to attend The Dubai International Film Festival (Diff). "I would get exhausted and I was afraid the audience would get exhausted."
Firth's dry, self-deprecating humour sent waves of laughter through a crowd of more than 400 people who packed into the First Group Theatre at Madinat Jumeriah yesterday for a Diff event "A Conversation with Colin Firth".
The session was thrown open to the public towards the end of the question and answer session conducted by Variety magazine. It ran 20 minutes over its scheduled hour when, to cheers, Firth said: "Well, I'm not going anywhere."
He told a keen audience how he did his own research and spoke with people to help him gain a deeper understanding of how to play a character with a severe stammer.
The movie that had its premiere on Sunday, the opening night of Diff, is about King George VI who reluctantly took the throne of England when his elder brother abdicated in 1936 to marry an American divorcee. It also tells the story of the friendship that developed between the king and a speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, who helped him overcome the stammer.
Director Tom Hooper was insistent about having the stutter play out in every single line, Firth said. The most difficult scene was the grand opening where as king he speaks to his subjects in a sprawling stadium. "I almost lost my bearings at that point, I didn't know whether the stammering was real or not," Firth said.
The conversation with Firth was momentarily interrupted when a volunteer who was working at the theatre tripped and fell off the stage. Firth's concerned response won over the few in the audience that were not already diehard fans.
"It's a bit strange to carry on [talking], isn't it? Is she OK?" he asked organisers who rushed to help. The woman was not hurt.
This endeared him to Lara Graham, a 17-year-old films studies student from the English College, who was at the event with dozens of fellow students.
"I'm not really a fan," said Ms Graham who has only liked Firth in the 2008 musical Mamma Mia. "I thought he'd be arrogant. But he is actually very different. He has changed my whole perspective. He wanted to stop and asked about that girl. That is so sweet."
Firth also received Variety magazine's International Star of the Year award that was presented to him by Hollywood star Carey Mulligan, recently seen in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
"He acts with his heart and he is an incredible inspiration because of his dedication to his work," said Mulligan, adding that she counted Firth as a friend. "He is a brilliant performer and he connects with people. He is a star but he is also a real person who is kind and compassionate."
Firth's performance as a grieving gay professor in A Single Man earned him an Oscar nomination last year but it was British television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that won him fame playing the haughty Mr Darcy.
"Most people would date my existence to 1995," Firth joked, observing he would have never played the role if he had listened to female relatives who asked him not to play Mr Darcy. "The women in my family said I would ruin it. One of my relatives said, 'Please, I have been in love with this character, if you play it you will spoil it forever.'"
Visiting Dubai had always been on his wishlist, Firth said, when expressing happiness that he was able to attend a festival that brought together 45 different nationalities.
He had words of praise for City of Life, the Emirati film that depicts the parallel worlds that exist in Dubai. "It's a great example of young filmmaking," he said. "It's a film that is a great testament to multiculturalism."