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A Christmas Carol - Colin Firth and Jim Carrey
Fred (Colin Firth) and Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) © Walt Disney

Jim Carrey stars is Ebenezer Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’ new digital 3D motion picture, Disney’s A Christmas Carol. He is surrounded by a stellar cast that includes Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit, Marley’s Ghost, Tiny Tim), Bob Hoskins (Fezziwig, Old Joe), Robin Wright Penn (Belle, Fan) and Colin Firth (Fred).

At the press junket for the movie, Colin Firth and Robin Wright Penn spoke about their experience working on this unique project.

Can you talk about Fred, who you play in Disney’s A Christmas Carol ?

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Jim Carrey, Bob Hoskins and Colin Firth arrive for the World Film Premiere

Colin Firth: Fred is quite simply the opposite of Scrooge. He’s the foil. If Scrooge is the ultimate pessimist, Fred is the ultimate optimist. I think Fred sees life very simply. ‘Why can’t we be friends? It’s not complicated. I’m inviting you to dinner. Why don’t you just come for dinner?’ I think he embodies the Christmas spirit. He wished no ill to anybody.

What was this experience like for you? 25 years of making movies and TV but nothing like this is on your resume.

Colin Firth: I think my acting contribution probably tallied at about four hours in the entire job. Life in the ‘volume’ (the digital space it was filmed on) is good, but being given all that freedom takes adjusting to. When I was on I talked a lot, and you have to know your stuff quite well if you’re going to be word perfect.

There’s an old Lord Olivier quote, ‘It’s not how well you know it, it’s how long you’ve known it.’ And I realized a week before, I think I have to start [learning it] now because we do not, like in the theatre, have four weeks rehearsal here to get it all set in. Nor it is like a conventional film set where it’s all chopped up into little pieces and you know it to death by mid-day.

This was a run at a whole scene with no reason to stop. You’re never off camera. If you stumble, it’s in the movie.

It sounds very difficult.

Yes, in some ways you have to rise to the occasion of having all that freedom. Again there’s no third eye, there’s no proscenium, there’s no camera to play to. But having said all that, it’s fantastic.

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Colin Firth, Director Robert Zemeckis and Bob Hoskins at the Premiere

It’s even more authentic in a way than doing theatre, because there is no imaginary fourth wall. Even if you’re doing theatre in the round, you’ve still got to worry about the people in the gallery up there that might not hear you or [worry if you’re] masking someone, none of it, you can do exactly what you want at any time.

What was it like working with Robert Zemeckis?

Colin Firth: I think what makes him an extraordinary filmmaker is that his films are not just blockbusters; they’re films that people cherish year after year. They’re all favorites. It’s character and it’s story. Films like Back to the Future were fantastic from a special effects point-of-view, but it wasn’t about that.

You wanted to see what was going to happen to the character when he goes back in time. Everything was thought through on a human level. Bob is a storyteller.

A Christmas Carol - Robin Wright Penn and Jim Carrey
Belle (Robin Wright Penn), Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) and Fred (Colin Firth) © Walt Disney

Robin, you’ve worked with Robert Zemeckis before.

Robin Wright Penn: We worked together on Forrest Gump and Beowulf. Loved him then, love him now. He’s like Santa Claus, because he’s jolly in his openness with actors.

He will say, “Let’s explore. Sure, why not? Let’s try it.’ It’s such a liberating way to work. Because why not try? Why not fail? Because, guess what? We don’t have to use it, you know? He’s very much like that. He doesn’t work with a lot of fixed ideas.

When you come on screen in Disney’s A Christmas Carol for the first time this technology has moved forward so fast that I just thought it was just you it was so real.

Robin Wright Penn: The technology has so far advanced from Beowulf even, every moment the minutia of the acting that we all did you see on the screen. And yet we could change the size of the eye with animation.

I said to Bob at one point I wanted her to look like the Whoville girls, big blue eyes, kind of droopy, and he said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ But your every moment is captured and it’s fascinating to watch. It’s so moving, it’s like watching a 2D performance but you feel like you can reach out and grab Jim’s hand and feel the snow falling on it at the same time.

You are actually in the environment. That’s what is incredible about it.

Had you seen A Christmas Carol before or read the book?

Robin Wright Penn: I read Dickens when I was in my twenties, so this was very new to me, but so true to the classic. And I was thinking, what is the theme, what do you grasp from this classic story?

This movie is like the greatest psycho-therapy you could ever have, and you it’s only $10.95 as opposed to $150 an hour, just go buy a ticket.