Hugh Grant clearly would rather be anywhere else than a large Beverly Hills hotel room in front of prying media. Affable enough, and even good humoured at times, Grant responds with an often quick-witted brevity to questions about the creepy arseholes he plays with such effortless glee.
“It’s sweet of you to say that,” he says smilingly when I suggest he has a knack of playing arseholes so well, as he does yet again in the latest chapter of Bridget Jones. “Now, I quite like it, because for years I sat in these interviews and everyone said, ‘you’re always Mister Nice Guy, so why don’t you ever play someone nasty?’ So in fact it’s been a relief for the real me to come out more on camera,” Grant says in his typical self-deprecating way. “I don’t have any particular burning desire to go back to being cuddly.
In Bridget Jones, Edge of Reason, Hugh returns to his guise as the bed-hopping Daniel Cleaver, playing him, yet again, with obvious relish, as the character heads to TV as the host of a travel show. Grant admits that doing the sequel to the original hit comedy, took a lot of convincing. “I’m always quite difficult, but I was really impossible on this one, and there was a lot of coming and going about the script and my part. To begin with, I was not convinced that Daniel Cleaver could ever go into television, a medium he despises, but I got my head around that and did a lot of work on just sort of trying to keep the cleverness of Daniel. I always thought one of the mitigating factors for him in the first film, was that he wasn’t just an arsehole, but actually quite a clever arsehole. I wanted to try and maintain that, so in things like his presentations to the camera in doing the smooth guide, I just tried to make them relatively clever.” Asked whether a character like Cleaver can change, Grant says emphatically not. “I think the short answer is that he can’t. Funnily enough, I think that if he has changed, he’d change for the worse, not the better.”
Not one to appear in a sequel, Grant says trhat some sequels are worthy, but they remain in the minority. “I don’t think they’re automatically to be despised. I’ve seen sequels that are – The Godfather, he throws out nervously, racking his brains for another example.” And as with the original, yet again, Hugh and like Grant’s fictional alter ego in the Bridget Jones films, the actor has steadfastly refused to marry, and while the British tabloids seem determined to see him tie the knot sooner than later, Grant says that he has other battles with Britain’s tabloids, other than his marriage plans. “Ah, I don’t feel THAT pressure. I mean, I feel other pressure from the British tabloids, but I don’t feel that particular pressure,” he insists, snickering at the mention of the British media.
Over the years, Hugh Grant has continued to make noises about giving up acting, as he insists on saying how the difficult the profession has become. Even during the course of this interview, Grant refers to film acting as “just a miserable experience… it’s so long, boring and so difficult to get right so that what you need above all is incredible willpower and strength of mind.” Asked whether that means Hugh is finally ready to give up the screen, the actor hedges his bets as much as possible. “Well, I haven’t done very much for about three years. I think I’ve just done that smallish part in Love Actually and the smallish part in this film, so I’m sort of semi-retired.” Not even a return to the stage holds huge interest. “It’s true that the stage is fun, but I can never justify it completely in my head because although I think it’s really fun for the performers, my experience as an audience member is 19 times out of 20 I think it’s purgatory to sit watching a play.. I think people keep going more, out of a sense of duty, like churchgoing, than anything else,” remarks Grant. But should we see the last of Grant on screen, he says that perhaps he might give screenwriting a shot. “I’m sure I’ve said to you a billion times that I keep thinking I’m about to write a brilliant script,” which of course he has not, he adds quickly. “I’ve done bugger all, all year and feel ashamed of myself.”
So perhaps we have seen the last of Hugh Grant? Only if Richard Curtis comes a calling. “Yeah, old friends and things and this one – that seems fine. But I’m not in a hurry to go and sit in big development meetings and make great big commercial films. I do have a touch of apathy about that.”