Operation Mincemeat director didn't realize he'd cast two famous Mr. Darcys in WWII thriller
Firth famously played Jane Austen's romantic hero in the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (and spiritually reprised the role in the Bridget Jones franchise), while Macfadyen also impressed as the aloof Darcy in Joe Wright's 2005 film version of the Austen novel.
So did director John Madden deliberately double-down Darcy-wise while casting the World War Two-set Operation Mincemeat? (out on Netflix May 11). Nope. In fact, Madden only realized the connection after casting his two male leads in the based-on-real-events film, which details how the British used a corpse and some forged documents to fool the Germans about an Allied invasion of Sicily.
"I'd love to be able to say, yeah, of course I knew that all along," says the filmmaker, whose previous credits include Shakespeare in Love and Proof. "I certainly didn't."
In fact, Madden came close to casting neither actor, even though he thought they were both pretty close to perfect for their respective roles of Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley, the duo who oversaw the titular operation.
The director had worked with Firth on Shakespeare in Love but initially believed the 61-year-old actor was too old to portray Montagu.
"Directors get hung up on actual ages," says Madden. "You feel an obligation to tell the story as truthfully as you can, but you can get trapped in that world. I'd always felt Colin Firth was the perfect actor to play Montagu but was held up for a while because Colin is technically older than Montagu was at the time of the film. Actually, that's kind of irrelevant because a man of 41, which is what Montagu was at the time, looked more like 61 at that point."
The director had no reservations about casting Macfadyen as Cholmondeley, but the actor was committed to shooting season 3 of Succession when Madden was planning to film the movie.
"Matthew Macfadyen felt so unbelievably perfect for the role," says the filmmaker, whose movie also stars Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, and Johnny Flynn. "He's an actor I've admired for a very long time, he has an extraordinary set of skills that straddle character [actor] and leading man in very interesting ways, but he wasn't available. We were running up against the third iteration of Succession, and that seemed set in stone. Then it wasn't set in stone, and suddenly, it opened up. I shot the script around to him, and he came back very, very quickly, like the day after he'd read it, and that was a slam dunk."
So when did Madden realize that Operation Mincemeat would feature not one but two famous Darcys?
"I think it was probably pointed out to me by Colin's agent," says the filmmaker. "The trouble is, when you become so identified with a character, as Colin certainly was with Mr. Darcy, it's never far from his mind, or perhaps his agent's mind. When I told them that I'd cast Matthew, that's when suddenly I became aware of it. I mean, it's not relevant to us at all, as the filmmakers, but of course, it's of interest to other people, I realize that. It's a funny but accidental thing. It wasn't in my mind, really."
Watch the trailer for Operation Mincemeat below.
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