Interview: Colin Firth on A Single Man and gay rights

The timing couldn't have been eerier, Colin Firth recalls.

It was Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, and Firth was filming a scene for Tom Ford's film, A Single Man, in which his character, a gay college professor in 1962, has a phone conversation about his late lover's death in a car accident. The lover's family, he is told, will not allow him at the funeral because they refuse to acknowledge that the dead man was, in fact, gay.

"And that was the day that Proposition 8 passed in California," Firth says, sitting in a lobby bar of Manhattan's Carlyle Hotel. "And I thought, 'Maybe we are still in 1962.'"

A Single Man, which opens in limited release today (12.11.2009), is a film about a man who decides to live one last day and then end his life. But the question of gay rights - in this case, gay marriage - is inevitably a subtext of the tale of a man bereft at the death of his lover and unable to mourn publicly.

"When Proposition 8 passed, I thought, 'If that can happen now, if something so retrograde can occur in 2008, maybe we haven't made much progress at all," Firth, 49, says. "To me, it was this triumphant day - when America made a very progressive change - and it had this bitter twist. I'm playing a man who is gay and being denied basic human rights in 1962, when a law is being passed to deny the same rights today.

"It's not just homosexuality. I think all sexuality scares people. If a nation can go berserk over Janet Jackson's nipple, then all is not well - and not just in this country. You travel across the Middle East, where people are thrashed, stoned, tortured, executed. All of these sexual taboos: Really, it's all fear of ourselves. I don't think anyone who has a healthy sense of their own sexuality is going to be discriminating against others based on theirs. It's jumping at shadows, isn't it?"

The British-born Firth is a busy actor, one who is bemused at his own sex-symbol status among a certain strata of women (who are fans of his Mr. Darcy in a 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice). Continued...

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