Hugh Grant Talks 'Florence Foster Jenkins,' His Toxic 'Paddington 2' Character and More

Hugh Grant Talks 'Florence Foster Jenkins,' His Toxic 'Paddington 2' Character and More

Dec 13, 2016

Most people can spend their entire lives trying to make a career out of something without ever actually becoming any good at it. And then there's Hugh Grant, a man who's made a career out of being incredibly good at something he's not all that passionate about: acting. Funnily enough, in his latest movie, Florence Foster Jenkins, Grant gives one of his career's best performances by playing a washed up actor who was never any good in the first place. 

Grant co-stars in the movie, based on a true story, as the long time lover/enabler of Meryl Streep's Florence, a woman who loves musical theatre but is herself an absolutely dreadful singer. It's a rather charming, heartfelt, layered movie about many things, including coming to terms with the often unequal balance between passion and talent.

Florence Foster Jenkins hit Blu-ray and DVD this week, which gave us the opportunity to chat with the ever-charming Grant about his role, being asked to play vain actors (including Paddington 2), and his future plans beyond the screen. You're rather public about acting not being your main passion. So what does it take for you to get excited about making a movie these days?

Hugh Grant: It was completely impossible to say no to this. Everything was tempting. It was a very interesting genre that's a little disorientating. You're not quite sure if it's comedy, if it's tragedy. Are we laughing at them or with them? Is it a love story? I like that aspect of it. I like the fact that you're not sure if my character is a good guy or a bad guy. Is he a gold digger? Is he a good, loving husband? That was fascinating. I like the period. It had Stephen Frears, who is an unusually classy director to offer me a film. And it had the factor that is Meryl Streep. I would have been no kind of man if I'd said no.

Everything enticed me. The only two notes I put in the sidelines of the script were for the stage direction 'He dances, and he's brilliant.' And then there was one at the end where it says, 'He sobs uncontrollably' and I thought, 'F—k me, that might be tricky.'

I loved the whole thing. I feel very comfortable in that period. I don't know why. As soon as they put me in a suit where the waistband is up around my nipples I feel at home. Is it unusual for you to be so comfortable with a project? Is there usually more of a back-and-forth for you about where to take things?

Grant: Well, there were more things than that. I did attempt to have script meetings with Stephen. He's a great genius, but he's not one for much talk. For instance, on issues like 'Is Bayfield a good guy or a bad guy? Do we want him to be an enigma for all of the film? Half the film? Just the start of the film?' I thought it was good to nail that stuff down. Frears said, 'I don't know, I don't know, see how it goes.' He's very fluid. And in a way, I see why he's become like that. With filmmaking, you just don't know on a lot of things until you're in the editing room and you see what you've got. If you've got very rigid preconceptions and preplans, you're likely to be disappointed. You've got to have some fluidity. There are a lot of layers to what this film is about. Do you have one in particular you hope resonates with audiences?

Grant: I suppose at heart there is a line in it where I say something to Simon Helberg's character, 'Ours is a happy world.' For me that was always what the film was really about. It's the fact that we're oddballs. She's a talentless millionairess, I'm a talentless actor, and we're surrounded by sycophants and maintain this weird, delusional world. We live in a cocoon. There's a war going on and we're barely aware of it. There are many things that could be non-sympathetic, but above all of that, our love and our eccentricities is what makes us human. It's a celebration of humanity and love, even in its weirdest manifestations. In Paddington 2 you're playing a character described as a charming but vain acting legend. What's it like to have a director say, 'This has to be Hugh Grant!'?

Grant: [Laughs] Who is actually toxic and evil. I immediately responded. 'Yes, I'm bang on for that!' Your character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 2 was clearly positioned as someone central to any sequels. Has there been talk of any?

Grant: I think maybe there was talk originally, but I'm not sure the film made quite enough money at the box to merit part deux. I think that film is so snazzy and visual and cinematic and just beautiful. It's just beautiful. I regret that it didn't quite get the audience it deserves. You've got a love for racing and race cars, but haven't really merged that with any acting jobs. Any plans to change that?

Grant: My friend just made one about Niki Lauda. What was it called? Rush?

Grant: Yes! Damnit, why wasn't I in that? But there are more. There's plenty of life left ahead. We'll make a racing car film. What are your future plans beyond acting?

Grant: I continue with my long, drawn out political battles in Britain. They're all happening in the moment, actually. I'm pulled in all different directions.. I have four small children, I have heavy politics going on, I've started shooting Paddington, I'm doing this stuff on the other side of the world. I don't really know where I am or what's happening any more.

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