- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2000

NEW YORK
Actor Hugh Grant may be everybody's favorite befuddled Englishman, but he's a reluctant movie star.
He doesn't long for the good old days of anonymity. Mr. Grant says sometimes being a luminary is fun.
"Part of me likes being a movie star," he says, "but I'm not sure it's the part of me I'm most proud of. The thing about being a film star, as opposed to being an actor, is the vanity part. Sometimes it's nice to have a bit of attention and a bit of luxury. But that's not very sustaining, that kind of thing."
"As I've said before, it's like eating a bar of chocolate, you feel terrific then you sort of sit down afterwards [and feel empty]."
Mr. Grant, of the naughty smile and wide-eyed confusion, has turned his British blandishments into high art in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill," "Nine Months," "Sense and Sensibility" and his latest charmer, "Small Time Crooks."
This time, he plays a canny bounder who has designs on the new money of a small-time crook (Woody Allen) and his brassy, blonde wife (Tracey Ulmann).
When you get past Mr. Grant's trademark urbane charm, he admits that maybe he's not doing what he was meant to.
"I was destined for a career in art history, strangely, when I left Oxford, so I did consider that," he nods.
"Advertising was another one because I was writing all those radio commercials for a long time and enjoyed that. I'm even ashamed to say I did a certain amount of journalism at one time and wrote book reviews for the [London] Daily Mail."
He found that more satisfying than "speaking lines on a set," he says.
Mr. Grant, 39, would like to be a writer. He's halfway through a screenplay that was zipping along until he got distracted by yet another movie.
For Mr. Grant, it's not a matter of being careful what he wishes for. "My personal case, it would be, 'Try to be sure you know what you wish for, don't just drift,' " he says.
"I've just drifted to where I am right now. I've never sat down and gone, 'Oh, I want to be a film star,' 'I want to be famous' or anything like that. The older I get, the more I realize the happiest people are the ones who actually do know exactly what they want, and go for it."
Fame, he says, tends to weaken your enterprise. "The worst thing is it makes you lazy, especially if you had a propensity in that direction anyway," he shakes his head.
"That's the most frightening thing; you have less motivation to get out of bed in the morning. That's why when I read about Bill Gates in the paper, coming out swinging about this verdict you wonder: 'How can you be bothered? You've got so much money, relax, and now you can go off and play golf in Hawaii, or whatever elderly Americans do.' "
Mr. Grant thinks of himself as a lazy lout who has to be prodded to show up on the sound stage. His longtime partner (in both business and romance), Elizabeth Hurley, provided that service in the past, he says.
"Sometimes my friends at Castle Rock do that. I have a very good friend there who says, 'Hugh, just sign. Just do it.' "
While many minions in Hollywood are ravenous Sammy Glicks, Mr. Grant is more Holden Caulfield with impeccable manners.
Dressed in a blue oxford-cloth shirt, the top two buttons unfastened, and a rust-colored suede jacket, Mr. Grant looks like an expensive British import.
His brown hair hangs in two swirls over his forehead like Freddie Bartholomew's in "Little Lord Fauntleroy." But none of that obvious "English Leather" is really him.
The son of a carpet retailer and a teacher, Mr. Grant says his mother has been ill, another reason he has neglected his writing.
Working in both the United States and England can be slightly schizophrenic. The acting business in America is "deadly serious," he thinks.
"I'm surprised by the intensity here. In England, they still have a slightly cavalier attitude about it. They don't sweat blood and tears the way people do here. People here would virtually kill for a job."
Even so, Mr. Grant assumes a different persona when he leaves that teeming womb of royal kings.
"I feel instantly hipper and cooler when I'm here," he says.
"In fact, so hip and cool that the last time I was here I bought a shiny Gucci leather jacket and felt I just was the hippest person possibly in the Western hemisphere. But, interestingly, when I landed in London, the moment the tires hit the tarmac, I thought, 'What … am I wearing?' And I had to take it off," he grins.

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