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Hugh Grant: ‘Hollywood gave me up, but it left life free for other things’

He is no longer Hollywood’s romcom darling, but his subsequent choices, such as his role in Jerry Seinfeld’s directorial debut, ‘Unfrosted,’ have shone a spotlight on his talent

Hugh Grant in L.A. in 2017.
Hugh Grant in L.A. in 2017.Jon Kopaloff (FilmMagic)
Eva Güimil

When an actor’s resume includes a role in a soppy Christmas classic such as Love Actually, alongside a mugshot taken by the L.A. vice squad for “lewd behavior,” you have to sit up and take notice. And the world did just that. But perhaps the secret to Hugh Grant’s success is simply his ability to be himself — a somewhat grumpy yet disarming guy who always looks slightly uncomfortable.

At times, the actor’s hair has also been given more attention than his performances, even generating YouTube videos on how to produce a similar effect. To see Grant, 63, is to assume what his role is going to be, yet these have become darker in recent years. A fierce critic of the tabloids — he has just reached a legal settlement with The Sun for phone tapping — his face adorned their front pages back in 1995 due to a dalliance with an L.A. prostitute when he was five minutes short of becoming a global star. But an incident that might have put the lid on most careers merely added to his allure, thanks to the employment of masterful damage control tactics.

Although Grant has always claimed he detests acting, he has not slowed down. Lately, we’ve seen him in The Regime with Kate Winslet — his co-star in Sense and Sensibility — and he’s part of the cast in Unfrosted, the directorial debut of comedian Jerry Seinfeld that tells the story of how Kellogg’s Frosties revolutionized the American breakfast with Grant playing Thurl Ravenscroft, the actor whose voice was used as Tony the Tiger for more than 50 years.

Mira Stout y Hugh Grant en 1986
Mira Stout feeds Hugh Grant in 1986.Mikki Ansin (Getty Images)
Hugh Grant
Hugh Grant in 1988.Arnaud BORREL (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Grant’s fondness for playing characters in children’s movies, from The Pirates! and Dungeons & Dragons to his hilarious Oompa Loompa in Wonka, perhaps has something to do with becoming a father late in life. He had his first child in his fifties and shortly before his 60th birthday welcomed his fifth. He has jokingly declared: “I’ve been having a child every Thursday recently.” After a life of bachelorhood and high-profile romances, he married Swedish producer Anna Eberstein in 2018 in an intimate ceremony with no photos released.

Grant says fatherhood has changed him: “I mean it’s completely knackering trying to be a young father in an old man’s body and I’ve found that if you’re 60 and there are five small children in the house you can’t have a hangover either. But it’s worth it. Absolutely,” he told the Daily Mail’s weekend magazine, adding the change was for the better: “People say to me ‘You’ve got better as an actor in the last 10 years... Why?’ And I sometimes think it may be because of the kids.”

Despite his essential Britishness, Grant is one of the few U.K. actors who has never been seriously approached for the role of James Bond. “That people actually think I can be scary with a gun in my hand is a bit ridiculous,” he told Esquire.

Emma Thompson y Hugh Grant
Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant in 1992.Dave Benett (Getty Images)

Despite his aristocratic air, his childhood was not privileged. He grew up in the western suburbs of London in a family he describes as impoverished but genteel. His father belonged to the Seaforth Highlanders regiment for eight years, following in the footsteps of six previous generations of Grants, before managing a carpet company. But neither guns nor a military career was on the cards for Hugh, who graduated from Oxford with a degree in English literature and became involved in acting in his last year, starring in Twelfth Night and the student film Privileged (1982), in which he played a party animal, which wasn’t dissimilar to the life he was leading at the time.

Subsequently, there were parts in inconsequential TV movies, plays performed to rows of empty seats and a failed TV show for which he both acted and produced the scripts. However, while trying to get the latter off the ground, he received a message from James Ivory asking to see him. His initial impulse was to ignore it and, as he revealed on Marc Maroon’s WTF podcast, his response was: “I’m not interested in acting. I’ve got my own show.” Until his brother, on whose apartment floor he was sleeping, reminded him that the money could come in handy.

His role as James Wilby’s lover in Maurice, the film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, led to both he and Wilby winning the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival in 1988. It seemed that he was about to become the new British sensation. However, he was then offered roles in a series of mediocre films such as Night Train to Venice (with a 2.3 score on IMDB), Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon and Ken Russell’s nonsensical The Lair of the White Worm, as well as other movies he has labeled “Europuddings” – hotchpotch productions with input from different countries shot in English in a bid to succeed in the U.S. market.

Hugh Grant y Elizabeth Hurley
Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley in 1994.Dave Benett (Getty Images)

One of Grant’s Europuddings was Rowing With the Wind, Gonzalo Suárez’s vision of the friendship between Lord Byron, played by Grant, and Mary Shelley. “I got offered some crap and I did all the crap because I thought how lovely. He has money in his foreign location and pretty girls and I accepted everything,” Grant confessed to Maron. Suarez’s film won the Silver Shell at the San Sebastián Film Festival, although Grant does not remember that visit to the Basque city. In fact, when he returned to the festival to promote Florence Foster Jenkins, he said: “I must have been very drunk because I don’t remember anything. I think Gonzalo Suárez won a Concha, but I don’t remember what color.”

If Rowing With the Wind wasn’t Grant’s finest hour, it did bring him love in the shape of his co-star, the British actress Elizabeth Hurley. Their relationship filled the tabloids, taking up far more newsprint than their careers. This was remedied by Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). When Grant received the script, it was so good he thought he had been sent it by mistake and called his agent to check. Until then, he had only been handed second-rate scripts and a few months earlier he had been mistakenly sent the script of Jerry Maguire, which would go on to the star Tom Cruise.

Four Weddings and a Funeral would define Grant as an awkward romantic lead with an adorable stutter and charming floppy hair. What’s more, it would win him the Golden Globe and BAFTA for best actor, despite the fact scriptwriter Richard Curtis was not initially impressed. “[My audition] was in front of Mike Newell, the director, who seemed to quite like me, and Richard Curtis, who seemed to want me dead. He really hated me,” Grant would later reveal. Today it is impossible to imagine any other actor in the role.

After Four Weddings, Hollywood had Grant earmarked for fame and offered him a dizzying amount of money for his role in Nine Months (1995), opposite Julianne Moore. But, of course, it was something quite different altogether that would launch him into the realms of stardom.

Hugh Grant detenido
One of the most infamous mugshots of the 1990s: Hugh Grant in Los Angeles after being arrested in 1995.Steve Granitz (WireImage)

On June 27, 1995, around 1.30 a.m., Grant drove around Sunset Boulevard in a rented BMW and, as if auditioning for a remake of Pretty Woman, negotiated fellatio with Divine Brown, a 23-year-old prostitute. As Grant had only $65 on him which didn’t cover the cost of a hotel room, they stayed in the car only to be interrupted by the Los Angeles vice squad. The next day the mug shots of both Grant and Brown were frontpage news.

The incident might have ended Grant’s career, but his redemption was masterful and Hollywood was merciful. The next day he released a statement saying, “Last night I did something completely insane. I have hurt people I love and embarrassed people I work with. For both things I am more sorry than I can ever possibly say.” And instead of going into hiding, he went on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show and displayed the kind of humility and charm that would go on to captivate romcom fans. “Contrary to what I read in the paper today, [Hurley] has been really supportive and we’re going to try and work it out. Time is of the essence,” he told Leno.

The couple remained together for five more years and are still such good friends that Grant is godfather to Hurley’s first child. And while Grant’s career was not damaged, Hurley’s was boosted and Divine Brown is still grateful to the actor for the money she got from the interviews, allowing her to put her daughters through college.

Hugh Grant y Anna Elisabet Eberstein
Hugh Grant and Anna Eberstein at the 2024 BAFTAs.Stephane Cardinale - Corbis (Corbis via Getty Images)

Grant later confessed that the entire saga was due to his dissatisfaction with his performance in Nine Months, something he had been unable to say while promoting the movie. His bad mood was what led him to drive down Sunset Boulevard that night in search of relief. “The film was about to come out a week or two after that and I had a bad feeling about it. I went to see a screening. Everyone in it was brilliant, but I was so atrocious that I was not in a good frame of mind,” he admitted to Maron. Whatever Grant’s verdict, Nine Months did well at the box office. And if anyone harbored the slightest animosity towards Grant, it vanished with his performance opposite Julia Roberts in Notting Hill (1999).

Aside from turning the London neighborhood into a tourist haunt, Notting Hill cemented Grant’s credentials a romcom star. It is a genre he loathes and which kept him from other promising roles. His performance opposite Sandra Bullock in the now-forgotten Love on Notice meant foregoing the chance to be part of the Harry Potter film series. But the best was still to come. Richard Curtis, who had gone from detesting Grant to believing him to be his alter ego, handed him one of his most famous romcom roles in Love Actually, Curtis’ directorial debut.

Grant kicked off the first decade of the 21st century with a bang with his role in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2000), in which he played the cynical cad, Daniel Cleaver, one of the roles he most identifies with. He did, however, end that decade with a trainwreck: Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009), alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, which pretty much summed up the direction of his career at the time.

Colin Firth, Rene Zellweger y Hugh Grant
Colin Firth, Rene Zellweger and Hugh Grant.Ferdaus Shamim (WireImage)

“Hollywood gave me up because I made such a massive turkey with that film with Sarah Jessica Parker,” he admitted to the The Los Angeles Times. “Whether I wanted to or not after that, the days of being a very well-paid leading man were suddenly gone overnight. It was slightly embarrassing but it left life free for other things.”

Subsequently, he took on projects such as the Wachowski sisters’ Cloud Atlas the role of villain in Paddington 2, and he joined Guy Ritchie’s gang for The Gentlemen and ended up embracing television, a medium he claims to have ignored “because he was a snob.” The Undoing, an HBO series he shot alongside his friend Nicole Kidman, earned him an Emmy nomination, but it was A Very English Scandal that focused global attention on his talent as an actor.

Andie MacDowell y Hugh Grant
Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant at the Oscars in 2023.Handout (Getty Images)

Grant appears genuinely relieved to have bid farewell to his romcom persona. “I got too old and fat and ugly to do romantic comedies, obviously, so I got off with more interesting things.” And he has no plans to retire. Although he turned down a role in the third 2016 film in the Bridget Jones franchise due to what he considers an unsatisfactory script, his appearance in the fourth installment is all but confirmed, although he insists he will only do it if the script is good. “One of the few things I’ve learned in life is that if you do something just for the money, it comes back to bite you,” he told the news site Mindfood.

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