Hugh Grant is at the end of his rope. It's 5 p.m. and since a radio morning show at 6:30 today, he's been gabbing with a parade of press about himself and his new movie, "Mickey Blue Eyes." At this point -- the last interview of the last day of a relentless week-and-a-half publicity tour -- he's so ready to stop telling the same stories and go home that he just flops down in a generous leather chair at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco and glances at me as if to say "tell me something that will wake me up."
The inherent Hugh Grant charm is still there, and although there's no arguing he's dead handsome, he is looking a little wasted in a fading, over-washed Cinema Against AIDS T-shirt, baggy white jeans and sneakers, his famously foppy hair a little messy. He looks comfortable at least, but this afternoon he seems to be operating at about 55 percent of capacity.
"I've been doing press for 10 straight days now, and I've gone stark raving bonkers," he says with a glint of life in his green eyes, after finding a cozy, slouching position deep down in the chair, his backside sliding toward the edge of the cushion.
"What medium is this?" he asks his publicist. She tells him I write for the internet, to which he says, "I've tried surfing. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I've never found anything interesting except the English football results."
His online aversion may also stem from his many mentions in World Wide Web's rabid rumor mill, the most recent being that he replaced director Kelly Makin behind the camera for some reshoots on "Mickey Blue Eyes," a fish-out-of-water comedy in which he stumbles into the life of a mobster when he unknowingly proposes to a mafia princess, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn.
"Another internet lie," he half-mockingly huffs. "I think that's partly why I'm suspicious of it. Because as a subject that is written about in these things, when you read a paper, you think, well, that's semi-bollocks. But you go on the internet, it's 100-percent bollocks! Anyway, it's not true."
According to Grant, some footage was damaged by exposure to winter weather and Makin wasn't available for reshoots because his wife was having a baby, so "Jaws" and "The Jerk" writer Carl Gottlieb sat in for him on those couple days. "But with a bossy producer (Grant's girlfriend, actress and model Elizabeth Hurley, who he mentions fondly and frequently) on the set and Hugh Grant, people may have gotten the wrong impression."
Grant first got involved with "Mickey Blue Eyes" when a draft of the film crossed his desk at Simian Films, the production company he runs with Hurley ("She's obsessed with apes," he says in explanation of the company name). At the time the story was about a Jewish lawyer who marries into the mob. "But we thought it might be quite funny if the guy was British, because I've never seen Brit-meets-mob."
Switching into deadpan mode, Grant adds that he's been dying to make a mob movie for ages. "I've always been hurt that no one has ever offered me one! I find it hard to understand why Scorsese has never called. You know, given the natural menace I bring to the screen."
Kidding aside for the moment, Grant took a large role in bringing this particular mob movie to the screen, playing a part in tweaking the character to fit his comic persona and writing the final draft of the script himself. The character of prim auctioneer Michael Felgate is quintessential Hugh Grant -- nervously, bumblingly charming, and the actor is well aware that he's become something of a niche player.
"I don't think there's much point in putting me a deep, dark, heavy, emotional film because there are people who do it so much better than I do," he says, matter-of-factly.
"Also," he ads with a broad grin, "I get more satisfaction out of comedy stuff. I'm a laugh tart. I make no secret of that fact."
But his career didn't always allow him the luxury of choice. Although he made his feature debut starring as a gay college student in the acclaimed Merchant-Ivory picture "Maurice," early on his bread and butter came from a Judith Krantz miniseries and a campy, Ken Russell horror cheapy called "The Lair of the White Worm."
"The only reason my work seems to be eclectic up to a certain period is because I was a failure as an actor," Grant says, laughing at himself. "I had to take any job I could get. Bit (part), horror film, miniseries, whatever. So there was no selection going on there. It was just grabbing whatever I could get."
"But recently, I've kind of come to the conclusion that if I have any place in the business -- which is a question in itself," he adds with an even more self-deprecating tone, "it is at least broadly in comedy country, whether it's romantic comedy or light comedy or whatever."
So in trying to expand on that "whatever," Grant says, some wilder comedy was added to "Mickey Blue Eyes," including a scene where his stiff-upper-lip boss walks in on him with his pants around his ankles, "massaging my bum."
"For the first preview, we didn't dare put that scene in the film because we thought it might make people vomit," he jokes. "But when we did put it in, it actually got some of the biggest laughs in the film, so we wished we'd shot more of me stripping!"
Maybe next time, Hugh?
"Yeah," he deadpans, "because I've developed a bit of a taste for it now."
Then he backpedals, noting his tendency to josh his interviewers might be how all these internet rumors get started. But he must hear the same questions 20 times a day when promoting a new movie. Has Hugh Grant ever made up a story just to add a little spice to his endless days of radio morning shows and afternoons in a string of hotel rooms?
"Very much so," he admits. "I talked to a guy from Esquire and for some reason I went off for two hours telling him about my experiences in the Special Air Services, and he was really into it."
None of this was true, of course. Which makes a story he tells soon thereafter sound a little suspect. Asked about how there seems to always be some mention made of his "foppy" hair in all his films since "Four Weddings and a Funeral," he offers up this tidbit:
"I swear this is true. When we sat down to make that film, everyone was concerned that it might look as if it were easy for me to get Andie MacDowell, and the whole idea was to make me look sh**ty. So I sat down with the hairdresser to make the worst haircut we possibly could for it. It was meant to be like Jim Carrey's in 'Dumb and Dumber'."
The fact that the look became a fashion sensation amuses him no end, he says. But can he be believed? After all, his hair isn't all that different today, as he runs his fingers through it, leaving it more tossled than it already was.
Settling back into the topic of his current film, he follows up this fable with another far fetched-sounding allegory about the authentication of the mobsters in "Mickey Blue Eyes."
"The vast majority of the mobster parts are -- and this is where I have to tread carefully, particularly on insane internet interviews -- they're very, very, um, well-researched, if you know what I'm saying."
Did he and Elizabeth dine with a Don?
"Yeah. A lot. We did that a lot," he says, apparently not aware how strange that sounds coming from a Brit with a mild-mannered image. "We still do when we go to New York. We go and see the guys. Hang out with them. Elizabeth likes to compare jewelry and manicures and stuff."
Who'd have thought having dinner with mafisos would be part of producing movies with your girlfriend? So what else goes on around their office? Do they split up the chores? Do they fight or do get along well?
Jokingly massaging his temples and pinching the bridge of his nose, Grant answers, "A lot of fighting, as you can imagine with your other half. You've only got to go to a wedding and you fight, so making a film is a lot worse than that. And she's quite opinionated, you know. Feisty and violent."
Then back in deadpan mode, he winks, "I think that's one of the reasons these mobsters liked her so much. They recognize someone in the same business."
With Hurley's acting career taking off after "Austin Powers," the couple are also increasingly in the same business. Have the considered any projects together?
Grant lets out a long groan. "Neither Elizabeth or I are keen to do a real-life couple on the screen. It's not very electric." Besides, he says, "I like Southern girls," like Tripplehorn, his current co-star.
"She's from Oklahoma -- I think that counts as the South -- (and) she has that slightly silly quality I like in those girls. They're always very charming. I feel incredibly endeared towards them," he adds, fiddling with the edge of the table we're sitting at. "I've always loved Andie MacDowell, and I love Julia (Roberts, his co-star in "Notting Hill"). And Jeanne's another one. They all still have that little spark of naughtiness that sometimes gets bread out from too much exposure to Los Angeles."
Jumping to the other side of the continent for a moment, is Grant allowed to say anything about his role in "Small Time Crooks," next spring's Woody Allen picture, which was shot in New York?
"Only that it's him going back to his old stuff, the broad comedy," he says, complying with the secrecy Allen insists on in his actors. "But I didn't get the whole script. I just got my part, about 30 pages. But they are bloody funny. They made me laugh out loud."
Asked what he thought of Allen, Grant offers a variation on an oft-told story about how quiet the reclusive movie maker is.
"People keep telling you it's great if he doesn't say anything," Grant says with a half-serious smile. "You have to comfort yourself with that one. Everyone goes home from his films expecting to see a little red flashing light on the answering machine with a message saying, 'You've been replaced by Branagh' or something."
So now that he's done three films back-to-back ("Notting Hill," "Mickey Blue Eyes" and "Small Time Crooks"), what's next for Grant?
He groans again, "Well, there's a road movie I'm quite tempted by. I've always liked that genre. But I feel knackered. I don't really feel like doing any acting for a bit. I might take another one of my two-and-a-half year hiatuses."
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