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Grant, who has starred in all the features that Lawrence has written and directed — Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics and Did You Hear About the Morgans? — plays Keith Michaels, an Oscar-winning screenwriter in a slump who begrudgingly takes a college teaching gig. Their first not-so-rom-com also stars Marisa Tomei, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney and got the two thinking about Hollywood’s oddities.
“My only complaint about Hollywood is you always get those hilarious calls on Monday after a film opens on Friday and was a big hit: ‘Hey, what about, whoever it is, Channing Tatum or whatever’ — all people who are great, because the movie was a hit,” Lawrence tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But if it didn’t do well that Friday, you’ll get the call that’s: ‘I don’t know…’ That drives me a little crazy, because either people are good and have talent and you believe in them [or not]. No one movie is an indication of that, so either believe in them or don’t.”
Coincidentally, Image Entertainment is releasing the Castle Rock-produced, feel-good film The Rewrite on Valentine’s Day via video-on-demand — a first for the two. “I’m a bit of a Luddite; I can’t even work it on my own television set,” admits Grant (who spends most of his time in politics) of VOD but asserts, “It’s a common mistake that people think small, independent, arty equals good; big, popular, expensive equals bad. And it’s so not true. To create something that people who work hard for a living actually want to see at the end of a day’s work is as difficult and I would argue much more difficult than creating something that’s going to please a few people in the East Village or at the Hampstead in London.”
THR spoke with both Grant and Lawrence about portraying screenwriting onscreen, dealing with Hollywood snobs and staying creatively motivated.
Was it fun that this is about Hollywood and screenwriting?
Grant: It wasn’t a motive for me, but it’s always quite fun to mock the Hollywood executive. I quite enjoyed those scenes. But I don’t think anyone knows much about screenwriting, and that’s an attractive part of the film. I sometimes wonder if it’ll make people think, “Yeah, I want to have a go at that.”
Lawrence: You get to see a lot of it. I don’t actually have Hollywood horror stories; most of the mistakes I’ve made were pretty much my own. But that thing in the movie where people tell you they love you and you can’t completely trust it — that’s very true, even if you don’t work in Hollywood.
My only complaint about Hollywood is you always get those hilarious calls on Monday after a film opens on Friday and was a big hit: “Hey, what about, whoever it is, Channing Tatum or whatever’ — all people who are great, because the movie was a hit. But if it didn’t do well that Friday, you’ll get the call that’s, “I don’t know…” That drives me a little crazy, because either people are good and have talent and you believe in them [or not]. No one movie is an indication of that, so either believe in them or don’t.
A great line is “Why can’t you like 101 Dalmatians and Reservoir Dogs?”
Lawrence: That’s something I’ve felt. Sometimes when people talk about movies — I’m sure they feel it genuinely, but they impose a distinction between different types of films. But I’ve always held to the Duke Ellington quote about music: “There’s two kinds of music: good music and bad music.” Reservoir Dogs and 101 Dalmatians are great, well-told stories that move and engage audiences; they have more in common with each other than Reservoir Dogs may have with other similar kinds of films. Those distinctions to me have always been problematic.
I think the great artistic achievement of the century was The Beatles, among the many — you can’t write more accessible music than that, and at the same time, I defy you to be more sophisticated and interesting than that music was. It’s fashionable in a way to be elitist about some of that stuff, and to me, Walt Disney is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and American culture. Those films are just wonderful examples of storytelling. And I probably referenced that specifically because I read that the Pulp Fiction dance that [John] Travolta and Uma Thurman do was based on a Disney film, The Aristocats.
Grant: You get a lot of it when doing publicity in Europe, especially. They can sometimes be extremely snobby if you’ve done a studio film — they can barely bring themselves to speak to you. I remember once going on a tour with Sandra Bullock for Two Weeks Notice, and there was one French woman in particular who was so openly rude to Sandy because she was “Hollywood.” I remember losing my temper. Because they really just appear out of their own ass sometimes, these sort of art-farty people!
I used to have these conversations with Richard Curtis as well — it’s a common mistake that people think small, independent arty equals good; big, popular, expensive equals bad. And it’s so not true. To create something that people who work hard for a living actually want to see at the end of a day’s work is as difficult and I would argue much more difficult than creating something that’s going to please a few people in the East Village or at the Hampstead in London.
This is your first collaboration that’s also set for a VOD release.
Grant: I don’t know anything about VOD! I’m a bit of a Luddite. I can’t even work it on my own television set. But I remember reading the script, and I adored it and thought, “In today’s climate, is this necessarily a big cinema film?” So maybe this is the right route for it. I don’t know.
Lawrence: I feel great about it. The size of the screen and the delivery medium is just becoming less important. People are not distinguishing between it for a billion reasons — to my kids, it’s all just content, the breakdown between movies vs. TV, and VOD is nonexistent for them. In a strange way, it frees you to just think about content and what you want to do. For a movie like this, as the feature world becomes a bit more bifurcated, you have all this wonderful stuff from Marvel and those films being real events to go to a theater for. But with much smaller stories, it’s a little bit harder to compete in that world. I love big studio films. I’ve had a great time doing them — I’m working on one with Disney — but for this kind of film, it’s a smart and rewarding way to release it.
What’s the key to the continuing Hugh Grant-Marc Lawrence relationship?
Lawrence: I write a lot of words in scripts, a lot of talking. Being brought up in Brooklyn in a Jewish family, I just heard a lot of words! [Grant is] so brilliant with language and making it feel real and thrown off, like in real life. And I’ve said this many times — it’s great to win awards and do those scene-stealing, noteworthy performances that all actors love, to have a hump or speech impediment or be dying of something or play a hooker. I think your eyes get wide when you open a script like that as an actor. But I think most would admit, if you pressed them, that the hardest thing to do is to play an average person in a credible and entertaining fashion. There are very few people in the world to do it as well as he does it and can be that entertaining and funny doing it. He’s one of the most underrated actors we’ve ever had, and it’s a pleasure to be able to send a script to him.
Grant: Marc appeared in my life in the early 2000s, and amazingly few scripts that I was reading at the time — or since, actually — make me laugh and want to turn the page. I mean, really, really few. And of those few, even fewer with parts I felt I could play. He’s always ticked all those boxes for me. I’m very drawn to his stuff, creatively. And I’m very drawn to the man himself because he’s such an eccentric — people don’t know stuff about Marc, like the fact that he’s pretty much nocturnal, and so is his whole family. I’ve known them now for 10, 15 years, and they all rise at about 9 p.m. and go to bed at 9 a.m. They’ve never used their kitchen; they eat every single meal takeout, all from different restaurants. And they’re absolutely delightful, so I love him, and I love his obsessions with health and death; they’re just so strange for a comedy writer.
But although he’s worried about disease and death and ISIS and Ukraine and the economy and everything to the point of insanity, he does love people. Those I think are his two strongest qualities: He’s a genuinely funny screenwriter, and he also actually likes people, and it shows in his work and makes people feel good afterward. If you think of Miss Congeniality or Two Weeks Notice, they’re uplifting because there’s real affection.
Keith Michaels opts for Binghamton because he’s in a creative slump. How do you continually stay motivated?
Grant: I don’t know. I felt I had a slump in the late 1990s, and I just remember thinking, “I’m just going to get up early and work harder,” and that seemed to work and everything was fine again. I’ve now drifted away from show business into other things like politics, so I don’t have a feeling of “slumpiness,” even though I don’t make films anymore. But if a nice one comes along, I’ll do it.
Lawrence: I have three kids in private school, so that’s the biggest motivation! I wish I had a plan, and I wish I knew what I was doing in any larger sense. I never have. Sometimes, something as fluffy as Miss Congeniality — I was in my kitchen and Ellen DeGeneres was on TV and about to host the Emmys. They asked, “What would be the hardest part of this job?” and she said, “Wearing a dress.” For some reason, I just heard that and thought, “What kind of woman would have a tough time wearing a dress? Probably a tough FBI agent. Where would she be? The Miss America pageant.” That was 15 seconds of thinking. I spent no time in my life thinking about beauty pageants before that and very little after we finished the movie. Sometimes you think, “I need a next project to work on,” so you put one together.
Woody Allen said, “Writers write the way institutionalized people basket-weave,” and I think that’s absolutely correct. If the slump comes, you’re gonna continue writing. You have to. And hopefully whatever I’m working on will connect.
Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited and condensed.
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