His most notable film, where Colin Firth embodied a stammer, is The King’s Speech where he plays the character of King George VI. “It had an effect on my body – headaches,” Firth began. “I had to learn to stammer and then play someone trying desperately not to.” Firth, 62, elaborated: “It put my left arm to sleep – it was very peculiar. I must have been locking something, pinching a nerve.
“It was a semi-paralysis that would last for three or four days.”
The Oscar award-winning performer admitted to having “vocal problems in [his] 20s”.
“I had an injury on my vocal cord which had to be dealt with surgically,” he explained to The Guardian.
“It wasn’t a stammer but it meant I couldn’t be heard properly. I remember a voice therapist said, ‘Don’t underestimate how debilitating it is.'”
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Firth said: “The psychological damage of not being able to speak properly to people – in the way they expect – is underestimated.
“I couldn’t express myself. My identity was completely stifled.”
There are two main types of stammering, the NHS says, which include developmental and acquired stammering.
The most common type of stammering (developmental) occurs in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing quickly.
An acquired stammer is considered “rare”, which typically occurs due to a head injury, stroke, or a neurological condition.
“It can also be caused by certain drugs, medicines, or psychological or emotional trauma,” the health body adds.
It is estimated that one in 100 adults have a stammer, with men up to four times more likely to be affected than women.
Examples of stammering:
- Repeating certain sounds, syllables or words when speaking, such as saying “a-a-a-a-apple” instead of “apple”.
- Prolonging certain sounds and not being able to move on to the next sound – for example, saying “mmmmmmmilk”
- Lengthy pauses between certain sounds and words, which can seem as though a child is Struggling to say the right word, phrase or sentence
- Using a lot of “filler” words during speech, such as “um” and “ah”
- Avoiding eye contact with other people while struggling with sounds or words.
Speech and language therapy is widely available on the NHS for people who stammer.
Psychological therapies can include solution-focused brief therapy, personal construct therapy, neurolinguistic programming, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
“These therapies do not treat stammering directly, but can be helpful if you experience negative feelings as a result of your stammering,” the NHS clarifies.
There are also “feedback devices” people can use to alter the way they hear their own voice.
Take, for instance a delayed auditory feedback, which plays your voice back a fraction of a second after speaking.
“These devices are often fitted inside or around the ear, similar to a hearing aid,” the NHS adds.
Such a device can help to improve the fluency of speech, but it won’t work for everybody.
When talking to a person who has a stammer, it can be helpful to give them enough time to finish what they’re saying without interrupting.
Colin Firth starred in The Golden Circle, which is showcasing on Saturday, 5 November on Channel 4 at 9pm.
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