His films have grossed more than 2.5 billion dollars worldwide, yet when Hugh Grant received Zurich's prestigious Golden Icon Award for his life's work at the Zurich Film Festival, he seemed surprised and couldn’t help but joke. “I’ve got very few awards in my life. I am a little bitter about it. So it is lovely to get this.” (It should be added that Grant has won one award: the Best Actor/Comedy or Musical Golden Globe for his performance in Four Weddings And A Funeral.)
He continued to charm the festival crowd, ”I’ve always loved the Swiss. I’ve always had a nice time here. Some of my most prized possessions are Swiss. I have a lovely walking stick with badges of the Matterhorn. I use it to play golf in the evenings when I am drunk. Now that my lifetime is nearly over, I will be using it to actually walk. I have a beautiful Swiss army knife. I used the scissor function to cut my brother’s hair off when he was asleep. And when he was angry, I used the knife function to stab his teddy bear to death. I shouldn’t have done that. I was 51.”
At a press conference for his new film Florence Foster Jenkins at Zurich’s luxury hotel Baur au Lac, Grant looked back at his 30-year career. “It was appalling when I started. That’s why I continued. I wanted to get better. Every film is a learning experience. About A Boy (2002) gave me a big boost and this one.“ In Florence Foster Jenkins Grant plays a penniless and failed actor who latches on to a tone-deaf but wealthy heiress (Meryl Streep) who dreams of becoming an opera singer. “He appears on the surface to be this suave, debonair English man but in reality he was a failed actor, who just didn't quite have the talent and the only thing that gave him a position in life was his marriage to this woman,” explained Grant. “What I enjoyed playing was the outward shell of this debonair Englishman, but underneath he's a rather desperate man clinging to this life, because he has nothing else.”
Before taking on that role, Grant took a break from acting and got involved with politics after his phone got hacked by a British tabloid. He lobbied for strict regulations of the British press through his organization “Hacked Off.” “I was very passionate about it. When I look back on my life, I will look back on those five years doing that campaign, as one of the very things I am really proud of. We did change the law,” he said. This past August Grant was kind enough to serve as one of the presenters at the HFPA’s Annual Grants Banquet, when we announce our support to various non-profits, universities and schools.
While Grant has become linked to romantic comedies, he said he felt no particular affinity for the genre. “It was never my favorite genre. I wasn’t dying to be in one. It just happened that the talent I had fitted into that genre quiet well,“ he said. “I prefer films like this. There is more texture and more meat to get your teeth into. Playing the lead in romantic comedies is quiet a tricky business. There is always the danger that the lead becomes nauseating or sentimental. It’s difficult to keep him grounded and interesting. Playing complicated people is far more interesting. I am too old for romantic comedies now. It’s a relief.“
As for playing alongside Mery Streep, he joked, “she is pretty good.“ He compared working with her to playing tennis with Roger Federer.” If you play tennis against Roger Federer, you play better. It was good for my game and just fascinating to watch someone as brilliant as Meryl Streep.”
Despite enjoying some of the best reviews of his career for his role in Florence Foster Jenkins, Grant said watching himself onscreen remains excruciating. “I've read that I hate all my films. That's not true, the films are often great. It's just me that I loathe,” Grant said. “I always think, 'Oh you screwed that up.' You never feel great about your own stuff. It's like in the old days of answering machine messages you always felt nauseated when you heard your own voice. And watching yourself on film is that times 50.” He also said, “I skip the good reviews and go straight to the bad ones. I am British, we like pain.”
His advice to young actors is simple. “Do not rehearse,” he warns. “I always thought I study the part, learn the lines and practice by myself in front of the bathroom mirror. That is a terrible mistake. You’ve got to have the guts and go in and completely make it up in the moment. The camera loves things that are absolutely fresh and made in that moment. The editor will always think that’s a brilliant take. Pre-rehearsed stuff is always a bit dead.“ While agents and managers guide most actors, Grant said he likes to listen to himself. “The agents I’ve had always hated me because I only listened to myself. Occasionally, I ask a few friends what they think of a script. I’ve never been a good client to an agent. In fact, I went for 4 years without any agent at all, except one that I invented. I saved myself a fortune.“