Has Hugh Grant Got a Secret?
Rachel Combe uses booze, Britney, and outright manipulation to find out.
If you want to get to know Hugh Grant, the first thing you have to keep in mind is that he lies; to women, to journalists, "to everyone constantly," he says. "Sometimes I lie for no reason. And I hate people telling me the truth. I don't want to hear that dreary stuff."Got that? No dreary stuff. Like Will, the ambitionless trustafarian he plays in this month's AAB, a film based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, Hugh is highly skilled in the art of diversion. He will,quite literally, stand on his head to keep you from getting a bead on him. Don't let all the lovable bumblers he's played, from his breakout role in FWAF to the more recent NH, fool you: Hugh is wily, witty, and well defended -perhaps more like the suave cad in BJD than any of the others. And now, he is fitter (he's taken up running because, he says, "I was getting fat."), older and wiser (he'll turn 42 this fall), and single-er (he has not been seriously linked to anyone since the breakup two years ago of his 13-year relationship with EH, who, at press time, was due to give birth to a child she says was fathered by SB, an American multimillionaire). Hugh is a rock. He is an island. He is infuriatingly evasive. So if you think you're going to waltz into his Manhattan hotel room and he's going to start blabbing about Elizabeth's love child, you've got another thing coming, Missy. Oh, no, no, you'll need a plan. A brilliant, foolproof, ten-step program. And a great deal of alcohol.Step l. Ask Him About Himself When you arrive at this suite on Super Bowl Sunday and find him subdued and tetchy, wearing a navy shirt, sweater, and jeans, his famous flop of hair cut shorter and matted on one side, like perhaps you woke him from a nap, immediately start in with your most annoying and ridiculous questions.
I: What do you like in a girl?
Hugh: Well, I'm very flexy on this issue. But I've traditionally liked
midgets. And I quite like deformities. I went out with a hunchback
for some time. I like dark. There was a book I read as a child that
involves the theft of an Incan mummy - it's a woman, a prietess, and
I always rather fancied her.
I: What about single mothers? And that's not a hidden EH question.
(It's really not: The premise of AAB is that his character dates
only single mothers because they have lower expectations of men and
are just thankful he's not as awful as the father of their children.
And, besides, it has already been reported in the tabloids that he
and EH maintain they are business partners and, she says, "best
friends" - but just friends. Hugh's unswaying support of EH
throughout the hullabaloo surrounding her baby's paternity - Bing
publicly questioned whether the child was his - has been well
covered, as was the rumor that Hugh accompanied her to a London
hospital for her first sonogram.)
Hugh: (Laughs) I'm open to that. I know where my character was coming
from, because I think there's a gratitude thing.
I: Right. Fashion turn-ons and turn-offs?
H: I'm fairly against the shawl as a garment. I love shorts. Any
kind of white trousers or shorts. I know they're considered tacky
sometimes, but I just adore them.
I: No, now you can wear white all the time. How do you know if a
woman's fling-worthy or relationship-worthy?
H: I don't know, f..k off. It has nothing to do with you.
H: I said f..k-off.
H: I mean, I don't know. I don't know. One has to keep one's sense
of humor in these situations, but I just feel so old.
I: So let's go into the speed round: Britney or Madonna?
H: I love them both, of course, but I'd have to say Britney.
H: I don't know why. She's so special.
I: Do you get freaked out by fake breasts?
H: I'm not really good on them.
I: Do you think Britney has false breasts?
H: No, surely no, don't break my heart. I do wish Britney wouldn't
go on the StairMaster quite so much. I have very few criticisms of
American women, but I don't like the StairMaster thing, 'cause they
all get these big thighs.
I: Looks or brains?
H" Oh...looks every time. (You make a "You are such a pig" face at
him.) What do you want me to say?
I: Sex - dirty or natural expression of love?
I: Did you get the big sex talk when you were a kid"
H: Yes. But I didn't understand it. My father made such a bad job
of it. I remember something about men and women loving each other
very much and then wiggling something.
I: So then have you ever been in love?
I: How many times?
H: Oh, I don't know. A lot. In varying degrees.
I: How can you tell the difference between love and lust?
H: Umm....very hard. Very tricky. Don't know. I'm trying to enter
into the spirit of things, but really I just can't...
I: Should I get you drunk?
H: No, don't do that.
Step 2. Get Him Drunk (ed. note; I should warn you there are 10
When he asks you if you want a beer, say yes. When he asks if
you'd like another beer, say yes. Pull out your credit card and
suggest you call room service and order something expensive, on you
(remember, celebrities love free, expensive stuff). When he wonders
if you might like a vodka daiquiri, say yes. Whatever the question
is, if it involves alcohol, the answer is yes. Do not be dissuaded
when your eagerness prompts him to wonder aloud if you might be an
alcoholic. Say yes and tell him you hate to drink alone.
Step 3. Play the Pity Card
Hugh, will try to make you feel bad for him, trotting out the list of
injustices visited upon him by journalists in the past. In fact, you
will be made to sign a contract in advance promising not to sell your
interview anywhere else without his permission. Hugh says his
publicist initiated this policy after Tina Brown sold an article with
semi-nude photos to the British gossip rag Hello! (of course, the
real question is, how did Tina get Hugh to pose for seminude photos?)
But, as with all his ploys, when he bobs, you weave. Be even more
I: I feel like I've failed with this interview.
H: No, no, I think it was a triumph.
I: No, I don't think I have enough.
H: I seem to have lost my heart for it. Once you've done them a few
times, you know that every interview backfires in your face. I find
I: So why don't you do something else? What would you do if you
weren't an actor?
H: I don't know (laughs bitterly). I've always said I would go back
to sitting in the London library trying to write my ill-fated novel.
That's what I should be doing. There's no excuse (After the death
of Hugh's mother last July, he reportedly told a London journalist
that he would be putting his acting career on hold to write.)
I: You should do it. That's what I'd do if I had as much money as
H: You know, the reason I really can't bear your questions on the
whole is that I've just had three weeks of them: I was in Mustique
with nine girls, me and nine girls, and that's what it was three
times a day at every meal. There is nothing I cannot tell you about
diet, hair, wardrobe, or relationships.
I: Why were you in Mustique with nine girls?
H: Holiday. But they were not all - they're not nine lovers.
I: So how many of them were girlfriends?
H: I really, honestly, I'm not revealing any more.
I: Would you like another drink?
H: No. I find your questions very slutty.
I: You don't feel sorry for me?
H: No. I find you impudent.
I: You do? Really?
H: Terrible questions. No. I'm kidding. Those literally are the
only things I want to know about anyone.
I: I mean, what else are we going to talk about? I don't want to
say, "So, tell me about your craft."
Step 4. Ask Him About His Craft.
You know that an actor talking about his method is about as
interesting as a journalist discussing hers, but go on, throw him a
I: Did you take acting lessons?
H: No, I read two books, Voice and the Actor and The Actor and His
Body. I was at Nottingham (Playhouse) at the time, playing second
footman in Lady Windermere's Fan, and I was really getting into "How
should I move as a footman?" And I'd do all the movement exercises.
I'd run around the park going, "Fa-la-la-la-la" (he suddenly runs
around the room flapping his arms like a giant gull). And then you
go, "Hee-haw. Heeee" (he flops over, making a sound like a blow-up
doll with a slow leak). All these things I know how to do.
I: And did they help you?
H: Not one jot. In fact, I started to walk extraordinarily upright,
like this (he demonstrates). The other actors had a sort-of crisis
meeting and asked me not to walk like that, because they found it
hard to act around me.
Step 5. Play Games
Hugh once commented that he and EH had their best times traveling;
that they never had any trouble with each other in the bubble world
of hotels and airplanes. Sitting in his suite with him, you can see
why: Nobody can eke out more fun from a minibar and four walls than
Hugh. "I used to play a lot of indoor golf with my cousin when we
were very drunk," he says, as he hands you one of his Ping clubs and
bets you can't hit a ball from the living room, into the bedroom, and
up onto his bed in fewer than six strokes. (You can't, and Hugh is
happier than he's been all night as he tsks-tsks and shows you how to
properly chip a ball onto the bed.) Be a good sport: Hugh has a big
family and is close to his cousins, even "fancies" the girls, so
playing golf - and the myriad other distractions he comes up with
from a headstand competition (he wins) to an odd flexibility
challenge called the Cornflakes Game (you win) - can only lull him
into a feeling of familial safety.
Step 6. Help Him Find Britney.
As has been established, Hugh loves Britney. He's thinking of buying
a David LaChapelle photo of her. Invoke her in any way you can.
H: Britney's doing a commerical at half-time. When's half-time?
(He begins flipping channels) I'm going to offer you five sexual
candidates; you have to pick one. Candidate A (he gestures toward
the TV screen at a sixtysomething line-coach for the Rams); B (Kato
Kaelin on The Weakest Link); C (a prepubescent kid in a basketball
uniform on public access); D (Sylvester Stallone in Rocky); E (an
enormously obese man in a weight-loss informerical).
I: Sylvester Stallone.
H: Interesting choice.
I: Why? Everyone else was horrible. Who would you pick?
H: It's going to be tricky....Kato.
H: Yeah, you know, he's pretty sexy (laughs).
Step 7. Tell Him Your Secret Hopes and Fears
Even more than his craft or Britney, Hugh would like to talk about
your lesbian fantasies, your most shameful secrets, and what you
think of men with beards. Tell him. If you do not have lesbian
fantasies, make them up. If he asks you if you're Catholic, say yes,
even if you're not. Hugh, though raised an Anglican, is obsessed
with Catholics. He and EH, he tells me, always wished they were
Catholics, and, in fact, he would convert if only he believed in God.
H: Are you Catholic?
H: Yeah, you see. You've got that look. Do you ever go to mass?
I: No. I'm lapsed. Entirely.
H: Would you like to explain the rules of American football to me?
I: No. I don't know them.
H: Have you ever been out with an Englishman? Or a frog?
H: Could you ever have sexual intercourse with a man with a beard?
H: Have yoiu actually ever kissed someone with a beard?
H: Could you ever go out with a guy who was shorter than you?
I: I'm not even five-four. He would be a midget.
H: Tall is everything. I need one and a half more inches. I'm five
eleven and a half. If you're six-one, you can wear anything. You
can wear complete wanker's clothes and look all right.
I: You look fine. I think you're a perfect height. If you were
I: Nooo, massive, if you were a husky guy then you could do taller.
H: You think I'm flimsy?
I: No, I don't. That's what I'm saying - you're perfect the way you
H: There is your headline.
Step 8. Play (Or Be) Dumb.
When room service delivers the daiquiris - Hugh advises her to "be
careful not to fall over the golf balls" you've scattered everywhere -
you are both delighted, even though the drinks are not daiquiris, but
some sort of vodka gimlets (apparently the hotel doesn't have a
blender) that have a certain, as Hugh puts it, "detergent quality."
You've been waiting for Hugh to let his guard down, and now, thanks
to the daiquiris, neither of you is thinking very clearly.
H: Where's Britney? (You turn on the TV, and he offers you the Fox
football commentators as possible sex partners; you pick James Brown,
who is black.)
H: Have you every had sex with a black man?
I: I haven't. Have you ever had sex with a black woman?
H: That will go down as your biggest gaffe of the evening.
I: Why? (Thing is, your really won't remember the infamous Divine
Brown hooker incident until you wake up the next morning.) Why are
you allowed to ask me things that I'm not allowed to ask you? See
you think because you're a celebrity you can go around asking women
if they've had sex with men and -
H: It's so charming of me to ask you anything.
I: What's that?
H: I said, "It's so charming of me to ask you anything, goddamn you.
Step 9. Ask Him About His Secret Hopes and Fears.
But he's not really angry. In fact, you get the feeling that, once
he gets started, Hugh is an entertainer in the way the girl in "The
Red Shoes" was a dancer; endlessly, in spite of himself, and perhaps
to his detriment, his charm is a complusion born of a fear of a dull
moment - or that he himself will be judged dull or lame in some way.
In this vein, he fears his passion for golf will make him seem old
and dorky. He fears his less formally educated friends (he is an
Oxford graduate) have become better read than he. He fears his new
modern penthouse in London is "tragic." He fears the Columbia
University coeds he recently interviewed for a position as his
assistant during his next film, a romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock.
They're just so clever and intimidating." In fact, he fears all
women: Do you think women are frightening?" he asks you. "I think
women are very frightening. If you get to 41, as a man, you're quite
battle-scarred. I want to love women." And now, he's drunk and it's
time to plumb the depths of his existential dread.
I: Do you write, aside from not writing your novel? Do you keep a
H: Yes, in spurts. But very drunk. Most of it's unreadable. I had
a girlfriend years ago who only ever wrote when she was very, very
depressed. I read her diary and I had to confront her. It said, "I
don't know why I go out with Hugh, either. I do not love him. I
don't even like him. I think I just do it because I feel sorry for
him because no one else likes him." I said to her, "This is awful."
She said, "Yes, well, I only ever write those things when I am in a
I: Would you read someone's journal now?
H: Yes, if I could possibly get my hands on it. You've got to
protect yourself from getting hurt.
I: Right, but that's the thing, you might read something you really
don't want to read and get needlessly hurt.
H: Well, if you do stop reading those things, my God, your life gets
better. I've gone through phases of not reading the British
newspapers - and your life just improves dramatically.
I: Your life does.
H: Yeah. Yours would remain exactly the same.
Step 10. Go Off the Record.
When the second round of daiquiris arrives (room service calls to ask
Hugh if he'd like anything to go with the drinks, and he says, "Ah,
yes, we'd like two more"), Hugh retires to his kitchenette to concoct
his own competing version (which he then makes you drink in a
blindfolded taste test with the hotel's cocktail). And then the
conversation begins to veer from the unprintable to the unspeakable -
although you will be shocked to find, when you review your tapes,
that you and Hugh have a relatively coherent discussion about
twentieth-century British and American poets in which Hugh makes you
classify each writer as a "good poet" or a "piece of s..t."
And Hugh does lie. He later tells ELLE's publication director that he
had you "dancing naked on a table" (which, let the record show, is
not true). But Hugh tells you a sweet story - that at least rings
true - about taking his recently widowed father for a day trip to New
York on the Concorde. He speaks fondly of his best friend from
childhood, Guy, the person he says he would call if he were ever on a
hijacked airplane. He talks about possibly some day, marrying a
woman who, he says, must be a lover and a friend. But then, it's
true that most show-offs manufacture their dangerous, caddish
personas to hide - or in Hugh's case, perhaps simply keep private - a
longing for something safe, something real.