Hugh Grant's Awfully Big Adventures
It's his upper lip. Quivering. Forming into an expression that'shalf-smile, half-sneer. Or maybe it's his eyelashes. The way theyflutter before he speaks. As actor Hugh Grant pauses in the lobby ofa New York hotel, you're compelled to study his face and bodylanguage. What is it about him that works so well? Women, men, bothyoung and old, fawn, swoon and hang on his every word. Standing amonga crowd of assistants, publicists and star-struck onlookers, Grantseems absolutely natural. Whether on or off camera, his charm flowseffortlessly. But it's all quite deceiving."He's an actor who works with extraordinary precision," says MikeNewell, who directed Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral andthe upcoming An Awfully Big Adventure. "Hugh appears to be whatevery British actor wants, the ultimate talented amateur. Of courseit's not true. Hugh works immensely hard." "Did you see Hugh's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes?" Newellasks, referring to the stumbling, rambling remarks Grant made inJanuary after being named Best Male Lead in a Comedy for FourWeddings. "That was a rehearsed speech. Hugh's a very clever man.Nothing is amateur about Hugh." And look at the results. Grant's persona of a bumbling English chapwho fumbles over every word and trips in every doorway, while alwayswinning the girl, has made him a worldwide star. To his fans and thepress, that's the real Hugh Grant. Is it an act?"I probably am nicer to the press than I would normally be," Grantsays in an interview, in a room in the same hotel. "You probablywould be, too. You don't want to bring your black side out." In his films, this bumbling English chap is the Grant audiences wantto see. So what will he do? Continue to give the people what theywant, or expand his craft as an actor? With three diverse roles thissummer -- in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down aMountain (now open), Nine Months (July 14) and An AwfullyBig Adventure (July 21) -- audiences truly will see the two sides of Hugh Grant. Success changes everythingA little more than a year ago, Grant could have stood in this samelobby all day and no one would have noticed. No entourage. Noonlookers. But success changes everything. Four Weddings and a Funeral, acomedy about a perpetual British bachelor (Grant) who falls in lovewith an American woman (Andie MacDowell), earned $234 millionworldwide to become the most successful British film in history.Grant is now one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors."It's a very odd situation," Grant admits. Dressed in khakis, brownleather boots and a worn tweed jacket, he looks completely relaxed. Not true, he says, explaining that he's still getting used to hisstardom. "I don't really have the hang of it yet," Grant says. "Thephone never stops ringing with things. You have to get all the ad menout of the way. Then, you can do the creative stuff. I feel like arabbit caught in the headlights." Instead of a rabbit, Hollywood sees Grant as more of a golden goose.Everyone seems to have a project for him. Grant was approached at apost-Oscars party about playing a snowman. Director John Hughes(Home Alone) wanted him for a movie about a bee. Joel Silver,producer of blockbuster action films like Die Hard andLethal Weapon, posed the quintessential Hollywood question: CanHugh Grant carry a gun? Grant's not complaining. Sure, the paparazzi often take unflatteringphotos. In England, Fleet Street tabloids print new lies about himevery day in the gossip columns. Reporters bang on his parents' doorsat all hours. But Grant knows it all comes with the territory. At 34,he has struggled too long not to appreciate his new celebrity status.Born in London to a schoolteacher mother and acarpet-salesman-turned-artist father, Grant graduated from OxfordUniversity with a degree in English. After performing with the OxfordUniversity Drama Society, Grant formed the revue group Jockeys ofNorfolk, performing and writing satirical revues. Sitting in theaudience at one performance was director James Ivory, who cast him inMaurice (1987), an adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel aboutgay lovers. Grant later worked with Ivory and producer IsmailMerchant in The Remains of the Day. Grant's image as a prim and proper upperclass Englishman began totake shape. He played the composer Chopin in Impromptu (1989),a cruise-ship passenger who becomes obsessed with the sexualescapades of another couple in director Roman Polanski's BitterMoon (1992) and as a stiff preacher surrounded by an artist and hisnude models in Australian director John Duigan's Sirens (1994).Grant continued his theme of repressed British male characters inFour Weddings, but something different happened. The actorclicked with audiences. Really clicked. Four Weddingsaccomplished what 12 previous years of acting did not -- it made hima star. What happened? Christopher Monger, director of The Englishman Who Went Up aHill, claims it has to do with Grant's unique chemistry. "I thinkhe's charming and at the same time honest," Monger says. "It's a verywinning combination. I think he deserves (the stardom). It's greatfor him, and it's great for me." Now that Grant is a major star, working in small art films likeEnglishman may not be a wise career move. He plays an Englishcartographer who travels to the Welsh village of Ffynnon Garw tomeasure the local mountain. The resulting film is more an ensemblepiece than star vehicle; other characters often upstage Grant withfunnier dialogue. Its $5 million budget does not come close to thebacking for 20th Century Fox's Nine Months. "I thought the role was charming, but more than that I thought thefilm was charming," Grant says. "It worked, and scripts that work arejust one in thousands." Grant signed on to Englishman before Four Weddings tookoff, but then Monger got nervous. Financing hinged on Grant being apart of the project -- if he walked away for something bigger,Englishman would not be made. Grant stayed, and the filmrecently opened at 1,000 theaters nationwide. With Nine Months, a big-budget comedy from director ChrisColumbus (Mrs. Doubtfire), Grant answers the call of theHollywood blockbuster. Grant's character finds his ideal life turnedupside-down when his wife announces that she's pregnant. A big-studiopicture offers Grant perks he's not used to receiving. Biggerpaychecks. Famous co-stars like Tom Arnold and Robin Williams.Columbus changed the lead part, originally written as an American,just for Grant. Grant explains that it doesn't matter whether he'sworking on a small art film or a big studio release. There's alwayspressure. "(In small-budget films) you only have time and money for a fewtakes, and the pressure on you is enormous," he says. "Maybe you gotit right in rehearsal, but when they finally say 'action' you freezea bit because you think, 'Shit, I've got to get it in three takes orotherwise I won't get it.' And very often you, therefore, don't getit. If it was great, then that's a bonus. But if it wasn't, then itwas marvelous to have made the film anyhow. "For a big Hollywood studio it has to be great. It's very nice tohave lots of money and time for once, but it's also extremelyfrightening because you can't really say anymore, 'I didn't reallyget that because we didn't have enough time or enough money.' Thatputs it absolutely on you to come up with the goods." Charming in Englishman and madcap in Nine Months, Granttakes a completely different approach in An Awfully BigAdventure. He plays the acerbic director of a repertory theatercompany who has no patience for fools but a fondness for young boys.A long-standing project for Newell, Adventure was originallyscheduled as a BBC television drama. The BBC eventually pulled out,and Newell scraped together just enough money for a short productionschedule. Someone showed Grant a copy of the script, and he decidedhe had to be in it. Fans may be in for a shock. Industrypundits are calling it a bad career move. Grant just wanted anothergood role."I thought it was a good movie," says Grant. "I thought the scriptwas fascinating, and they are so rare. I didn't think it was a riskto my career, but I've been frightened to death by people coming upto me, important people in the industry who've come up to me andsaid, 'What the hell did you think you were doing?'" Newell says audiences will see more of the "real" Hugh Grant in hisAdventure role. "Hugh saw it as a tremendous opportunity toshow that he had range," he says. "He's much more like this characterthan his Four Weddings character. This character can draw bloodby what he says, and Hugh can do that. He lobbied me energeticallyfor the part. I was less than sure, but the financiers were very keenon Hugh because of Four Weddings." Juggling it allGrant stands at a crossroads -- between his famous persona and who hereally is, between his celebrity status and his desire to be a betteractor, between his past and his future. Although his name often comesup at Los Angeles parties, Grant keeps England his home. Recentlymoving out of his London apartment, he now shares a country home withhis girlfriend of eight years, Estee Lauder model Elizabeth Hurley.When not working, he plays soccer with friends and goes for drinks atthe local pub. He has no plans to relocate to America. "It's my home," Grant says of England. "It's my identity. You justdon't want to become another homogenized actor living exactly thesame way as all the other actors. You have to go and feed yourselfand center yourself. It's your roots, and I think you need to stayattached to them." Plan on seeing Grant in more American movies, but don't plan on himplaying any American characters. In the movies and in real life,Grant will remain British. "I seem to need the Britishness," he says."I'm not comfortable playing Americans. It just seems absurd."Grant also is interested in becoming active behind the camera.Through a deal with Castle Rock Films, Grant's development company isscouting for British talent to make England-based movies. He is alsodetermined to write, hoping to finish a screenplay for a comedy. "I have an extraordinarily and unjustifiably high opinion of my ownability to write a script," he says, "seeing that I never haveactually written one." Grant also continues to act. This fall, he'll be seen alongsideRobert Downey Jr. and Meg Ryan in the costume dramaRestoration. He begins work this summer on a film adaptation ofJane Austin's Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, whoalso wrote its screenplay. His choices are endless, but his decisionsremain difficult. "I always thought you had to prove yourself to be an actor and thenthe best directors would want to work with you," Grant says. "Now,there's this completely separate agenda, which is somehow maintainingwhatever this curious thing that makes you popular is, ,'3 and that's quite different. So you're really heading into twodirections at the same time, and that's difficult to juggle."