“I’ve cleaned a lot of lavatories” Hugh Grant made the startling admission at a press conference yesterday at the London Hotel in Manhattan to promote his new film, “The Rewrite” co-starring Marisa Tomei.
Grant teams up for the fourth time with writer-director Marc Lawrence (“Music and Lyrics,” Two Weeks Notice,” “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”) who was present at the press event along with co-star Chris Elliott. (Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons also appear in the film.)
“Get out of here,” a journalist scoffed. The question was in response to a question about the craziest job Grant ever took to survive before he became an actor.
“Yes, I have,” Grant replied. “And I was rather good at it. But I did hate it. And I remember I was cleaning lavatories at I.B.M. in London and I was on my way to work on day and I thought, ‘I really can’t stand this another day. I wish the place would just burn down.’ As I turned the corner it was burning down. And I didn’t know I had that power,” he said. “I try not to use it too much since.” The twenty or so journalists in the room cracked up.
His next job was a step up. “I delivered new cars. In those days it was important that you had to run them in slowly, so we were told to drive them at 29 miles an hour and we drove them at 120 miles an hour. I crashed one and was fired from that job.”
“Then I was a very good waiter in a gay restaurant in the King’s Road. I got a lot of tips because I was very flirty,” he said. “It happened to have a large gay clientele and I wiggled my bottom.”
The question was in line with the theme of “The Rewrite,” in which Grant plays a washed up Hollywood screenwriter, Keith Michaels, looking for a job. After winning an Academy Award for “Paradise Misplaced,” he’s lost his creative mojo. His movie pitches are out of date and his bank account running on empty. The only gig his agent can find him is a job teaching screenwriting at Binghamton University on the opposite coast. Grant’s character wants this job about as much as Grant seems to want to keep acting.
When asked how he found the balance in the comedy and dramatic tones of the role, the “Notting Hill” actor, who at age 54 still looks boyish, said he didn’t.
“I can only really vaguely perform in a sort of light comedy tone. I’ve tried other tones and it’s a disaster. So I’m sort of more or less stuck there. Having said that, I did attempt to render some emotions in this film. At least I tried. I tried,” he sighed.
Asked by a male journalist if he was aware that he also had a large male fan base and if men ever told him they liked his films, Grant replied dryly, “Never. No. Never. You are actually the first.”
As for the current state of rom-coms, Grant mused, “I wonder if one could anymore make a romantic comedy because I don’t think people under 25 or under 30 talk much. I mean, how would you do it? Every shot would be a close up of the phone.”
Grant added that when he meets young people they never want to talk; they just want selfies. “They frequently say, ‘Can I get a picture? Can I get a selfie?’ And sometimes I’m not in the mood. I say, ‘Well I don’t really want to do a selfie but I’ll have a chat with you.’ And they go, ‘What about a selfie?’ I’ll ask where are you from? All they say is, ‘How about a selfie?’ with a desperate look in their eye. It’s a strange sort of interaction.”
Asked if he related personally to the movie’s subtext about creative freedom versus creative control in Hollywood, and was the reason he took the role, Grant replied, “I’ve never had any standards in particular. And I’ve just thought does this thing make me laugh? Did I get bored reading the script? And if I didn’t get bored and if I did laugh, and I thought it came into that narrow little area where I might be able to perform it, I’ve always just said yes.”
“I tell you what I am quite proud of actually,” Grant added. “Since ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ I’ve never done a job just for the money. I’ve always thought I liked it. Whereas, before ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ I only did jobs for the money.”
Grant said he did like his character’s gradual awareness that self-worth was defined by more than money or celebrity.
“I like the way that my character learns that there are other metrics by which to judge yourself than money and how much you’re wanted in one particular trade. Suddenly he realizes that he’s wanted by his students, he’s valued by them, and the university, and I think that’s rather touching.”
Grant added, “It’s been a huge surprise that my children value me despite the fact that I don’t make many films anymore and waste my time doing politics and stuff. They still like me anyway, that’s rather like what happens to Keith.”
Asked to comment about working with Marisa Tomei, Grant replied,
“I was frightened of her. I’m still frightened of her because she’s so good and so much the opposite of me in terms of how she comes at a role. She’s a proper New York method actress so she knew exactly why she said every line she said. I don’t have the faintest idea why I say them except they sounded right and they might get a laugh.” He added, “And one sometimes does roll one’s eyes when it’s four in the morning and you’re very cold and she’s saying, ‘Why do I say this line?’ And you want to go, ‘So we can all go home.”