It seems unlikely that, at 58, Hugh Grant is celebrating his first Emmy nomination after a career spanning more than three decades, and which started on the small screen. Indeed, after his big breakthrough in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, he became such a big star that much of his earlier, lesser-known TV work was hastily rushed out onto video with his face dominating the packaging, so hot was the market for all things Grant. But in the shockwave of stardom that followed Four Weddings, Grant mainly kept his sights locked on the big screen.
That makes Amazon’s A Very English Scandal Grant’s first major television project since his career took flight, as television’s golden age continues to erode notions of a classist separation between the forms. And the nomination itself—for Lead Actor, Limited Series—is no surprise. As Jeremy Thorpe, the British politician forced to stand trial on conspiracy to murder his gay ex-lover, to keep their affair from becoming public in an age when homosexuality was a criminal act, Grant’s performance is a tour de force, at turns darkly comic and frighteningly Machiavellian. He plays with the idealized British charm innate to his most famous roles and subverts it with the kind of gusto that suggests he’d been waiting for a character like this to come for years.
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So with a watershed nomination for a landmark role in his long, distinguished career—which of us doesn’t have a favorite Hugh Grant performance?—it’s only fitting to ask Grant to delve into his history in film and television, and share his favorite parts, guilty pleasures and the ones that got away.
My First Film Lesson
I was cast in a television thing about Scott of the Antarctic [The Last Place on Earth]. This was in the mid-’80s. I was a complete new boy. Suddenly I was flown out to the Northern Territories of Canada, onto the sea ice with all these rather good actors. I’d driven my Ski-Doo way out onto the ice, and in the scene, I had to peer into the distance with a snow machine blowing snow in my face, and then walk back to the tent where everyone was dying. I did this. I walked back to the tent, they called cut, and I told them, “Well, I’ve done my bit.” So, I called for the man with the Ski-Doo and went all the way back to the hotel. I didn’t even know that you were supposed to do more than one take, let alone more than one angle. I had to be hauled back from the hotel, and I’d kept everyone waiting for an hour. They were freezing their bollocks off. I was just too frightened to ask what I was meant to do next.
The Best Advice I Ever Received
Mike Newell, who directed Four Weddings and a Funeral, was a bit mad, but very good. His mantra was always, “Freshen it up, darlings. Freshen it up.” I think that’s pretty good advice, actually. I would give that same advice to a young actor. Death is repeating what you rehearsed so perfectly in the mirror the night before. The camera hates it. If you can invent something new on the spot, and improvise, even if only mentally, the camera likes it that much better. Have a new thought.
The Part I Always Wanted
I’m very surprised I haven’t yet been cast in a war film, because I think I’d be marvelous. I’d look so nice in a uniform. I would have been great, I think, in those films made in the ’50s. One of my favorites is that David Niven film made during the war, The Way Ahead. It was made as a propaganda film. Things are going very badly for his platoon, and he says, “Stainer, do you still have that squeezebox of yours?” “Yes sir, I believe I have.” “Well, then, play it. And the rest of you, for heaven’s sake, sing.” And they all sing along to “Lily of Laguna”. Very moving. I could have done that. I should have done that sort of thing. I feel it’s in my blood.
My Dream Project
I have always had a plan to play my grandfather in his war story, but I’m too old now. Maybe I’ll just write and direct it instead. When the British were defeated, and had to be evacuated through Dunkirk, Churchill needed to keep the French fighting. One division was left in France: the 51st Highland Division, which included my grandfather. They were hopelessly under-equipped, like the whole British Army. Lightyears behind the Nazis. Eventually, they were surrounded in a seaside town, with Rommel on the top of the cliffs, pounding the life out of them. It was a huge massacre, but they fought on. Brave, brave men. Eventually they had to make the call to surrender. The chain of command had been passed down as far as my grandfather—he was in charge when they surrendered—and they were carted off to P.O.W. camps. My grandfather never really got over it. It marked a moment when the old standards of honor, to never surrender, became the modern standards of honor, where it was more honorable to save your men if you couldn’t win. I always thought that was an interesting debate.
The Most Fun I’ve Had on Set
I don’t know that acting is ever a pleasure, but in the old days, before I got a bit of success—before Four Weddings—films used to be fun. Frankly, you were grateful it was being made at all, and you were getting paid. There was never any real chance of anybody seeing it, so you could have fun, get drunk, and chat up your co-stars or the crew. Film units used to be really fun, especially if you were on location. Nobody had smartphones, so you really got to know one another. Everyone was having affairs and drinking all night. It’s so different now. There’s no misbehavior anymore. Actresses come out of their trailers on time. That’s boring. We used to love all the tantrums. I still like to throw in a mini tantrum, just to keep everyone going. One per film.
The Co-Star I’ve Tortured Most
I clearly want Ben Whishaw dead. Cloud Atlas came first. He played my wife in that, and I’ve clearly done terrible things to my wife. That’s Ben abuse number one. In Paddington 2 I put him in prison, and then tried to kill him on a train. Then, in A Very English Scandal, I seduce him, rape him, and try having him murdered. He’s been very nice about it.
My Toughest Challenge Yet
I struggle with them all, to tell the truth, but I remember being alarmingly lost when I agreed to play six different characters in the Wachowskis’ film Cloud Atlas. I thought it would be amusing and different, and I think it is kind of a masterpiece; so beautiful and brave as f*ck. But look, one of them, I’m a futuristic cannibal. How different. Suddenly, there I am on a mountaintop in Germany, dressed in a kilt, all made up with tattoos on my face, and I’ve got one of the Wachowskis saying to me, “Come on, man, just look at him like you want to f*cking eat him.” I thought… I don’t know what that looks like. Give me a witty line and I’m all right, but on that, I remember being very, very lost. And I think I might have been a bit sh*t as that cannibal.
The Films That Make Me Cry
Every film. I have just reached that age. If anyone holds hands in a film, either out of love or support, I blub. They don’t even have to be real. I cry at a lot of cartoons, which I watch with my children. Finding Nemo, I’m a wreck. But I realized I wasn’t alone when I was watching it on an airplane. I looked around in embarrassment as I blubbed and I realized the whole cabin was blubbing. All these businessmen in their suits. But literally, whatever the last film I saw was, I cried. It’s why I have to avoid them now; because I find them too moving. Watching films takes me into the abyss.
The Character That’s Most Like Me
My friends have always said that Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’ Diary was most like me. I think that’s a little harsh. But I did have fun with that character. Particularly on the first one; I think the second was a bit more of a challenge because the script was never quite right. But it was a lovely 180-degree swing from Mr. Diffident—that stutter-y, love-sick puppy who was, as I’ve often had to say in interviews, never me. People thought it was, but that character was all Richard Curtis. Funnily enough, I just did a miniseries with Nicole Kidman, called The Undoing. I hesitate to say too much without giving away some very big spoilers, but I think that’s pretty close to me, actually. You’ll have to wait and see what that is.
Lines People Quote at Me
I don’t think I’ve ever said anything memorable in a film. A lot of taxi drivers in London will say, “Fuhgeddaboudit,” referring to Mickey Blue Eyes. They like that scene, so I get that shouted at me a bit. You can usually tell the films people are going to bring up. Sometimes you see some real weirdos coming towards you with wild eyes, and you know they’ve seen Lair of the White Worm. “Great movie, man.” They take a lot of drugs, those guys.
My Desert Island Movies
It’s a very odd, eclectic, motley list, I’m afraid. I mean, I love violence, so Goodfellas would be in there. Casino. The Godfather. Once Upon a Time in America. But then I’d also have to have The Sound of Music. I don’t think I could live without that. My Swedish wife is used to real men. She comes from the north of Sweden, where men don’t even drink tea, because that’s considered too girly. I was caught by her once, watching The Sound of Music and singing along with the Mother Superior. And honestly, our marriage has never really been the same since.
The Role I’d Reprise
Well, there’s a certain sort of person who walks up and says they loved me as the Prime Minister in Love, Actually. I think I’d be a marvelous prime minister in real life, though some of my policies might seem a little eccentric to most people. I’d ban headphones; particularly earbuds. Anyone wearing earbuds, I think we should have the police arrest them on the spot. Leaf blowers, too. Anyone who uses a leaf blower, or hires someone to use one, should be compelled to wear it rectally, with it switched on. Maybe that’s a little extreme. I told you I probably wouldn’t win an election.
My Karaoke Playlist
I’m crap at music, really. I don’t know any. So, karaoke fills me with dread. I did once play that ’80s popstar in Music and Lyrics. That song I did, “PoP! Goes My Heart”, is sometimes on the karaoke playlist, so I sing my own song, which is very sad. My showstopper, though, is “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, of course.
My Guilty Pleasures
Antiques Roadshow. It’s just fascinating; the look of disappointment on people’s faces when it’s not worth what they thought it was. That show is an antique itself now. Secretly, I’d kind of like to be on Strictly Come Dancing [the British version of Dancing with the Stars]. It’d be beneath my dignity, obviously, but I would, really. I’ve developed rather a taste for dancing. I had to dance in Paddington 2, and in Love, Actually and other things, and it’s lovely. It’s a simple form of entertainment and there’s not enough of it. I’ve never done a proper musical, like those old Hollywood ones, and that’s what you need. I think the time has come. Remake The Sound of Music, maybe?
Who’d Play Me in My Life Story
Colin Firth, obviously. It’s the part he’s always wanted. Deep down, he knows that’s who he wants to be.