British Actors You Should Know: Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant as everyone's favorite fictional Prime Minister in "Love Actually". (Photo: Universal Pictures)
Hugh Grant as everyone's favorite fictional Prime Minister in "Love Actually". (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Last week actor and producer Hugh Grant was bestowed with the British Film Institute Fellowship, the organization’s highest honor recognizing his outstanding contribution to film. No stranger to accolades and trophies including a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his breakout role in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, Grant’s career has spanned over thirty years with appearances in forty films.

Not exactly an up and comer, most of you are probably already familiar with Hugh from his many leading man, rom-com roles in the 90’s and 2000’s.  If you haven’t seen as much of Mr. Grant lately, perhaps it’s because he has been rather occupied with his campaign against the tabloid press for their invasive phone hacking tactics or the fact that he was busy becoming a father four times in four years!

At the most prolific point in his acting career, Grant had five films released in one year – 1995’s Restoration, Nine Months, An Awfully Big Adventure and The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. For me, however the highlight of the bunch was his appearance as the timid but love-struck gentleman, Edward Ferrars, in Sense and Sensibility.

A new millennium brought a slight adjustment to Grant’s typical on-screen persona as the stammering, smitten young man evidenced in films like Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill and Four Weddings. His characters, now approaching their 40’s, tended to be cynical, self-centered and more confident with women.

For example, in Two Weeks’ Notice (2002), liberal lawyer Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) is trying to save a historic neighborhood landmark from being torn down by the Wade Corporation. Enter George Wade (Grant) a handsome playboy with no concept of how ordinary people live. Lucy comes to work for George with the goal of saving her community center. Things go to plan until George’s demands on Lucy’s time become unreasonable to say the least.

In About a Boy (also 2002), Grant plays Will Freeman, a self-centered 37 year old man who has never worked and lives off the royalties of a Christmas song his father wrote. A commitment-phobe, Will stumbles upon a great scheme to pick up women- prey upon divorced mums by pretending to be a single dad and attending a local support group. Alas, Will gets more than he bargained for when Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), the lonely son of one of the group’s members, discovers Will’s deception and blackmails him into hanging out with the boy after school.

Of course the most unredeemable womanizer Grant is known for is Daniel Cleaver from 2001’s Bridget Jones’ Diary. A good looking charmer with rather naughty side and a tragic story of betrayal to share, Daniel sweeps Bridget off her feet. Once the conquest is complete, however, Mr. Cleaver loses interest only to return when his territory has been usurped. Girly brawl for Bridget’s honor anyone? 

In 2003, Grant returned to the Richard Curtis fold in the ultimate British rom-com, Love Actually. As the bachelor Prime Minister with an eye for a certain type of girl inappropriate to his station, he awkwardly joked, danced and knocked on doors in the dodgy end of Wandsworth looking for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), the girl of his dreams. Rarely has a Hugh Grant character been as articulate as PM David was in his speech at the press conference with sleazy American President (Billy Bob Thornton). 

Also does he ever get any credit for standing up for Natalie when everyone else insists on calling her “chubby”?

Since the mid-2000’s, Grant has appeared in a film every year or so.  Some of his projects have been unexpected like the ambitious, experimental Cloud Atlas. He provided his first full-length animated film voiceover for The Pirates! Band of Misfits in 2012. And in case you might be concerned Hugh has left his rom-com roots, he returned on a familiar footing with 2014’s The Rewrite (written and directed by Marc Lawrence, the same person who brought us Two Weeks’ Notice almost fifteen years ago).

I leave you with a memorable scene from Music and Lyrics, a quite pleasing and moderately successful comedy from 2007 about a washed up 80’s pop star and his attempt to make a comeback with the help of an amateur lyricist played by Drew Barrymore. It’s a wonderfully silly example of what makes Hugh an actor we can’t help but like. 

Despite his somewhat curmudgeonly private side, on-screen Hugh Grant seems to be willing to don that charming self-deprecation and do unexpectedly embarrassing things to make the audience laugh. You can’t ask for more than that. If you please, share your thoughts about roles, Grant’s evolving career and his contribution to film in the comments section below.