July 1999 By Philip Berk
Has there ever been a star as witty as Hugh Grant?
At his press conference for Mickey Blue Eyes, which he co-produced and stars in, he’s as scintillating as ever.
Too bad the film isn’t.
The film opened well for a Hugh Grant film but not as well as a Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant film.
Self deprecatingly he admits, “If Julia made a film with Mussolini, it would make $150 million.”
He’s only half right.
If everyone held up his or her end, the way Hugh does, the film would have been a smash.
Not to disparage his producer, and soul mate, Elizabeth Hurley, but at the very least she could have hired a more experienced director.
Supposedly when additional scenes were needed, Hugh took over, which of course he denies, even though he admits, “I would like to direct. Producing gives you a little taste of power, but it’s very corrupting. I’ve often noticed that the only person who has a really great time on a film is the director, so I’d like to do that.”
Another thing he admits to is, when the need arises, lie.
“My instinct in life has always been, if in doubt, lie. It makes for an easier life. Truth is very over-valued, like when people come backstage and say, ‘Do you mind if I’m honest darling?’ My answer absolutely is, ‘Yes, I do. Lie, please, lie.’ So I’d say that truth is vastly overrated.”
What qualifies Elizabeth as a producer?
“People say the greatest quality a producer needs is the ability to inspire enthusiasm, but I think it’s the ability to inspire fear, and Elizabeth is very very good at that. But seriously she’s there all day, every day. She’s not at all fly-by-night or dilettante. She only missed one day which is something you never come across working with (producer) Ismael Merchant.”
(Merchant of course is the producing half of the Merchant Ivory films notorious for cost-cutting and scrounging for money. Hugh made two films for them, Maurice and Remains of the Day.)
I remind him that his 39th birthday is coming up soon (September 9th.)
What gift would he like from Elizabeth?
Without hesitation, he replies, “I’d like her to give me some of my money back. One of the things that makes her an effective producer is her ability to swindle money out of people. And in the case of my house, she did.
“We had this perfectly nice apartment in London, and then Elizabeth persuaded me to buy this enormous house and said we’ll split the cost. I agreed to that, and we bought it and signed the deeds together, but then when it came to the moment to actually pay for it, she pulled the old ‘haven’t got my checkbook’ stunt on me, and I went along with it, until a few weeks later, I saw her writing some checks for something, and I said, ‘You know darling, now might be a nice time to pay me back for half the house,’ and she said, ‘No I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m not going to.’ Simple as that. And I said, ‘But our joint names are on the deed,’ and she said, ‘Yes I know.’ So effectively I’ve been swindled out of half a house. I should be angry, but all I can do is admire her really. Just so barefaced!”
Has she tried to swindle him out of paying his salary as an actor?
“Luckily that doesn’t go through her. That comes direct from the studio. I have a wonderful relationship with Castle Rock, the most civilized – the only civilized studio in Hollywood. I’m friendly with them, so when I make a film for them, the head of the studio comes into my office and says, ‘Okay Hugh, we’re going to pay you X dollars,’ which is a very high figure. And I say, ‘No, no, no, you’ll pay me Y,’ which is much lower. And then we split the difference That’s not classic Hollywood negotiation, you know.”
(Alan Horn, the head of Castle Rock, was recently hired to run Warner Bros.)
What are the differences working in Hollywood as opposed to England?
“Working in England, we’re so pleased to have got the money, it’s a real party atmosphere. It’s quite festive. Everyone parties in the evening, gets drunk, and all the crew have affairs with each other. It’s all very scandalous and gossipy. America is a little duller because so many films are made here. You could be making a refrigerator or a car.”
James Caan, who plays his future father-in-law in Mickey Blue Eyes, has called him an English wimp.
What’s his response?
“I don’t think we’re wimpy. I certainly don’t see myself as one. I had a fight in Munich about five years ago, and I think I won.”
“I was walking down the street. I wanted to cross the road, but instead of the green man, it was the red man. Everyone does that a few times, but this Munich driver — very recht is recht — jumped out of his car with his girlfriend, came up to me and started slapping me about. And I protested, ‘Right oh, steady on old boy,’ and I’m afraid I lost my temper and whacked him quite hard in the head and knocked off his little Tyrolean hat. We had to be separated by a passing nun. So I can get ugly.”
Has he always enjoyed celebrity?
“The truth is, yes. I’ve always wanted to be mobbed by screaming girls on the street, but it never really happens sufficiently. To be absolutely honest, I’ve always wanted to be one of those rock stars who gets sent women’s underwear. I have been sent underwear, but it’s by a man who was actually in an English prison, and I kind of wish he’d stop, but I’m too polite to say anything.”
A Japanese journalist took this seriously and asked him if had “a little bit of gay in him,”
Taken aback momentarily, he replied, “As you know, all Englishmen are gay deep down, so I suppose from that point of view I’ll have to admit, yeah, I suppose you’re right. In fact I’ll take this opportunity to come out. Start with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.”
Speaking of fey qualities, in Mickey Blue Eyes his fiance makes fun of the way he runs.
Did he come up with that idea?
“It comes from something that happened to me on Four Weddings and a Funeral. There was a scene where I chase Andie McDowell along the banks of the Thames, and after a few takes the director came up to me rather embarrassed and said, ‘Look, I’m really sorry to ask you to do this, Hugh, but can you do one where you run like a man.’ And I was very hurt; so that’s when I first discovered that people think I have a strange run. In fact they think I have the run of a six year old girl. So we thought we’d bring that into the film partly because it was funny and partly because it’s psychologically a good way of exorcising your demons.”
Since he and Elizabeth are so compatible (they are mirror images of each other) why aren’t they married?
“Who knows. It’s a good match, she’s my best friend, my soul mate.”
Then turning to the assemblage he blurts out, “Now leave me alone!”
Is he aware he has become a footnote in TV history?
After his arrest in Hollywood for soliciting a prostitute, he made a surprise appearance on the Jay Leno Late Night Show.
Leno’s ratings which were nose-diving at the time, did an about turn and has remained on top ever since.
Unimpressed he tells me, “I wish I had handled things as well as Julia’s character did in Notting Hill, with publicists, security men, dignity. I remember attacking paparazzis with an umbrella, which is a bad thing to do especially if the umbrella turns out to be your mum’s umbrella with a duck’s head on the end that comes off when you’re hitting them, and you have to scramble for it in the gutter.”
Could he have been better prepared for stardom?
“To be perfectly truthful, having done eight or nine years of consistently failure films, I never really thought I’d get famous. Occasionally I’d lie in the bath and rehearse how good I’d be on a chat show if I ever went on one. I did think I’d try to be honest. But when I first started getting all the attention, after Four Weddings and a Funeral, I realized that can be a terrible mistake.
“As I’ve said before, honesty isn’t necessarily the best policy when doing interviews. If you say, ‘Oh God, I thought I was hopeless in that film,’ they take it at face value and write, ‘Yes it was hopeless.’ So I’ve learned you have to blow your own trumpet a bit..”
What about children?
“Maybe Elizabeth should announce that she’s pregnant, then I would suddenly, overnight, turn nicer.”
Would he make a good father?
“I think I would make a delightful father. But I’m more worried about Elizabeth because she’s (the one) who said she wants a child, but a few years ago when she wanted a rabbit I got her one. She liked it for about an hour, and then she looked at it and said, ‘Oh, it’s a bit like a rat, isn’t it? Oh, take it away. Take it away.’ And the poor little thing just ran round the flat for a week, and then I had to take it to a nice home. So I’m worried she might do that with a child.”
What rules would he impose if he had children?
“I have no idea. I don’t know what the hell you do with children. Obedience I guess. I’ve always admired Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. When they all come downstairs, he whistles and they salute. I’d like my children like that.”
Is he, like all Virgos, obsessive and compulsive?
“Elizabeth would tell you yes, but that’s only because she is the messiest person in the world. And I spend my life cleaning up over her.”
And is she as bossy as we’ve heard?
“A lot of her bossiness is really quite odd. There’s a story I always tell about her assertiveness. Once we had to go somewhere. I was waiting for her in the car, sitting in the passenger seat, ‘Come on, come.’ Eventually she got behind the steering wheel and she said, ‘Well for God sake, drive!’ And I said, ‘But you’re sitting behind the steering wheel,’ which is quite typical of her assertiveness.
“She also has this odd idea that she can do anything. We always have this conversation about my teeth. I have Austin Powers teeth, and we’ve talked about whether they should be fixed, evened up a bit. And she said, ‘Oh no, no, we don’t need to have a dentist. I can do it with my nail file.’ And what’s scary, she wasn’t joking.”
Does he watch his rushes?
“They won’t let me because towards the end of Four Weddings, I watched the rushes and I was so devastated by how unfunny and terrible I thought the film was, I had to be helped sobbing onto the set.”
Is he worried about turning forty?
“I know it’s scary. I have thought about doing something else, but I’m very proud of Notting Hill and Mickey Blue Eyes, and I’ve got this Woody Allen film coming up. But it is tempting because I promised myself for sixteen years I’ll give up acting and do something else. Maybe this is the time. Three good movies, the end of the millennium, middle-aged man. I have a very bad novel I’ve been trying to write since I was eighteen. I’d quite like to do that really.”
When not working, what does he like to do?
“I really like to go out and have big dinners and drink an awful lot. That’s my favorite. I’ve always liked English food which may sound strange because English food is famous for being revolting, but I love it. I was brought up on it, and I was a bit fat.”
Does he enjoy listening to music?
“I’m embarrassed to say I’m really terrible on music. Always have been. There’s something wrong with me. I’ve never had any records. Well, I have one. Somebody gave me Godspell when I eleven.”