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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

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Instead, he took a variety of jobs, including reviewing books, writing commercials and tutoring. He also was part of a sketch-comedy group, the Jockeys of Norfolk, which was popular enough to get a regular spot on a BBC2 variety show.

Grant appeared in his first movie, Privileged, while still at Oxford (as Hughie Grant). Though he refers to it as "a pretentious film I did as an amateur," when other film roles were offered, he found it hard to resist.

"I thought I would do it for a year and earn some money and then get my master's degree," he says. "But the next one was so bad, it was humiliating. I thought, I'll do one more movie job and be better. And that went on for 16 years. And then I finally did one I thought was quite good. But it was hard, after so many years of doing one job, to stop."

During that period, he made films that ranged from the sublime (the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster's Maurice) to the ridiculous (Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm). He refers to those films as "Euro-puddings": "I was pretty damn bad in a lot of them—although the Champagne baron I played with a stick-on mustache was quite fun. But let's not beat about the bush: The Lair of the White Worm is quite a strange film.

"It's difficult to be good when you're saying lines that have been translated from Spanish to English by someone who speaks French. They make little sense. When you do things like that, you know hardly anyone will see them. I enjoyed the work, getting drunk at night, flirting with the actors. They were fun to do."

Then came Four Weddings and a Funeral—a triumph at the Sundance Film Festival that went on to receive an Oscar nomination for best picture and became one of 1994's most popular independent films. After nearly a dozen years in the movies, Grant was suddenly a hot commodity as a leading man.

"After Four Weddings, I got hundreds of offers and I turned them all down," he says. "The more I turned down, the higher the money went. It was so weird. I'd been an actor for 10 or 11 years and suddenly I went from being offered maybe $40,000 for a film to being offered millions. It was utterly terrifying when I did say yes.

"I have agents I like but I've never listened to a word they said. My career is 100 percent unmanaged except by myself. That's the only reason I'm sitting here now, 15 years after Four Weddings. I've never done a film because I thought it would earn a lot. If you do that, you're building a house on sand and it will collapse quickly."

Grant is notoriously picky about the quality of screenplay he responds to: "Really funny scripts are a rare thing," Grant says. "I don't get many." But any discussion of his work habits must factor in another element: his profound ambivalence about acting in films. The part of the movie-making process he enjoys the least is when he must actually appear in front of a camera.

"It's the acting side which I find quite stressful," he says. "I could work all the time, but I don't. I will not say I'm a reluctant actor anymore because it makes me look ridiculous. If I'm reluctant, why go on?"

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