HFPA in Conversation: Hugh Grant, a Very English Man

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros October 3, 2018
Actor Hugh Grant, Golden Globe winner

armando gallo/hfpa

Golden Globe winner Hugh Grant returned to TV to play Jeremy Thorpe, a member of the British parliament, on Amazon’s limited series A Very English Scandal.  It’s his second collaboration with director Stephen Frears -  the first one was the movie Florence Foster Jenkins.  Two things are important to Grant when he chooses his roles.

“One is, is this a good fun part? Can I make something of this?  And the second part is, is the overall project going to work, is it going to be entertaining?  And those are two difficult boxes to tick.  It’s quite often you can tick one but you can’t tick the other. I had a slight hesitation with A Very English Scandal only because I’m too old for the role. But, luckily, almost no one has noticed that”, a funny and sarcastic Grant told HFPA journalist Janet Nepales in London.

He was familiar with the scandal-  in 1973 Thorpe, a married man and a leader of the liberal party was forced to stand trial, accused of the attempted murder of his gay lover. “It happened when I was a teenager, and we all used to enjoy it and giggle at it at school.  It had a certain Monty Python element.  He was a member of the British establishment, had gone to the poshest schools, the best universities, embroiled in a murder because he was a closet homosexual.”

Grant, the son of an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders and a schoolteacher, became an actor by accident. “There was no show business in my family at all.  I think they were slightly horrified when I ended up doing it.  It was all a fluke.  I was at Oxford, at university and I was studying English and did a little bit of theater.  Then one day some American graduate said, “I’ve got some money together to make an amateur film, do you want to play one of the parts? ” And I said, “No, thank you.”  Then he said, “Well, the girl who’s going to be in it, playing your lover, is Victoria Studd.”  I’d always fancied her, I’d always fancied her name, as well.  So, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”

He graduated from Oxford that summer and planned to study for another degree. “Then this film, Privileged, had a screening.  The film wasn’t brilliant at all, in fact, it was awful.  But some agents said to me, “Do you want to be an actor?”  And I said, “No, thank you.”  Then I thought, hang on.  It would be quite nice to earn a bit of money.  So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it for a year.”  And one year basically turned into 36.  Partly because I was so bad in those first jobs, I thought I better do one more just to prove I’m not that bad.  And it went on and on.”

Grant has been seen in movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sense and Sensibility, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, About a Boy, Cloud Atlas and Paddington 2.  What is his secret for a long career? “I think actors are there as technicians to help make a product, and the product is an entertainment, and you better bloody entertain people.  Otherwise, it’s a bit masturbatory.”

Listen to the podcast and hear why he thinks he got his acting genes from his mother; how it affected him that he didn’t have extra money during his childhood; why cleaning toilets at an IBM office affects what computer he is using now; why he planned to study art history; what he promised himself when he was 22; when he worked with a psychopath; why he was fired from Ford; how the sketch comedy group Jockeys of Norfolk became famous; how it was working with Roman Polanski in the film Bitter Moon, in which Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s wife, was the lead; why he wanted to give up acting; why he was surprised that audiences loved Four Weddings and a Funeral; how was it working with Julia Roberts on Notting Hill; what is his take on fame; why he has done fewer films than other actors; why he dreamt about golfing in the middle of the night; why he found working with Meryl Streep terrifying; which other British scandal interests him; why being a father made him nicer; why he is happy now; what being English means to him and why he doesn’t mind aging.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.