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FIRTH: I agree. I’m a comedy black hole.
Would it be too easy to look at the life of an actor, where you’re always assuming new identities, and say that you understand these characters’ impulse to disappear into different lives?
FIRTH: One could spend a fortune in therapy trying to really dig for whatever led me to become an actor. But I have a very peripatetic background. My brother and I are the only members of my extended family born in the U.K.
My family has lived in India, West Africa, my mother grew up in Iowa, I lived in St. Louis. My sister married an America, I lived in Canada for years. It can’t be chance that I’m making a tour of other people’s lives and characters as a profession. It’s probably all connected somewhere.
What’s interesting to me is not the urge to escape — I think everyone has some of that —it’s the ways in which you keep running back into the things that are lying in wait for you, that you thought you were getting away from. But yeah, I think that sense of having a slightly fractured sense of identity or ego is in a lot of actors. I think to be any good at it, or even to want to do it, something has to be dislodged.
BLUNT: I started to get interested in acting because I had a really bad stutter as a kid, and I had this great teacher when I was 12 who asked me if I wanted to be in the class play. At that stage it was at its absolute worst, and I had become somewhat of a mute because I found it just so embarrassing.
The teacher said, "Do you want to be in the class play?" And I begged him not to make me do it. And he said, "But I’ve seen you with your friends doing silly voices and mimicking people, I’ve seen you do me. You never stutter when you do that, so why don’t you do it in a voice, why don’t you be someone else?"
And it was miraculous. I remember my mom just weeping in the audience. It was a terrible class play that some student had written. And I did it in a terrible Northern accent, but I spoke fluently for the first time in years.
That was a big sign to me — that desire to be someone else, or trick your brain into thinking you are someone else, completely detached me from me to the point where I actually could speak properly in a way that I hadn’t been able to you for years. So I’m a big believer in that I understand why actors want that kind of escape.
FIRTH: But it’s not always an escape. I think the mask can often weirdly reveal you. You had a protection, you had a script, you had a character, and suddenly the way you wanted to speak was made free.
I think that is true an awful lot. You can be very confessional about your emotions if you’re pretending to be someone else. It’s a perpetual sort of alibi.
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