I'D RATHER BE A SEX SYMBOL THAN A PRAT
With all the gossip about Hugh and Liz's love life, the actor's professional achievements are often overlooked. Here, he talks to Charlotte Moore about his hot new movie, his love of ham and what he looks for in a girlfriend.
Meeting Hugh Grant is an odd experience. When we hook up to discuss his new film, AAB, he's tanned and T-shirted, having just returned from the Maldives [sic] with, he explains with precision, 'nine girls'. I wanted it to be more MTV in Ibiza', he laments. 'It was a bit too civilised.' I later discover, from a friend, that EH was one of the nine in tow. Here, in the South Ken office of Simian Films, the production company that they run together, there's evidence of her all around - note the cream linen furniture and teetering piles of fashion magazines. They might be 'very good friends' as he states emphatically later on, but she certainly isn't his number one conversational topic.Flirting like a pro seems more his thing. Within five minutes of him guiding me to the most comfy seat in the office, he's asking me how old I am, how I got my job - even where I went to school. The boy-next-door charm works so well that it's easy to forget that he is, in fact the star of some of the most successful films of the past decade, FWAAF, NH, BJD, and that his latest endeavour, AAB, looks set to do just as well.But his movie-star status doesn't seem to have gone to his head.
He's more interested in eulogising about ham than he is in his Hollywood stardom. In fact, the more I probe, the more tight-lipped he becomes.
YOUR NEW FILM, AAB, SHOWS OFF A RATHER FABULOUS BACHELOR PAD. ARE YOU THE PROUD OWNER OF ONE TOO?
Yes I am. I've got several. I keep buying them and can't seem to stop. They're all in England, within about two square miles of one another. I move into one, end up not liking it, and move into another instead.
ARE THERE THINGS YOU MISS ABOUT BEING A COUPLE?
Well, there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both.
HAVE YOU HAD TO LEARN HOW TO FLIRT AGAIN?
That ability never really left me.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SURE FIRE PULLING TRICKS?
I've always been a big fan of pulling hair. Something comes over me
after a few drinks. I always ask very politely and then I do a lot of hair pulling.
DOES BEING FAMOUS MAKE DATING TRICKY?
No, not at all. In fact, I've always found it's been a bit of a boost.
DO YOU THINK IT'S EASIER FOR YOU TO GO OUT WITH SOMEONE WHO'S ALSO
FAMOUS, BECAUSE THEY UNDERSTAND YOUR LIFESTYLE?
I suppose you could argue that, but you get very jaded about showbiz. After a while you long for some fresh blood. Someone you are just passionately interested in, someone totally different, who
doesn't give a f**k about anyone who's in the industry.
IN AAB, YOUR CHARACTER, WILL, FORMS A PATERNALISTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH
SOMEONE ELSE'S SON. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU CAN ENVISAGE HAPPENING
WITH LIZ'S BABY?
It's very hard to predict. I do have a lot of friends with children, who got married in the 1980s and are now single parents, and I find myself feeling rather sorry for the kids. So I do occasionally try to take them to the park or something.
WHAT KIND OF FATHER DO YOU THINK YOU'D BE?
DID YOU AND ELIZABETH EVER THINK ABOUT HAVING CHILDREN TOGETHER?
It never really came up, oddly enough. It was swept under the carpet. We were too busy doing other things, I suppose.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU READ REPORTS IN THE NEWSPAPERS, THEORISING
THAT YOU AND ELIZABETH ARE GETTING BACK TOGETHER?
I'm grateful for any nice things that are ever said about me, but, in the case of Elizabeth's baby, I feel a bit guilty because I've never said a single word about it to anyone. I've been portrayed as this wonderful pillar of support, and while I try to be nice, I've been no nicer than any other friend. That I have taken her to hospital is not true. I've never been to hospital with her. Well, not since about 1993 anyway.
HOW EASY IS IT FOR YOU TO BE 'JUST FRIENDS' WITH ELIZABETH?
There is no question about it - we are just very good friends. We still share this office. But I do think, whether or not friendship survives, [being friends with exes'] new lovers is another question. Although, as I've got older, I've realised you don't have to stay within the usual standards of accepted relationships. I remember spending the day on Valentino's yacht once, and there was the most extraordinary set of people present - his ex-lovers and ex lovers'
wives and nieces and nephews. It was the most bizarre set up of about 40 or 50 people, and they were all incredibly nice and incredibly happy. It sounds like the most awful cliche, but if everyone loves one another then I think it can work.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO ANY PARTIES RECENTLY?
I've done less of that sort of thing since I split up with Elizabeth.
DO YOU EVER GET STAR STRUCK?
Yes, a little bit. I was pretty star-struck by Elton when I first met him. I was sitting next to him at a lunch and it seemed fairly bizarre to be sitting next to Elton John. The first thing that struck me was how clever he was. He was so sharp, but then that has been my experience of a lot of the famous people I've met. They're no fools. Mel Gibson and Michael Douglas are both very bright.
THE PAPERS OFTEN GO ON ABOUT YOUR HAIR AND THE WHOLE ENGLISH FOP THING. DOES THAT IRRITATE YOU?
On the whole, yeah. It is very patronising. I'm always irritated by people associating me with my roles. People refer to me as 'floppy-haired Hugh Grant' but that was just a character. It is possibly that
I did play up to it a bit in America, on chat shows and things, because it was so popular there and it did make me a lot of money.
ARE YOU CONSCIOUS THAT THE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF YOU HAS CHANGED, FROM LOVABLE FOOL TO SEXY ROGUE, SINCE YOU PLAYED A WOMANISER IN BRIDGET JONES DIARY?
Well, yes, the British tend to despise me less, but I never really had that despising problem anywhere else in the world. [ed note. God, that's so true!]
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A SEX SYMBOL?
Well, I'd rather be a sex symbol than a prat.
DO YOU THINK THE DIVINE BROWN INCIDENT BOOSTED YOUR STREET CRED?
I honestly don't know.
WHAT IS IT LIKE KNOWING THAT THOSE EPISODES WILL BE SPLASHED ALL OVER THE TABLOIDS THE NEXT DAY?
It's terrible, terrible.
DO YOU WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOUR PARENTS THINK? DO YOU RING THEM UP TO WARM THEM?
On the very bad occasions, I have rung them up. My mother sadly died last year, but it still continues to flash through your mind. I taught them the basic technique of never buying those papers. But my mum's hairdresser would say, 'I've seen this thing' then shove the Daily Star in front of her and that was terrible. She saw a lot more of it than I would have liked.
DO YOU EVER DREAD OPENING THE PAPERS?
I try to avoid them, I really do. I think the reason some people work it with huge numbers of spin doctors, massaging and spinning everything, is because the British press is an entity unto itself. I don't do any of that. I think to myself 'I'll just rise above it'. But that can be a very dangerous thing to do, and I did suffer as a result. Hopefully, if you goon doing your stuff and your films work in the end, then they can't go on slagging you off. Emma Thompson used to get a pretty rough time, but she just proved herself over and over again. You can't go on being nasty about someone, unless you're just kind of absurdly poisonous.
IN AAB, YOUR CHARACTER SEEMS TO SUFFER FROM PETER PAN SYNDROME. DO YOU EVER MISS BEING IN YOUR TWENTIES?
I worry that I may look as if I do. Can men in their forties still wear trainers? Can they wear jeans? I think I have about a year left before this [points to neck] becomes a gizzard, and I have to start wearing a shirt and collar. During filming, I had huge fights with the costume designer becuase I worried that I looked like mutton dressed as lamb.
DO YOU OWN ANY BOYS' TOYS?
I do try to resist al that because it seems so cliched GQ man. But just like a lot of guys - too old to be driving a sports car but, for the first time in their life, able to afford one - I've had this horrible debate about whether I would look like an arsehole in one. But I do have an Aston Martin on order.
IS IT A CONVERTIBLE?
No, but it's a gorgeous dark blue. It was actually Nicholas Hoult, who plays the little boy, Marcus, in the movie, who convinced me to buy it. I casually mentioned to him that I wanted a new car and he didn't let up. He brought me car mags and then thewhole crew got onto me, saying 'You've got to have the Vanquish, you've got to have the Vanquish'. So he and I ended up going to one of the Aston Martin factories in Newport Pagnell and ordering one. I'm rather horrified to see that it's going to be Bond's car in the next 007 movie. But it's gorgeous.
DO YOU ENJOY BEING IN LONDON MORE THAN YOU ENJOY BEING IN HOLLYWOOD?
God, yes. I'm very English - all my friends are here. I'm never in Hollywood. I remember seeing once, in one of those celebrity magazines, a centre spread of my house in Hollywood - but it wasn't mine, it was picked out of an estate agent's brochure. I've always lived here, week in, week out. Saying that, I'm very grateful to America for everything it has given me and I'm full of admiration for it and the way it bucks me up.
HOW DO YOU MEAN?
You can't laze around there and say 'I might do a film...' You've got to do the f**king thing. They won't respect you unless you do.
ARE YOU HAPPIEST BEING BUSY OR BEING IDLE?
I'm very happy to do nothing. I still have that capability.
SO, YOU CAN STILL GET UP AT FOUR O'CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON?
That I can't do anymore. I find it far too depressing.
DO YOU LEAD A VIP LIFESTYLE?
I don't have bodyguards, although sometimes the film company will provide them. I remember once going to Cannes and they provided us with two apparently charming Frenchmen. We were stuck in traffic and late for a screening, so got out and walked down the street. This very nice old woman came up to us and said 'Bonsoir, I like your work. I want to have your autograph', at which point one of the bodyguards picked her up and threw her like a rag doll against a car. It was quite scary. Bodyguards sometimes act as if they're insane, so I don't have them.
WHAT'S IN YOUR WEEKLY GROCERIES SHOP?
I'm afraid the food I buy might be a bit bachelor. There's an awful lot of ham, I'm obsessed with ham. I have to have hangover breakfasts on standby - you know, baked beans, bacon, sausage and stuff like that. Does that sound really bad?
DO YOU GET RECOGNISED OFTEN?
In England, people don't come up to me at all. Or, if they do, it's in a bar at exactly 11pm, after they've had a certain amount of alcohol - you can set your watch by it. But in New York a guy stopped me once and said 'You look like Hugh Grant - no offence'.
BACK TO BJD, ARE YOU MORE LIKE DANIEL CLEAVER OR MARK DARCY?
I've learned that, in terms of attracting English girls, it's better to say I'm more like Daniel Cleaver.
WHAT SORT OF WOMEN DO YOU GO FOR?
I'm easy to please with girls. I think I go more for brunettes, or for blondes with brunette roots, than I do for actual blondes.
WHAT ABOUT PERSONALITY?
Oh, f**k that.