Throwback Thursday: When 'Kingsman' Star Colin Firth Was 29 and Shirtless

Courtesy of Everett Collection
Firth, Tilly and Forman on the 'Valmont' set in 1989

"Colin is one of those actors who's just a very good partner. He's responsive, sensitive and very intelligent," says Milos Forman, who directed him in 1989's 'Valmont.'

This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Almost three decades before he would play a dashing spy recruiter in the James Bond-on-steroids comic book adaptation Kingsman: The Secret Service, a caddish Colin Firth was seducing married women in 18th century France. In 1989, director Milos Forman cast a 29-year-old Firth — then, along with Tim Roth, part of a group of up-and-coming English actors dubbed the "Brit Pack" by the press — as the lead in Valmont, a film based on the 1782 Choderlos de Laclos novel Les Liaisons dangereuses.

The period drama saw Firth playing a scheming aristocrat who seduces a beautiful young woman (Meg Tilly) while her husband travels abroad. It's all part of an elaborate plot concocted by his vengeful ex-lover (Annette Bening), but things veer off course when Firth's character falls in love — a twist that played out offscreen, as well: Firth and Tilly, also 29, began a romance that would last five years and result in the birth of Firth's first child, William, in 1990. (Now 54, Firth lives in England and Italy with his wife, Livia. The couple married in 1997 and have two sons, Luca, 13, and Matteo, 11.)

Coming a full year after Dangerous Liaisons, Stephen Frears' hit adaptation of the same source material, the Forman film fizzled at the box office. (In its mostly positive review, THR singled out the film's stars for their "award-worthy" performances.) "Colin is one of those actors who's just a very good partner. He's responsive, sensitive and very intelligent," says Forman, 82, of his leading man. But it took six more years, with his breakthrough role as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, for audiences on both sides of the Atlantic to finally succumb to Firth's charms. He'd refine his heartthrob persona in films like Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003) and eventually win the best actor Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of King George VI in The King's Speech. Firth's latest, the stylish actioner Kingsman, helmed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class), hits theaters Feb. 13.

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