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Hugh Grant cut the figure of a most reluctant movie star on Tuesday night in Zurich when he received a Golden Icon Award for his life’s work.
Despite enjoying some of the best reviews of his career for his role alongside Meryl Streep in Stephen Frears‘ Florence Foster Jenkins, Grant remained relentlessly self-deprecating and almost reflexively apologetic as he faced the press, as if to suggest perhaps Zurich had got the wrong man.
Grant, of course, is best known for the charmingly awkward onscreen persona he created for such rom-coms as Four Weddings And a Funeral and Notting Hill, but Florence Foster Jenkins is darker, with Grant playing a real-life penniless and talentless failed actor who latches on to a tone-deaf but wealthy heiress (Streep) who dreams of becoming a opera singer.
“He appears on the surface to be this suave, debonair English man but in reality he was a failed actor, (who) just didn’t quite have the talent and the only thing that gave him a position in life was his marriage to this woman,” said Grant. “What I enjoyed playing was the outward shell of this debonair Englishman, but (underneath) he’s a rather desperate man clinging to this life, because he has nothing else.”
Grant said acting alongside Streep was “of course terrifying as a prospect. I mean: 19 Oscar nominations,” he said of his acclaimed co-star. “But if you play tennis against Roger Federer, you play better. It was good for my game and just fascinating to watch someone as talented as that. I think she does come into a tiny bracket of true geniuses.”
Watching himself onscreen, however, remains excruciating.
“I’ve read that I hate all my films. That’s not true, the films are often great. It’s just me that I loathe,” Grant said. “I always think, ‘Oh you f—ed that up.’ You never feel great about your own stuff. It’s like in the old days of answering machine messages you always felt nauseated when you heard your own voice. And watching yourself on film is that times 50.”
While he has become inextricably linked to romantic comedies, Grant said he felt no particular affinity for the genre. “Those were just the best scripts I read,” he said and noted that he prefers playing “bad guys or complicated people, something with a bit more texture and meat” than the romantic lead.
But, he added, half-joking, he’s now “too old for romantic comedies.”
Reflecting on his career, Grant named a handful of roles he thought taught him something as an actor, including Chris and Paul Weitz’s About a Boy in 2002 (one of Grant’s first serious roles) and Florence Foster Jenkins among them.
But he said he was most proud of his work for Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press, which he championed after his phone was hacked by British tabloid The News Of The World.
“I think that when I look back on my life, I will look on the five years of doing that campaign as one of the very few things I can be really proud of,” he said.
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