Yes, he's a bachelor. But AAB star Hugh Grant admits the bumbling shy-guy thing is just an act. In his new movie, AAB, Hugh Grant plays a reluctant father figure to 12-year-old Nicholas Hoult. Offscreen, says Hoult, Grant seemed more like the best sort of big brother - one who's a bit of a bad influence, ("He did swear a lot; after a while he didn't say sorry anymore") but listens to reason on important issues. Like buying an Aston Martin. "He said he wanted a car, so I thought, 'Okay, might as well get a decent one,"says auto buff Hoult, who pointed out the 460-horsepower Vanquish sports car (base price: $228,000) in a magazine. Grant is awaiting delivery. "He is a bit scared he might look like a big poseur," says Hoult. "I reckon he'd say I forced him to do it."
At 41, Grant may be just beginning to be wary of the kind of car that screams Midlife Crisis! But two years after the end of his 14-year romance with EH, he isn't in any hurry to settle down either. After all, he has a new flick (AAB opens May 17) and a new passion (the love affair that dare not speak its name: golf). Not to mention a new spiky haircut that friends say better reflects his wicked wit. ("It came through once he got rid of the forelock," says AAB co-director Chris
"There was a time when all my friends were getting married and I did think, "What's wrong with me?" says Grant, sipping beer in the Manhattan hotel room he has called home for the three months while shooting the romantic comedy TWN. "But now that they're getting divorced, I think, 'Well, I'm glad I didn't have to go through that.'" As for fatherhood, "I don't feel a particular pressure," he says, "except at Christmas when I always feel a bit pathetic that I have no kids and everyone else has." Besides, the Oxford-educated actor still enjoys his own boyish escapades. Sometimes a little too much.
On a recent weekend he partied until dawn at a Manhattan nightclub, then grabbed an hour's sleep before joining his older brother Jamie, a banker at J.P. Morgan in NYC, and Jamie's colleagues on the links. "I had to push them aside when I got there so I could go throw up in the bathroom," says Grant. The embarrassing part of the tale? Admitting he plays golf. "I'm ashamed," he adds. "Saying I'm into golf is like saying I'm middle-aged." Yet he spends hours in his hotel room tapping balls into a gadget that says, "Nice put" when his aim is true. "I want it to say other things, like 'Good actor!'" he says. "Or, 'Nice butt!'" He also spends off-hours with nongolfing friends, including Hurley, 36,
whose London townhouse is around the corner from his. "He was
unbelievably lovely to me when I was so unhappy during my pregnancy,"
says Hurley, who gave birth to Damian on April 4 and is still in
dispute with her ex-boyfriend, L.A. film producer Stephen Bing, over
the child's paternity. "He's still my best friend in the world. No
matter how demented he drives me on a day-to-day basis, in a crisis
he is always there 100 percent.”
In January Grant joined Hurley, her sister and several of her female pals on a vacation to the Caribbean island of Mustique. "I couldn't have enjoyed it more," he says. "I like to be spoiled, particularly by women." What he doesn't like is being mistaken for the foppish, bumbling characters he played in a string of movies. In fact, the caddish casanova he played in last year's BJD comes closest to the real Hugh, says Grant's long-time producer and close friend Eric Fellner. Why? "Because he's just an absolute devil," says Fellner. "There are no anecdotes that can go into print."
His character in AAB - cynical bachelor who befriends the son of a single mother - is also a departure for Grant. "I've never seen him bumbling once," Chris Weitz, who directed the movie with his brother Paul, says of Grant. "The spontaneity he projects, its the result of deep concentration." Which, in turn, is a reaction
to stage fright. As effortless as it looks, acting doesn't come
easily to Grant. To calm his nerves, he has tried remedies from
oxygen masks ("completely useless") to acupuncture recommended by
Chinese-medicine experts brought to the set by his TWN costar Sandra
Bullock. "Sometimes if I'm not as good as I was in rehearsal, I
start to panic," he explains. "I've had meltdowns."
Growing up in
London, the son of carpet salesman James and French teacher Fynvola
seemed more likely to enter academia - despite his dead-on
impressions of teachers at the city's Latymer Upper School. A rugby
and cricket player, "Hughie" won a scholarship to study literature at
Oxford. "He was a clever boy among clever boys," recalls assistant
headmaster Chris Hammond. After college Grant labored in small
theatrical and film roles until his breakout performance in FWAF. He
met Hurley on a movie set in 1986.
Though the two were rarely
together in London - Grant has said they got along best when living
in hotels - the relationship weathered his darkest hour: his 1995
arrest for dallying with prostitute Divine Brown in his BMW in L.A.
Hurley stood by her man - until they mutually decided to part two
years ago. Since then Grant has taken on no other serious romances,
though he dates from time to time. "I think he would prefer if it
was more difficult for him," says Paul Weitz, noting the mobs of
admirers Grant attracts. Grant's take on dating: "It's how it
always was - except I'm older and richer, I suppose." Wiser too,
perhaps. Last July Grant suffered a difficult setback during the AAB
shoot when his mother died of cancer. "She was very good at not
taking life too seriously," says Grant. "I'm sure I'm not as moral
and upstanding as she and Dad were brought up to be, but somewhere
deep down there is a basic decency. That would be the thing I would
thank them most for." After TWN wraps this month, Grant will keep
busy "concentrating on not looking ostentatious in his Aston Martin
and improving his handicap," says his pal Fellner with a laugh. No
doubt there will be some of that. But he also hopes to finish a
screenplay he has worked on for two years and to perhaps even
direct. Or not. Indecision, after all, is one of the perks of being
a wealthy bachelor. "Once every three months there will be a list of
things to do, and that day is 'Decide on career' or 'Change direction
in life,' says Grant with a shrug, "but it never gets done.”