In his latest film, Hugh Grant plays a single, rich playboy hurtling towards middle age who is determined not to fall in love or settle down. Just how much does his on-screen character mirror the real Hugh?
Since his relationship with Elizabeth Hurley ended last year, it has become
apparent that Hugh Grant suffers from something of an image discrepancy. His
friends may always have known there was more to him than the diffident
Englishman persona he has reprised in nearly all of his most successful
films, but the ease and aplomb with which he has portrayed variations on
that type went a long way to suggest this also must be the measure of the
man himself. Of course, the Divine Brown incident seven years ago was a
giant hint that the Mr Nice Guy-English gent routine was not the real Hugh,
but it was only when he effortlessly morphed into arch-cad Daniel Cleaver in
Bridget Jones' Diary that the mist finally began to clear. Plus, the fact
that he was now a free and single man meant that Grant was all of a sudden
willing to talk about one of his favourite subjects - women. He even went so
far as to admit that there is a part of him growing into the role of "fat
swinger, (who) leers at people, flirts, and goes home."
Reputation has it that Hugh Grant can be a slippery interviewee, who evades
difficult questions with dry wit. Or as one friend put it, "he's a bit of a
cold fish". Actually, it's quite the contrary - I've never met a major film
star more eager to please. He does occasionally become exasperated, but the
spleen is almost always directed at himself. And it's often very, very
funny, a quirk which makes him wonderful company. Our chat coincides with
the release of About A Boy, which stars Grant as Will Freeman, a 38-year-old
slacker who lives off the royalty money from a hit song written by his
father and exists by drifting aimlessly from one day, and one woman, to the
next. Given that some have suggested the character of Will offers up some
uncanny parallels with Grant's own life, this is the first subject we
Will is a man devoid of any commitments like work or relationships. Is this
a temperament you can relate to?
Absolutely. The idea of a man who does nothing has always intrigued me,
because I spent so many years of my life - especially pre-Four Weddings -
with a pretty slack life. In fact, I did once attempt to write a novel
called Slack about what happens to time and personality and the warping
effect it has when there is nothing to fill your life. I can remember being
so unemployed that I'd sort of save up going to the chemist as my treat for
But surely that kind of penury isn't a problem these days?
Yes, but I find myself frequently faced with the option of going out and
seeing my friends or staying in, watching the telly and having a curry, and
the awful choice is the second one again and again and again. Since
television got so good I think people are looking more and more to hide
themselves away and not deal with anyone else. And I know that I have been
extremely guilty of that - in a way, the older one is, the worse it gets.
What kind of stuff figures on your evenings in?
Yards and yards of inane television. I can watch women's golf for ages. And
alcohol. Not hard alcohol, just swilling tins of lager.
Women's golf! Is that a sexy sport?
Well, I 'm not sure sexy is quite the right word. Have you seen some of
those golfers? There is one French girl who's sexy, though. That has to be
life's greatest challenge, to look sexy on the golf course. And she pulls it
off. Otherwise, it's just these terrifying women in huge shorts.
When you do go out, how does the evening progress?
I quite like low life. I go to the glitzy parties occasionally, but I'm very
happy to start in a pub and just drift from there. Someone might have a
party, or someone might say 'Let's go to this bar'. I don't really like food
to be involved at any stage - it wrecks the evening completely. I'm quite
happy with the late-night kebab or the bowl of Cornflakes. I find that once
I've stopped and had a sit-down dinner, I've lost interest.
Where would one find Hugh Grant scoffing kebabs?
It's been a long time since my last Doner, but there's a good one on Old
Compton St, next to Madame Jo-Jos. Very useful place.
As for picking up women, Will's tactic in the movie is to target single
mothers. What's your favourite schtick?
I'd rather not say, because one or two of them are quite effective. I'd hate
to have them quoted back at me.
Can you tell us a line that bombed, one you won't be using again…
Yes, I can. I once met some very sexy Swedish girls on the beach in Cornwall
and found myself stuck for something to say to them. So I said: "In England
we have a vegetable called a Swede." That went down really badly.
Hardly surprising. What kind of women do you usually go for?
Well, I'm wonderfully catholic in my tastes. But if I had to tick a box
marked dark or blonde I'd go dark. And if I had to tick a box marked normal
height or small, I'd go small. Although not always. I've also never really
fancied posh girls, although there are very much exceptions to that.
You like a bit of rough?
I'm not saying rough. I'm just saying I don't fancy posh girls as much as I
should and I don't fancy models as much as I should. Do you fancy models?
They're a bit tall for me…
Yeah, they're taller than me as well, and the older I get the more I like
meat with my gravy. Odd. I don't like sticks. Here in America, get any man
drunk and they'll admit that the sexiest girls on television are the Puerto
Ricans on the Latin channel. In L.A. they watch the Mexican or Greek
channels - really gorgeous girls.
Is it strange to find yourself suddenly single at the age of 41?
It's weird. Some of it is exhilarating and fantastic, and then there are sad
moments. But it's weird in our (he and Hurley's) case because we work
together, we're still very good friends and we talk an awful lot. I believe
that does happen to some divorced couples - they just become good friends
and they don't get jealous of the other person. But I've certainly left it
very late to have a family. I mean, my brother lives here in New York and he
has the exact antithesis of my life, in that he has a wife and two kids and
a very steady job in the City and he's definitely happier than me now. He's
had the last laugh, and I think those people do. It's kind of annoying.
Yet you've been a huge success in your chosen profession. Surely that must
Yes, but I like the whole idea of low ambition. I admit that people probably
don't believe that I admire lack of ambition. Why would they? And it is true
that I have some ambition. But I have one friend who has none whatsoever and
I think that is unique. He's always the centre of a party and actually very
attractive to women because he just doesn't care. In the middle of the
afternoon, he'll say: "I'm very sorry, but I have to get back or I'm going
to miss Bullseye." I admire that very much. And I have met so many actors
who burn to get forward and move up the ladder - especially in New York and
Hollywood. I mean, fucking hell, it's cut-throat. Especially among the
You must be one of the few actors in the world who isn't desperate for
ever-greater levels of success…
Well, I mean, what's the point? Most people can get by on much less work.
When I was growing up my Dad worked nine to five and so did everyone else. I
think people, especially Americans, would find it hard to cope with that
now - it would be too much leisure time. Apparently the Italians have
started these things called slow towns where you're not allowed to work more
than 25-30 hours a week and you have to sit down and eat a proper lunch and
a proper dinner. The emphasis is on beautiful food, beautiful wine and ease
of life, and the philosophy is 'Why kill yourself?''. I remember going to a
Gianni Versace show with Elizabeth once and it was chaos backstage - lights
going wrong, models changing - my favourite bit! - and all the world's
fashion police filling up the room outside. But when one o'clock struck,
just before the show started , Gianni said: 'And a now we 'ave lunch", and I
thought, "Yeah, we'll get a tuna sandwich," but no, you sat down with a
tablecloth and had three courses with wine. Priorities, you know?
Some people will latch on to About A Boy as proof that men are increasingly
screwed up these days. Do you think that's so, or is it bollocks?
I suspect it's semi-bollocks. You read these things in the Femail section of
the Daily Mail about 'What's happened to our men and why are they all so
fucked up?" But I don't find men fucked up, I find them quite well adjusted.
On the other hand it is entirely possible that we're more fucked up than we
know and it's all a subconscious thing which smacks you between the eyes
like it has to a number of my friends - the Prozac lot. So I don't know.
There was a famous moment a few years ago when you yourself lost the plot
quite spectacularly. We all know the details of the Divine Brown saga, but
you've never explained why you did such a crazy thing…
Christ! That's impossible to answer. I mean, you're a bloke, you know these
things can happen. I will say that I was extremely drunk. And I had just
seen the final version of Nine Months, which actually is two very good
reasons for committing suicide. Oh, shit, you can't put that, they'll write
me another letter. Fuck! In many ways, Nine Months is a good, funny film and
it did well - there were good performances from everyone and I admire the
very nice director. But I fucked up. I was truly bad - didn't know what I
was doing. I just panicked - it was my first American film.
Did it surprise you that getting arrested was such a big story?
I think that what made it such a big, salacious story was that people had
got the impression I was this clean-cut, goody-two shoes Englishman, but I
couldn't view it that way. I just thought: "Why is everyone making such a
big fuss?' I really thought that was bizarre. I mean, I don't give a fuck
about the morality of it. And I tell you the other thing that has always
really annoyed me is when people go on about Hugh Grant's apology tour on
the television. I was booked on all those shows before I got arrested and I
was simply fulfilling my obligations. And of course once you're on Leno
under those kind of circumstances you can't say I'm not going to talk about
this thing. But I resent the implication that I was going round grovelling
to the American public, because, frankly, fuck 'em. It was none of their
You once said that you were incapable of playing anything but light comedy
roles. Were you nervous about taking on a film like About A Boy, which
features topics like suicidal depression?
You never know if it's going to work. But I thought this was still within my
bandwidth, and in fact it's a part of the bandwidth that I feel quite
comfortable in. The film I'm working on at the moment (an as-yet-untitled
romantic comedy, directed by Marc Lawrence and also starring Sandra Bullock)
is a gag-fest and it's terrifying because I'm so worried about getting the
timing right - so it's actually soothing doing something like About A Boy
where there are jokes and it's nice when a laugh comes out of it, but it's
not the crucial thing. But I still stand by what I said. If I was doing
Eugene Onegin or Chekhov, I'd be fucked.
Would you fancy a crack at James Bond?
I think I could do Bond now, but I'd want to do a retro Bond. There was a
phase a few years ago when the people at Columbia thought they had the
rights, and I talked to them about it. They were quite up for setting it
back in the Sixties because that's where he belongs and how the whole thing
comes to life. You read those early Bond books where he's wearing sandals
and there's that kind of outrageous chauvinism. Like when he's tailed by
that girl to France as he's on his way to see Goldfinger. When she finally
catches up with him, he says: "I need some food, go and get me a pint of
Mâcon and a foot-long sausage" and she just goes. He's only known her a fewseconds!
You talk a lot these days about giving up acting. And yet you earn 12-15
million dollars a picture. Why do you want to stop?
The main reason is physiological. Frequently I am able to rehearse a film
pretty darn well, and then I and everybody else gets excited and I feel
really good. But when it comes to shooting it, the pressure's so great -
especially if you've been good in rehearsal. Everybody says they've been
looking forward to whatever scene it is and you get the hair and the make up
and the camera and the whole thing builds and builds and builds and then
finally you're shooting and you've got to be as light and natural and funny
as you were in rehearsal - and your heart rate just doubles. It's torture.
Sometimes you can fight your way through the first two or three takes with
your heart racing till you've got something half-decent and you can start to
relax, but it can also go the other way and you panic so much that it's not
funny and you feel embarrassed and so you panic even more and it's awful. It's been happening to me for 10 years and in some ways it's getting worse. It
just kills me.
And yet you're much better at doing light comedy than most actors…
Well, very often they're too busy looking at 'the truth'. In America
especially, I see a lot of sincere acting going on. If you scream and shout
and tear your hair out you win prizes. And it's annoying because although it's a cliché for actors in light comedy to say that it's underrated, it is
hard, hard, hard - you're not only having to be real, but you're having to
keep your eye on the funny ball at the same time. Plus you're inventing a
lot of stuff all the time, which is creative.
You're currently filming with Sandra Bullock and the two of you presented an
award together at the Oscars. It seems you're getting on well.
Yeah, our rapport is quite bantery. We're totally mirror image in a way - we
have the same instincts. She does a bit more physical clowning than me, but
it's extraordinary because after all these years it feels one hundred per
cent click on the money and I've never felt that before. Who knows, it may
turn out to be utterly repellent, but it feels great.
Finally, have you noticed that nearly every magazine seems to send women to
Yes. And I find it easier on the whole. I've found you great - but I can't
flirt with you.