Colin Firth Downplays Actors' Importance to Society

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On the day he received the 2,429th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, amid award hoopla and critical acclaim for his starring role in The King's Speech, Colin Firth was bemused and not taking it all too personally.

"The attention we get (as actors) is completely disproportionate to our importance," Firth told The Hollywood Reporter at a luncheon in Hollywood after his star ceremony. "But we're not getting attention because we are important. We're getting attention because what we happen to do is widely broadcast."

The real heroes, added Firth, don't get anywhere near the attention they deserve. "The people who do household repairs are equally important," said Firth, "but you don't do household repairs for millions and millions of people....They do things which might seem every day but we couldn't live without those people either."

King's Speech director Tom Hooper agrees with his star that our society's priorities are askew but also sees an important purpose for a movie that addresses a prejudice not often discussed.

"Do we have too much praise in relationship to the unsung heroes of the world, of course," said Hooper. "People who save lives should be at the top of the hierarchy – doctors, surgeons and nurses. People who help the dispossessed and the socially excluded should be at the top of the hierarchy."

Why aren't they? "There isn't a business to be built out of directing adulation toward doctors and surgeons," replied Hooper. "There is a business underpinning what happens in awards season."

Hooper is pleased that King's Speech is reaching a wide audience but especially thrilled by the way it has connected to some people. "People are really evangelical in their desire to share how the film made them feel," said Hooper, adding: "Until recently stammering was one of the few disabilities it was OK to poke fun at. Stammering is still something you can make a comedy out of."

While some find it funny, for others it is a source of pain. "A woman came up to me in London who had a brain aneurism," recalled Hooper. "She was in late middle age and suffered from being a late onset stammer. She was talking with a stammer. She said 'It is the second time I've come to your film. Each time I've cried throughout, because you cannot believe how helpful your movie is for someone trying to cope with my speech function breaking down after all these years.' "

So while actors may not be real life heroes like congressional aide Daniel Hernandez, who risked his life to help Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was recently shot, what they do can have an impact. "What's wonderful about actors is they are symbols for all of us," said producer and social activist Lawrence Bender (Inglorious Basterds, An Inconvenient Truth), who was a guest at the luncheon for Firth. "And we need symbols. That's why actors who are heroes are good for us psychically."

The director believes that is the case with Firth. "Over and over again peep say Colin is an inspiration to them," said Hooper, "which is a great testament to him."

"It's not anything by itself," said Firth. "It's what your relationship is (to them) that counts. You try to make it a reciprocal thing, so when people show up for you and want to express themselves in a positive way it's an opportunity to be grateful to them. You try the best you can to express that back to them. If you can achieve that, then it can be important."