As the dashing Mr. Darcy
in the 1995 BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice
, Colin Firth bewitched millions of women throughout Britain and beyond. Among them was Bridget Jones's Diary
novelist Helen Fielding, who modeled the character of the aloof Mark Darcy after the brown-eyed 6'1 12" actor. Casting Firth in the film five years later was a no-brainer. "The character is based on Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy, so it is very hard to visualize anyone else," says Bridget
director Sharon Maguire. "Besides, he is also deeply fanciable and easy on the eyes." But Firth, 40, is quick to point out where he and his brooding Darcys diverge: "I have far more of a sense of humor, and physically I am much more animated." Actress Embeth Davidtz, who plays Firth's colleague in Bridget
, agrees: "Colin is bright and funny and sparky. He has a perfect smile and that dark curly hair you want to run your fingers through." Firth hasn't always packed such a visual punch, though. As a scrawny teen, the son of English academics kept his hair long, hoping to cultivate a hippie look. "I had no choice," he says. "I could either be a dweeb or cast myself as a poet."
Eventually he filled out, but he was still self-conscious when he had to strip for a scene in 1995's Circle of Friends
. Saffron Burrows, his costar in the film, recalls that Firth was "just horrified, because his bum had to be shown." Two hours before the shoot, "Colin was eating lettuce for lunch," she says. "When I asked why, he said, 'Oh, cripes, I've just realized that we've got a love scene. I've got to diet!' "
Today, says Firth, "I'm far more comfortable with myself." Married to Italian film producer Livia Giuggioli, 31, who gave birth to son Luca in March (he also has son William, 10, by actress Meg Tilly), he is happily settled with his family in London. And though he tries to keep fit by swimming and running, he says, "I'm not pumped and I don't look like Brad Pitt
. I never will." Nobody seems to be complaining.