Rebecca Murray : Did you have much input into this “Bridget Jones?” Would you have come back, no matter what the script had been like?
No, no. I was very difficult. I'm always quite difficult, but I was really impossible on this one. And there was a lot of coming and going about the script and my part.
To begin with, I was not convinced that Daniel Cleaver could ever go into television, a medium he despises. But I got my head around that and did a lot of work on just sort of trying to keep the cleverness of Daniel. I always thought one of the mitigating factors for him in the first film that he wasn't just an a**hole, he was actually quite a clever a**hole. I wanted to try and maintain that. So in things like his presentations to the camera, I just tried to make them relatively clever.
What’s your opinion of sequels?
I don't think they're automatically to be despised. I've seen sequels that are… “’The Godfather,’ he throws out nervously, racking his brains for another [example].”
”Lord of the Rings?”
I've never seen “Lord Of The Rings” unfortunately. I've heard from some children about “Part 2.” But, I think it's all right. I think it's all right. Don't you?
The Weitz brothers referred to you as the epitome of romantic comedy actors.
(Laughing) That's incredibly nice of them. I love the Weitzes. What were they making? What have they just done?
”In Good Company.”
Is it about cooking? They always had a crazy cooking film up their sleeves. Is it about vampires? Because they once gave me the worst pitch I ever heard. I couldn't get through it. I said, "Stop, Paul," halfway through it. "This is ghastly." And he still laughs about it. Whenever he e-mails me now, he always says at the end, "Keep thinking about that vampire thing."
What do you do with comedy that other actors don't? What do you feel you have to offer?
I don't know what other actors do. I think in a way there is an upside to me being very difficult, and the thing I'm really difficult about is the script. I won't do it unless I think the script has got there, or at the very least, that my part has got there. And then even when I come to shoot it, I will try 16 different things. But it has become a form of madness, it really has, to the point of sort of meltdown. And on this film, the second day, I had a meltdown. Suddenly there was all this sort of neurosis [that] got to me and I had my first ever full-scale attack of stage fright. It was very alarming for everyone concerned. I had to get to about Take 30 before I could even remember my lines. It was the scene when Colin comes in at the end and challenges me to come out and fight him.
How many days did it take to film your fight scene?
It was one day about this time last year. It was the same approach as the first one, which was just to make sure that it was as crap as we wanted it to be. The key is to stop the stunt coordinator from coming in to make it look like a film fight. We just wanted it to be two pathetic Englishmen scared of each other, throwing their handbags at each other, basically.
Do you think your character, Daniel Cleaver, can change?
Can he change? No. I think short answer is that he can't. Funnily enough, I think that if he has changed, he'd change for the worse, not the better.
You excel at playing a**holes. Where does that come from? Are you ready to give up playing them?
Ummm — it's sweet of you to say that. Now, I quite like it. For years I sat in these interviews and everyone said, “You're always Mister Nice Guy. Why don't you ever play someone nasty?” So in fact it's been a relief to be…for the real me to come out more on camera. I don't have any particular burning desire to go back to being cuddly. Not really.
How was reuniting with Renee Zellweger?
Renee is always… What's the big thing about Renee? She's just very redoubtable. I think film acting's just a miserable experience. It's so long and so boring and so difficult to get right, so that what you need above all is incredible willpower and strength of mind. And she has that. I don't know where it comes from. She's definitely got that. And . . . big pants . . . they're back. You're always slightly nervous when jokes are revisited. It's one thing to revisit a film but entire jokes? But I think we've moved forward a bit.
We’ve heard Renee had a bad reaction to the sun in Thailand.
Oh Christ! She's got this thing that she believes the sun will make her skin come up in boils and peel off her bones. So she's dressed up like Julie Andrews at the beginning of “The Sound Of Music,” like a nun [with the] umbrellas and gloves and everything. And it's a nightmare.
Did you give her a hard time?
No, because oddly enough, she was really [sensitive] on the subject. I think she almost felt she was being assaulted just being in Thailand, being so close to the sun. (Laughing) But it does make one slightly want to ask her why [she] lives in Los Angeles.
In “Bridget” and in “Love Actually,” your onscreen love interest haven’t been twigs.
I remember saying to my agent that the next job I want to do, the next three jobs I do, I want them to be about slightly overweight women. And they did a wonderful [job]. I agree that it's nice that these stories feature that. Because you've heard this before — any man will tell you that we don't necessarily want what we see in Vogue or whatever.
The British tabloids seem to be bent on having you end your bachelorhood. Is it because you're past 40 and they think you should be married? Do you feel the pressure from it?
Ah, I don't feel that pressure. I mean, I feel other pressure from the British tabloids, but I don't feel that particular pressure.
Is it true you’re giving up on acting?
Well, I haven't done very much for about three years. I think I've just done that smallish part in “Love Actually” and the smallish part in this film. So I'm sort of semi-retired.
How are you filling your time?
I'm sure I've said to you a billion times that I keep thinking I'm about to write a brilliant script.
Have you written one?
No, I've done bugger-all all year. I feel ashamed of myself.
So basically, when Richard Curtis calls, you seem to be ready to go to work.
Yeah, old friends and things, and this one — that seems fine. But I'm not in a hurry to go and sit in big development meetings and make great, big commercial films. I do have a touch of apathy about that.
How about a role onstage?
Well, it's true that the stage is fun. But I can never justify it completely in my head because although I think it's really fun for the performers, my experience as an audience member is 19 times out of 20 it's purgatory to sit watching a play, I think. I don't know. People keep going more, I think, out of a sense of duty, sort of churchgoing, than out of clever [plays].