WILL HIGH GRANT CONQUER HOLLYWOOD? ONLY HIS HAIRDRESSER KNOWS FOR SURE.
NO TIME TO DUCK, let alone take cover. You knew you'd be hit at some point, but not this soon, not from the get-go. Bounding up the steps of the posh Soho House, not quite five minutes late, Hugh Grant pulls the pin on a charm grenade and hurls. Whoooosh. It hits the floor, rolls toward your toes, and kabooom! A cloud of upper-class
English accent envelops you, fogging all your senses and sensibilities: "Oh God, I'm so sorry I'm late. I grovel naked before you." How warm. So sweet, lovely. ..
Time to shake your brain clear of charisma dust. Grant, neither groveling nor naked, is standing before you, pumping your hand and wearing lots of brown. He smells of damp wool, of an Englishman rushing around in a light London rain, late for lunch at the club. Which is exactly what he is. That, and Britain's most lucrative export.
'IT's TRAGIC HOW MUCH I'm enjoying gerting this," began Grant, accepting his Golden Globe award for Four Weddings and a Funeral. "It's with tremendous ill grace that I grudgingly acknowledge the contribution of a few other people." Much laughter. '1 suppose Richard Curtis wrote quite a funny script. I suppose Mike Newell directed it quite well under difficult circumstances. Though with tremendous bad tem- per, I might add."
With each clever, seemingly spontaneous citation ("[To] my agent in London, Michael Foster, who, by sheer dint of being unusually small and unusually vicious, got me the part"), the laughter grew ("And my girlfriend, Elizabeth Hur- ley, who put up with easily the nastiest, most ill-tempered, prima donna-ish actor in English cinema for six weeks [Pause] and then came back to me, which was really nice"), and kept growing, right along with the price of his stock. It had taken just three minutes for Hugh Grant to charm-bomb Hollywood and the surrounding televised universe. He hit all targets; everyone succumbed. (The actor recently signed with CAA and has a production deal with Castle Rock.) There's only one place where Hugh Grant will never belong: Sy Sperling's Hair Club for Men.
TOM ARNOLD, COSTAR, Nine Months, calling from a car phone: His charm level kind of coordinates with all the hair that's flying around on his head. Hugh doesn't pull that big hair out in every movie. He saves it. Because that's his gold. See, lots of times in movies he's got the hair slicked back because he's teasing people. But when he gets that hair out, the moptop kind of a deal? Then he's going for it-all the charm. The dir ... ctor was obs ...ss-[Lost connection]
BIG HAIR IS EXACTLY what Grant needs to pullout in his first big Hollywood film, directed by his first big Hollywood director, Chris Columbus. In Nine Months (based on the French comedy Neuf Mois ), Grant stars as a child psychologist who is forced to face his fear of commitment when his girlfriend (the luminous Julianne Moore) gets pregnant. "Let's face it, everything depends on it," he says of his first play in the majors. "I was so absurdly overhyped after Four Weddings that there's this huuuge balloon that just. ..if I was anyone apart from myself, I'd have my pin absolutely ready. And so it matters horribly, this film." He knits his brow.
ANDIE MACDoWELL, COSTAR, Four Weddings and a Funeral: There was a big discussion over what to do with Hugh's hair. I don't think there was ever any big discussion over what to do with my hair.
THREE YEARS AGO, director Mike Newell was doing a cam- era test with French actress Juliette Binoche and needed an actor to work alongside her but not be part of the scene. "And that was when I met Hugh," says Newell. ..Every actor has ups and downs in his life, and I think this was probably one of Hugh's downs." He laughs at the recollection. "Then, of course, things got better for him." Thanks to Newell, who cast Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
"It's funny to see the relationship between Hugh and Mike," MacDowell says. "Mike could really torture him, though in the end, Hugh did a great job. Mike has a reaction and he says it-I don't think there's any kind of self-control there whatsoever. It was interesting to watch poor Hugh just suffering through this."
"Andie is, of course, joking," says Newell. "Because I was on her case every bit as hard as I was on Hugh's. But I was on Hugh's a lot. He could never understand why I kept trying to make him real. I was very detailed and I wasn't going to take any sloppiness from him."
Grant admits that "in terms of my acting, I have to have people saying, 'Fabulous! Lovely!' all the time. So it was a bit unnerving to be directed like that-but he got the goods. He thinks I'm very clever at closing myself off and getting away with things. He said, .Open up! Let bits fall off you.' "
ToM ARNOLD, CALLING BACK: Hi! Sorry. Like I was saying, the director [Columbus] was obsessed with Hugh's hair. He checked it every day, then there was a chain of command, like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were in charge of Hugh's hair. They would all decide if it was moppy enough. It was quite a procedure. I think it slowed down the movie about two or three weeks.
HAVING GROWN ACCUSTOMED to highbrow, low-budget projects (The Remains of the Day, Sirens, Maurice, Impromptu), Grant says that Hollywood filmmaking came as a great shock. 1 loved having a trailer. And I loved them giving me a mobile telephone. All that sort of glitzy side of it is just heaven." He pauses, plays with his peas. But? "The most terrifying thing of all-for the first time in my life, I have no excuse for being bad. You can't say, 'Oh, we didn't have time or we didn't have enough money .' Because you have plenty of both-more than enough.
"And in America everyone is so driven. I mean, it's very good for me. Working with Chris Columbus, I couldn't believe the hours he puts in. They do fourteen-hour days every day, half an hour for lunch. They never just want to lie on their backs and drink beer. I was exhausted."
CHRIS COLUMBUS: You have to go up to the guy and say, "Hugh, I hate to tell you this, but we have to do that scene again, not because of your performance, but because we want to match the hair." His hair is a continuity nightmare. It's got a life of its own.
'PEOPLE ALWAYS COMPARE him to Cary Grant," Columbus says. "But he also reminds me of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. His ability to do physical comedy is astounding. And I don't think other actors would be willing to do that, especially leading men. It's not always pretty. And Hugh plays with that image. He's so smart about that."
"Tom whacked me more often than you've had hot dinners," Grant grumbles affectionately. "Every actor has their fallback, mine is to cough and stick my chin out or blink; Tom's is to hit people. When- ever he was slightly stuck in a scene, he'd say, 'Hey, listen, why don't I hit Hugh?' "
"One day," says Arnold, "we were having our fake fight and [former Twentieth Century Fox
chairman] Joe Roth and some executives were visiting the set. And Hugh said, 1 know you're going to hit me in the face.' And I said, 'I'm not-I promise you.' "
"And he did!" cries Grant. "He nearly broke my nose."
"He said, 'Bloody hell, Tom" And he was checking his nose. He was so upset, he stopped everything. Then he felt bad for not taking it like a man. But he's pretty butch for a guy from England."
The next day, Grant, while swinging a plastic baseball bat at an inanimate object, missed, striking Arnold in the balls instead. "Twice," says Arnold. "He felt really bad. But I think he felt that we were even at that point."
MONKEY BUSINESS: "Five years from now it could be back to playing football twice a week and doing the occasional voice-over for car ads, " says Grant. "Or it could be: king of Simian Films-producing, starring, writing my own movies. ..."
MIKE NEWELL: There is a great deal more to Hugh than meets the eye. There is certainly more to Hugh than just his hair.
A VOICE CALLS FROM across the club dining room; Grant smiles and waves hello. "That's Carl," he says. "We know each other from Nottingham Playhouse, our first professional jobs in the theater. We found out later that we'd had an affair with the same usherette. And it was a very unusual affair be- cause she lived with her boyfriend and she used to take you home and introduce you to him and say, 'Were going next door.' I found it off-putting. But Carl is an enormous stud, I don't think it was off-putting to him." He turns and sends an- other little wave Carl's way.
Since 1986, the object of Grant's affection has been actress Elizabeth Hurley, whose heart-shaped face now graces Estee Lauder ads. Asked about their first encounter, Grant replies happily, "Oh, easy-peasy. We met having dinner with a Spanish director. She had long hair and wore a miniskirt-which is unlike her ." He grins slyly, because it is completely like her. As hair is to Grant, gams are to Hurley. "And I just thought, Well, here's a very good reason to do the film, because I was slightly doubtful about it. It was a very odd piece of Europudding, called Remando al Viento, or Rowing With the Wind. It was about my third film and her first. We really used to enjoy them in those days. Especially doing a curious film that you know no one is going to see outside San Sebastian, anyway. Those were happy, happy days."
Grant describes his and Hurley's bond as being "more like brother and sister, really. Which isn't to say that's not a sexy thing. Because I think the idea of incest is quite titillating."
"He's broken the pact, has he?" says Hurley, calling from New York's Four Seasons Hotel, where she and Grant are shacked up on a press junket. (This following: "We've always made a pact not to talk about each other, particularly to the press.") You can just feel her scolding stare. Poor Hugh.
"Interesting," she says, a chill in her tone. "He may suffer for it later."
(Flashback: London, one week earlier. "You have to re- member-I am terrified of Elizabeth," says Grant, looking quite grave. "She's a very, very frightening person. Her rage knows no equal. It's a source of tension." He half smiles, lights a little charm firecracker, and tosses it up. "But I love her. It turns me on as well.")
Despite her efforts to the contrary, Hurley's fondness for Grant is hard for her to suppress. "We were both stunned at how similar we were when we met," she says, warming. "We do look and sound alike. We both had a rather unhealthy obsession with Enid Blyton books [England's version of Nancy Drew]. We were both brought up on identical food." Their big difference: "He's obsessively tidy, which drives me berserk." She has a rich liqueur of a laugh. "His sock drawer is quite nice."
Though they've spent large chunks of time in separate time zones, "neither of us has another person who we'd rather ring to tell the day's events to or ask advice," says Hurley. "We've always turned to each other." Love defined, yet, Hurley admits, "never in our relationship have we even thought about the future."
"They have everything!" opines Arnold. "Who knows why they don't want to screw it up with a marriage!"
'1t takes Hugh six months to commit to a project, so to commit to something for the rest of his life?" jokes Columbus. "That may take him till age 50."
"Personally," MacDowell theorizes, "I don't think Hugh considers himself an adult yet."
Will Grant's biography be titled No Weddings and a Funeral? "I probably am afraid of commitment." He blinks rapidly. "Very scary. Very scary. And it's odd, because I come from just about the happiest family you could imagine."
FyNVOLA GRANT, HUGH'S MOM: I've always thought his hair needed a good brush or a good cut. I find it really hilarious that now people have Hugh Grant haircuts. So he's very triumphant about that: "you see, Mum, you needn't have fussed."
THE MORNING AFTER the British premiere of An Awfully Big Adventure, in which Grant reteams with Newell to play what Newell calls "a mean, manipulative queen who is the director of a theatrical company," Fynvola has a full report. '1t was very exciting," she says. "It was an interesting film and the acting was superb. But lots of the English papers today are saying, 'Oh, his fans won't like this.' " ('1n Big Adventure my hair's so flat you can hardly see it," says Grant. "1 look like a seal.")
'1 thought it was rather brave of him, actually," continues Fynvola. "There's a great photograph of Hughie with his monocle in his eye and the heading is TOP OF THE FOPS. When I read that headline, I thought it said, TOP OF THE FLOPS, SO I was rather pleased that it turned out to be fops."
Is there any question where Grant gets his gift for gab? Her voice, soft and cultured, has a comforting quality. The accent is part of Grant's inheritance, but it belies his upbringing. "My parents were relatively posh, but had no money," he ex- plains. His father, James, ran the London end of a big carpets business. "There was a bit of a recession in the '70s," Hugh re- calls. "Every year I would visit his office and there would be one floor less. Eventually it was just him and a secretary. And then just him working from home. An odd job, really. He used to look for cranes on building sites, standing up against the skyline. Then he would bicycle over to the foreman and say, 'When you build your building, would you like some carpet?' " He speaks casually, but emotion plays over his features. "He never enjoyed it much. He was always a painter, he loved to watercolor." His face brightens. "Now he does that all the time and Mum sup- ports him. She teaches in a nice school near the airport."
Initially, Fynvola wasn't too keen on her son's career choice. "She always used to say, 'Well, it is prostitution really, isn't it, darling?' " Hugh says. But when she speaks of the early warning signs, she sounds full of pride. "1 thought that he was rather likely to act the first time I ever saw him in a production. He was a pink rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. He was lost and he was very moving. Brought tears to the eyes." She sighs. 'I remember that. He was about four.
"you know," she says, "he has a brother, Jamie, whom we're equally proud of. I was sitting next to somebody I didn't know at a lunch party the other day, and he said, 'Have you got any children?' And I said, 'Oh yes, we have two sons, one's a banker and one's a film star.' And he said, 'Oh, how very interesting-which bank?' I thought that was lovely."
MICHAEL HOFFMAN, OXFORD SCHOOLMATE AND DIRECTOR, Restoration: One of the emotions I felt most keenly and clearly when I first met Hughie was just flat-out envy. Myself, I was three years older and already sort of balding.
'YOU HAVE TO BE unnaturally clever," laughs Grant, when asked how one actually gets into Oxford. "you take a special exam including a general paper where you answer deeply pretentious questions like, Discuss ornament. Or Would you prefer the secular, or the sacred? And they were absolutely grist to my mill when I was seventeen, because I was easily the most pretentious teenager in London."
"There is an English beauty that everybody aspires to, and Hughie typifies it," says Hoffman, who cast Grant in his student film, Privileged, and again in Restoration. "you expect him somehow to be arrogant or unapproachable. Hughie certainly has, as he would tell you, a narcissistic side to him. But at the same time he's very conscious of it and sends it
up. It's very charming."
Which plays perfectly into Hoffman's belief that Grant's biggest impediment to becoming "bigger sooner"-he has been
slogging away for thirteen years and some eighteen films, and still the Chicago Film Critics Association voted him 1994's Most Promising Actor-"was that he's so beautiful, people didn't realize that his gift was as a comedian. They tried to turn him into Daniel Day- Lewis or something. And you can't, he s too ironic about himself. He doesn't have that kid of level of pai about himself and his place in the world."
Grant graduated with a degree in literature and a Ph.D. in sophomoric humor. No one is spared. "He likes to humiliate me," moans Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein. "I have been his manservant for the last year-that's the reason Hugh Grant has made three movies for Miramax. I am so tired of washing his knickers. I've been spitting his boots clean. The cheap bastard hasn't given me a Sunday off!
"But we did go out and play tennis. And he told me he was going to wear tight shorts, so that I couldn't take my eyes off of him. Thank God I found him totally lacking in any kind of appeal. He lost."
Lobs Grant: "What is a wonder about Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax Films, is that he doesn't have a shower after his tennis. He just got straight back into his clothes and went back to work. Except that he left his underpants on the floor. He did change those. And I had to pick the old ones up and hand them to him. [Pause] And I've never really gotten over it."
"This is the nature of Hugh's and my relationship," chuckles Weinstein, resigned. "We get on the phone with each other and say some of the most disgusting things known to mankind.»
Weinstein can take comfort in the fact that he is not alone. Late one night, while staying at the Chateau Marmont, Sirens director John Duigan answered his telephone, "and I said, 'Hey, this is reception: » says Grant, in perfect slackerese. " 'We've had complaints, and it's kind of embarrassing, but the noise of your farting is keeping people awake.' And he was genuinely outraged and protested for a long time!» Looking more like 13 than 34, he smiles a naughty smile and takes a big spoonful of his chocolate ice cream.
"Ask him about the faxes he sent to Duigan!» prompts Weinstein. "I'll give you a clue: hemorrhoids. Ask Dr. Grant.»
"Oh yes, the faxes are very bottomy,» says the Incorrigible One. "1 sent John a fax to a smart hotel he was staying at, from his doctor, all about his anal fissure,» He laughs, covering his face with both hands. "1 don't think he's got one, but I said there was, saying it was irreparable. Then he faxed me back about piles.»
Piles? "Hemorrhoids, you know? My worst case ever was in France. I was on a train-this is a terrible story, I know I shouldn't tell you-but I was on a train, and I had never had a pile, and 1 didn't know what was going on. I thought, I've got to see this thing. So I went to the loo to have a look, and it was damn hard in a small train loo. So I ended up standing on the actual loo, looking back between my legs into the mirror. What I hadn't worked out was the lock on the door. And as I pulled my cheeks apart, someone came in and saw my face straining between my legs,»
Fact, or self-deprecating fiction ?
HUGH GRANT: It's having a bad day. I've got Just-Washed Syndrome.
A STONE'S THROW from Harrods, directly across the street from London's Natural History Museum, are the new digs of Simian Films. So named, Hurley explains, because Grant looks like an ape: "He has very small ears and little apey eyes. He does quite a good monkey imitation too.»
The scent of paint (palest yellow) still lingers in the airy, high- ceilinged space. Grant's voice echoes in through the hall from an- other area. He is on the phone with the people at Madame Tussaud's wax museum, discussing his immortalization. The room feels spare: just a couch, an extra-large television, and a VCR. Framed posters for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bitter Moon lean against the walls, waiting for nails. In front of the office's grand windows, a long table is set with a picnic lunch.
Grant hangs up the phone and walks in wearing black jeans and a crisp white button-down with light blue pinstripes. "Madame Tussaud's. They either do it without your cooperation, in which case the waxwork is very poor, or you go in and every line in your scrotum is measured. And that's what I did. 1 can't wait to see it!»
Uncorking a bottle of Chablis, he announces happily, "I'm quite feisty today. I'm all hyped up from my football.»
His cheeks are flushed and his eyes flash with the clarity of fine aquamarines, the result of his having scored a goal in the morning's match. And his hair. Very, very big. Shining, tousled, living a life of its own. No need for the charm artillery today. He raises his glass to victory, drinks deep, and then dives into his chicken and mashed potatoes. Grant speaks nostalgically of the days when he drifted briefly into an advertising job, writing copy for Brylcreem and Red Stripe beer. "And then to go back just to being Rent-an-Actor. ..." He pauses, lifts his fork. "Although acting's going well at the moment, it is still not the world's most fulfilling thing." Hence Simian Films. Imagine Grant writing and developing a screenplay as sharp and entertaining as his Golden Globe speech. "He's smarter than 99 per- cent of the people out in Hollywood," says Columbus. "He could be a director, a producer. He could probably run his own studio one day if he wanted to. That's the scary thing about Hugh-we may be seeing Grant Pictures in a few years." More likely, Grant-Hurley Pictures. "Elizabeth is every bit as savvy as he is," observes Newell. "They are a formidable team." It has begun to rain. Grant gets up, strides over to the windows, and opens them. Leaning out, he cups his hands to catch some drops and pulls himself in. "I might write a screenplay about a man who gets into his mid-30s and is a bitter failure," he says, when asked what he'll do after wrapping Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson. "That will be very easy for me. Because had I been out of the country when Four Weddings was being auditioned for, I would be that person now. That's what's queer. Going from three phone calls a day and maybe one letter and here I am," Grant spreads his arms, laughing, "in my empire!" "Hugh jokes about being grateful that the world didn't see all the movies he made when he was younger, but he really feels that," says Hoffman. "He's unsure as to how this all could have happened to him so quickly. And why he wasn't noticed before and why he has been noticed now and what that means and whether it's going to slip away. He's intelligent and keen, but at the same time he honestly is very vulnerable." Tossing a chocolate truffle into his mouth, Grant rolls his eyes. "Mmmmmm." He swallows. "Absolute heaven." He pops in a pair of the rich cocoa-dusted balls, squishes them, sucks them from the roof of his mouth, and smiles wickedly. "Look, look!" the tricky monkey teases, sticking the whole mess out on his tongue for you to appreciate. He's swingin' now. It is disgusting and juvenile. And even charming. .
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: "It's hard not to dwell on Hugh's wit, charm, and beauty-a girl must have her pride," says Emma Thompson, who adapted the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility and stars with Grant in the film. "I'm more grateful to him than I can say, which all but makes up for the fact that he's so bloody expensive!"