No matter how long you’ve been reporting and doing interviews, it can be a little nerve-wracking to talk to someone whose work you have admired for a long time. Thankfully, when I spoke with Hugh Grant for the first time to talk about his great work in Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins – which is now available on Blu-ray/DVD – he couldn’t have been nicer and happier to also discuss some of his previous roles also, like Cloud Atlas, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., why he wanted to be part of the upcoming Paddington sequel, and his desire to direct something in the future.
But my favorite part of the interview was hearing him talk about his nervousness at hearing the word “action,” and that even now, after so many great performances, it still affects him. He explains:
“I am like Pavlov’s dog with that word, it sends a great burst of adrenaline through my body, which is very counterproductive. I did go through a phase of asking directors to say, “Commence” [Laughs] or I just skip it all together. So as soon as the clapper load has gone like that [makes a clapping noise] I just start acting. Because the word action is like a dog has just taken a bite of my intestines.”
If you’re not familiar with Florence Foster Jenkins, the film is based on the true story of the legendary New York heiress and socialite (Meryl Streep) who obsessively pursued her dream of becoming a great singer. There was just one problem: Ms. Jenkins’ singing voice was terrible. However, the story has a sweet center because her ‘husband’ and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), an aristocratic English actor, was determined to protect his beloved Florence from the truth. The conflict comes when Jenkins decides to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall.
HUGH GRANT: My new obsession is turning my phone off. I actually get a physical sort of surge of pleasure.
COLLIDER: I don’t mind people with their phones because I accept that everyone has work and it’s a 24/7 lifestyle. I mind when I’m out to dinner with people and they’re on their phone, that’s my breaking point, it’s like, “No, you need to put that away or I’m taking off.”
GRANT: No, I agree with you.
I have to start by saying I’m a big fan of your work and it’s really cool finally actually talk with you. I love your Twitter pic, and I’ll say why, a masterpiece of the last few years is Cloud Atlas.
GRANT: I love a man who loves that film.
Every time I watch it, it gets better and better. The Wachowskis are geniuses.
GRANT: They are geniuses, I agree with you.
They’re amazing, and because I never got to talk to you for Cloud Atlas I have to start with, what’s your fond memory about making that film?
GRANT: Well, when it came up I didn’t know if it was a serious offer, it was almost like it was a joke. So I went to see them and they were just absolutely sincere and wanted me to do it. They had offered me five parts and I said, “I think I need a sixth” and I’m glad I did it. The one that’s Jim Broadbent’s brother, the old guy. I always enjoyed him the most and the whole thing was fascinating. You know, when you work with proper people who love cinema, they’re a special breed, they’re not the same as people who just make movies and we happen to use cameras. People who really love cinema – [Roman] Polanski was one steeped in the whole sex and romance of 35mm. Also, of course, Cloud Atlas was the last film I made on celluloid and probably will be the last film I make on celluloid.
Unless you work with Mr. [Christopher] Nolan.
GRANT: So I hear.
Yeah, he’s adamant.
GRANT: I mean, I don’t think they even really make it anymore. Even he will struggle in the end.
Yeah, there’s very few labs that are left that are used to process the film. I’ve spoken to filmmakers out of Australia and there’s like none left.
GRANT: I don’t think there’s one in England anymore.
But I think IMAX –specifically IMAX– and certain people will work with Nolan and J.J. Abrams and certain filmmakers that can keep the format going. But it’s very selective, you have to have the juice to be able to pull that off.
GRANT: I’m very sad about it, I’m very sad about it. One the things I liked about being a film actor was the scale and the glamour of cinema, and I don’t feel it quite the same when it’s thirty people sitting in a small multiplex screening room watching a DVD together.
I’m very curious for you –Often for the directors when they’re shooting digitally they’ll let the camera go for 30 minutes or 45 minutes and it’s basically free.
GRANT: No one cares.