Colin Firth complains about being typecast from Mr. Darcy’s wet-shirt scene

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit Ireland on the first day of their 3 day visit

Last year, in a simpler, pre-pandemic world, we engaged in the internet debate over who was the best Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice: Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen? I still say both – they both brought something special to the iconic character and both felt canonical (to me, at least). After repeated viewings of both the miniseries (with Firth) and the movie (with Macfadyen), I can honestly say that while I really enjoy Firth in the role, Macfadyen feels more authentic simply because of his age at the time. Firth was already 35 years old when Pride & Prejudice came out in 1995. He was already well-known and an in-demand working actor, but the role took him next level – in the next six years, he had (iconic) roles in The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and Bridget Jones’s Diary among others. But to hear Colin Firth tell it, he kind of regretted the Mr. Darcy typecasting??

Colin Firth CBE is well known as an actor for his portrayal of a multitude of roles, from King George VI in The King’s Speech to The English Patient and Bridget Jones Diary. Now 59, in an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine, he said that while he is grateful for the part in the BBC’s 1995 production, he does wish that that scene, which is absent from Jane Austen’s novel, hadn’t been quite so memorable. A fear for many actors, to be typecast into a specific career-long role.

‘This was a great role and it was a major event in my career, certainly,’ he said. ‘But I don’t think it was all that helpful, because It tended to create this image that can restrict what kind of roles you are going to be able to find,’ he explained. ‘Looking good and strutting around is very boring. I wanted to do other things as an actor.’

Firth, 59, is speculated to have made £20 million from a celebrated – and awarded – career. He won the best actor Oscar in 2011 for his role in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. He was also Oscar-nominated, and won a BAFTA, for his performance in the 2009 film, A Single Man, the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford. In the film he played a depressed gay British university professor living in California, that he credits as changing the public’s perception of his acting range: ‘This role probably did the most to change the perception of me. I was playing an older, sadder kind of figure and suddenly you’re seen in a different way.’

[From Tatler]

I’m including the wet shirt scene below. I mean… it was a talking point for years, especially when Bridget Jones’s Diary came out (the book). Do I think it negatively affected his career or stereotyped him in any way? Not really. While I don’t think Firth is really slamming that role, he is trying to say that all of the fuss over the physicality of it was “boring.” Which sucks because what it feels like he’s saying is that he’s a Real Actor and as such, he’s not interested in fan-service for women. I don’t know, I’m probably overreacting. He is right about A Single Man though – that changed A LOT of stuff for him. People really saw him differently after that. And now I want to watch A Single Man again.

Rapper T.I. Arriving At The Stevie Wonder Birthday Party At Peppermint Night Club.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit Ireland on the first day of their 3 day visit

Photos courtesy of BBC & ‘A Single Man’.

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46 Responses to “Colin Firth complains about being typecast from Mr. Darcy’s wet-shirt scene”

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  1. grabbyhands says:

    I totally get why he would feel this way, and I don’t blame him – but I’m still glad it exists. For me, he is the only Darcy.

  2. Lucy says:

    I think he might be half-joking about this. Whatever the case, he should have no regrets.

  3. Flamingo says:

    That scene has always done it for me. When I was about 8 months pregnant and on bed rest , my husband, who has absolutely no interest in Pride and Prejudice, watched the series with me. I replayed this scene like four times, each time fawning a little bit more over Colin Firth. The next thing I knew, my husband was out in the back yard by the pool shouting at me to look out the window while he reenacted it in the pool. He really went all in! Wet white shirt, smoldering look, the whole deal. It is to this day, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.

    • Biff says:

      This wholesome story was all I needed today (my first thought as I woke up today was «no!». Its just been one of those days). Your husband sounds lovely.

    • Laura says:

      What a sweet story!!

    • tempest prognosticator says:

      What a great story @Flamingo

    • Nic919 says:

      That’s so cute!

    • Tanguerita says:

      this story brightened up my day considerably. Thank you!

    • Juju says:

      Flamingo I love this story!! You are so lucky to have a partner that is open to being silly with you. We all need that, especially now!

      Side note: The BBC P&P is on Hulu now and was the comfort viewing I needed to help me deal when we all went into lock down. It’s like a warm hug and a cup of tea in the form of a show.

    • Valerie says:

      lmao! That’s a great story. Have you seen how it was filmed? He didn’t dive into the lake … He jumped onto a blue mat. :D

    • jolanda says:

      Love this

  4. MissMarierose says:

    I get it. Most actors act because they want to play different people, doing different things and taking on new challenges. It’s tough to do when so many producers and directors want you to play the same thing over and over again. That sounds boring and antithetical to the creative impulse that leads one to acting.

  5. Toniko says:

    Sorry, McFadden can’t hold a candle to Firth Darcy. Steak and a 3 day burger.

    • ichsi says:

      Hahahaha, oh that’s harsh! The Macfayden Darcy has grown on me a bit lately, as has the whole Knightley film, but yeah, when it comes to dreamboatiness (which is a very important factor with these movies) it’s not even a competition. Firth wins, hands down. Also he’s been saying that for years and I don’t think it’s mean-spirited or anything, it’s just a fact about his chosen profession.

  6. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    You should be thankful for being in a memorable role. Shirt or no shirt.

  7. Erica says:

    The scene in A Single Man when he gets the phone call, expecting his partner, but instead receiving bad news, is absolutely incredible. The shift from joy to despair is a piece of really unparalleled acting. Few actors could pull that off, especially with the tight shot Ford used!

  8. M Narang says:

    I understand what he means but it was definitely a defining moment. Even today if I’m in a conversation with girlfriends about Pride & Prejudice and all the different productions, THIS scene is always mentioned accompanied by a lot of squealing, of course.

    • Nic919 says:

      Firth’s Darcy was why Bridget Jones’ Diary exists, so there is no comparison in terms of iconic status. McFayden was fine with what he was given, but that movie was a mashup of Bronte / Austen and romance novel tropes. The whole point of the novel is that they had to navigate the strict social mores and not wander around half dressed brooding in foggy meadows. The movie didn’t get that at all.

      • ClaireB says:

        Yes, thank you! That was my whole problem with the 2005 movie. If you’re going to take the social norms out of the movie, why not go full Clueless and do something original and interesting? Don’t just romanticize the whole thing by messing up time periods. The reason I love the 1995 version is because it is so true to the book!

  9. Laura says:

    I don’t get it. I’ve never seen this version of P&P and the wet shirt scene wasn’t even that big of a deal? Is it that I saw the darkness of his nipples through the white shirt? Is that hot? Was it is hair? What am I missing?

    • Laalaa says:

      Thank you, I really don’t understand what I am missing, what’s the big deal?

    • Nic919 says:

      At the time it was an obvious deviation from Austen and no other production had done anything like it. Earlier Austen adaptations were very boring and stuck to the book a little too much. Andrew Davies did this to spark interest and of course the press at the time implied that Darcy would be naked, which was not the case. He certainly pushed the bar much further in the recent Sanditon adaption, but that’s 25 years following this version of P and P.

      It wasn’t really the wet shirt that made the series, but the great chemistry between Firth and Ehle, who were supposedly dating at the time of filming. The smouldering looks Darcy /Firth gives to Elizabeth during the Pemberley scenes are far hotter than the actual wet shirt scene, which was played more as awkward than anything.

      David Bamber also deserves credit for his smarmy Mr Collins. I still think he is the best version and same with Alison Steadman’s Mrs Bennett.

      • Who ARE These People? says:

        The whole cast was excellent, including Lady Catherine DeBurgh (sp) “hmphing” her way through her conversations with that upstart Elizabeth.

      • Butcher's Daughter says:

        I think that’s exactly right. It seems pretty tame now but if you read Austen or had seen any of the other adaptations, this was the first one that really added a sense of physicality and sexual desire to the story. I read an interview with Colin Firth after it and he said he said he approached it as a man who really *wanted* this woman. So the smoldering looks, and this scene of his body on display really took the story in a new direction. The scene really needs context.

      • Laura says:

        Thanks Nic! That does help explain it.

    • Des says:

      well if you’ve never seen it, how would you be expected to understand? it’s like asking someone to describe the color red to a blind person.

  10. BayTampaBay says:

    My favorite Colin Firth movie is Miloš Forman”s “Valmont”.

  11. Harla says:

    Colin Firth will always be my Mr. Darcy, now and forever more!

  12. M.A.F. says:

    His shirt is wet? I expected to see his chest and nipples but all I saw was a dry tunic.

  13. Lexilla says:

    Thank you for linking to that scene. I needed that.

  14. Dorothywc says:

    He can do or say no wrong, ever. He’s my favorite.

  15. Ruby_Woo says:

    I love this version of P&P; its aged so lovely.

  16. Mina_Esq says:

    Sweet story, although I must say that the shirt scene was never my fav. My favourite scene is when she rebuffs him after he confesses his love at his aunt’s place. He responds with, “I can see I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension” and storms off.

    • megs283 says:

      funny, he said the same line in Bridget Jones’s Diary. I didn’t realize how much was taken from P&P.

    • Tok says:

      My favorite scene is also not the Wet Shirt scene. I just loved how when Lizzy was telling him the news she just received about her sister who had eloped, Darcy is thinking of how to help her – something we learn a bit later. He is so obviously upset because he can’t see her upset… good man is sexy for me. Firth is an amazing actor.

    • Nic919 says:

      The first proposal scene as done by Firth and Ehle is a masterwork. It relies heavily on dialogue and silent looks and is spectacular. I have not seen another version of P and P that does that scene so well

  17. Diamond Rottweiler says:

    Macfadyen hand > Firth nipples.

  18. Jumpingthesnark says:

    Aw come on!! He made a boatload of money and many lifelong fans from this movie!! How about some gratitude my dude?? Having to figure out how to not get typecast— well, that is the price you pay for all of the above. It’s a price that so many aspiring actors would love to have to deal with. Every line of work has its downsides, you know?

  19. Lindy says:

    I literally just finished re-watching the 1995 series with my husband (who, despite being a well-educated man with a PhD in medieval history had never read the book nor seen the series!!). It holds up *so* well! I still find Firth to be the perfect Darcy. I’ve only watched the movie once and it just didn’t do much for me. I think the series allows more time for the character development to unfold as it does in the novel. Lizzy’s slow realization that she was partly wrong about him, and his slow realization that he really *has* mistaken pride for refinement, come into view much better in the series.

    My husband loved it and I could probably watch it a dozen more times!

    I guess I get what Firth is saying, though… It’s a very particular kind of period drama. But honestly, I think it’s a sign of an actor’s talent to be able to convey humor and emotion in such restrained dialogue.

  20. Valerie says:

    I love his version of P&P and have been enjoying Jennifer’s instagram readings these past few months. She’s shuttering her ig for awhile now, taking a well-deserved break. She’s been exceedingly generous with her time. <3 But, for all my love for this story and series, I have to say, I'm still not a Darcy girl! Is that weird? (I’m not the opposite, a Wickham or Collins woman. lol)

  21. Granger says:

    Yup, Firth is my forever Darcy. I remember McFadyen saying that he saw Darcy NOT as an arrogant jerk but rather a shy, awkward (albeit proud) guy who had trouble expressing his thoughts — and I was all, NOPE, that does it for me, you didn’t understand the character, the book, the time period AT ALL. Darcy was an arrogant and proud a**hole. If he’d just been shy and awkward, Elizabeth wouldn’t have so roundly rejected him in the first place!

    • Nic919 says:

      That’s where Pride comes from in the title. Darcy is the embodiment of proud / arrogant. It had nothing to do with just being shy. He was a snob and needed to be brought down. Clearly McFayden didn’t get it.

  22. Sarah Jean L Johnsen says:

    A Single Man is one of my favorite movies. More people need to see it.

  23. calibration says:

    Matthew Mcfadyen was absolutely shocking. he’s one of the worst actors out there and i cannot imagine anyone who thinks he’s even slightly capable. I’m really horrified that CB thinks is almost as good as Colin. Geez. Worst taste ever, CB. you are stupid. I’ve studied Austen for 30 years and I go for you are both ignorant and you suck. Got nothing else. Mcfadyen was just pathetic. Worst version of Darcy ever. And there are many more than those two. i am passionate because Austen has been my actual life, as in prof life. you are not any of that.