This summer, Hugh Grant ended a three-year absence from movie theaters with the well-received romantic comedy Notting Hill. Now he's back with another romantic comedy, Mickey Blue Eyes, a sillier Brit-out-of-water affair that features Grant as an unlikely son-in-law to mobster James Caan. Grant also co-produced (with longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley), partly re-wrote, and perhaps directed at least parts of Mickey Blue Eyes, but the affable actor seemed calm when The Onion grilled him on his stand-in, movie-star money, and working with eccentric directors.
The Onion: I'm surprised they let you conduct interviews alone.
Hugh Grant: As opposed to…
O: Having some publicist looming over you.
HG: I know. I can't bear to have them around.
O: But I imagine that once you rise to a certain level of fame, publicists and managers don't like to have loose cannons out there.
HG: Yeah, but I'm not that loose.
O: Since Notting Hill was released, how many equestrian-related questions have you had to answer?
HG: Quite a few, and I always laugh gamely. Journalists love that scene. I should make a whole film about that world. I'd be guaranteed to get good reviews.
O: In general, you seem pretty open in interviews. You seem to enjoy yourself.
HG: Do I? Well, I'm not sure. I don't mind giving them, particularly. I always gnash my teeth when I read them.
O: But you don't appear too reluctant when it comes to poking fun at yourself every now and again.
HG: Well, I hope not. Er, I hope so. You know, I can't speak anymore. [Grant had just filled himself up on deep-dish pizza.] It was the beer, actually. Goose Down or something. Something about the pizza, the beer, and the heat just makes me a dead duck.
O: Not that English cuisine is much better, but food around here is more about quantity than quality.
HG: Yes. It's really frightening, American food on the whole. That's what always strikes me, coming from Europe: There's just so much of it! Then you plop down in front of the TV and watch ads for Weight Watchers. "Lose weight now!" Well, eat less!
O: Back to making fun of yourself. In your last two films, you've made fun of your Britishness.
HG: Notting Hill? Does that poke fun at being British? Maybe it does. In Mickey Blue Eyes, that's kind of the point: the clash of worlds, the unlikely combo of a respectable Englishman and a mob guy. If you take out the Britishness, you don't really have much.
O: But you do play a mild-mannered Englishman in both films.
HG: Yes, I suppose so. It's ironic always to be asked that question, because in the first part of my career I was doing these bad miniseries, and I played an awful lot of villains. So I would sit through these interviews, and they were always the same. [Affects vaguely Eastern European accent.] "You are always the same. You always play bad man. When you play good man?" So it's odd when people point out that I never play villains.
O: Do you have any say when your films get released? You co-starred with Julia Roberts in a romantic comedy earlier this summer. Now it's just a couple months later, and you both have new romantic comedies.
HG: Yes, I know. I seem to be a bad career-planner. Remember when Four Weddings came out, and it was one of about 16 Hugh Grant films that month? It's just bad planning.
O: What accounted for the three-year gap between movies?
HG: I don't know. I've never been that keen on my job. If it's a choice between doing a film and not doing a film, I'd rather not. But then you remember that you're supposed to be earning a living, and that it's your career. So I finally got back on the treadmill.
O: You went to Oxford, so you must be reasonably intelligent. Do you ever feel that some aspects of filmmaking are just beneath you?
HG: Well, there are frustrating elements. Film acting involves, as you probably know, vast amounts of just sitting around in a trailer doing bugger-all all day. That is a terrible way to waste your life, which is one of the reasons I keep telling myself that I'll stop. And the insane volume of media stuff you have to do now is another depressing aspect. For the next three weeks, all I do is this. It does make me think that [filmmaking] is a terrible waste of my life. But, having said that, some of it's bloody hard, and harder than anything I've ever had to do. And when I sat there, having developed Mickey Blue Eyes for years and years, working with writers and putting a polish on it myself, shooting, editing, and everything, with the film finally in preview stage watching 500 people in Arizona really roaring their heads off, it's a very deep satisfaction. Comedy that makes people go "ha ha" is bloody hard.
O: Is it hard to see the humor when it's just a script?
HG: No, it's easy when it first goes on paper to make you go "ha ha" right there. Everyone sits around and claps each other on the back for writing a good scene. The problem sets in after that, when three or four days later you think, "Is that as funny as we thought it was?" And then you've got to shoot, and you think, "Was that funny?" You can't tell for months and months, when you finally snip it all together and show it. Then suddenly [snaps] it all comes back together and reactivates. Like sperm in your hair. [Laughs.]
O: But what are all the variables? There's a certain formula to the romantic comedy. One is not radically different from the previous one, yet they're not all of the same quality: Some are much better than others. What's different from shoot to shoot?
HG: Tone and emphasis. The emphasis in Notting Hill was perhaps, I thought, slightly more on the romance than on the comedy. But I think Mickey Blue Eyes is maybe slightly more on the comedy. And the tone on Mickey Blue Eyes, it's a far sillier film. I've always liked silly stuff. And the director we found, Kelly Makin of Kids In The Hall, responds to the same kind of stuff. It seems to make people… It seems to make Americans laugh, at the previews.
O: Do British audiences react differently to these films?
HG: It's surprising how similar the reactions are. Obviously, there are different laughs. The English laugh much more at, say, [the Italian restaurant in Mickey Blue Eyes], but they laugh slightly less at me taking my trousers off. That was very big in Arizona.
O: Do you think there's a discrepancy in sophistication?
HG: Well, I don't know. Maybe that was just an example of that part of America. I'm sure if you showed it [somewhere else], people would laugh at the more verbal gags.
O: So, what's this I hear about trouble with Kelly Makin?
HG: There are very annoying reports, all out of proportion. We shot the film, got along very well, then needed a few new scenes because of, basically, weather. We shot in the dead of winter in New York, and sometimes there were specks of water on the lens. So we had to do a few days of reshoots, and he was having a baby at the time…
O: He was actually giving birth?
HG: Yes, which is rare. So we got Carl Gottleib to direct under Kelly's direction. So he did it, but of course I was on the set and inevitably interfered. Obviously, I know the film inside out. But then these bloody reports come out, and they go around the Internet. Then suddenly everyone thinks there was some big rupture, but there never was.
O: Do you think a lot of actors, given the choice, would wrest control from the director and direct themselves?
HG: I don't think so. It's always a minefield. If you're the producer, and you've developed the project over a couple of years and know it inside out, you come to the point where you have to hire a director to shoot it. And there are always going to be disagreements over how it should be done. Both parties have to tread very carefully. And that happened as much on this one as on Extreme Measures [which Grant's Simian Films also produced]. I saw it happening on Notting Hill between the person that nursed the project—it was their baby—and the director who was hired to shoot it [Roger Michell]. But you can get around it. The most important thing is that you agree on the fundamentals. With Kelly, I never once disagreed on one single comedy aspect of the film. There was never a moment where he said, "That's funny," and I thought it wasn't, or the other way around. That's the crucial thing. You can quarrel about methodology and time and stuff.
O: You've developed Mickey Blue Eyes from day one, and worked on the script, but you're not a part of Simian Films on paper, are you?
HG: It depends on what paper you're looking at. The contract is with me, but I don't really like taking producer credit or writing credit, because then I think it might look like a vanity project.
O: Does it put more pressure on you when you're involved with the more technical or economic aspects of the film?
HG: Yeah, you've got an awful lot to worry about. But that's not altogether a bad thing for me, because sometimes I over-obsess with the acting and the lines. All that time sitting around in the trailer, you start to say your lines 1,600 different ways until they're meaningless. Sometimes you become quite up your own ass.
O: I heard that in the scene in Mickey Blue Eyes where you doff your trousers, they had to digitally add underwear for the American audiences.
HG: Yes. Part of that was my sheer size, which was… distracting.
O: I imagine English audiences are a lot more lenient.
HG: Yes, they're allowed to see it uncut. In more ways than one.
O: You mention all the downtime you have on the set. I'm afraid I have to ask this question, even though it must be put to you every day. Could you tell me a little about your stand-in, Adrian Davey?
HG: Adrian, yes. I just worked with him again on the next Woody Allen film. Well, he's an actor. He's always got a script in his hand, and he's always doing auditions. I dread the moment when he will suddenly get the part that I want. I'm sure it's going to happen any day now.
O: Does he look much like you, or is he just the same height?
HG: He does look reasonably like me. I have one in England I've worked with since Four Weddings, and he looks unbelievably unlike me. He's a middle-aged man. We couldn't afford a stand-in on that film, so he just sort of volunteered. Out of loyalty, I use him every time now. [Laughs.] But it's ridiculous. The whole idea is that they look like you so they can light, but he looks like my father.
O: Does he get his own trailer?
HG: No, but I let him come into mine. He's allowed to sit in the corner of mine. He is a big star, after all.
O: It would be interesting to see a film where the big stars are all replaced by their stand-ins.
HG: I always fancy my co-stars' stand-ins. I don't know why. They have this sort of blank quality.
O: It's surreal. That's the person standing in for the actor who is standing in for the person who is the part. It's very convoluted, but I can see how that might be appealing in a psychological sense.
HG: Yeah, it might describe why it happens.
O: Yeah. Anyway, back to Adrian. Does he get his own catering, or flowers? How much power does a stand-in have on the set? Were there issues between Adrian and, say, James Caan's stand-in?
HG: [Laughs.] It has happened, actually. There are some stand-ins who work for very, very big stars and get special treatment. They get special trailers to sit in, with their name on the door. But Adrian I like to treat like shit.
O: So, he can't get into all the good restaurants?
HG: If he even tries, I prevent him.
O: You have that veto power in your contract?
HG: Yes, and I enjoy it. He wanted to get married recently, and I said no.
O: He has to ask your permission?
HG: Well, that's what's insulting: He didn't even think to ask.
O: That's why he's just a stand-in.
HG: Yes, but he's learning. Slowly.
O: You're one of the few actors of your stature who come across equally comfortable in larger films and smaller films. There must be a big difference between filming the two.
HG: I miss doing small films. It sounds like bullshit, of course, because I earn so much money doing the big ones. And I love that. But I can't stand the pressure. I've never been good with the pressure. If you've just spent $40 million making a film, and they end up spending another $25 million a month, and you've produced it, it's kind of unbearable pressure. It drives you completely nuts. I do miss the old days where you make a movie for $5 million and if someone went to see it, great, but it no one went, no one really cares. You might win a Silver Seashell at San Sebastian or something.
O: Do you feel compelled to take bigger roles, to maintain your stardom?
HG: I figure now that I'm here, I'd better try to make the most of it.
O: The question is, how hard is it to turn down the money?
HG: Interestingly hard, yes. I always make pompous speeches in interviews about how I'm not particularly interested in the money. There I was, about to write a script and establish some integrity in my life, but just the other day someone sent me a rather funny script and a massive offer. And I find that very, very hard to resist!
O: I heard you still get fan mail from your Ken Russell movie [The Lair Of The White Worm].
HG: Yes, from serial killers. People in prison.
O: You've worked with both Ken Russell and Roman Polanski, who are two of the more colorful directors around.
HG: They're incredibly different. Roman is barking mad and an incessant control freak. He wants to do everyone's job for them. If you're the actor, he'll say, [affects Polish accent] "Oh, for fuck's sake. It's not, 'Can I have the cup of tea?'; it's, 'Can I have the cup of tea?' Now do it again!" He'd go to the props guys and say, "Don't put the glass there; it looks like shit. Move it!" It's bizarre, because the film I did with him [1992's Bitter Moon] co-starred his girlfriend, Emmanuelle Seigner…
O: And how old was she?
HG: Hmm, early 20s?
O: Over 18, though?
HG: Well, she claimed to be. [She was 25 or so. —ed.]
O: Just looking out for old Roman.
HG: Yes, you're right [to do so]. He gave her a terrible time. She used to storm off the set. [Affects whiny French accent.] "Oh, fuck, I can't do it." Then he would call her back and do it again. Now, Ken Russell is terrific in the mornings. Then he has quite a… "French" lunch, and in the afternoon he's a fascinating director. I had to do a bit in Lair Of The White Worm where I had to pick up a sword and cut someone in half, as one does in a Ken Russell film. And I said, "You know, it doesn't feel quite comfortable doing it this way." And his directorial response was, [slurs speech] "Well, fuck how it fuckin' feels. Do it how I showed you, you fuckin' cunt!" Which is not classic Ingmar Bergman direction.
O: Do you miss that kind of stuff on the set? Because I imagine you don't encounter it much anymore.
HG: No, not that much. But I do miss it. The whole thing is a lot less fun now than in the days when I made semi-rubbish all the time.
O: That's what I don't understand: You get all the money, and then you complain how it's no fun anymore. But don't you get the money for the security to do whatever you want?
HG: Yes, that's what you tell yourself: that you'll go back and do stuff with integrity. But no one ever does.
O: But you could.
O: But you won't.
HG: I could, but obviously I've been corrupted in some way.
O: Is it corruption?
O: Is it an addiction?
HG: [Ashamed.] Yes.
O: Have you started burning money yet?
HG: Thinking about it.
O: How much does Adrian make?
HG: Too much.
O: Is it a difficult job?
HG: It's an incredibly stupid job. He's way overpaid. In fact, I'm going to reduce his wages.
O: Is he frustrated by the invasive nature of the tabloids in England?
HG: [Laughs.] I think it has been tough for him, but he's a plucky guy, I'm sure.