Colin Firth's Road to Oscar Paved by Two Women

Before Firth found success, he quit acting to raise his son with Meg Tilly.

Feb. 3, 2011— -- Accepting the Screen Actors Guild Award for best actor, "King's Speech" star Colin Firth joked, "I'd like to thank security for letting me in the building."

The self-deprecating Englishman need not worry about future doors being opened for him. Following his second award for his role as the stammering King George VI, Firth is the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar.

Firth's road to the Oscars is paved with the love of two women as much as it is his iconic film roles. After accepting his SAG trophy, the 50-year-old actor took a moment backstage to send a text message to his wife, Livia Giuggioli, who was back home in England.

Giuggioli, an Italian producer and mother of their two boys, Luca and Matteo, will most likely be cheering Firth from the audience at the Academy Awards on Feb. 27.

Meanwhile, actress Meg Tilly, Firth's former love and mother of his 21-year-old son Will, is likely to be cheering him from her remote cabin deep in the woods outside Vancouver, Canada.

Following Firth's Golden Globe win for "The King's Speech," Tilly, now 50, wrote on her blog: "Our happy hats off to a member of the family. We are so pleased for you! Hearty jigs are being danced. Tonight...we shall all lift a glass of wine to toast your continued success! Jubilant hugs and kisses from all of us. Onward and upward!"

Ironically, Firth, who has made a career of playing the reluctant lothario, might not be where he is today if he had chosen to stay with Tilly in their remote part of the world. Both quit acting after Will was born. Firth chose to return to the craft but Tilly did not.

"Meg Tilly has always been a mysterious figure," Stacey Wilson, associate features editor of The Hollywood Reporter, told "It kind of makes sense that two very private people found each other."

"Colin has always struck me as someone not terribly comfortable with the limelight," said Wilson, who has interviewed him. "He's the consummate Brit -- withholding, terribly polite and very serious."

When Firth met Tilly on the set of the period drama "Valmont" in 1989, he was a relative unknown and she was a Golden-Globe winning and Oscar-nominated actress for her role as a nun who discovers she's pregnant in "Agnes of God."

Tilly, who was also known for her memorable role as the girlfriend in "The Big Chill," was divorced with two children when she met the 29-year-old Firth.

According to Britain's Daily Mail, it was love at first sight. "It is a very special movie for me," Firth is quoted saying at the time. "I was probably in love with Meg from the moment I met her, but it took her a while to be convinced."

The couple moved to her home in Los Angeles before relocating to a log cabin on five acres, an hour north of Vancouver.

"It was in thick woods on the side of a mountain, and it felt like there might be no one for miles and miles," Firth said.

Their son Will was born in 1990, and for two years they turned away acting roles to stay close to home. Firth occasionally took odd jobs as a carpenter to keep the family afloat. But eventually, the call to act became too strong for him to ignore.

Colin Firth's Choice between Love and Work

When Will was two, Firth returned to London to resume acting. When he wasn't working, he'd return to the cabin and family life.

"He absolutely adores Will, but he had to choose between family life in an isolated log cabin, and working. Colin's a city person who needs his friends -- people he's been close to since he was at school," his sister Kate was quoted as saying in London's Daily Mail.

Five years after they began seeing each other, Firth and Tilly split for good. Ironically, Firth finally found the success he had been seeking. He was cast as Mr. Darcy in a BBC production of "Pride And Prejudice" and was elevated to heartthrob status.

Then, in 1996, while filming the television mini-series "Nostromo," Firth met Giuggioli. He was the star and she was a production assistant.

They married a year later on a hillside in Tuscany, and today, with their sons, ages nine and seven, they divide their time between homes in London and Italy.

"The fact that he's a happily married man makes him more appealing to women," said Wilson from The Hollywood Reporter. "And he's married to an Italian woman. He's obviously a very soulful person."

Firth credits Giuggioli with his success.

"I want to thank everybody that has accompanied me on this extraordinary journey, but probably more than anybody I could ever imagine, Livia, who has walked every step of this with me joyfully and truthfully," he said last month when he received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. "When I look down there at that star, it's her name I see."

Indeed, since his marriage to Giuggioli, Firth's star has been rising. After his Mr. Darcy served as inspiration for the love interest Darcy in the "Bridget Jones" novels, Firth played Darcy opposite Renee Zellweger in the film versions in 2001 and 2004.

His star turn opposite Meryl Streep in the musical "Mama Mia!" earned him new fans. His role as a closeted gay professor in 2009's "A Single Man" turned him into an international star while getting him his first Oscar nod.

"He's had a slow and quiet climb," Wilson said. "He didn't peak too early."

Now he's becoming a household name.

Tilly, meanwhile, retired from acting in 1990 and turned to writing. She has published two novels, based on her experience of childhood sexual abuse, and, like her third husband, Don Calame, writes young adult fiction.

She took umbrage at the Daily Mail's characterization of her, however, describing herself in her blog last week as "wee bit of grey…not stout…pretty jolly…a matron (sure, but it's not a bad thing)."

And their son Will? The Daily Mail says he is quietly following in his parents' footsteps to become an actor.

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