Hugh Grant is glad his rom-com days — where he’s synonymous with playing hapless, lovelorn Englishmen in Four Wedding and a Funeral, Nine Months and Love Actually — are over.
For that, he has to thank Father Time. “I got old and ugly and not appropriate for romantic comedy films anymore, which has been a great blessing,” Grant, 60, tells 8days.sg and other press from London via Zoom recently.
These days — “the twilight of his career” — Grant is happy being a character actor, sinking his teeth in such diverse roles as a flamboyant villain in Paddington 2, a shady tabloid reporter in the crime caper The Gentlemen, and a politician caught in a compromising position in the BBC mini-series A Very English Scandal.
And now he gets to stretch his acting muscles again in HBO’s The Undoing, which marks the first time he and Nicole Kidman have worked together. On the six-part show, based on Jean Hanff’s bestselling novel You Should Have Known and adapted by David E Kelley (Big Little Lies), the pair plays husband and wife Jonathan and Grace Fraser, a high society New York couple whose picture-perfect life starts to unravel when Jonathan is accused of a grisly murder. Turns out Jonathan isn’t who he says he is. Cue sinister music.
Sparring onscreen with Kidman, whom Grant has known socially for over 25 years, is intimidating. In many ways, the Aussie Oscar winner reminded him of Meryl Streep, his co-star in 2016’s biopic Florence Foster Jenkins: they are masters at summoning emotions at a drop of a hat.
“[Meryl] prided herself that she never did an emotional scene without somehow creating that emotion in herself before doing the scene,” Grant explains. “So she disappears and gets into that emotion. I try to copy her but it’s really hard work — it’s exhausting.”
Grant also finds working with Danish director Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) a revelation. “Susanne Bier is a friend and an extremely easy to talk to, very collaborative, very open and easy right up to the point where you start shooting,” he said. “On the set, [she’s] pretty frightening. I don’t know if that’s a Scandinavian quality. Maybe it is. But — poof! — she’s suddenly the boss.”
Elsewhere, Grant credits the streaming wars for opening up more opportunities for him to try new things. “There’s a bonanza of interesting scripts because you got 700 streaming companies fight each like cats, paying writers to write interesting stuff,” he says.
“I noticed that people are able to take much bigger risks now than they have been in cinema in the last 10-20 years,” he adds. “It’s almost like going back to the heady days of cinema in the 1970s when risk-taking was still doable and people wanted freshness and twists, not just repetition of standard entertainment format.”
He also believes that having children made him a better actor. “I got better at accessing emotions,” says Grant who has two children with his ex-girlfriend, Hong Tinglan, and three with Swedish TV producer wife Anna Eberstein.
In fact, it was his children who inspired Grant to accept The Undoing — he needed a break from them. “They were driving me mad,” says he. “I’m quite old and they are young and their noise is unbearable. Great, great, I go to New York for a little peace but every time I landed at JFK Airport from London, I felt intense sadness.”
He continues, “I missed them really badly to the point where, actually, I could cry in almost any scene in this mini-series. I can ask for a cup of coffee and cry. [But] Susanna Bier would say that’s not appropriate in this particular scene.”
Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, HBO Asia