LOOK HUGH’S TALKING...
WE FIND Hugh Grant IN EXPANSIVE MOOD AS HE WARMS TO THE SUBJECTS OF HIS RECENT DISCOVERY OF TV AND TWITTER AND EMBRACING HIS BODY OF WORK
Charming big-screen star Hugh Grant, lead in A Very
English Scandal, looks back on his storied career as he makes his mark on TV
Hugh Grant, in the flesh, is still that handsome, faux awkie fellow with the witty bon mots we’re used to seeing on the big screen. Of course, time can bring about change – but with Hugh the more things change, the more they stay the same. The witty Brit remains relatively youthful-looking but now with strands of salt among the fading brown in his hair and perhaps sports a slightly slower gait than a few years ago.
That all comes in handy, though, for his star turn playing 1960s and ‘70s-era English politician Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal, opposite Ben Whishaw ( Paddington, Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns).
Old photos of the MP reveal a sternlooking man, far removed from the charismatic actor who eventually romanced Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Julia Roberts in Notting Hill and Renée Zellweger in the Bridget Jones flicks. Hugh, 58, married his girlfriend, the mother of three of his children, Anna Eberstein, in May and is happy to joke about all five of his kids (two from previous relationships), saying he leads a life of “total chaos” and that coming to LA is “bliss just because no-one is throwing yoghurt at me”.
Here’s what he had to say, in typical style, with lots of pauses and witty asides...
On Why He Made A Very English Scandal...
“I really have to thank [director] Stephen Frears enormously because he was the man who suddenly said after making Florence Foster-Jenkins, ‘I think, Hugh you’d be perfect for this role.’ I thought, Really? Working with Stephen Fears… he’s sort of art house and I had done all these fluffy romantic comedies, but he believed in me and [ Florence Foster Jenkins] turned out pretty well. I was about to go off and do something else and he said, ‘No no, no, I’ve got another project.’ Then he sent me this.
“It’s a dream part. It’s been very difficult, since I finished this, to sign up for anything else because it was so up my alley. I loved the story. I loved the tone. I loved the period. It was a great character. You know… wonderful co-stars, great director. This was sort of ‘A+’ for me, in terms of the sort of project I want to do.”
On the Real-Life Jeremy Thorpe...
“Well, the whole fun of him for me was that he was mult-faceted. He was in many ways appalling, a terrible narcissist who would do almost anything for his career, ruthless. To order a murder is a pretty big thing! That’s pretty sociopathic. So, in many ways he was a monster – but by researching him, reading books, watching video, talking to a lot of his friends and ex-colleagues, I realised there was deep tragedy there as well. The tragedy, one, of being a gay man at that time and being really unable to express your love in its natural form; and I also think that his narcissism was so extreme that that’s a kind of tragedy as well.
“You can’t really engage with other people if you’re so obsessed with yourself. Then he had put an entire lifetime’s passion into building up his career and building up the Liberal Party... “To have this one man be about to bring all that down just because he’s got issues – that’s a sort of Shakespearean tragedy, too.”
On Frequently Co-Starring with Ben Whishaw...
“I haven’t quite managed to kill him yet, but I will. I will. It is bizarre that we keep working together and that I always seem to want to kill him or something – but I’m lucky. He’s incredibly good. He’s the sort of great genius actor of his generation in our country and keeps me up to the mark.
On Being Happy to do TV Now...
“Yeah, well, I was snobby! I was the last of the snobs to get over that difference between film and TV. I was slightly horrified when these scripts turned up from Stephen Frears and I realised it was television! I mean, really. The book upon which it was based was so cleverly blackly comedic. Then Russell T. Davies who wrote the screenplay for this and reinvented Doctor Who – he’s a proper genius screenwriter and I don’t say that lightly because it’s very difficult to please me with writers. But I really think he’s very brilliant, and there was Stephen, Ben Whishaw and [co-star] Alex Jennings. I loved the tone – it’s kind of dramatic but it’s also irreverent and even slightly camp.”
On Watching Television
“Well, one of the reasons I was snobby about television is because I was behind the times. I didn’t really understand how it works anymore, as I only watched motor racing or
tennis and I hadn’t seen anything at all. I’m the man who hasn’t seen The Sopranos
– there’s something wrong with me! Anyway, one of my children has now taught me to work the television properly. I know how to get Netflix... I’m rather proud of myself! And I’ve watched The Crown and thought it was sublime. And I just watched Big Little Lies and thought it was equally good.”
On Getting into Social Media...
“I disapprove of social media, really. But when I was doing this political campaign [regarding the Fleet Street phone-hacking scandal] in Britain, which I’ve been doing for six years, some of the younger people I’m involved with said, “No, no – you absolutely have to be on Twitter.’ So, they shoved me on it. And I haven’t quite been able to get off it since. It’s a weird experience now, because if your TV show is broadcast, and you don’t know what people are gonna think of it, you can literally watch in real time; people reacting to it from the first frame. And I must say that was exciting in this case [ A Very English Scandal] because people were being… were so into it! And I remember immediately texting Stephen Frears, and Ben Whishaw, and Alex Jennings saying, “Christ, I think people like it!”
“That was very exciting.”
On his many Rom-Coms...
“Well, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth in the sense of [turning] down a romantic comedy because I’m proud of them and they’re very popular, and they are popular to this day. If I get home from the pub and switch on the TV, there I am, chatting up some girl and I’m sort of grateful to them. I’m also very pleased to be through them, I have to say!”
On Bridget Jones 4...
“I don’t know, depends on the story. They had a version of
Bridget 3 which had Daniel Cleaver a lot, but I could never make him work in that story. It was such a good set-up: Bridget gets pregnant with two men. She’s not sure which it is. That’s brilliant! It was always great for 10 pages but then I just didn’t know how Daniel Cleaver would react to that. I thought he would’ve run away from the situation.
“So, you’re sort of not in the film and then they invented a version where he stuck around and changed completely and was really into having a baby. I thought, That’s
just not him. In the end we gave up and they wrote a completely different version… which worked rather well, I thought.” “I mean, there was the horror, obviously, of having to do that dance scene, which I always suspected would have be the most excruciating scene ever committed to celluloid. There are lots of people who think it is, to this day… well, some people love it. But it’s just not easy for an Englishman in his forties, to – at seven o’clock in the morning, stone-cold sober – when someone says, ‘OK, Hugh: if you’d just like to freak out now.’ That’s tricky. It was a very difficult scene to do, but I don’t know why it’s still so popular. Everyone watches it [on TV] at Christmas. That’s very nice.”
On His Personal Favourites...
“Well, there are some movies and shows that I can look more squarely in the face than others. This one, for sure, I’m proud of. In fact, the last three I’m very proud of: Paddington 2. I think it’s kind of weird for a film [to be called] called Paddington 2 but I do think it’s a masterpiece, that film. The film with Meryl,
Florence Foster-Jenkins, and before that I think About a Boy is another film that was good. Yeah.”