Father of Reinvention

In ‘Arthur Newman,’ Colin Firth plays a man who trades one false life for another

Emily Blunt, left, and Colin Firth, right, try on new identities in “Arthur Newman”
Emily Blunt, left, and Colin Firth, right, try on new identities in “Arthur Newman”

Ever feel like ditching it all? Cutting the ties that bind you to work and student loans and that faucet that just won’t stop dripping and getting a new identity and heading off to some Caribbean island where the sand is white and the drinks are cheap?

Wallace Avery has a smaller getaway plan. In “Arthur Newman,” opening Friday, Colin Firth plays Avery, a vaguely middle-management-ish something or other who buys a new identity (that would be Arthur) and heads out to become a golf pro at a tiny country club in Terre Haute, Ind. — not the highest bar to clear.

“I think it’s partly that ambitions are relative,” says Firth, who won the best actor Oscar in 2011 for “The King’s Speech.” “It reminds me of the Pinter play ‘The Caretaker.’ There are two brothers, and one’s great ambition is to build a shed in his garden. In someone else’s life, [Avery] might say, ‘I want to be president.’ He basically sees an opportunity and decides to take it.”

On the way to taking it, Wallace-now-Arthur meets Michaela (Emily Blunt) — who goes by “Mike” when she’s not lying about her name — a kleptomaniac on the run from her own family responsibilities. As they head to Indiana, they break into houses, put on the residents’ clothing and try on various identities. They’re leaving their real selves behind and trying to stake out new lives. Firth, for his part, says that Avery’s “real” life wasn’t all that real to begin with.

“One of the paradoxes in this story is, on the face of it, it looks like a man trying to fabricate a new life,” he says. “But his old life wasn’t particularly authentic anyway. His marriage has been dysfunctional, his relationship with his son is not good, his relationship with what he’s feeling is even kind of a performance.” As Avery puts on other people’s clothing, Firth says, “in a way, he’s taking off a mask.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · April 26, 2013