Variety Int'l Star of the Year: Hugh Grant
From fool for love to self-possessed cad, Grant personifies the romantic leading man
'Wedding' bells rang in big boost to thesp's career
by Sharon Knolle
Hugh Grant's career can easily be divided into two parts: before "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and after.
The 1994 romantic comedy, which became England's highest-grossing film of all time with a worldwide gross of $244 million (until being displaced in 1999 by another of his films, "Notting Hill," with $363 million worldwide) put Grant and his trademark floppy bangs and self-deprecating grin on the international map.
It also typecast him a stammering fool for love, an image he has only recently managed to shake with recent roles as charming, self-possessed cads in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and Golden Globe hopeful "About a Boy."
Despite an auspicious early career turn into movies in the 1987 Merchant-Ivory film "Maurice," which netted him a shared actor prize at the Venice Film Festival, by 1993 his resume included such clunkers as the Italian production "Rowing With the Wind."
"It changed my life, really," says Grant of landing the lead role of the commitment-averse Charles in "Four Weddings." "I'd been sort of jobbing it and doing mainly Euro pudding films and bad miniseries for years. I was on the point of giving up the business. I was moving gradually into advertising, and happened to go to this audition for 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.' I remember going up the stairs thinking it was the last audition I'll ever go to. I'm 32, it's just degrading. But oddly enough, suddenly there, after 10 years of being in the business, it was a script that was actually sort of made for me."
That role would eventually be followed by three more collaborations with Four Weddings scribe Richard Curtis: 1999's hit "Notting Hill," with Julia Roberts; 2001's "Bridget Jones's Diary"; and the upcoming ensemble film, "Love Actually."
Grant parlayed his post- "'Four Weddings" status into his first lead role in a broad American comedy, 'Nine Months.' He graced such prestige pics as "Sense and Sensibility" but found that attempts to break out of the romantic comedy ghetto -- such as 1996's "Extreme Measures," a suspense thriller, which Grant co-produced under his Simian Films shingle -- failed to ignite at the box office.
"Although I owe whatever success I've had to 'Four Weddings and a Funeral,' it did become frustrating after a bit that people made two assumptions: one, was that I was that character -- when in fact nothing could be further from the truth, as I'm sure Richard would tell you -- and the other frustrating thing was that they thought that's all I could do."
Going almost unnoticed were his turns as a bitchy theatre director in 1995's "An Awfully Big Adventure" and as a smooth-talking art expert in Woody Allen' "Small Time Crooks" in 2000, although they paved the way for his somewhat stunning reemergence as sophisticated womanizer Daniel Cleaver in "Bridget Jones's Diary" in 2001.
With new shadings to his star persona, Grant returns to the romantic comedy mold with Warner Bros.' "Two Weeks' Notice," which will open Dec. 20. "It shows there are other strings to my bow, and that I, Hugh, am not the character from 'Notting Hill,'" he says.
"I'm sort of an irresponsible, womanizing -- but hopefully charming -- billionaire," says Grant of his role. "Sandra Bullock is my personal lawyer and she stands for everything I don't stand for. She's very socially committed, wants to help the world, so we're two opposites. We drive each other mad, but of course, deep down, we're incredibly well-suited, so we fall in love."
He follows that with 'Love Actually.' "It's an ensemble piece which is sort of 10 different love stories that interweave in London," Grant explains. "My particular love story is that I'm the Prime Minister and I fall in love with the girl who brings me my tea everyday. (All the stories) interweave, so it turns out that Emma Thompson is my sister, who's having marital problems of her own, it's a bit like 'Short Cuts' but with much more love and much more comedy."
He has "a couple of things cooking" at Simian Films, where he is still "very involved " in running with ex-g.f. Elizabeth Hurley. "The process of film development, as anyone will tell you, is really ghastly, so it's difficult to always have quite the amount of energy that one should have. But we have two things that look very promising and that's very much still alive and kicking."
After that, Grant's work slate is clean, although he's keeping his mind open about a possible reprise as Daniel Cleaver in "Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason." "I have had a lot of fun, but I've never been that sort of passionate about being an actor," he says. "It certainly wouldn't be disappointing to me if 'Love Actually 'was the last one."
If he did disappear from the screen, "I'd like to be sitting there writing some screenplay or some book," he says, "but the reality is I think I would squander week after week, going out, partying, playing golf, I don't know what. That's the problem."
He admits to harboring aspirations to direct but says, "but whether I'll ever knuckle down and do it remains to be seen."
The actual process of making a film is compete torment and agony. The last film I enjoyed making was 'Sirens.' I think it was just about the last film I made where there was no big financial pressure and it was a cast mainly of Australian models and we were stuck in a hotel in the Blue Mountains, and having a party every night. That's the last film I actually enjoyed making. What film do I wince least at when some mentions it in conversation? That would probably be 'About a Boy.' I'm always in imminent stage of being sneered at, particularly by guys, for being 'Mr. Romantic Comedy.' And that film's not particularly a romantic comedy, in fact, it's not even particularly a 'chick flick,' according to the way it's been attended all around the world. It's actually slightly more men than women. And on top of that, I think it's a good film. I liked 'Bridget Jones's Diary' very much and I like that character, and it's fun to be him. With all these characters, if I have a process at all, which is doubtful, it would be to go back in my own life to some point where if I'd have taken a slightly different turn, I'd have ended up that character. And I didn't have to go very far back to find myself ending up as Daniel and it was fun being him for a bit.
"Zulu" I've always loved this film. I'm attracted to war films and military films. I don't know why. It may be in my blood, because my father, and his father, and his father, blah, blah, going way back, were all soldiers. And it's the same with books. I love books about military stuff. I love people in extremis, about to die, probably viciously and horribly, and that's what happens in that. I love the fact that in the end, the Zulu nation salutes the last few Brits defending (Rockstreth) and the respect on both sides, despite the ghastly slaughter. Michael Caine's fabulous in that film.
"The Way Ahead" It's also a military film. I've always loved the moment where David Niven takes his platoon out to North Africa and morale is very, very low and they're holed up in this derelict bar one night, ready to go and fight the next day, and they're all looking very miserable and (breaking into a Niven impersonation), Niven says, "I say, Armstrong, have you still got that squeezebox of yours?' And he says, 'Yes, I think I have.' And Niven says, 'Then play it, and the rest of you, for God's sake, sing.' So they all sing 'Lily of Laguna.' It's fabulous.
"The Party" It's just Peter Sellers, too good to be true, really, and that applies to just about everything he did.
Ah, well, I'm hopeless on music. I don't have any albums. It's an odd conundrum that. I pretty much have no CDs at home. I don't listen to music. There are people who try to get me interested. Richard has tried. Toni Collette used to try. They give me collections of CDs and say, ' Start with this one, and then play this one.' I do try. I put them on in my car but after about Track 3, I just can't bear it.
I go round and round with the same five authors over and over again: I read a lot of Nabokov, a lot of Evelyn Waugh. And a woman called Nancy Mitford. I read John Updike and Kingsley Amis. None of them are very serious. I'm not particularly interested in serious books or in story, really. I'm very interested in a way a thing is written. I'm a big queen about prose style, I think that is the great quality of Nabokov and of Waugh. And Kingsley Amis, a book like "Lucky Jim," I've always said, is the funniest book ever written in the English language. Mind you, I think "Portnoy's Complaint," the Philip Roth book, is the second funniest."
I was raised on TV and I continue to be an addict. In America the other day, I caught Larry David's show ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), which is unbelievably brilliant. In the old days, it was "Fawlty Towers," and 'Monty Python' and so on. Now, there's this thing in England called "The Office," which I don't think you've got here quite yet. It's just sensational. It's a mockumentary rather like "Spinal Tap."
Published in Weekly Variety, December 16, 2002