Hugh Grant is feeling 'Blue'
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By Jamie Allen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Hugh Grant steps into the living room of his presidential suite at the Four Seasons hotel in Atlanta and lounges over the pillows on an elegant couch. The actor is facing four members of the media, and as the interview begins one might think his experience with tabloid frenzies would make him wary when outnumbered by reporters.
But he appears to be anything but suspicious of his questioners. He's running his hand through that floppy hair, just like he does in movies from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994) to his latest, "Mickey Blue Eyes." And he's nattily attired -- a modern Brit in a faded blue T-shirt, white jeans, dark socks and Nike tennis shoes so worn they look like they've walked airport terminals from London to LA.
He looks so comfortable in this situation that he seems slightly bored.
Then his eyes -- those baby blues -- light up with a droll smirk and he mentions to his audience that he just heard on the news that there's been "another shooting" in the States (this one in Alabama). This has nothing to do with the interview, which is supposed to be about his new romantic comedy opening Friday. But it doesn't stop Grant.
"What horrifies me," he says, "these shootings happen and then the newscaster is saying, 'America has to look into its soul and ask why is this happening?' And as a European, you want to say, 'Because you've all got guns, you f---ing moron.'"
Later during the round table, to the minor chagrin of two Internet journalists present, Grant turns his opinion on another issue unrelated to his movie: the growing media presence on the World Wide Web.
"When you talk to actors, they take it so unbelievably seriously. They burn to act. And I've never felt that way."
"In terms of journalism it's very dangerous," he says. "You read tabloids and you say, 'My God, how do they come up with this stuff?' You read the Internet and it's pure fantasy from beginning to end. I surf and surf and all I find are dull pages written by geeks."
Uncomfortable geek laughter from Grant's audience punctuates the comment.
This is the contradiction of Grant -- he presents himself as a jolly, self-effacing, pub-going chap. But he owns a caustic humor that reveals a tougher demeanor beneath the likable face. He takes prickly subjects and twists them into fuel for jokes, much like he took a potentially life-altering mistake -- one of the top tabloid scandals of the '90s, if anybody's ranking these things -- and turned it into career move.
'The paparazzi does move on'
For the record, it seems Grant has finally been released of the Divine Brown incident, that time in 1995 when he did a bad, bad thing (he got caught with prostitute Brown, despite having super-babe actress Elizabeth Hurley as a live-in girlfriend).
He apologized about it on "The Tonight Show" shortly after, and for the next three years, as well. Sure, it's still referred to in articles like this one. But now it's achieved mile-marker status, a reference point on his career map and nothing more. In fact, during his round-table interview at the Four Seasons, and later in a string of interviews at CNN, the subject was never broached.
Grant says the paparazzi have finally left him alone, too.
"I think it was quite successful taking a couple of years off," Grant says, referring to the two-and-a-half years between 1996's forgettable "Extreme Measures" and his early-summer romantic flick "Notting Hill," co-starring Julia Roberts. "The paparazzi does move on to Kate Winslet, or whoever. And they're less inclined to come back. What they really like is to discover someone, build them up and then rip them to sh--.
"They've been through the whole cycle with me. Now they're going on to the next one."
Grant's and Roberts' real-life scrimmages with the tabloids formed the tongue-in-cheek undercurrent that helped make "Notting Hill" a success. It cast Grant as the unknown British guy who bags a world-famous actress, then deals with the paparazzi fallout, a flip-flopping of Grant's persona. The film has raked in more than $225 million internationally, according to the Internet Movie Database.
'It's a nightmare'
"Mickey Blue Eyes" is Grant's and Hurley's second effort at producing a movie under their company Simian Films. "Extreme Measures" was the first.
Grant, who appears to immensely enjoy poking fun at Hurley, says he doesn't recommend that anyone work with a significant other.
"It's a nightmare," he says. "You work together on something like that and you end up having massive rows in public. It's humiliating, particularly when she's inclined to throw things at me. That's tricky."
But Grant admits that he and Hurley, in dating for 12 years now, have developed a yin-and-yang working existence.
"We share the power in a sort of good cop-bad cop partnership," Grant says. "I'll be lovely and charming to everyone and then as soon their backs are turned I'll whisper to her, 'Fire that guy.' And she does the firing because she actually gets pleasure from it."
"Mickey Blue Eyes" stars Grant in common form -- a bumbling, charming Englishman. He runs a New York auction house, but gets more than he bargained for when he proposes to his girlfriend (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn), then finds out that she's a closet mafia princess, the daughter of a mobster played by James Caan.
When the "family" infiltrates Grant's art business, wild antics ensue, with Grant's character inevitably trying to live up to his new nickname, and the title of the film.
'I hated them all'
The script was originally about an American lawyer getting involved with the mob, but when Grant read it he wanted to star, so his character was re-written with British flair. Meanwhile, Grant and Hurley started searching for a director.
"I talked to all the top comedy directors in Hollywood, and I hated them all," Grant says. "I thought they all wanted to make it schmaltzy. And then (actor-comedian) Mike Myers recommended Canadian director Kelly Makin."
Makin worked on the TV comedy show "The Kids in the Hall" and the show's 1996 movie version "Brain Candy."
"So I met Kelly and absolutely connected with him," says Grant. "See, Canadians are brought up on the same BBC comedy reruns as British people, so we have a very similar sense of humor -- twisted and dark and rather perverted."
'I'm incredibly neurotic'
One characteristic that has marked Grant's rise in cinema has been his flippant regard for his profession. He'll be the first to admit he's not the British acting breed of, say, John Gielgud or Anthony Hopkins. In fact, he characterizes himself as a "charlatan" in the thespian world.
Grant studied at Oxford, then started on the London theater pub circuit, he has said, because it seemed to be a fun thing to do. He eventually won various roles in television and film in the 1980s, notably the role of Clive Durham in the 1987 Merchant-Ivory film "Maurice."
But his big break came five years ago in "Four Weddings and a Funeral." His boyish grace made him so popular that not even Divine's intervention the following year could derail him; in fact, the incident helped spread word of his comedy at the time, "Nine Months."
Success, and time off, apparently haven't spoiled Grant's casual perspective on acting.
"When you talk to actors, they take it so unbelievably seriously," he says. "They burn to act. And I've never felt that way. I've burned not to act, so I do feel bad about that."
When asked if he thinks it's odd that someone could climb to his level of celebrity despite not taking the dramatics trade seriously, Grant backs off a bit.
"When I said I didn't take it seriously, what I mean is it's very difficult to get me to sign up for a film," he says. "I'd so much rather not do a film than do a film. But once I have signed up then I am the reverse. I'm incredibly neurotic and kind of anal about the whole thing and I have to be calmed down all the time."
Jimmy Caan and the mob
During the filming of "Mickey Blue Eyes," Grant says he was initially intimidated in working with Caan, "because he's Sonny Corleone (from 'The Godfather') and let's not forget the biggest star in the world for about seven years. It makes Tom Cruise's reign look like peanuts.
"But we got on very well. He liked kissing me, he liked hugging me. My theory is that he fell slightly in love with me," Grant says.
What he says was his favorite moment in filming "Mickey Blue Eyes" happened during the shoot of a scene that has Caan and Grant burying a body in a waterfront landfill. Apparently, the location of the scene was authentic.
"Jimmy Caan had one of his ex-Brooklyn mobster friends visiting on the set," recalls Grant, "and after doing a few takes this guy is getting very agitated. And then he called Jimmy over and said, 'Jimmy, listen to me. Don't dig too deep around here. I'm not kidding.'"
Grant claims he isn't kidding either.
'It's like a nightmare'
During his visit to Atlanta, when Grant isn't cracking wise in interviews or being followed by a pack of short-skirted female fans through CNN Center, he's often seen talking on his cell phone. The business of selling himself is apparently booming. Along with promoting this latest film, he just finished shooting his part in a Woody Allen flick scheduled for release in 2000.
He's also considering a script titled "Her Majesty's Homie," and he says he wants to write a script and direct.
"The more I do this, the more I realize the only person having fun on a film set is the director," he says. "It's his toy set and he's in charge and I want that power. I don't want to direct myself. I couldn't cope with that because I'm neurotic enough as an actor."
To hear Grant talk, it's almost as if he's still looking for the profession that will make him happy.
His 39th birthday is in September, and when this is pointed out Grant crinkles the bridge between his eyebrows the way he did in "Four Weddings" when he was telling Andie McDowell's character he loved her.
But this is a different. For him, turning 39 is not an agreeable choice.
"It's like a nightmare," he says. "I think it's pathetic to be sitting around having conversations about what I really want to do with my life. When I'm 39, I should have worked that out by now.
"Clearly, I'm miserable."
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