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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Hugh Grant - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
You wouldn't think it to look at him, and certainly not to listen to him, but Hugh Grant has turned out to be something of a survivor. Having spent years in the acting doldrums, unsure even as to whether he had chosen an appropriate, "dignified" career, he scored a massive smash with Four Weddings And A Funeral. Then, just as suddenly, it all collapsed around him, in a whirl of failed productions and very public sex scandals. And yet he rose again, alongside Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, and this time he didn't look back. He received the accolade of a part in a Woody Allen film, he starred with Rene Zellweger in the international hit Bridget Jones' Diary, and then came About A Boy, another adaptation of a bestselling paperback, this time by everyone's favourite Nice Bloke, Nick Hornby.
Hugh Grant, blessed with the middle names John and Mungo, was born in London on September 9th, 1960. His father, James, was an artist who made money running a carpet firm, while his mother was a teacher (his older brother, also named James, is now a banker). Both his parents were from military backgrounds. One grandfather was in the Seaforth Highlanders - Grant would like to make a movie of his WW2 heroics, but his father forbids it, believing all movies to be a "vulgarisation" of the truth.
Growing up in suburbia, Grant won a scholarship to Oxford, going up to New College in 1979. Though considering a career as an art historian, here he tried his hand at student drama, at one point featuring in Hamlet - performed in Star Trek costumes. Before this, his efforts onstage had only served to bring about his greatest humiliation. During a school play, he was called upon to sing If They Could See Me Now, but came in way out-of-key, having to stop and start again. He still recalls the laughing, and the pointing. Nowadays, having since appeared in such weighty productions as An Inspector Calls, Lady Windermere's Fan and Coriolanus, Grant considers himself a more effective actor onstage than onscreen. But cinema grabbed him early, and he appeared in Michael Hoffman's Privileged while still in college in 1982, credited as Hughie Grant.
On leaving, he was painfully unsure of what to do next. He tells a story of attempted teaching where he agreed to tutor a young girl between schools. After she refused to answer any of his questions, he lost patience with her, only to discover that, mortifyingly, she was deaf in one ear and could not hear him. Having tried out comedy at Oxford, and taken to it (he freely describes himself as a "Laugh Tart"), he joined a comedy review called the Jockeys Of Norfolk. They played the London pub comedy circuit, including the George IV in Chiswick, often appearing on the same bill as Mike Myers, then resident in London. For extra money, they would write sketches for comedy shows and pen radio ads. Later, Grant would also turn his hand to book-reviewing, and to his still-incomplete novel (working title Slack) about - because you have to tell it like you see it - a man with no job.
The Jockeys Of Norfolk nearly made it. Invited to play the Edinburgh Festival, they were booked into a 2000-seater theatre which, on the first night, saw 6 people pay to enter. Fortuitously, the group scored a slot on Russell Harty's TV show and, BANG, there were queues round the block. The Jockeys were contracted to make a pilot for a TV series but, their show being more suited to theatre than TV, it didn't work. Disillusioned - Grant claims they were actually more disinterested - they split up.
Grant continued (rather lethargically) to pursue a movie career. A big break, and his first paid acting job, came almost immediately when he was cast in 1984's The Bounty, the Mel Gibson remake of Mutiny On the Bounty. All set for a few weeks filming in Tahiti, Grant was sacked on the day of departure for having no Union card. The next two years were spent on TV appearances of questionable worth, one exception being The Last Place On Earth, a powerful drama concerning Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole, starring Martin Shaw and Max Von Sydow. But it was all good experience for what came next, as Grant was signed by Merchant-Ivory to co-star as Clive Durham in 1987's Maurice, a moving tale involving college-based homosexual scandal. The film also starred James Wilby, who'd appeared with Grant in Privileged. Such were their performances, the pair would tie for the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival.
Next came another stiff-upper-lipped period sex drama in White Mischief. Then Carlos Suarez's Rowing With The Wind, a behind-the-scenes look at the writing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, wherein Grant played Lord Byron and - making her debut as Claire, Shelley's half-sister and Byron's former lover - Elizabeth Hurley also appeared. She was already Grant's girlfriend and would remain so for the next 13 years.
Now Grant played Chopin in Francois Aubry's short Nocturnes, joined John Hurt in La Nuit Bengali, and hugely enjoyed a return to gothic horror in Ken Russell's lunatic adaptation of Bram Stoker's The Lair Of The White Worm. But these were not hit movies and Grant found his career on the slide. Aside from 1990's Impromptu, where once again he was Chopin, this time pursued by a mannish and predatory Judy Davis, his time was spent in fairly horrific TV movies. He played a champagne baron in Champagne Charlie and, bizarrely, another champagne baron in Till We Meet Again - only this time he was the villainous Bruno, who rapes Courtney Cox and hands all the family fizz over to the Nazis. Then there was Our Sons, with Julie Andrews and Ann-Margret. It really wasn't looking good.
Amazingly, as you'd expect him to fold like a wet leaf of lettuce, Grant stuck in there. He appeared in the gritty Liam Neeson-starring streetfighting drama The Big Man, then as the wholly ineffectual husband of Kristen Scott Thomas, freaked out by the sexually predatory Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner in Roman Polanski's Bitter Moon. The same year (1992), he went up for a part in a mooted version of Shakespeare In Love, to star Julia Roberts, then red-hot after Pretty Woman. He was so nervous she told him to go home and try again a few days later. He didn't get the part. Then again, neither did she, as the project fell through - only to be resurrected in 1998 with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes as the leads.
Many might find Grant's performance in Bitter Moon to be irritating, so wimpy, so innately hopeless is his character. But this has, in fact, turned out to be his greatest strength, a character he plays brilliantly for comic purposes. It certainly helped him now, as his showing in that movie won him the part in Richard Curtis's Four Weddings And A Funeral, as the mumbling, shambling, yet profoundly charming toff who (kind of) chases after Andie MacDowell. The film made $320 million, making it the highest grossing British film ever, and Grant won both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Now he was a star, placing himself in classy productions like Sirens, Restoration (once more with Michael Hoffman, who'd next direct One Fine Day) and Emma Thompson's Ang Lee-directed Sense And Sensibility (he'd appeared with her two years earlier in the heartbreaking Remains Of The Day). He made advances to Hollywood, starring with Julianne Moore in Nine Months. In the meantime, Simian, the production company he'd set up with Hurley (the company was so named because she thought he looked like a monkey), was putting together Extreme Measures, where Grant took his first action role, beefing it up beside Gene Hackman. What could go wrong?
Well, who would have guessed? On June 27th, 1995, Grant was arrested by the LAPD "on suspicion of lewd conduct in a public place", having been caught in his car on Sunset Strip with prostitute Divine Brown (formerly Stella Marie Thompson), whom he'd apparently paid $50 to perform a service down below - as it were. He received a '1180 fine and two years probation. His relationship with Hurley was in jeopardy, his police mug-shot in every paper in the world. His explanation that he was exhausted by the publicizing of Nine Months (12 interviews that very day) and didn't know what he was doing was not taken seriously. His stardom looked to be all over, almost as soon as it had begun.
Yet somehow it did not taint him in the eyes of many. Suddenly appearing more manly to the young male demographic, he found orders of his videos went up 30%. Appearing on the Jay Leno show, with Leno opening the interview with a loud "What the hell were you thinking?", Grant replied with a mumbled "I'm not one to go around blowing my own trumpet" and sent the audience into raptures. Indeed, that show scored Leno's third highest ever rating, and put him ahead of arch-rival David Letterman for the very first time. More painful was the fate of Extreme Measures, which bombed badly. While Hurley went stellar in Mike Myers' Austin Powers, and appeared everywhere as the face of Estee Lauder, Grant all but disappeared.
Then he was back, in Notting Hill where he finally starred, as bookshop owner William Thacker, alongside Julia Roberts in the "sequel" to his biggest hit. Once more on his own turf - light comedy - he was once more described as "a Cary Grant for the Nineties", and nominated for a Golden Globe. Bravely, he took on the Mob-comedy Mickey Blue Eyes (again produced by Simian), engaging in a hilarious war with co-star James Caan in subsequent interviews. He found a hundred different ways to call Caan old and stupid, while Caan revealed that he nicknamed Grant "Whippy" because of "the little whippet dogs that get nervous and you got to put a sweater on them when they're cold".
Next, he was a snobby art-dealer and Tracey Ullman's love interest in Small Time Crooks. Then came another huge hit with Bridget Jones's Diary, where he played the unspeakable cad Daniel Cleaver, Rene Zellweger's boss and sometime lover, who cheats on her, leaves her hanging on and engages in a hilariously foppish fight with good-guy Colin Firth. The cast quickly signed on for Bridget 2, based on Helen Fielding's Edge Of Reason, but altered to allow the beastly Cleaver to reappear.
After Bridget 1, Hugh suffered the loss of his mother, then took on About A Boy, directed by American Pie duo Paul and Chris Weitz. Here he played Will Freeman, a 38-year-old who, due to inherited wealth, has never worked and never taken on any responsibilities. With all his friends now married and unable to join in his shenanigans, he pretends to be a single father and tries to meet single mothers who, he figures, he can easily leave should they demand commitment. But he takes a shine to Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), 12-year-old son of suicidal hippy Toni Collette, and then falls for beautiful illustrator Rachel Weisz. What to do? What to do? As he tries to teach unhappy Marcus how to be cool, Marcus teaches him how to grow up. The movie was a big hit, with Hugh widening his range with a scruffy hairdo and North London accent, and portraying a selfish streak even more impressively than he had done in Bridget Jones's Diary.
Having played yet another cad when providing the voice of Blitzen, Robbie The Reindeer's arch enemy in the US version of The Legend Of The Lost Tribe (reprising the role he'd played in 1999's Hooves Of Fire), he moved on to another big American rom-com, Two Weeks Notice (a movie annoyingly lacking an apostrophe). Here he played a Donald Trump type, making millions by "modernizing" New York communities - that is, pulling all the beautiful old buildings down. On his case is liberal activist Sandra Bullock who he now hires as his attorney. But she soon tires of her role as his all-round gofer, only to suffer pangs of jealousy when she sees him being hit on by her hard-nosed replacement Alicia Witt. Could these disparate characters possibly fall in love? Well, Americans spent $93 million at the box office to find out - Grant was still big news.
As ever in Grant's career, Richard Curtis was never far away, and he now showed up again with his directorial debut Love, Actually. This saw many different tales of love interwoven, with Hugh playing a bumbling but strangely efficient British Prime Minister, who falls for tea-girl Martine McCutcheon and follows her into the poorer environs of London to win her heart. Curtis would then show up as script doctor when Grant returned to a previous hit with Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. This time Bridget has dumped Darcy and Hugh's beastly Daniel Cleaver moves in for the kill, once again getting into a hilariously ungainly scrap with his rival. Grant would claim that, with such a long gap between Love, Actually and Bridget 2, he had terrible trouble with his lines and even suffered stagefright.
Still close to Elizabeth Hurley, it was he who, at the end of 2001, told police that stalker Petr Mihalovic was sending her abusive letters demanding she abort her baby. But Hugh himself remained single, in 2003 seeing Polish-born UN worker Kasia Komorowicz but not hitting the tabloid headlines until he was spotted in 2004 with Jemima Khan, recently separated from her husband Imran. When not working, he'd either be playing golf with such buddies as Kyle MacLachlan, or be lounging about in his '3 million, 7th-floor flat in Kensington, complete with terrace, barbecue and a rising movie screen at the foot of the bed.
Never truly prolific, Grant would appear onscreen in 2005 only in a pop-up cameo at the end of Housewarming, a French comedy where wacky lawyer Carole Bouquet's home is assaulted by illegal immigrant builders. 2006, though, would see an amazing two releases. First would come American Dreamz, a satire of talent shows like American Idol where Dennis Quaid, doing an impression of George W Bush, would play a troubled president persuaded to become a judge on a hit TV programme. Grant would stand out as the self-aggrandizing but self-loathing host, a predator on the look-out for saleable talent, such as Mandy Moore's young singer. Following this would come the much-delayed Music And Lyrics By, written and directed by Marc "Two Weeks Notice" Lawrence, a rom-com that saw Grant working with and, inevitably, falling for Drew Barrymore, whose Flower Films would produce.
Hugh Grant, earning $12.5 million for Two Weeks Notice, is now Britain's most successful comic actor, a position he neither understands nor particularly likes. "I've never had a burning desire to get ahead in Hollywood," he told Empire in 2002. "Here I was in this joke job of acting, thinking it'd be a laugh before I did something more serious, and just as I was about to get out, Four Weddings happened." Hugh later stated that he hoped his film stardom would just be "a phase", hopefully lasting no more than ten years.
So, Hugh Grant may well be saying farewell to cinema in the very near future. Enjoy him while you can.