HEY, HUGH'S SORRY NOW
And with two frothy new films, he's on the comeback trail.
By Elizabeth Glenick
It is life imitating art as Hugh Grant strides up the road towards a
popular bar in the heart of London's Notting Hill, the neighborhood,
just around the corner from a travel bookstore suspiciously like the
one he runs in "Notting Hill" the movie. No cameras are rolling, no
colorful extras mill about, but the sunglasses do little to disguise
his identity given that the rest of the Hugh Grant package – the
blue shirt and khakis, the bounteous hair he repeatedly refers to
as "floppy" – is reassuringly intact. And so is that Hugh Grant
awkwardness: he somehow manages to walk straight past the restaurant
before realizing his mistake, doubles back, comes in through a door
with a sign on it advertising (What else?) "Sorry. You'd think I `d
know how to get here." No need, of course to apologize. This is Hugh
Grant. One can forgive him pretty much anything.
At least that is what he and the Notting Hill team are banking on. A
sort of sequel to Four Weddings and a funeral, at the time of it's
1994 release the most successful British film ever made, the new
movie follows the first in only the following ways: both were
written by the gifted comedy writer Richard Curtis; both star
fabulously inaccessible (to Grant) American women – in this case
Julia Roberts; both feature appealing groups of friends in various
stages of lovelornness; and both allow Grant to be the most lovelorn
of all, a romantic hero in the deer-in –the headlights mode that
made him so popular in the first place. As Four Weddings director
Mike Newell puts it, " Everyone wants Hugh to be the charming,
beautiful, bumbling guy they know from Four Weddings." And on that,
Notting Hill delivers.
But therein lies the Hugh Grant problem – for there's been a bit of
a problem. Even in a profession notable for its make-`em, break-`em
lift offs and plummets, Grant's career has had a greater sizzle,
louder fizzle than most. Can anyone remember what he has done since
Four Weddings? There have been a few films, either financial flops,
like Extreme Measures; mistakes like Nine Months; or period dramas
more memorable for the performances of others like Sense and
Sensibility. Oh, and there was his most unforgettable role of all-
international whipping boy of 1995 after that lewd act with a
certain Miss Devine Brown in a BMW off Sunset Boulevard.
After these experiences, Grant, now 38, appears to be older, wiser
and more rueful – but only in an utterly boyish kind of way. Of
Divine Brown- and the headlines like "Can Hollywood ever Forgive
Hugh?" Grant says, "The day after all that happened, the head of
Disney was calling me up to beg me to be in 101 Dalmatians.
Hollywood never had a problem with it." Newell agrees: "People loved
him, they forgave him. Once you've got that relationship with the
(audience), they're going to come and see you."
The London- born, Oxford educated Grant believes his rise, and hence
his fall, was media generated. "This extraordinary Hugh Grant
creation comes into existence and becomes more and more bizarrely
different to me," he says. "It's this bungling, floppy-haired upper
class twit - and I don't think that bears any resemblance to me,
especially not with my new hair grease. He runs his fingers through
his hair for about the 80th time. "In the end all you can do is have
And go back to what comes naturally. After Notting Hill comes Mickey
Blue eyes, out in August from Simian Films, the production company
he and his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley formed in 1995. In this light
comedy, produced by Hurley, he plays an art auctioneer who happens
to fall in love with a New York mobster's daughter (Jeanne
Tripplehorn). The film allows Grant and Hurley, in the name of
research, to hang out with genuine mob types in Brooklyn. "They
really adored Elizabeth," said Grant. "They say `My name's Uncle
Mikey, if there's anything I can do for you, any where in the world,
you come to see me.' Some of these tabloids editors here should be
looking over their shoulders." And the role lets Grant hone his
dazed and confused act. While he disputes that he has been type
cast, he concedes that he is looking forward to working on the new
Woody Allen film in July, in which he gets to play a villain.
Even there, though, his role is smooth charmer, for on screen and
off there is no getting away from the fact that Grant was born to be
the perfect dinner companion; he flirts, he pays attention, he jokes
about his Austin Powers teeth, he gives the term self-depreciating a
whole new meaning. People forget. For instance, that before Four
Weddings, he appeared in a string of what he calls Europuddings- but
Grant is delighted to remind us. "I was always a champagne baron for
some reason," he says. "I did Judith Krantz's Till We Meet Again. I
was the villainous half brother Bruno who rapes Courtney Cox and
steals the family champagne and gives it to the Nazis – fantastic.
And there's a very good one based on the Barbara Cartland novel
Cupid Rides Pillion. I was the highwayman. When I am uncomfortable
in a role my voice goes high, so it's quite amusing to see me jump
out of the bushes with all my sexy gear on and say – he squeaks –
"Stand and deliver!"
He is ever happy to rift on his 12 year relationship with Hurley.
The often scantily clad Valkyrie to whom he seems content to play
the hapless chorus boy. "Elizabeth made me buy a house." He
confesses "and we spent two years having idiot, pretentious,
criminal bozos decorate it. It's now completely hideous, and I am
quarreling with her because I don't want to live there. The shower
smells of dead people. I hate it." Instead, he hangs out in their
old flat around the corner. I go there and watch the football and
drink beer. But I think that's healthy, isn't it? Maybe not."
For a man publicly adored for his boyishness, it must be hard to
take on the trappings of adulthood. Perhaps that is why, despite the
signs of a comeback, Grant still pretends he is not fully committed
to acting. "There is the ever increasing prospect of just
….stopping," he says, "It would be such bliss," He dreams of taking
up writing again. In his lean years he wrote book reviews and comedy
sketches; he even worked on a novel. "It was called Slack," he
said " and it was about someone with no job, strangely enough."
People who know Grant have heard this talk of quitting before. "He
said that the first day I met him- that acting was no profession
fore an adult," said Curtis. "Maybe it is bull----." Grant
admits, "but it is a sort of fantasy." It is also the one thing
audiences would probably never forgive.