As I wait for Hugh Grant in a room in Las Vegas’s Treasure Island Hotel, I hear a commotion in the outside hall. Stepping out of the room to investigate, I see a bemused Hugh Grant surrounded by a crowd of excited middle-age women, who have apparently stormed out of their breast cancer conference when they glimpsed him passing by. Remarkably, the star of Bridget Jones Diaries, who’s known of his disdain of the culture of celebrity, poses cheerfully for photographs with his swooning fans as his face is showered by their flashing cameras.
Grant has been making bold headlines recently, not for starring in movies, but for his relentless campaign against the British tabloids and becoming the unofficial spokesman for the universal outrage directed at them.
After a decades-long combative, and sometimes litigious, relationship with the tabloid press, Grant turned the table against them by discreetly recording incriminating admissions by former journalist, Paul McMullen, which he penned in an article for The New Statesman last April. Titled “The Bugger, Bugged”, the article exposed long-standing ethical violations, including phone hacking, committed by the News of the World and other media outlets, allegedly with the knowledge of politicians and even the police.
“All the phone hacking stuff has been swept under the carpet because everyone’s been too frightened either politically or in terms of their personal reputation to confront the power of those tabloid beasts,” he says.
Calm and humorous, Grant speaks with uncontained enthusiasm about the recent demise of the News Of the World and with guarded hope about the outcome of Leveson Inquiry, which has been set up by the Prime Minister David Cameron to investigate the voicemail hacking scandal.
“The campaign is not over by any means,” he exclaims. “The big thing was getting that inquiry going and that’s happening, and then the second phase is to hope that the judge at the end of the inquiry recommends the right things, and then the really tough bit is getting the government to enact those things because it’s a largely Conservative government and the press is largely conservative, so there is no real motive for them in smashing the business model of most of the British press.”
Distrustful of his nemeses in the press, Grant warns against falling for their recent good behaviour that followed the launch of the inquiry. “It’s a temporary pose rather than a permanent formation, I think,” he says.
And he’s not impressed by the recent resignation of James Murdoch as the head of the newspaper’s publisher, which he thinks was designed to deflect attention from some other “darker and more horrific revelations” that were being made that very day at the Leveson Inquiry about News International.
“He was already gone from the UK,” he sneers. “He was back in America, and he was out of picture.”
Sounding like David taking on Goliath, Grant seems to relish this campaign against the tabloid press. So much that I could sense a palpable dimming of his enthusiasm when the conversation veers to acting.
Notorious for his disrespect of his job, the English actor, who has won a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Honorary Cesar, claims that acting is not a true calling but just a job he fell into.
“I’ve never felt entirely fulfilled just speaking someone else’s lines,” he confesses. “I think that’s why in part it’s been satisfying, although terrifying, doing this sort of campaign business in the last 6 months because when I speak it is me speaking and not repeating what someone else has written.”
“I don’t really want to go into politics, although it’s been fascinating to have a little excursion into another world. I really needed that and also to be dealing with real life instead of creating synthetic life, which is what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years.”
Amazingly, the London-born actor, whose films have earned more than $2.4 billion from 25 theatrical releases worldwide, is so disenchanted with show business that he doesn’t even follow its news.
“I could tell you who won Best Picture the other week, but I couldn’t tell you any other,” he laughs. “I didn’t watch the Oscars. I am just not up on show business so it doesn’t enter my orbit at the moment.”
In fact, he prefers playing Golf in Scotland to acting. “To be honest with you, I’m delighted not to be involved,” he chuckles.
Occasionally, however, the anti-star actor won’t mind playing an interesting role that tickles his fancy, as he did with the new animation movie, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, in which he voices Pirate Captain, who is so desperate to win the Pirate of the Year award that he betrays his comrades and sells their beloved bird to Queen Victoria for a mountain of gold and jewellery.
Having been brought up with the TV series about pirates, Captain Pugwash, the son of a British Army officer felt a special connection with the character of Pirate Captain.
“I’m like the Captain,” he laughs. “I like to boss people around and I share certain characteristics. He has a certain vanity, which I’m not immune to.”
Known for his nonchalant sarcasm and studied physical mannerisms as well as his precisely-timed dialogue delivery and facial expressions, the star of Four Weddings and Funeral and About A Boy, finds preparing for inhabiting a cartoon character less demanding than preparing for live-action one.
“With a normal film where it’s me doing the acting not him, I’m quite thoroughly prepared. I do all that old sort of standard Stanislavsky business of asking myself why I say every line and why I do everything in the script, but with this I didn’t do any of that.”
“I just read it aloud to myself again and again in my kitchen trying to make it funny. I was much better in my kitchen than I was in the studio. I kept asking them if we could record it in my kitchen,” he laughs.
A perfectionist, who demands endless takes until he achieves the desired shot according to his own standards, Grant enjoyed doing voice over because its low-cost enabled him to do multiple takes.
“I just have a strong sense of when you hit the bull’s eye and when you don’t. It’s very precise and the lovely thing about cartoons is you can do thousands of takes on and on until you absolutely think you’ve nailed it, and you can’t do that when you’re on celluloid, where each take costs a lot of money.”
The reluctant actor is currently working on a new movie, Cloud Atlas, with the Wachowski brothers, and awaiting the new Bridget Jones project to blossom into a filmable script.
In the meantime, he is enjoying being embroiled in political games and being a father to a baby daughter, who was the product of a fleeting fling with a Chinese woman.
“I’ve loved this excursion into something different. That’s been refreshing and it’s very, very nice having a daughter. Really nice. I couldn’t love her more,” he smiles contently.