From rom-coms to murder: Hugh Grant is enjoying the darkness

Entertainment

This image released by HBO shows Hugh Grant, from left, Noma Dumezweni and Nicole Kidman in a scene from “The Undoing.” (HBO via AP).

When Hugh Grant accepted his Golden Globe in 1995 for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” you could say he slayed the room — with the kind of boyishly befuddled, sweetly stammering speech he might have made to Andie MacDowell in that film or to Julia Roberts in “Notting Hill.”

Fast forward a few decades and Grant, now 60, is doing a different kind of slaying. He’s up for another Globe for HBO’s “The Undoing,” in which he actually kills — like, with a mallet — as an affluent Manhattan pediatric oncologist who sidelines as a psychopath.

It’s not his first cinematic exploration of evil: In “A Very English Scandal,” for which he also earned a Globe nod, Grant got some career-best reviews as Jeremy Thorpe, the real-life British political leader who was tried on charges of conspiring to murder his former lover. And on a lighter (but still not very nice) note, he played a very theatrical villain in “Paddington 2.”

The metamorphosis has been unmistakable: As he’s grown older, Grant has grown darker, at least in terms of his roles. As he tells it, he’s “old and ugly” anyway — rom-com leads aren’t an option. But what unites those three recent roles, he says, is not so much evil as narcissism. “It’s almost,” he quips, “like the film and television world has worked out who I really am.”

Grant spoke to The Associated Press last week upon news of his sixth Globe nomination, this time for best actor in a limited series or TV movie. He spoke from his London home where he’s busy perfecting the art of making paper snowflakes, via his kids and their remote learning.

Remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

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AP: How are you feeling about this latest nomination?

GRANT: Oh, it’s really nice. I was never really one of the people who gets nominations and things. I spent many years making romantic comedies that people quite liked but never got nominated. So it’s really lovely. It’s put a spring in my step, which is a rare thing for me — I’m a gloomy bastard.

AP: It’s been said you are now specializing in characters that are charming like your old ones, but have a seriously dark underbelly.

GRANT: I don’t really think of it that way. I just think, “What’s the most interesting stuff that’s coming across the desk?” Because I’m old and ugly, I don’t get offered the charming romantic leading men, and I’m rather glad I don’t. But I do get offered some very interesting stuff.

AP: You seem to relish playing dark.

GRANT: You know, actors love playing dark. Audiences love dark. People love dark. I’ve got a book on my desk called “Why We Love Serial Killers,” and its very fascinating. So yes, it’s a huge relief in fact to be expressing evil, whether it’s in a very comedic way like in “Paddington 2” or a very disguised way like in “The Undoing,” or in a very smarmy way like in “A Very English Scandal.” What’s weird is that that the common denominator of them all is not so much evil, it’s narcissism.

AP: Do you ever worry that playing such unsavory characters will make you unlikeable?

GRANT: No. I really don’t have that worry! The trick anyway is that if you’re playing someone evil, they have got to be FUN evil. They don’t have to be good, but they have to be enjoyable. Which really is part of the trick of acting. It’s important to be real but I think it’s also very important to be in some way entertaining. In the end, that’s what we’re making, entertainment. And that sometimes gets forgotten.

AP: Does being recognized this year feel different, given what’s going on in the world?

GRANT: Well, I certainly wouldn’t complain about my lot. I’m very lucky. But anyone who has been doing home-schooling for the better part of a year deserves some little boost in morale. If you want me to make you a paper snowflake, I can make you a really beautiful one now. In fact I quite like making them. I have also been trying to work out what the equatorial zones of the world are with my 8-year-old. Meanwhile, they’re screaming at me.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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