STAR INTERVIEW: Hugh turns on the romcom charm

Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei in The Rewrite. Picture: PA Photo/Lionsgate. ANL-141017-134624001
Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei in The Rewrite. Picture: PA Photo/Lionsgate. ANL-141017-134624001
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Hugh Grant tells Albertina Lloyd he’s too old for romantic comedy but was lured out of ‘semi-retirement’ to work again with Marc Lawrence on The Rewrite.

Do you remember that scene in Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant’s character goes to see Julia Roberts at her swanky London hotel, not realising she’s in the middle of doing interviews promoting her new film?

Embarrassed, he poses as a journalist for Horse And Hound magazine and a series of torturously awkward interviews ensue.

That’s a bit like how it feels waiting to meet Grant.

A member of the anti-media intrusion campaign group Hacked Off, who bugged a former tabloid reporter and got him to confess to phone hacking before exposing him in The New Statesman, it’s no secret that Grant dislikes the press. He claims he was reluctantly ‘wheeled out’ of semi-retirement to appear in his latest romcom, The Rewrite.

The 54-year-old actor is actually perfectly polite, and even charming. He flirts with all the women, and has them tittering at his remarks about the hotel staff who sent up hot milk with his tea.

But shrugging and shifting in his chair, it’s clear he’d rather not be in this dark hotel room, with a queue of journalists waiting next door to try and persuade him to reveal all.

“It’s miserable,” he admits, sipping his tea. “But there’s even more miserable parts of the job, I would say.”

In The Rewrite, Grant plays Keith Michaels, a once successful Hollywood scriptwriter forced to take a job lecturing at a university to make ends meet.

“He loves screenwriting, he loves films, he’s desperate to get back into the business, he’d do anything,” explains the London-born actor. “But he’s just so out of fashion. He’s so ‘cold’ in Hollywood terms, he just can’t get a job. So he has to take this undignified position of teaching screenwriting to a lot of second-rate students in a third-rate university.”

Grant, of course, had his big break in Four Weddings And A Funeral 20 years ago, and has gone on to star in numerous romantic comedies, some more memorable than others.

But he hasn’t ‘become’ jaded by Hollywood – he claims he always was.

“I’ve always played that... affected that pose anyway. Maybe it’s not a pose,” he says. “There are people who really love showbiz. They get up every morning and they just want to make a film, read a script. I have never been that person, I confess.”

So, disillusioned Keith picks all the prettiest young girls to be in his class, indulges in some extra-curricular fun, and aims to get away with doing as little work as possible, insisting that writing is a gift that can’t be taught.

But in true romcom style, that all changes when single mum Holly, played by Marisa Tomei, signs up as a mature student. She’s determined to have a second chance at life, and convince Keith he can have one too.

“She’s very positive, and my character is very cynical about that,” says Grant. “I think it’s great that someone like that goes back to university, but can anyone learn to do something that requires talent? No, probably not.

“I do think if you’ve got a little bit of talent, you can learn to make it much better,” he adds.

Following the success of Four Weddings Grant went on to play the earnest, bumbling hero several times over, including in the even more successful Notting Hill.

Since then, he’s been the go-to guy for romcoms about a charming but cold-hearted cad, who it transpires just needs to be loved. The Rewrite is his fourth collaboration with writer and director Marc Lawrence, following Two Weeks Notice, Music And Lyrics and Did You Hear About The Morgans?

He insists he’s too old for romantic comedy, but enjoys his collaborations with Lawrence. “He really is very clever at writing dialogue that’s good for me. The part was written for me, so it wasn’t much of a stretch,” he concedes wryly.