David Heyman: Why Colin Firth Quit Paddington

Tom Butler - do not use
Senior UK Writer

The mystery behind Colin Firth’s eleventh hour exit from ‘Paddington’ has finally been cleared up by producer David Heyman. The ‘Harry Potter’ producer exclusively revealed the reason Firth wasn’t right to voice the titular bear is because, at 54-years old, they realised he was simply too old for the part.

“When we heard [Colin’s] voice coming out of the first animations of Paddington it became clear that he wasn’t the right voice,” Heyman explained to Yahoo Movies. 

“He has a beautiful voice but it’s too mature, in a way, for the bear.”

Above: Heyman at the ‘Paddington’ premiere

Firth, who was eventually replaced by Ben Whishaw, announced his departure in June 2014 with a statement referencing Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent split saying, ”After a period of denial, we’ve chosen ‘conscious uncoupling’”.

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Here’s what else we found out about ‘Paddington’ from our chat with producer David Heyman…

They’ll only make a sequel if the story’s right

Yahoo Movies: Have you begun talking with StudioCanal about a sequel?

David Heyman: “We have. It’s early days but we’re trying to figure out if we can find the right story and if and when we do that we’ll move forward. But the important thing is finding that story.

We don’t want to do it just for the sake of it doing it. We want to do it because it’s right.”

YM: There’s plenty of Paddington to draw on for inspiration though right?

DH: “Yeah, there is, but as with the first film, we used some of the stories but there was also Paul [King, the director] creating a healthy amount of original material. Each of the Paddington stories would make about a 5-minute episode in a film, so we need to come up with a unifying theme and story before we move forward with it.”

YM: It sounds like director Paul [King] was crucial to the success of the film…

DH: “Oh my god yes. He’s the director. You can make a bad film with a good director but you can’t make a really special film with a not good director. Paul… the comedy, the humour, the script – Paul and Pablo [Grillo], the animation supervisor – they both have elements of Paddington in them.

They’re good-natured, they’re positive spirited, and they’re generous, and they’re funny and they have big hearts, and that comes across in the bear and in the film. The comedy, the heart, the aesthetic, it’s all Paul King.”

YM: Will Paul King return for the sequel?

DH: “We’ll see. It’s too early to say.”

The film is about immigration

YM: The film’s pro-immigration message seems quite timely with the rise of UKIP – was that intentional?

DH: “We never set out to make a political, with a capital P, film. But it seems that people are talking about it as such, but that’s not how we saw it. It’s really about the acceptance of outsiders, the acceptance of people who are different, and how those people can enrich one’s life and I think that’s really the heart of the piece.

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I think that’s a relevant and timeless theme. London is a wonderful, multicultural city and all the various cultures and people help make it the wonderful place that it is.”

YM: I love the way they never reference the fact that Paddington is actually a bear…

DH: “That’s the way it is in the Michael Bond books. When the books were written, he was clearly a metaphor for the wave of immigrants that came to the UK in the 1950s. He’s like those Peruvian musicians you might see in the high street. They’re people just like us, they just look a little different.”

We’ll never get to hear Colin Firth as Paddington

YM: Will we ever see footage of Colin Firth as Paddington?

DH: “No. Colin was wonderful; he helped make that transition out so much easier by being as graceful as he was. He was funny and witty about it and he showed that there was no acrimony about the decision or the choice. Colin realised it before we did, in a way.

He asked: “Are you sure I’m right for this?”

But ultimately, when we heard his voice coming out of the first animations of Paddington it became clear that he wasn’t the right voice. He has a beautiful voice but it’s too mature in a way for the bear.

That was a bit scary because it was late in the process. We’d shot the film, but it was the right call.”

YM: Serendipitous then that you found Ben Whishaw, as we can’t imagine anyone else as Paddington now…

DH: “No, I agree. We met quite a few potential Paddingtons and I have to say Paul [King], as soon as he heard Ben [Whishaw], knew that he was right. So that’s Paul’s decision and it was the right decision.”

David Heyman thought the ‘Creepy Paddington’ memes were funny

Above: http://creepypaddington.tumblr.com/

YM: The stuff about Creepy Paddington must have disappointing for you?

DH: “That was rather amusing actually; I enjoyed the creativity of people. There was a slight cause for concern like, “Whoops, have we got it wrong?” but if I’m honest, we never really found… there’s probably one image, one still image of Paddington that I actually loved, and I think that we struggled.

Paddington works in motion. His character and personality really comes through in motion, but it’s a harder thing to get across in still images. But people took that and made these memes – they were very funny, really funny – but that’s the moment you go “oops”. 

But we didn’t listen, we had confidence in our design and we just kept moving forward.”

‘Paddington’ is out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and download now.

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Image credits: StudioCanal/Press Association