Hugh Grant talks about “The Rewrite,” live theater and the British group Hacked Off, which works to curtail cruel and unethical treatment from “the scariest part of the British tabloid press.”
Hugh Grant, it turns out, has never liked romantic comedies very much.
“Never been my particular sort of film,” he said, in a telephone interview from New York earlier this week. And what is his sort of film? “Well, I think I like quite sort of pretentious films really. Quite European, quite dark, not much plot. Preferably set in Paris, with some sulky girl in the lead role.”
Nonetheless, the formerly floppy-haired king of the British rom-com (“Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Notting Hill”) is back with one more. “The Rewrite,” opening Friday (Feb. 13), features Grant as a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter who reluctantly takes a job teaching at a small East Coast college — and who meets, in his classroom, a charming single mom played by Marisa Tomei.
At the AMC Alderwood mall and on VOD. Not rated; for mature audiences.
Just don’t call it a rom-com to Grant. “I’m not sure we’d really call ‘The Rewrite’ a romantic comedy,” he said. “There’s a little bit of that in it, but I think it’s more interesting than that.”
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“The Rewrite” marks Grant’s first appearance on screen since “Cloud Atlas” in 2012; these days he’s more focused on politics. “Occasionally, some [movie] project tickles my fancy,” he said. “This was one of them. I was very charmed by it.” It’s a reunion for Grant with writer/director Marc Lawrence; their previous collaborations include “Two Weeks Notice,” “Music and Lyrics” and “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”
On screen, he’s been partnered with a starry parade of leading ladies: Sandra Bullock, Drew Barrymore, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts, Emma Thompson, Renée Zellweger. And while he won’t name any names, he described screen chemistry as “a very strange thing. It bears no correlation to how your chemistry is in real life. It’s very often, when you think, ‘We’re just enchanting as a couple,’ on screen it comes across as very flat. Sometimes you hate each other and it comes across as electric.”
Lately, though, he’s more caught up in activism than on-screen flirtation, as a key member of the British group Hacked Off, which works to curtail cruel and unethical treatment from “the scariest part of the British tabloid press.” It’s not just focused on celebrities, Grant emphasized, but on ordinary people who’ve been exploited and used for profit by some newspapers.
“We thought the time had come to do that,” he said of the inception of Hacked Off in 2011. ”We campaigned for a big public inquiry; we got that. Recommendations were made and we managed to get them into law. But there’s more work to be done — whenever I think it’s over, it’s not over.”
And last month, he made his first stage appearance in 25 years — with a company called Black Bean Theatre, an amateur London group for developmentally disabled adults. “A friend of mine who has a learning disability asked me to write a book with him,” Grant explained. The book, called “The Drama Group” and part of a series of picture books for disabled readers, was adapted into a play, and Grant volunteered to take on a small role alongside his friend Nigel Hollins.
“My last live performance was in 1990,” he said, laughing. “I was surprisingly nervous. More nervous than the other performers.”
Next up for Grant on the big screen are a couple of high-profile projects. He’ll star opposite Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a film about the off-key American opera sensation (Grant plays her common-law husband). Directed by Stephen Frears, the film shoots this spring. And he’ll be seen this summer in the action comedy “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” directed by Guy Ritchie. “I’m the boss,” he says, “a man called Waverly. An eminence grise, with the emphasis on grise. I’ve grayed up my hair, to the point of absurdity. Very silver foxy.”
But “The Rewrite” may well be the end of an era: the last Hugh Grant rom-com (whether or not he calls it that). He’s turned down the long-planned “Bridget Jones” sequel (“I think it may work out perfectly and they may make a brilliant film, but I thought I would bow out”), and says he’s done. “I think as you slip into your mid-50s,” he said, “it’s maybe time to leave romantic comedy behind.”