Paddington is losing his voice.
Colin Firth, who was providing the impeccably polite tones of the stuffed bear in a red hat, has split with the film in the midst of production.
“After a period of denial, we’ve chosen ‘conscious uncoupling,’” The King’s Speech Oscar-winner said in a statement to EW.
It’s rare for an actor to leave a project this late, with a trailer for the December movie having already been released. But it’s not uncommon for voice actors to drop out periodically.
Last year, Scarlett Johansson famously replaced Samantha Morton as the disembodied voice of the artificial intelligence program that wins Joaquin Phoenix’s heart in Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning Her.
Robert Downey Jr. was the original voice of the genius dog in DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and was replaced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, while Albert Brooks took over the fussy father role in Finding Nemo from William H. Macy.
Firth said the decision to leave Paddington was a mutual one. “It’s been bittersweet to see this delightful creature take shape and come to the sad realization that he simply doesn’t have my voice,” the actor said. “I’ve had the joy of seeing most of the film and it’s going to be quite wonderful. I still feel rather protective of this bear and I’m pestering them all with suggestions for finding a voice worthy of him.”
The release date for Paddington hasn’t changed. Studiocanal still plans to have it in British theaters by Nov. 28, and The Weinstein Company has targeted Christmas Day for the U.S. debut.
Director Paul King (The Mighty Boosh) has not selected a replacement voice, but says a new one will be announced in the coming weeks.
King released a statement saying the split was amicable. “I cannot thank [Firth] enough for his contribution to Paddington. We love the voice and we love the bear, but as our young bear came into being we agreed that the two didn’t seem to fit. So, with somewhat heavy hearts we decided to part ways.”
The filmmaker promised that the new actor will ensure that Paddington’s ”big screen debut is magnificent.”
Sources close to the movie say it is mostly finished, so re-recording new voice over work for the bear – while an unwelcome complication –won’t cause any disruption in the planned release.
Although the trailer was released back in March, it is notable in hindsight for not featuring Firth’s voice. We may never get to hear the performance, unless both parties decide it makes a notable DVD extra.
That sounds unlikely, but it happens. Even Eric Stoltz, famously replaced in Back to the Future by Michael J. Fox, eventually consented to let the unused footage of his performance go public.