NOTHING COMPARES TO HUGH.
In which the star of LA reveals his passion for minxy women and bespoke suits, his inability to resist real estate, and how he's crafted a thriving career by trying not to take it all too seriously.
Hugh Grant says the most outrageous things. Walking through South Kensington, London, on a yellow and white June afternoon, he gleams like a contempo Greek god. Sporting a chic haircut, fitted white polo shirt deliriously trendy aviator sunglasses with indigo lenses, and tan suede driving moccasins scuffed just so, he discusses with perfect diction his tendency to purchase real estate while tipsy. "The flat I'm about to show you is actually my fifth,I'm ashamed to say, which I bought after a nice lunch, but never moved into." He interrupts himself. "Now, really, he says, that bottom is just too small." He pronounces both Ts in bottom, like a restauranteur pronouncing risotto. Pardon? He nods toward the backside of a young woman who is leaning into the window of a taxi, her jeans riding so low as to reveal another new solar system. A bottom can be too small, he insists. About the low-rise pants, however, "Men really don't mind them. At all. And yes, before you ask, we like to see the panties. Seeing the panties is great.
Entry into Grant's flat, the entire top floor of a five-story building, is gained effortfully, after fumbling with various locks and keys, riding in an airless, coffinlike elevator, and more fumbling. But inside, the place is a James Bond lair. (Grant would make a dashing spy, by the way, if he weren't such a blabbermouth.) Its vast and modern, made entirely of windows, blond wood, and black granite and loaded with sleek sofas and chaise longues in cream, tan, or black. He bought if fully furnished, after one viewing, in a solicitor's sale. "Usually when an agent is showing a place he says,'Look how nice this is,' Grant says. But with this place it was, 'Look at what that scumbag did here!'"
Giddily, he points out everything he hates about the decor, which is everything: the giant black console that bisects the living room and features not one but two widescreen TVs, both of which swivel so one can watch them from the kitchen. The granite dishes that match the granite counters. The wraparond deck with a hot tub moldering in the corner. You get the strong feeling that Grant is simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the flat's all-too-much-ness; that his smashing but unoccupied home is a metaphor for his oxymoronic (British, movie-star) life; and that simultaneous attraction to/repulsion with his life is a frequent theme rappelling through his brain these days.
He arrives in the bedroom. "Here's sin central," he says, sweeping an arm above the enormous platform bed. It faces a wall of windows, which showcase a healthy wedge of London. A front-projection TV is built into the headboard. "Or maybe it's for recording; now there's an idea," Grant says. He mutters dirtily about the hot tub, about the glass brick shower in-the-round. He makes rueful faces at his naughtinessk, but can't stop himself. Finally he points to a bedside table. "And here's where we keep the dildos," he says. Even he has to flee the room after that one.
"Hugh will tell anybody anything," says his friend Sandra Bullock, with whom he made TWN. "He can't keep his mouth shut to save his life. It's almost like he has Tourette's."
"What is that hair that all women in L.A. have, that blond, incredibly well-kept, slightly fucked-up look, which I find very attractive?" he'll ask. "Stacey Snider's (chairman of Universal) is particularly lovely." Or he'll say, "Fake mustaches are hell. That's some poor Indian woman's pubic hair, you don't want that stuck to you. Especially when the hay season starts." In other interviews, he has discussed boils, piles, and vomit. On TV, he told a story about accidentally kicking an old lady in the shin, twice, and laughed heartily about it. And the whole world knows about a certain unfortunate stop he made on Sunset Boulevard in 1995.
Yet, somehow, he gets away with it. "Hugh can say anything and no one minds because (a)it is always funny, and (b) it is never truly malicious," says screenwriter Richard Curtis, who wrote and directed Grant's latest film, the ensemble dramedy, LA, due November 21. "He says the word fuck, like 14 times in the first two minutes of FWAAF,
and the Queen liked the movie, because she could tell it was a fuck without any hate in it. Hugh is outrageous without being cruel. He makes fun of you all the time, but he's never seriously critical. He doesn't want you to change; in fact, if you did, he'd be mortified, because he couldn't laugh at you anymore. And of course, he is the first and last to laugh at himself." "He has a great ease of being," says Paul Weitz, who, with his brother, Chris, directed American Pie and co-wrote and directed Grant's hit, AAB. "I've never seen him flustered. He has played characters who stumble, but he's the opposite - he's in control. And he takes nothing too seriously." In other words, HG has style. It's a piquant cocktail of elocution, dourness, glamour, timing, self-awareness, intelligence, misanthropy, immediate and constant self-deprecation, and gleeful good humor. These attributes, along with his discreet but abiding loyalty allow Grant, 43, to glide through life with a permanent Get Out of Jail Free card (well, almost). Bullock invented a game to capitalize on Grant's lovable loucheness. It's called 40 English Pounds, named for
the sum she pays him (about $65) to do the most appalliing things "Ask him how many butts he had to whack at the Valentino party," she says, laughing. "He did that beautifully - every ass he whacked, the person would blame me," Naturally. If Grant has a philosophy of life, it may be this: "I think there are things which ought to be," he says, "and then there are things which just are." He never pretends they're the same. Herewith, a few of HG's elements of style. Adopt them at your own risk.
Keep Moving Forward
Grant's career has had three distinct phases. In Phase One, he played the soft-cheeked romantic figures in low-budget pan-European films, a dozen years of robber barons (TV's Champagne Charlie), consumptive artists (Impromptu), and sensitive young men (Maurice). Phase Two saw the creation of the Hugh Grant archtype, the stuttering, lovelorn, floppy-haired fellow who bumbled into the hearts of beauties: FWAAF, NM, MBE, NH. "Because I have always been rather a nervous actor, I'm drawn toward making the characters more nervous than they should be," Grant says. Phase Three introduced a tougher, more caddish Grant, in which stuttering and forelocks were replacedd by wolfish grins and cut abs: BJD,AAB, and TWN.
Therefore, LA poses a challenge. It's a multilayered story featuring 22 actors, including Liam Neeson, etc. Grant's character falls in love with an inappropriate lass, very Phase Two. But he is the British Prime Minister, decidedly Phase Three. "The only thing I really was keen on was not to make him too goody-two-shoes, playing with a semideflated rugby ball. "Originally, RC had written him as the ideal PM, incredibly charming, nice, amusing, and concerned with the right things. I said, 'It's all very well, but people are going to puke.' So we tried to put a bit of steel in there." Complications ensue when, on his first day on the job at Number 10 Downing Street, the PM falls crashing in love with the girl who brings him his tea. "People tend to be a little unsure on their feet when they're in that state, and when you avoid those ([bumbling mannerisms] altogether, you're quashing the comic energy of the part. So it's tricky," Grant says. "But he's the PM; he can't dither, that's very important. Both for the character and for me - that's the one thing I never want to go back to. No dithering and no bumbling."
Grant could have stopped there. He didn't. "To me, boss-employee is quite an appealing, sexy setup," he says. "I find myself offering girls jobs all the time." (His offices at Simian Films, the production company he runs with ex-girlfriend, EH, is chockablock with attractive young women wearing skimpy summer clothes.) I've always done it. Even when I had no money, I used to find a girl in a delicatesan and offer her a job as my cleaner. These very pretty
girls would turn up, hopeless at cleaning, but it was great having them around.
Don't Get Caught Acting
"They say acting is based on retrieving past emotions, but I don't have any emotions to speak of," Grant offers blithely. "Don't believe it," RC says. "What Hugh doesn't have is sentimentality. He has no cliches in his personality, so he never falls back on them. It was very interesting to direct him, because he is impossible to fool. I'd say, 'Try the scene this way,' and he'd say, 'You're trying to make me softer; I won't do it.' He's not a puppy dog who longs to please you." "Hugh makes comedy, especially romantic comedy, look easy," says Martin Shafer, head of Castle Rock, for which Grant has made several films. "But it's not easy; that's painfully obvious when you see some of the other guys out there trying to do it. Hugh could easily make two or three movies a year. But he has good taste, which is bad for Hollywood; not much is up to his standards. And he's not a workaholic." Grant has threatened to quit acting since he started; he threatens it still."
When Grant signs on to a project, however, he never stops working on it. "Hugh says he doesn't take acting seriously, and that he truly thinks he's no good." Curtis says. "But he takes it extremely seriously in that he hears the film in his head, and knows how he wants it to sound. I think that's where his frustration comes from, because he's never done it as well as his dream version. "Hugh obsesses about every detail, from the cuffs on his shirts to the way interactions between characters should occur," says Working Title co-chairman Eric Fellner, who has been a producer on five of Grant's films. "Not just for his character - for the whole film. He lies awake at night thinking of dialogue. The 'big panties' scene in BJD -the funniest riffs came from him. 'I have a pair exactly like that myself.' But when he disagrees with you, he is insistent. And he usually wins, because he gives you three arguments you haven't
thought of.' "That whole school of acting that depends on emoting, I've never bought into that," Grant says. "I don't think people go around emoting, I think they go around behaving. Behaving is far more complicated mix of things. It's how you think you should be, against what you're really feeling. I'm much more interested and amused and diverted by people's behavior than I am by raw emotion. Which you very rarely see. Life is all about covering. But maybe
that's my excuse because I can't emote.
Keep Them Guessing
This is Hugh Grant: "As soon as I meet someone on the street or on a film set, from the moment I meet them I'm thinking, 'How do I get away?' It's terrible. These are really nice, interesting, amusing people. It's terrible. [please note, Nicky!] And what's better, going back to my trailer and reading my book? But anytime you engage with another human being, it tends to lead to stress. However nice it is to begin with, it ends up with, I don't know, someone wants to borrow money, or you worry about them. I totally sympathize with [churlish loner] Will in AAB.
This is Hugh Grant: At a charity auction for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in June, the hottest item up for bid was a dinner for ten with Elton himself. The price had reached 190,000 pounds ($315,000) when Grant spoke up. Recalls Fellner, "Hugh said, 'I'll bid 200,00 pounds for a dinner for five - but only if my fellow bidder will also agree to a dinner for five, and keep his pledge at 190,000.' Of course, the other guy had to agree. It was very clever, on the spur of the moment, and incredibly generous. Suddenly they got $650,000 for one dinner. But Hugh would never in a million years tell you that story himself."
This is Hugh Grant: For a night out with Chris and Paul Weitz, in London, Grant lent Paul a T-shirt and jeans and let him drive his Aston Martin ("He and Chris were terrified I'd take the left side of the car off," Paul says) to his favorite bar, where they drank his favorite drink, Flamming Ferraris. "They light it while you're drinking it," Chris says. "We're stumbling into gutters, but Hugh holds his liquor extremely well." They went to a reggae club. No one recognized Grant so he loudly (jokingly) insisted they go where someone did. Months later, when Weitzes' father died, Grant sent one of the most moving condolence letters they received. Which is the true Hugh? All of the above. "Some of us enjoy trying to get him to talk about his feelings and watching him squirm," Fellner says. "The
only thing Hugh really wants everyone to know about him is that he's a fantastic golfer." Bullock has a different take. "Hugh's a thoughtful, emotional human being," she says. "His conversation is not disposable chitchat. We've gotten down to important truths in our lives. He's not friends with everybody, but people he's close to get a lot of love and care. He wouldn't want me to tell you the great things he's done for me, though. He's one of the rare human
beings who doesn't want to be made to look any better. He's a closeted modest person." Grant says he doesn't know exactly what creates intimacy. "Suffering together is fantasticc," he says. "And the sad truth is, if people haven't let themselves down in front of me - you know, made a disgrace of themselves - it's very difficult to really be intimate with them. My friends in AA or NA, off they go at ten o'clock. I never feel quite the same warmth toward them. Grant certainly has kept his love life private since he and EH, his girlfriend of 13 years, split in May, 2000. He likes being single, he says. "I'm a bit worried how much I like it. I am always very quick to move on to the next person as soon as I've flirted successfully with person A, I'm straight on to person B. "We'd go out to the Groucho Club or SoHo House, and girls would swarm Hugh," says Chris Weitz. Adds Paul, "I was out with Robert De Niro one night, and he's
swarmed, too, but by guys telling him how cool he is. With Hugh, it's pretty much all women." For a while, friends tried to fix him up, but Grant says they're giving up. "I do feel the pressure," hesays. "I don't want to end up a sad old batch. I think the older you get, the harder it is to get into a relationship. Because once you've been through a few, you know the pain. Why put yourself through that? Richard [Curtis]'s thing was to fall in love all the time. Before he met the lovely Emily, his life went from torment to torment. He was always having a crush on someone. I wish my life had been more like that. It hasn't. I am just continually drawn to minxy creatures." Which leads us back to the episode that most flummoxed Grant's fans: his arrest for soliciting a streetwalker Divine Brown in 1995. What at first seemed a disaster turned into one of his greatest PR triumphs, as he charmed his way through an apologia on late-night TV. "I've never thought of it as such a big deal as everyone else," he says. "What is there to forgive, anyway? To make the story juicy and lurid, the media people have to try and concoct that there's a moral outrage going on. I think that's where they've fallen down, because since the '60s and the sexual revolution, there's not really enough people to be shocked." That would be a good place to stop talking. So Grant goes on: "I do think our Protestant roots are to blame for an awful lot," he says. "People live a much healthier life in Catholic countries,where sin has an absolute place in the whole. You've got to get in that little box and say, 'Last week I did this.' Penance, self-scourging - lovely."
If You Don't Wash Your Socks For Long Enough, Eventually They Stop
According to Grant, who is spectacularly well-educated and well-read (he graduated Oxford in 1983, and always hasfour books on the go), this is a fact every English schoolboy knows. "I have to add that I haven't done this for some time," he says. "But if you were desperate, picked up the socks and gave them a good shake, they didn't smell bad." Grant finds that all manner of reprehensible things - correspondence, social engagements, even his own to-do-list -can be dealt with by ignoring them until they go away [ed. note; so that explains all the unanswered missives.] Heading Grant's list (and successfully dodged for a decade) is "property." His five flats are all in the same neighborhood - "You could throw a stone from one to another," he says, chortling at his own idiocy - and though he keeps buying new ones, he never sells the old ones. (Hurley lives in one with her son; Grant visits often.) "I must sort that out, he says. "I mean, why not have one of them in the south of France? Or Rome" And they're not well managed, they're not rented out, they're all losing money hand over fist." Has Grant given any thoughts as to what this says about him? "I just can't face it," he says, looking very honest indeed. Grant makes light of his various midlife crises. "I've been feeling that since I was 21, being a morbid personality," he says. "I don't think it's particularly worse now. But I do slightly feel 'Been there, done that,' in terms of many things." He laughs grimly, "In terms of filmmaking, I need to find some new thing that really enthuses me." "There's more to movies for Hugh than just acting," Fellner says. "He's threatened to quit forever, but I'm afraid he's more serious now. He wants to write - a screenplay, a novel - but he hasn't sat down and made a commitment. I broke my shoulder recently, and Hugh said, 'I'm jealous, I wish someone would break my shoulder, then I might stop playing golf and write something.'" "Hugh would be a brilliant writer," Bullock says, "but I can also see him drinking himself to death over it, eaving behind this 20,000-page novel, which is genius, but which he never released becaue he never thought it was good enough." Beyond work, Grant says, "when I go out to a dinner party, the awful thing is, I know exactly how it's going to be, I know what everyone's going to say. It's very easy not to have to engage with the messiness and potential embarrassment and awfulness of human relationships if you've got two televisions that revolve and you talk to people in e-mail." Grant's cell phone beeps. "Don't you just love text messaging? he asks. It's like the new billet-doux." The message is from his real estate agent.
Honor They Parents' Style
Grant's father, James, a retired carpet salesman, dresses "like a retired soldier," he says. "Whatever Dad buys, it's, 'Marvelous shirts! Look at this, it was only 9.99. Marvelous in the heat, and marvelous when you're cold as well.' He gets very evangelical; everything he buys, you have to buy, too. He's decided, 'By far the best airline is Kuwait Airways; it's marvelous.'" Grant took his dad to New York once on the Concorde. The whole way over he said, "It's all very well, but Kuwait Airways is much better." Grant's adored mother, Fynvola, a teacher, died two years ago. Her style, he says, was "very English, dresses and skirts around the house, grew up in wartime where there were few clothes coupons, frugal. She'd feel terrible guilt if she went to Marks & Spencer's and bought a new jacket. My mother was keen on children being quite well brought up, but not in a draconian or Von Trapp family kind of way. It was civilized, done with a great sense of humor. Plus, although she had these high standards, she never really met them herself." When Grant thinks of his mother now, he thinks "most fondly of this: My brother [Jamie, a banker in New York] and I were keen on football; we used to go around the house singing football songs like they sing in the crowds here, which are revolting. Revolting. I frequently remember my mother standing alone cooking dinner, and you'd hear her singing very beautifully to herself - because she was a very beautiful chorister - some disgusting football song, without even realizing she was doing it." Grant smiles in a way that makes you wish you'd met his mother. She also did a voice for a cat," he adds. "[She gave it] a vile personality. It loathed her, and its language was unspeakable. This was my mother, who, literally, no four-letter word had ever escaped her lips in her life. I'd say, 'Mum, that's you, that's you doing that.' She said, 'No darling, I have no control over the cat.'"
For God's Sake, Make an Effort
Very quickly now, Hugh's rules for fashion: He owns about 30 suits, bespoke only, from famous Saville tailor Richard James (also Elton John's tailor, a very Phase Three fellow). He likes his suits heavy and snug. "But my friend Tim Jeffries is even more extreme than me," Grant says. "He has thousands of suits. He has his man make them so
tight that he can't actually sit down. Then he says,'Right, now let it out a fraction.'" "Hugh looks frightenly stylish these days," Curtis says. "We're all terrified of how well-cut his tennis shirts are." Grant dislikes sloppiness, "leisure wear," 30-year-olds who dress like teenagers ("ghastly"), and long shorts. "Long shorts should be banned, right now, for men and women. Hot pants, fine. But the long short? I've never seen a human being look good in that; it's inconceivable. Well, in The Bridge Over the River Kwai they looked good. But they wore long hose." For women, Grant likes "a lot of work. I quite like the uptown look, darling, yes I do. Tailored, clean hair, nice nails. And slutty short skirts." No track suits, unless they're J.Lo-style fitted velour ones. "And there should be a cut-off age for the cropped top," he says. I love them, there's no sexier garment. But there should be a rule in certain shops: 'I'm sorry, madam, could I see your passport?'"Two of Grant's memorable fashion disasters: The first was "a blue boiler suit, what you'd call a jumpsuit, about 1980." It dyed his body blue, then shrank when he washed it. "Dramatically. Which is difficult with a jumpsuit, because it becomes too short from crotch to shoulder, so you're slightly stooped over. It was so expensive, though, that I was determined to wear it. I wore it to watch the telly, alone."
The second disaster was a knee-length, chestnut, pony-skin coat: "Again, boozy lunch, went to Prada or somewhere. Then I got back to England and dared to wear it once, to go to a football match, and was laughed at loudly by, literally, the entire crowd of 28,000 people. "If there is any rule for men in dressing, I think it's 'Avoid fashion like the plague,'" he adds. "The recipe for disaster is to look like a fashion victim. Stick to a few classics. Likeyou just borrowed someone's T-shirt and slung it on. When costume designers on films ask me, 'What look do you want?' I always say, 'Inadvertently fetching.'"
Grant grins, fetching indeed. But there's nothing inadvertent about it.