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Taking a look at your life and seek some sort of redemption resonates with everybody, even him, Colin Firth tells Lance Freeman as he talks about playing Scroogeís nephew in A Christmas Carol opposite Jim Carrey as Scrooge.

Q: Being British, ďA Christmas CarolĒ must be part of your DNA. Do you remember reading the book for the first time?
A: I think my first encounter with the story was the musical version with Albert Finney and I was very frightened of the ghost of Jacob Marley. With Dickens, itís a bit like when people say Fellini-esque even if theyíve never seen a Fellini film. There are all those BBC adaptations of Dickens, countless films, stage versions, and you study it at school. The funny thing is that when I finally read ďA Christmas Carol,Ē which was around the time we made the film, I had this feeling that I hadnít actually ever read it before and yet I knew everything about it.

Q: As you said, there are lots of film versions of Dickens, and ďA Christmas CarolĒ is probably the most frequently filmed of all. When Robert Zemeckis approached you about this film, did you ever think, why do another?
A: I think when you have a very good story people will have an irresistible urge to tell it again and again. Itís a bit like Everest: itís just there. And ďA Christmas CarolĒ is a flawless story really. Unlike a lot of Dickens, itís very focussed and condensed and though Iíve never felt in a position to try to find out its secrets, I think that this big theme of being forced to take a stark look at your life and seek some sort of redemption resonates with everybody. If I were being taken back over my childhood, my teens, and my early adulthood, which mistakes would I recognise? What would I choose to have done differently? The story gets me all teary every time.

Q: Do you think those kinds of moments of dramatic revelation and transformation can happen in real life?
A: Yes, but probably not over the course of one night, which is what happens in this story. Dickens uses supernatural beings to make that seem possible and I think he earns the happy ending. But all the questions that Scrooge is asking can echo in all of us and we can be transformed by asking ourselves those questions. The Ghost of Christmas Present also shows Scrooge what people are really saying about him, about the harm of what he has done and the lack of good, and that has to be a wake-up call. Anyone whoís had a blog written about them knows what that feels like [laughs].

Q: As a Brit, did you have any concerns about whether a British classic would be safe in American hands?
A: I think itís been safe in American hands before. Personally I loved the Muppetís version. Also, itís Robert Zemeckis. With a record like his, you couldnít have safer hands than that.

Q: And how do you think the film has turned out?
A: Like everybody else Iíve just seen eight minutes so far, but youíre catching your breath all the time. Itís a perfect package really: a fantastic story, an extraordinary visual spectacle, plus good acting. Jim [Carrey] is brilliant in this and so is Gary [Oldman]. Those are the only two performances Iíve seen anything of yet.

Q: Jim Carrey is a larger-than-life screen presence. Does that change the rules for the rest of the actors?
A: I only had three scenes with Jim but I thought his performance was very well pitched, very subtle and very powerful too.

Q: The film was made using a technique called performance capture. What does that mean exactly?
A: You give a performance like any other and itís just captured in a way thatís different from the way a film or video camera would record it. Iím a bit bewildered by it, but everything you see on the screen has been acted by the actors: Jim and I were in a room together, all the gestures we made are there, all the expressionsÖ And whatís nice is that unlike a conventional film itís all shot in the right order and without someone shouting cut all the time so they can change the position of the camera or the lights. I mean on a normal film, you can go to your grandmotherís birthday party before breakfast and come back after lunch and go to her birthday party again.

Q: So you liked this way of filming?
A: In some ways it seemed like a purer form of acting. Itís just that after the event the director can do things like give you a longer nose if he wants, or bigger pecs, anything he wants actually. Whatís a bit odd though is that you have to wear this manhood-cancelling spandex suit while youíre filming and something that looks like a bicycle helmet with cameras in. When I did close-ups with Jim we sort of locked antlers at one point.

Q: Finally, I wonder whether youíre someone who particularly enjoys the holiday season? And do you have a favourite Christmas song?

A: Having small children has made a difference for me. As you get older I think you can get a bit jaded about Christmas and itís dangerous to be told you have to be happy on a certain day of the year Ė itís a recipe for disappointment Ė and then thereís all that baggage when families get together. But children give you another shot at the magic. As for a favourite Christmas song, Iíd have to think about it, but Iím not going to sing it for you if thatís what you think [laughs]. As you know, I only sing Abba songs!

Published November 25, 2010

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Colin Firth

A Christmas Carol is available on Disney DVD and Blu-ray from 24 November 2010


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