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November 2004
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: An Interview with Hugh Grant

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: An Interview with Hugh Grant

By Todd Gilchrist

For better than a decade, Hugh Grant has been the stalwart leading man in every viable romantic comedy from Tinseltown to the United Kingdom (think "Four Weddings and a Funeral","Notting Hill", and "Love Actually", to name but three). But in "Bridget Jones' Diary", Grant plays an anything but likeable fellow named Daniel Cleaver, and is returning this month to the role playing once again opposite Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth. Grant recently spoke to blackfilm.com about getting geared up for his first sequel, and debating the prospect of retirement after almost twenty years of film acting.

What was the process of shooting the fight scene between you and Colin Firth for this film?

Hugh Grant: It was one day about this time last year, and it was the same approach as the first one, which was just to make sure that it was as crap as we wanted it to be. The key is to stop the stunt coordinator from coming in to make it look like a film fight. We just wanted it to be two pathetic Englishmen scared of each other, throwing their handbags at each other basically.

Do you think a man like Daniel Cleaver can actually change as he suggests in the movie?

HG: Can he change? Can he change? No. I think short answer is that he can't. Funnily enough, I think that if has changed, he's change for the worse, not the better . . .

You have been extraordinarily successful of late playing unlikable men.

HG: Ummm - it's sweet of you to say that. Now, I quite like it. For years I sat in these interviews and everyone said, you're always Mister Nice Guy, why don't you ever play someone nasty? So in fact it's been a relief to be - for the real me to come out more on camera. I don't have any particular burning desire to go back to being cuddly. Not really.

In both this and "Love Actually" your character is interested in women who are supposed to be "heavier."

HG: I remember saying to my agent that the next job I want to do, the next three jobs I do, I want them to be about slightly overweight women. And they did a wonderful. No - I don't know what to say to you. I agree that it's nice that these stories feature that. Because you've heard this before - any man will tell you that we don't necessarily want what we see in Vogue or whatever.

What do you think of sequels in general?

HG: I don't think they're automatically to be despised. I've seen sequels that are - The Godfather, he throws out nervously, racking his brains for another (example). (Much laughter)

Did you have much input in the development of the sequel? Would you have come back regardless of the content?

HG: No, no. I was very difficult. I'm always quite difficult, but I was really impossible on this one. And there was a lot of coming and going about the script and my part. To begin with, I was not convinced that Daniel Cleaver could ever go into television, a medium he despises. But I got my head around that and did a lot of work on just sort of trying to keep the cleverness of Daniel. I always thought one of the mitigating factors for him in the first film that he wasn't just an asshole, he was actually quite a clever asshole. I wanted to try and maintain that. So in things like his presentations to the camera in doing the smooth guide, I just tried to make them relatively clever.

The Weitz brothers complimented you as a superlative actor for the romantic comedy genre.

HG: (laughs) That's incredibly nice of them. I love the Weitzes. What were they making? What have they just done? Is it about cooking? They always had a crazy cooking film up their sleeves. Is it about vampires? Because they once gave me the worst pitch I ever heard. I couldn't get through it. I said, "Stop, Paul," halfway through it. "This is ghastly." And he still laughs about it. Whenever he e-mails me now, he always says at the end, "Keep thinking about that vampire [thing]."

What do you feel distinguishes your approach to comedy from that of other actors?

HG: I don't know what other actors do. I think in a way there is an upside to me being very difficult, and the thing I'm really difficult about is the script. I won't do it unless I think the script has got there or at the very least that my part has got there. And then even when I come to shoot it, I will try 16 different things. But it has become a form of madness, it really has, to the point of sort of meltdown. And on this film, the second day, I had a meltdown. Suddenly there was all this sort of neurosis got to me and I had my first ever full-scale attack of stage fright. It was very alarming for ever one concerned. I had to get to about Take 30 before I could even remember my lines. It was the scene when Colin comes in at the end and challenges me to come out and fight him.

What do you think is Renee's appeal, particularly in terms of playing Bridget Jones?

HG: She's just very redoubtable. She's just never - I think film acting's just a miserable experience . . . it's so long and so boring and so difficult to get right so that what you need above all is incredible willpower and strength of mind. And she has that. I don't know where it comes from. She's definitely got that. And . . . big pants . . . they're back. You're always slightly nervous when jokes are revisited. It's one thing to revisit a film but entire jokes - but I think we've moved forward a bit.

Do you like to travel to tourist-oriented locations, or something more off the beaten path?

HG: I like a bit of both. I'm ashamed to say I was in Marrakesh earlier this year and I had a guide taking me and my father around the tourist spots and I kept saying no, no, no, I want to see poverty. I wanted to see people in rags, you know.

Renee mentioned she had some issues with the weather when she was shooting in Thailand.

HG: Oh Christ! She's got this thing that she believes the sun will make her skin come up in boils and peel off her bones. So she's dressed up like Julie Andrews at the beginning of The Sound Of Music, like a nun . . . umbrellas and gloves and everything. And it's a nightmare.

Did you give her a hard time?

HG: No because oddly enough, she was really sensible on the subject because I think she almost felt she was being assaulted just being in Thailand, being so close to the sun. But it does make one slightly want to ask her why live in Los Angeles (laughter).

You've mentioned in the past that you might give up acting. Any truth to those rumors?

HG: Well, I haven't done very much for about three years. I think I've just done that smallish part in Love Actually and the smallish part in this film. So I'm sort of semi-retired.

Is there anything else want to do?

HG: I'm sure I've said to you a billion times that I keep thinking I'm about to write a brilliant script. . . (have you written one?) No, I've done bugger all all year. I feel ashamed of myself.

So basically, when Richard Curtis calls, you seem to be ready to go to work.

HG: Yeah, old friends and things and this one - that seems fine. But I'm not in a hurry to go and sit in big development meetings and make great big commercial films. I do have a touch of apathy about that?

Renee said people approach her as Bridget to relate their romantic stories. Does anyone ever approach you as Daniel Cleaver and do the same?

HG: No, emphatically not.

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