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Trash Talker?

Between his roles in mostly romantic comedies, the witty, urbane British actor Hugh Grant loves a testy game of golf.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Hugh Grant, November/December 2009

(continued from page 1)

It's hard to square the golf-course Grant with the movie-star version: the handsome British actor with the winning smile, an abundance of charm and a certain calm sangfroid, even in the most embarrassing of situations.

That's the Hugh Grant who burst into the public consciousness with 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral, and cemented the impression with films as varied as Sense and Sensibility (1995), Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones' Diary (2001) and About a Boy (2002). He's got dazzling timing and a great way with comedy about characters who have heart—often in spite of themselves.

He's so good at it that critics often sell him short, assuming he's just playing himself on-screen. But the opposite is true.

Comedian Robert Klein, who costarred with Grant and Sandra Bullock in 2002's Two Weeks Notice, calls the actor "Cary Grant—suave. He's a classic leading-man movie star. He's not Wallace Beery, he's a British gentleman. There's a vulnerability he's selling. People want to hug him, he seems like such a nice fellow."

Writer-director Marc Lawrence has worked with Grant three times: on Two Weeks Notice,, 2007's Music and Lyrics and the recently completed Did You Hear About the Morgans?, which opens December 11. He says that Grant has a unique ability to make hard work look effortless on-screen.

"If you talk about romantic comedy and you line up the best who have ever done it, he'd be one of the 10 greatest we've ever had," Lawrence says. "Comedy really is difficult—either people laugh or not. What he does really is distinct, in the characters he plays and the mannerisms he uses. To come off as naturally as he does is the hardest thing to do.

"You know the saying, 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard'? The things people win Oscars for, crying and things like that, for most actors, that's easier to do than play comedy. The hardest thing is to appear like a real person, to be credible. He can do that—and be funny."

If Grant would rather spend time on the golf course than a movie set, it's because he has mixed feelings about acting. But then, acting was meant to be only a fleeting vocation: "I promised myself 25 years ago when I started that acting would be a temporary thing that I would do for a year," Grant says. "Then suddenly a funny script arrives and I think, well, I'll do one more."

Grant was reared in the West London area of Chiswick, where his father ran a carpeting firm and his mother taught French, Latin and music. Though his mother descended from nobility and his father came from a military background, Grant's upbringing was solidly middle class. His competitive spirit extended to rugby, cricket and soccer, all of which he played in high school, as well as competing on a scholastic quiz-show team.

A graduate of Oxford University (which he attended on scholarship), he participated in student theatrical productions ("I did 'Hamlet' in 'Star Trek' costumes at 21," he points out) while majoring in art history. When he graduated, he was offered a scholarship to do post-graduate work as an art historian.

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