Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The family Colin Firth left behind: How he will always be in debt to the reclusive beauty who bore his first son


(This is an older article, written the year Colin Firth won his Academy Award, but I found the story touching and surprising - he lived in the woods in Canada for a while, and worked as a carpenter - who knew)

Former actress Meg Tilly, also 50, was for five years Firth’s partner, and although they never married, both thought they were the love of each other’s lives.

The pair met in 1989, and for a long time they lived together in her long cabin, with no television, deep in the woods of British Columbia.

At the time, Meg was one of the more intoxicating big-screen beauties, Oscar-nominated for her role in the film Agnes Of God, for which she won a Golden Globe.

Today she shuns the limelight, preferring to bake pies and write books. Her hair is streaked with grey, and she often complains that she is stouter than she would like to be. Her husband, Don Calame, is a genial but unglamorous type who writes fiction for adolescents.

She hardly ever talks about Firth, apart from to say that they ‘remain friends’. Indeed, few of her neighbours have any idea of their connection.

But they are connected for life through their son Will, now a young man of 21.

On her online blog, Tilly writes of her joy at Firth’s success at the Golden Globes.

‘Our happy hats off to a member of the family,’ she says. ‘We are so pleased for you! Hearty jigs are being danced. Tonight, we shall all lift a glass of wine to toast your continued success! Jubilant hugs and kisses from all of us. Onward and upward!’

So, what is the truth about the woman who once captivated Colin Firth? And why did he walk away from his infant son, and from the love of this intense, delicate-featured woman?

Meg Tilly’s many friends in her small fishing village just north of Vancouver are very protective of her. Her life before Firth, though, was disturbing and tough.

She grew up poor in rural Canada — so poor that she remembers eating a squirrel, finding it frustratingly bony. Once, when desperate for food, she even cooked rattlesnake.

She and (husband) Zinnemann had two children, Emily and David, and she retreated from acting to focus on her marriage. But it soon foundered partly, she has said, because she was just too young.

At this point, enter Colin Firth. Six months after the collapse of her marriage, Tilly returned to acting in Valmont — a period drama based on the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. During filming, she captivated her 29-year-old co-star, a nice boy from Hampshire.

‘It is a very special movie for me,’ he said at the time. ‘I was probably in love with Meg from the moment I met her, but it took her a while to be convinced.

‘I don’t think I consciously wooed her. But we had scenes of passion together, and we filmed in Paris and Bordeaux — dangerous places in which to film with a beautiful woman.’

Firth decided his future lay with Tilly and they lived in her home in Los Angeles at first before moving to a home outside Vancouver.

She wanted to raise her children somewhere ‘normal’. She found a log house on five acres of land around an hour north of the city, near Maple Ridge.

‘It was in thick woods on the side of a mountain, and it felt like there might be no one for miles and miles,’ said Firth. A writer who interviewed Tilly ‘couldn’t believe quite how wild it was’.

Their son Will was born in 1990, and although Firth was ‘engulfed’ by the experience, the pair made a pact not to have any more children, to avoid damaging Tilly’s career.

But as it worked out, for two years neither of them acted. Firth took ‘odd jobs as a carpenter and so on’ to keep their finances ticking over.

Eventually, when Will was two, he decided to return to the UK in order to use London as a base for making movies and doing theatre. During non-work periods, he would return to family life in Vancouver.

However, the strain was considerable. Firth’s sister Kate said: ‘He absolutely adores Will, but he had to choose between family life in an isolated log cabin, and working. Colin’s a city person who needs his friends — people he’s been close to since he was at school.’

It took another year before a decisive split came. ‘We just couldn’t make it work,’ Tilly said, years later, ‘with him having to live in England for his career, and me here.

‘There was too much separation. For a marriage to work, it requires commitment and a lot of work.’
Friends say that she was ‘crushed’ and ‘blindsided’ when Firth told her he was moving out for good.

Firth’s friends and family say that he, too, was painfully affected by the split. Sister Kate says that although her brother saves his tears for acting — he has admitted to finding it impossible to cry in his personal life — he was extremely troubled.

Separating from Will was, Firth says, the most painful moment of his life, even though he knew that he would see the boy again. He took care to stay in touch with Will and Tilly’s other children, with visits to Canada and frequent phone calls. Every bedtime, he would call Will and his half-siblings to read them a bedtime story.

And barely a year after the split with Tilly, Firth found the success he had been seeking. He landed the role of Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, and with it came a year-long romance with his co-star Jennifer Ehle (who played Elizabeth Bennett).

Read more: 
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

No comments: