Firth: from Pride and Prejudice to Oscar glory

Colin Firth, who won the best actor Oscar Sunday for his role as the stammering monarch in "The King's Speech," has graduated from self-deprecating Englishman to major Hollywood player.

Firth used to joke his whole career would likely boil down to one scene in the 1995 TV dramatization of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" when his character, Mr Darcy, emerged in a soaking wet shirt after diving into a lake.

The scene transformed him into a figure of female lust and remains a massive hit on YouTube.

But Firth's career swiftly moved on to a new level with his role as one of Meryl Streep's past loves in the 2008 Abba-music smash hit "Mamma Mia."

An unexpected collaboration with fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford in "A Single Man," earned the Englishman his first Oscar nomination last year before "The King's Speech" gave him the role of his career.

His modest acceptance speech when he won a Golden Globe earlier this year for his portrayal of the stammering King George VI was typical of a man who remains an English gentleman to his fingertips.

Thanking the gala's organizers for helping him stave off a midlife crisis, Firth, 50, quipped: "Right now this is all that stands between me and a Harley Davidson."

Basking in Oscars glory on Sunday, he was equally self-effacing, saying with softly-stated wit: "I have a feeling my career's just peaked."

Firth, who had been frontrunner for the prize, thanked his fellow actors and filmmakers and joked that he had an impulse to dance.

"I'm afraid I have to warn you that I'm experiencing stirrings, somewhere in the upper abdominals, what are threatening to form themselves into dance moves, which - joyous as they may be for me, it would be extremely problematic if they make it to my legs before I get off stage," he added.

Born to academic parents, Firth spent his early childhood in Nigeria and moved to England aged five.

His talent was first spotted when he played "Hamlet" during his final term of a drama course in London.

A first professional stage role came in a West End production of "Another Country" - which led to him landing a role in the 1984 movie of the play.

"Pride and Prejudice" cemented his stardom in Britain and a part in the 1998 Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love" followed.

He was handed a starring role as the love interest in "Bridget Jones' Diary" in 2001 - called, in a knowing nod to his dip in the lake in that celebrated earlier role, Mark Darcy.

Firth earned critical acclaim for appearing alongside Scarlett Johansson in "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in 2003, when he also teamed up with another of Britain's key acting exports, Hugh Grant, in "Love Actually."

His success with "The King's Speech" - which also won best picture and best director prize Sunday for Tom Hooper - has focused attention on Firth's own, apparently ambivalent, views about the British royal family.

In terms of personalities, he has voiced warmth for the character he plays.

"I had no idea that I was going to encounter a character that I felt such deep regard for and love for really," he told reporters at the Berlin Film Festival this month.

"I think that those qualities that I so admire have been maintained by the next generation. I have great regard for the way they do their job," he said.

But asked on CNN recently whether he thought the institution of the royal family was a good one, he answered: "I really like voting. It's one of my favorite things."

Pressed on whether he favored an unelected institution, he added: "It is a problem for me."

Despite his Hollywood success, Firth continues to live predominantly in London with his wife Livia, an Italian filmmaker he met in 1996 while working on "Nostromo".

They married in 1997 and have two young sons, Mateo and Luca.