The English Oscar-winner saw the dream as a metaphor for the
film, based on a true story and best-selling autobiography, and
the responsibility he felt in portraying a man who had suffered
in silence for decades before finding the power of forgiveness.
"I was supposed to know and I didn't know. And in the dream
there were old men needing me to get it right, saying you've got
to join it up. You've got to say where it goes," the actor said
in an interview ahead of the film's U.S. release on Friday.
Firth, 53, plays Eric Lomax, a man with a passion for trains and
railway timetables who meets his wife on a train decades after
he had been tortured as a prisoner of war during the building of
the Thailand-Burma Railway, or what became known as the "Death
The railway, built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 to support its
attack on the British colony of Burma, used forced labor,
including Asian civilians and Allied prisoners of war, many
thousands of whom died of beatings, disease, starvation and
Like many men of his generation Lomax didn't talk about the war
but relived his experiences in nightmares, until he was coaxed
into confronting his demons and tormentor.
Firth won a best actor Oscar in 2011 for "The King's Speech,"
about King George VI's battle to overcome a speech impediment,
and was no stranger to playing silent, brooding types.
But Lomax's harrowing story of the suffering of thousands of
prisoners of war, the torture inflicted by their captors and
their inner torment was different.
"It did reflect how it felt because nothing equivalent to this
had ever happened to me," Firth said about the dream.
"Every so often you're called to interpret a story which is
very, very precious and that was the case with this. It became
personal," he added.
[to top of second column]
Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky ("Burning Man" and
"Better than Sex,") thought Firth was perfect for the part and
that it was a role and a character the actor couldn't say no to.
Nicole Kidman, the 2003 best actress Oscar winner for "The Hours,"
plays his wife Patti Lomax, and Jeremy Irvine, who made his feature
film debut in "War Horse," is the young Lomax, whose story is told
Sweden's Stellan Skarsgaard ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) plays
Lomax's friend Finlay. Hiroyuki Sanada ("The Wolverine") rounds out
the cast as the Japanese interpreter and tormentor Takashi Nagase,
whom Lomax confronts decades later and amazingly forgives and
"It reminds us of what we are capable of as human beings, the very
best and the very worst," said Teplitzky.
The film was shot in Australia, Thailand and Scotland, where Firth
and Kidman met Lomax and his wife. Lomax died in 2012, at the age of
93, while the film was being edited.
Reading the book and meeting Lomax were invaluable for Firth because
his role is so silent and the feelings are internalized.
"I had to inhabit imaginary memories," he said. "Being equipped with
so little, it meant a lot to be equipped with that."
Firth was also surprised by the reaction to the film, which has
already opened in Australia and Britain, and what it has unearthed.
He said people have contacted him and Patti Lomax saying their
father, grandfather or uncle had been there too during the war and
hadn't spoken about it until now.
"Sometimes you are an instrument for a story that really needs to be
told properly and I think Eric was conscious of the fact that it
wasn't just his precious book, that he was actually speaking for all
the guys that didn't speak out," Firth said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)
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