Hugh Grant, Chris Weitz, and Paul Weitz Press Conference on "About a Boy"
at the 2002 Taormina BNL FilmFest by Philipp Hoschka
At a press conference at the 2002 Taormina BNL Film festival, "About a Boy" actor Hugh Grant and directors Chris and Paul Weitz talk about modern family life, general Brit-ness, how to work with child actors, and how Hugh Grant turned into Barbara Streisand.
What do you think about the concept of a family?
Hugh Grant: Well I think its marvellous... everyone should have one and I actually did have a very nice one myself. I was very lucky that way, but I think that in a way one of the things this film suggests is that the traditional model of a married parents with two or 3 kids is not necessarily the only model for a happy family. You can now have quite weird arrangements with friends and lovers and their pets and their ex-gay boyfriends, it doesn't matter who it is so long as everyone loves each other. That may be the way my own life is heading, god knows.
Paul Weitz: Its very good to have a family member with you if you are hungover on the set or if you are particularly slow that day.
Hugh Grant: What happens if you're both particularly slow that day?
Paul Weitz: Well, you've seen that just about every day.
Chris Weitz: I would agree with Hugh that the central theme of the film is families that are constructed from raw material basically rather than the ones that are handed to you. Paul and I have a very close large family, sometimes it seems too large and too close but we certainly felt the benefits of that.
Paul Weitz: Also the relationship between the guy and the kid is very important. You don't only learn things from your parents, sometimes we need somebody that does not have a vested interest to teach you how to behave.
British acting has a very high standard. Do you think that TV is dangerous to good acting?
Hugh Grant: To be absolutely honest, I have always thought that British acting is rather over-rated. I have seen a lot of bad British film acting in my life, I have done quite a lot of it myself, and I don't believe that British actors can do no wrong in that field. I often find them quite stagy actually, from the acting training, which is fne on stage but it's a problem in film. So I don't think that TV is dangerous in that way. To me acting is a talent that a lot of people have, its not that difficult. All that is important is getting a good script. When people get prizes for acting, or praise for acting, what is being applauded is the part and how well that was conceived and written.
I really enjoyed the film, I saw it twice, I think that people enjoyed it very much here too. I read that you related a lot to the character - is that true?
Hugh Grant: Yes I did. It was one of the things that I liked when I read the manuscript. In many ways, Nick Hornby always writes about my life because no-one is more accurate about the London contemporary male life, particularly in terms of that part of my life before "Four Weddings and Funeral". I didn't have much work, I had a little bit of money from doing some rather strange films, but most of the year was actually spent doing absolutely nothing, watching afternoon television, playing snooker, all the things that this character is up to.
The film has a different ending than the novel - why?
Paul Weitz: We departed from the novel in two ways. Kurt Corbain's suicide plays a large part in the novel and the end of the novel focuses on secondary
characters, characters you have not even met. We did these changes because it focused on Hugh's character and the kid. We also added the song contest scene. Hugh's character has obviously taken pains in his life to avoid being humiliated so we wanted to put him in the most humiliating situation possible. But we had no idea it would actually be the most humiliating situation possible for Hugh as well.
What did you think about working with the Weitz brothers?
Hugh Grant: When we were looking for directors their names came up and I thought that's the worst idea I've ever heard in my life, because although I actually do love "American Pie", that's is my kind of sense of humour really, I thought that this was my classy project so I thought they were the wrong choice. But then in fact the weird thing is that when you meet them, they are very intellectual. There's a weird combination of being intellectual with a sense of humour of a six year old, which is actually appropriate to Nick Hornby and appropriate to this material. Plus they were very keen to keep the whole thing British, and I was being very strict about that. And Chris was educated in England and gets all those details so it was in fact a no-brainer.
All your roles seem to be very similar - why?
Hugh Grant: Why do I always play the same people? Because I'm a very limited actor.
Paul Weitz: When actors have done film for a while it sometimes becomes harder for them to open themselves up and be great in a part. In some way the more you know the harder it gets. For me it was impressive for to see Hugh open himself up in this part.
How was it to work with a child?
Hugh Grant: I think what we did to Nicolas Hault as an actor is quite disgraceful because he started the film as a very charming nice boy and by the end of the film were alcohol, gambling and women, so I don't think we were very good for him.
Truffaut said that working with children is difficult. Do you agree?
Paul Weitz: And yet, he was probably the greatest director of children. We looked at "400 Blows" a lot before shooting this film. We choose the right kid, that's the most important thing,. If you choose a kid who is not focused to the camera, who can say something without making you realise he's acting, you' re in good shape. But I think we treated him like anybody else - with respect.
Did Hugh direct him during the movie?
Hugh Grant: No, not really, he has had perfect instincts. My experience with children is that you just have to be careful they're not pre-rehearsed. And in fact that applies to all actors, particularly in the early films they do in their career, you worry so much about the fact that you are doing this film and you pre-rehearse it. In the case of child actors they work with their teacher or parent and they come in with one way of saying their line and however the co-actor might act on the set they always come back with the same performance and that's lethal, but he never fell into that trap.
You seem to be type-cast as quintessential British.
Hugh Grant: I guess I did accept to many similar roles in the past, so it's completely my own fault if I got slightly type-cast. Part of it is cowardice of course, but part of it is also that most actors choose their projects according to the role, whether it's an interesting role to play. But I don't. I choose projects by how well written the whole thing is, whether it's entertaining. Because I am not keen enough on acting to do a project I think no none will go and see. So I think that has led me sometimes to repeat myself in the roles. I am trying to get better at that, though.
Could you imagine doing a film in Sicily?
Hugh Grant: I would love to do that and in fact we did film one scene of "Maurice" in Sicily. When my character goes to Greece, we shot in one of the amphitheatres here - not the Taormina one. I'd adore it but I need to be offered an Italian film and I need to brush up on my Italian because at the moment it is limited to what I learned from record in 1981.
What do you think makes a good comedy?
Hugh Grant: I think its good in any comedy to have a huge element of pain. A comedy is more comedic when it is set against pain and when it arises from pain and I know that is one thing these Chris and Paul were very keen to preserve, that whole Billy Wilder thing.
Do you have influence with the movies you are making?
Hugh Grant: With virtually all of them, and more and more. I have become an extremely interfering actor, rather like Barbra Streisand. I have modelled myself on her. It is not just bullying Chris and Paul when they were preparing the script, and when they were casting and choosing key crew personnel, which they were very nice about incidentally, but also right the way through to now: I worry about what the Italian poster looks like. I wish I could relax, but I can't. I've got a sort of power mania.