When EW visited the London shoot of Paddington last year, everyone seemed thrilled that King’s Speech Oscar winner Colin Firth was voicing the film’s titular, marmalade-loving bear. “What we liked about Colin is that he’s got a bearish voice, he’s got a sense of humor, and he presents the very best of British,” explained producer David Heyman (of Gravity and the Harry Potter series). “We wanted that.”
And then they didn’t. In June of this year, my colleague Anthony Breznican broke the news that Firth was leaving the project. Last month, it was announced that Skyfall actor Ben Whishaw had been cast to voice the computer-generated Peruvian furball.
So why exactly will cinemagoers hear Whishaw rather than Firth when the film is released on December 25? “I love Colin and we got on tremendously well,” says Paddington director Paul King. “He came and worked with the other actors, which I think was tremendously helpful for them. But as the actual visual of the character emerged, you suddenly go, ‘This is just a young, fluffy creature.’ Somehow, it just didn’t have his voice. I remember him saying, ‘I’m stuggling to find the voice.’ I was going, ‘Is it younger? Is it more enthusiastic?’ It slowly just became clear that Paddington does not have the voice of a very handsome older man, who has the most beautiful voice on the planet.”
King says he cast Firth partly because he grew up watching Paddington shorts narrated by veteran British character actor Michael Hordern. “My brain is infected with Michael Hordern,” says King. “Colin was going, ‘But that’s the narrator. He reads Paddington’s lines, but he’s not Paddington.’ Colin was the first to say, ‘I just don’t know that I have this within me,’ and we slowly, sadly agreed. It’s not something that you want to happen, but it has, and I think it has for the best. When Ben started reading you went, ‘Oh yes, I see that is the bear.’ It’s a sad thing to have done after the fact, but it is the right thing to have done. Now I see the bear and go, ‘Yes, that’s his voice.’ It feels like such a happy marriage.”
While King may feel bad about the way things turned out with Firth, he’s not feeling bad for Firth, who will be seen in director Matthew Vaughn’s new spy movie Kingsman next year. “They’re cutting [Kingsman] in the office next door to us, and we’re well aware of how absolutely thrilling it looks,” says King. “Oh, I’m not worried about his career. Every time I met him he was always just finishing another amazing film.”
Find out more about Paddington and 87 new movies in this week’s Fall Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly.