The Washington Post
Was Hugh Grant being rude or just British in red-carpet interview at Oscars?
london — British actor Hugh Grant’s unconventional approach to typical red-carpet chitchat at the Oscars kicked off a heated debate about whether he was rude. Some Brits argue: He was just being British.
Grant went viral online for his evasive answers in a brief interview with model Ashley Graham, in an interaction dubbed on social media as “deliciously awkward,” as she struggled to engage the “Notting Hill” star.
Asked by an upbeat Graham whom he was most “excited” to see win an Academy Award, Grant curtly replied: “No one in particular.” Shifting the focus to fashion, Graham chirpily asked which designer he was wearing. “Just my suit,” Grant said, deadpan. Graham valiantly persisted, asking who made it. “I can’t remember. My tailor,” Grant added.
Graham then engaged the veteran actor in conversation about the Netflix whodunit movie “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” Grant downplayed his role: “Well, I’m barely in it. I’m in it for about three seconds.”
While Grant, who has been acting since the 1980s, is no stranger to these Hollywood events, the exchange was not at all surprising in Britain, where part of the social fabric is to avoid bragging, talking too much about oneself or even admitting to how much fun one is having. Discussing expensive designer labels? A crass faux pas.
“American Twitter is so mad about Hugh Grant giving an interview that would be totally normal at any British event,” said one viewer, defending Grant’s behavior.
“Hugh Grant doesn’t mean to be rude here, but this is how it feels like to be British and confronted by absurdly enthusiastic American extroverts,” another said.
Perhaps nothing encapsulated that more than Graham’s followup about Grant’s short appearance in “Glass Onion.” “But still, you showed up, and you had fun, right?” she continued. “Almost,” Grant retorted, as the interview drew to a painful close.
British humor, examples of which include comedic sketch troupe Monty Python and dryhumored actor Ricky Gervais, has often been regarded as “quirky, sarcastic and self-deprecating,” Sarita Malik, professor of media and culture at Brunel University London, said in a Tuesday interview. Much of it has crossed over to audiences in the United States with “great success.”
However, Grant’s red-carpet interview “is a classic case of different senses of humor jarring and being interpreted differently,” Malik said.
Grant, she added, had made a career of “playing up to this idea of quintessential Britishness. His persona is a typical mix of posh charm and grouchiness.”
Yet another culture clash came when Graham asked Grant his favorite thing about attending the Oscars.
“It’s fascinating. The whole of humanity is here; it’s vanity fair,” he quipped, making a reference to the 19th-century novel by British author William Makepeace Thackeray, which satirizes rampant ego, class and consumerism.
“Oh, it’s all about Vanity Fair, yes, that’s where we let loose and have a little bit of fun,” Graham nods in agreement, assuming Grant is talking about the storied Oscars after-party hosted by the Condé Nast magazine.
The clip has been viewed thousands of times across social media platforms with reactions from Americans and Brits.
It was “kind of pretentious of him to be making the reference in this context,” one unimpressed viewer said.
Others questioned why Grant had bothered to attend or be interviewed if he had such disdain for the event.
“I don’t understand this from Hugh Grant. If you don’t want to be interviewed, don’t take the mic, smile politely and keep walking. Kudos to @ashleygraham for trying repeatedly to get something interesting out of him,” another said.
Molly Geidel, a senior lecturer in American studies at the University of Manchester, said Grant’s response to the cheery Graham in itself was British. “In my experience, one of the things that unites most British people is contempt for the slick servicewith-a-smile U.S. work culture,” said Geidel, who grew up in Vermont before moving to England.
“Until recently, people here in the U.K. prided themselves [on] not having to perform fake happiness, or what we sometimes call affective labor,” she added.
Some online in the United States applauded Graham’s efforts.
“I am very sorry that Hugh Grant was so incredibly disrespectful and rude to you. I salute you for holding your composure,” one Graham admirer tweeted. “She really took the hits & kept getting up & going. Mad respect,” another said.
Graham herself was asked about the interview Monday by a TMZ photographer at the airport and said: “You know what? My mama told me to kill people with kindness, so there you go.”
Malik suggested that perhaps Grant’s critical relationship with the media was on display during the interaction.
Grant has in recent years become a vocal campaigner for a more accountable press, supporting the British advocacy group Hacked Off after he was one of many high-profile victims to have his phone hacked by tabloid journalists.
Undeterred, Graham finished the interview cheerfully.
“It was nice to talk to you,” she told Grant with a smile — a performance some commentators have said should earn her a best actress award.