When it comes to playing the shallow cad, Hugh Grant seems to have that market cornered. At least lately. He shone playing that kind of character in Bridget Jones’ Diary, and returns in fine form as the selfishly egotistical, wealthy corporate boss opposite Sandra Bullock’s idealistic lawyer in Two Weeks Notice.
“That’s very nice of you to think that I’m good at playing those kinds of roles”, says a self-effacing Grant in a New York hotel room. “I think it’s bizarre, because I think of myself as a rather deep and meaningful person and not really interested in the superficialities of life.” Well, not really, one can tell by the slight grin. He clearly relishes playing the comic rogue, though. “Actors tend to like anything devilish, which is always more fun than being Mister goody two shoes, of which I’ve done my fair share, and let me tell you that stuff is really hard.”
Such as those characters in Notting Hill or Four Weddings and A Funeral, which Grant says are “really based on the guy who wrote them, Richard Curtis. That’s really hard to pull of and not be obnoxious, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who think they ARE obnoxious. On the other hand, if you’re being slightly devilish, shallow and womanizing, audiences are much more sympathetic towards you,” Grant laughingly admits. The actor even feels a sense of identification with these kinds of characters. “There’s a certain amount of wish fulfilment, of: Oh I could have ended up like one of these guys, so it’s quite fun to live out that life, now.”
The 42-year old Brit, who not only has the market cornered on being the selfish cad, but a certain type of romantic comedy in which he snugly fits. Finding a good script is often a challenge. “That’s where the trouble goes in that you have to just reject everything that isn’t incredibly well written; that’s my only real secret in this game,” admits the actor. “It means I turn down 990 scripts out of a thousand, then when you find one that’s good you grab it with both hands. After that you keep working at it, keep bullying the writer and make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be.” And then of course you need your perfect comic partner.
In the case of Two Weeks Notice, it’s old friend Sandra Bullock. “Sandra and I have been trying to do it for years and years [work together that is, let me clarify that.]”, Grants says laughingly. “I don’t know why she’d want to work with ME, but I wanted to work with her just because I’ve always admired her, thought she’s the girl, queen of that kind of stuff. She’s a brilliant comedienne, sort of gorgeous and charming and I just thought that could work and I think it helps with the chemistry a little bit, if there’s a part of you that quite fancies the person you’re doing ii with.”
Grant may come across as a good-humoured, nice guy, but the one thing that riles him is the press. More often than not kind to Hugh, there have been moments where he feels the media has gone too far. Rumours were flying thick and fast, for example, that all was not well on the set of Two Weeks Notice. Though Grant admits that there’s nothing one can do about what is written by misinformed journalists, nevertheless he doesn’t handle it well. “I’m enraged. If someone prints a blatant lie about you or the film you’ve worked on really hard, you do grind your teeth. How could you not?” questions the angry actor. He also has opinions about the whole celebrity/media circus that exists in today’s Hollywood. “I don’t mind promoting a film, that’s absolutely fine; you do a press junket, that’s great, as you get a chance to talk about the film and everything. But apart from that, I don’t personally feel that actors have ANY responsibility to cooperate with the celebrity soap opera that sells magazines and TV shows around the world. I really think my only duty is to try and make a film that’s entertaining. So if I’m chased in the street by a photographer, and I say, please go away, I’m doing my shopping, and they say, ah but you love it’ The truthful honest answer is that, no, I DON’T love it, and nor do I need it in any shape or form. All I know is that my films are good and I am not crap in them.” Grant disagrees that a lot of young actors seek publicity. “That’s a myth. I have never come across anybody who does that. Perhaps at the very lowest depths of soap operas or something there are some actors who want that stuff, but I have literally never come across anyone who was ever done this mythical thing of setting up a photo opportunity or courting publicity. You do a film or you do a TV thing, you promote it, and beyond that, that’s it. I really don’t know anyone who’s out to be a celebrity for celebrity’s sake, and if they are they’re sick.”
As for him handling the paparazzi, here are the rules according to the always dashing Mr Grant. “You should just always smile, that’s what politicians do. You smile within the focal range of their camera so they can’t get a picture, and then you kick them fucking hard in the kneecaps. Then of course you walk away regretting it bitterly.”
It’s hard to imagine that Hugh has been a professional actor since the early eighties, but it was the low-budget hit comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral that escalated his career, and led to an ongoing professional relationship with Richard Curtis. Grant says that nobody was more surprised than Curtis of the effect that Four Weddings would have on either career. “In terms of catapulting my career, or of me having a career, I think it was a great surprise to Richard, who had seen some of my previous work and enjoys quoting it back to me. He’s got all those tapes. But it was shocking that the film became such a big thing, and I don’t know what it shows. I mean, with Richard’s stuff in general, he’s one of the few people who dare to actually write about love and about people liking each other, which is all very unhip. But it seems that deep down, people actually want that stuff as long as you’re funny enough while you’re doing it.”
Having recently completed Curtis’ latest script, Love Actually [which was also directed by the scribe himself], Grant describes it as “an ensemble piece, like ‘Short Cuts’ but funny.” He plays “a fictional prime minister who falls in love with the girl who brings in his tea every day.” Definitely not a womanising cad this time around. “No, he’s not. He’s a pretty charismatic, nice Prime Minister with his heart in the right place. He’s interested in Third World relief, coincidentally all the things that Richard Curtis is interested in politically.”
While Grant excels in being comedically romantic on screen, off screen, he has a more barbed view of romance, agreeing, that “perhaps I am a bit cynical. But very often the older you get the more open you get, so I hope I’m getting a bit warmer and nicer.” He also jumps back and forth on that whole quitting acting line which he often throws around. “I’m truly schizophrenic about that. I have days, mornings, when I think, ?eah, this is a good job. It’s going well. I like it and other days when I think it’s demeaning and ghastly. Also there’s too much pressure, especially these days with this madness of films having to be huge opening films and all that. What I found out reading that book ?asy Rider, whatever it’s called, is that films always used to be platform release, in that you put it out in a few cinemas, if people liked it, boom, they’d make it bigger and bigger. That’s the way to do it! This is a form of sort of masochism to put all this incredible pressure on a weekend. Not to mention I think a terrible waste of money.”
If he were to ever give up acting, Grant admits that he might concentrate on directing, “or go and write my novel that I’ve been talking about for 16 years. I’ve had a thing in my head for years and years, but God knows if I’ll ever do it. The problem now is that I’m potentially the idle rich, really. I used to be the idle poor, which is a big difference,” says Grant, laughingly.