Living American Dreamz - Hugh Grant interview
SS: What was your first reaction when you first received the American Dreamz script?
HG: I always thought the script was excellent, funny, and went to all the places that I like best about Paul Weitz [director of American Pie, About A Boy, In Good Company]. You know, the sort of black humour - twisted and warped. I was only upset because he'd written a character that was full of self-loathing and despair and pessimism... and told me that he based my character on me.
SS: How will Simon Cowell react to the film, do you think?
HG: I did meet him at some dinner a couple of months ago in London, and he knew all about it and he seemed very calm. If you're that rich, you're calm, I think. He invented the show and it's an incredible success. Did you know there was Pop Idol in Ethiopia now? It's true.
SS: What's the secret to his success?
HG: I don't really know very much about him, but I do think it's a clever stunt. I think he worked out that this talent show would be much more interesting if someone was cruel on the judging panel. I think once that started, and it was great for ratings, he had to stick with it. He probably has to stick with it to a certain extent in real life as well. It must be fascinating to live like that because you immediately bring with you an incredible danger and charisma, despite the fact that your trousers are pulled up to your breasts.
SS: How do you feel about someone like your character, Martin Tweed, being a judge despite having no talent of his own?
HG: I think he is a brilliant, brilliant media creature. I can think of many others who've risen to the top in the media or even in politics, and really their main skill is working out how the media works, and how you get ratings. You don't really need talent. I think that's the weird dichotomy. Although you think someone who speaks the truth is honest and authentic, I'm not even sure it is. I think it's just a trick. I think it's a ratings trick. If he'd worked out that cutting people's ears off was going to get high ratings, then he would have done that.
SS: And how do you feel about this sort of entertainment in general?
HG: I am quite susceptible to reality television. I'm ashamed of that part of myself, as I'm sure we all are. There are some good ones. Wife Swap, I particularly like. There was a brilliant one recently where they took a lot of delinquent, violent teenagers and put them through a 1950s education. And another one where they put them through an Army boot camp. It was brilliant, really fascinating.
SS: You're not worried about TV being dumbed-down, then?
HG: My theory is that it's all to do with capitalism and the free market. As a businessman, you work out what people want, like the lowest common denominator market forces. Same with food. People shouldn't have Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, but we're going to create them because they're so delicious people won't be able to resist them. Same with television. It doesn't matter if it has any quality, as long as it gets ratings. I think that's what shows like Pop Idol are: they're brilliant rubbish. We laugh in a sort of good-humoured, post-modernist kind of way and say: 'Oh, yes, I love it, too,' and in a way we do. But I think it will catch up on us. Part of me does think the world is sort of going to hell, down that road of trash culture. Trash food, trash politics, and that we will sort of implode quite soon. Is that gloomy enough for you?
SS: Yep, thanks, we're hiding the razor-blades as we speak. At the start of your career, were you determined to become famous?
HG: I honestly don't think I was. I had ambitions, but they were mainly to do with football. I wanted to play in the World Cup - I still haven't given up hope completely. I don't ever think I wanted to be in the massive world of limelight, definitely not. Little bit of local limelight. I quite like being the centre of attention, you know, out to lunch with my family or something. But that's as far as it went.
SS: The World Cup, eh? So what are England's chances, and what sort of a job do you think Sven has done?
HG: I'm so nervous even now, I can hardly speak. I genuinely think we have a good chance, don't you? I think Sven's done a good job, actually, if you look at the results. Considering it probably is the worst job in the world, I think you'd have to say he's done a good job. I think that the hatchet job done on him recently by the News of the World is one of the most repellent and unpatriotic things that newspaper has ever done.
SS: Playing the Prime Minister in Love Actually, and now playing opposite the President - all getting a bit political, isn't it?
HG: I'm not a very political animal myself. I'm really not. There was a political element to Love Actually, but you couldn't call it hardcore. But you don't have to be very political to see that perhaps the Bush administration isn't quite the administration you'd want to be leading the most powerful country in the world. I had no qualms about coming in on what I suppose you'd call a relatively lefty film.
SS: Does that mean you're nervous about the amount of involvement Tony Blair appears to have with the current Bush administration?
HG: I'm just debating in my head whether to get involved with this question because it'll come back and haunt me. I quite to like keep my politics to myself in a way. Not because they're so precious, but because I haven't really got any that I believe in consistently enough. I'm very malleable. If I see a political broadcast for the Conservative Party I think: 'Yeah, yeah, good point.' And then I see one for the Labour Party and I think: 'No, no - you're right.' I've always been like that. I wish I had some firmer opinions. But I suppose I've always been deeply suspicious of Tony Blair. I kind of admire him, but I think he is a total media creation. Just looking at him from an actor's point of view, I always thought: that's acting, that's acting, that's acting. But I think he's the most interesting kind of actor where it's all phony but he believes every word he says. You know, delusional. That's my opinion.
SS: OK, then. In terms of your acting, and a career built on rom-coms, did you ever feel you ought to do more serious roles to balance it out?
HG: No, I've never been tempted to do the part where I cry or get AIDS or save some people from a concentration camp just to get good reviews. I genuinely believe that comedy acting, light comedy acting, is as hard - if not harder - than serious acting, and it genuinely doesn't bother me that all the prizes and the good reviews automatically by knee-jerk reaction go to the deepest, darkest, most serious performances and parts.
SS: Any ambitions for the future?
HG: Well, I hope to go back to being properly creative, like I was in my mid-20s. That's 20 years ago now, but I remember the feeling when I was doing those comedy shows in little pubs in London. I remember feeling like a real man at the end of the day. It was our show, we'd written it, we'd performed it, and I felt more alive and more like a man than I have after any days filming on a mega-budget film.
SS: So, 20 years on from those 'properly creative' days, are you feeling the warning signs of a mid-life crisis coming on?
HG: I don't know. I think I've had it actually. Look at that Aston Martin. If that's not a mid-life crisis, I don't know what is. And, do you know, there was about six months where I wasn't quite myself, and I wore dodgy shirts that were just a bit too tight. But that was about five years ago. I think I'm through it. I did burst into tears watching Finding Nemo the other day, though, so maybe that's a mid-life crisis...SS
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