Richard E. Grant
The flamboyant thesp on his eclectic, electric career…
Exploding into movie consciousness as a rakish, unemployed actor in 1987’s Withnail And I, the seductively articulate Richard E. Grant has appeared in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Spice World and everything in-between. But there’s more to the Swaziland-born star than loquacious booze hounds, including, er, alcoholic grifter Jack Hock, the shady confidant of Melissa McCarthy’s forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
How did CYEFM? come about?
I was given 24 hours to read it, and said, “What is this, Mission: Impossible?” Then I thought, “Well, whoever died, this is a great opportunity for me.”
How key was Lee Israel’s memoir in bringing Jack Hock to the screen?
Vitally. There was relatively so little about him, just that he’d been in prison for two years for holding up a taxi driver at knife point. I got Jack’s little cigarette holder from Lee’s memoir. It suggests a louche, gadabout image that he had, trotting about Greenwich Village in the early ’90s.
Like Jack, your most famous role is a dissolute alcoholic, and you’re…
Teetotal! Nine minutes is the longest
I’ve been able to keep alcohol down without being violently ill for 24 hours.
Are you surprised by the legacy of
Withnail And I?
Absolutely astonished. Because of the 30th anniversary, I went to screenings of it for the first time. What was surreal was hearing people who knew all the dialogue in a way that I certainly don’t. There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t say a line of that film to me.
Bruce Robinson’s follow-up, How To is fascinating…
Get Ahead In Advertising,
He was so splenetic about Mrs. Thatcher, it was a one-man movie rant against her. He said to me after the first week of shooting Withnail, “We’re going to do another film together about a talking boil.” It seemed so unlikely. Anyway, we did, and it was annihilated by the press when it came out!
And later, you were in
The Iron Lady… Believe me, [Bruce] has never stopped ranting at me about that. I read that [Michael Heseltine] took umbrage that they cast an actor who wasn’t even blond. But working with Meryl Streep is like… a thrill.
Wah-Wah is based on your own childhood. Was it hard to make?
It was difficult to write, because you’re sitting in a room and recreating all the stuff that had gone on. But in directing it, I was a middle-aged man going back to Swaziland where all these things had happened. To be in control as the writerdirector; that was a great experience.
What was it like making Spice World at the peak of Spice Mania?
I was so derided by other actors who got very grand. I had an eight-year-old daughter who was obsessed with them and begged me. The irony is that two decades later, I got to meet Adele, and Lena Dunham wrote a part for me in Girls, because they’d seen me in it.
It must have been a thrill to get the call for
Star Wars: Episode IX…
I’d seen the first film when I was a drama student at the age of 20 in 1977. So to be in one 41 years later is surreal. I ask J.J. Abrams to pinch my shoulder every day I go to work – and he does – to believe that I’m actually there.
When did you first meet J.J.?
I met him at the premiere of Rambling Rose in 1990. He was 24 years old, had a three-picture deal. He’d seen Withnail, and said, “I’m going to work with you one day.” Because I keep a diary, I remember this. I wrote down, “Met J.J. Abrams, a young buck, incredibly self-possessed, fast-talking, clearly rich and very successful – the bastard.” He didn’t remember, but I showed him my published diaries. He said, “Well, I’ve come good on my word!” JF
ETA | 1 FEBRUARY / CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? OPENS NEXT MONTH.
‘met j.j. abrams… fasttalking, clearly rich and successful – the bastard’
liViNG iN GRiN grant stars with melissa ‘Oscar-buzz’ mccarthy in the upcoming Can You Ever Forgive Me?