AFM: Elizabeth Hurley Talks COVID, Christmas Movies and Hugh Grant's 'Paddington' Performance

Elizabeth Hurley
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

After several years away from the big screen, the British actress, fashion designer and model has two films in production.

It’s been — incredibly — 26 years since “that dress” (at the Four Weddings and a Funeral premiere) launched her into the public sphere and 23 years since she stole a million hearts as Vanessa Kensington in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

But after almost a decade away from the big screen, Elizabeth Hurley now has two features in quick succession. The British actress, fashion designer and model recently wrapped on the festive comedy Father Christmas Is Back — also starring John Cleese and Kelsey Grammer and launching at the AFM with Brit production/sales outfit MSR Media — and is currently in Latvia shooting The Piper. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter via email, Hurley discusses shooting under COVID-19 restrictions, moving back to movies after a stint on TV and her love for Paddington 2, or to be more precise, Hugh Grant’s performance in the film.

How has the lockdown experience been for you? Where have you been spending it?

I was home in the country for the whole of lockdown. Initially, I was really disappointed as I should have been in L.A. shooting a [as-yet untitled] pilot for CBS. It was, of course, postponed. It’s a great project and fingers crossed we’ll get it made. To be honest, once we were locked down I didn’t expect to film anything in 2020, so to shoot two movies back-to-back was incredibly lucky. It was a shock to the system to go back to work after months of lurking at home — the first few 5 a.m. calls were somewhat eye-watering.

What can we expect from Father Christmas Is Back? Where does it rank on the Christmas comedy list?

The first movie I shot post-lockdown was in York in the U.K. I’d worked with the producer, Philippe Martinez, in 2013 on a movie with Gérard Depardieu in Chechnya — needless to say York was slightly less hair-raising. When Philippe offered me the part I said yes almost before I read it, because he’d already cast two of the world’s funniest men, John Cleese and Kelsey Grammer. I’d had fan-crushes on both of them for years and it was brilliant working with them. I play one of Kelsey’s daughters, and John is our lunatic uncle.

You play Joanna Christmas. Who is she and what’s she like?

Joanna is the mean-girl sister with the hot fiance, played by the very sexy Ray Fearon. I hope I found of a touch of vulnerability under Joanna’s extremely brittle surface. I loved having three film sisters to torture, and we’ve all stayed in touch and I’m hoping we’ll stay that way. I think we’d all been starved of friendships during lockdown and so we bonded.

How was it shooting under COVID restrictions?

We had a wonderful COVID officer on Father Christmas Is Back and lots of nurses who took our temperature every day and administered weekly COVID tests. All the crew wore masks, so to this day I wouldn’t recognize any of them. Working in Latvia on The Piper is a similar situation, although the COVID situation is less severe here. I never leave the hotel without a mask and, again, have no idea what most of the crew look like.

Given the current situation, for many of us it’s increasingly looking like Christmas might be canceled this year. Do you think Father Christmas Is Back can help restore some festive cheer? Or will it just remind us what we’re missing out on?

I’m really hoping we get to see our families this Christmas. I’m also really hoping I can fly back from Latvia and the airports won’t be closed, otherwise, it will be a very long drive. I love a Christmas movie, so hopefully this one will cheer everyone up.

It’s been some time since you had a film out, but now have two in production back-to-back. What’s behind this? Are you getting back in the business? Can we expect a return to the early '90s when you had several films out each year?

I took eight years off to raise my son and then entered what was, for me, the brave new world of U.S. television. I did a season of Gossip Girl, four seasons of The Royals for E! and, last summer, a season of Marvel’s Runaways. For an actor, TV is a completely different animal; it’s very fast and very wordy. You can shoot six big scenes a day and you arrive on set fired up and performance ready. Movies are completely different and making these two back to back has made me appreciate the luxury of spending half a morning shooting getting in and out of car, whilst everyone beetles around reflecting lights in puddles.

I can’t believe Austin Powers is 23 years old. I still love the film as much as when I first saw it in the cinema. Do you have any favorite moments or gags?

I can’t believe it was 23 years ago, either. Every memory of shooting Austin Powers is charming to me because I was so in awe of Mike Myers’ almighty talent. He was quite simply brilliant on every level. I laughed like a drain the whole time.

Do you think a film like Austin Powers — which is decidedly, intentionally and hilariously "unwoke" — could be made today?

Good point, but funny is funny and Mike’s humour was never cruel and never left a bad taste, so yes, I think it could.

I understand you’re still very close with Hugh Grant. Paddington 2 is – genuinely – one of my favorite films of all time. On a scale of 1 to "Why Didn’t This Win an Oscar?" how good do you think his performance is in that film?

This was absolutely my favorite performance of Hugh’s ever. Everyone thinks he was playing himself in all those romantic comedies, but he wasn’t, he was playing [the screenwriter] Richard Curtis. In Paddington 2, he is exactly like the Hugh I know and love.