In “The Rewrite,” Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a onetime Hollywood darling and award-winning screenwriter whose films once were box office gold, but times have changed and he’s no longer at the top of his game. His films bomb with audiences, his wife leaves him, he’s deeply in debt — and he can’t come up with a script that will return him to success and prosperity.
As a last result, Michaels’ agent lands him the only job he can — as a guest screenwriting professor at an upstate New York university. Having no other real choice, Michaels agrees, assuming he can get away with minimal teaching and perhaps finally find inspiration for his next great script.
During a chat with Grant the other day, the actor described his character as “not so much dealing with a writer’s block, as some people have described him. I think he just knows he’s now unfashionable and is frankly 15 years out of fashion — far from the days of his Oscar glory and all that. Now he’s simply not hot. He’s unemployable. That’s the problem.”
Grant acknowledged the symbiotic relationship between him and writer/director Marc Lawrence — “The Rewrite” is the fourth film the two have made together.
“We’re both equally neurotic,” he said. “We both have the same dark side. We’re both obsessed with disease and death and all sorts of dark things. I think it makes for a good combination to try and make comedies,” said the dry-witted Grant.
While he happens to be portraying a screenwriter in the film, Grant the actor can identify with the character’s issues.
“My life at the moment is very much like ‘The Rewrite,’ because I was surprised that a whole new career fell upon me. I’ve been spending the past three and a half years in a political campaign,” said the actor, referring to his almost full-time work fighting for new press regulations in Britain to prevent the kinds of privacy intrusions that occurred during the now-infamous phone-hacking scandal practiced by numerous English tabloid media operations. Grant was a target, which infuriated him so much that he decided to do something about it.
“I’ve really been doing that pretty much constantly, with some very occasional excursions back into show business. It’s given me a whole new life, really,” he said.
In “The Rewrite,” Grant’s character falls for a student played by Marisa Tomei, who Grant admits intimidated him a bit.
“She’s very, very New York method [acting] school. She was deep, deep into her character many months before we started shooting,” he said. “I, on the other hand, find that I’ve only really cracked the character about a month after we wrapped filming.
“I’m sure she’s right in her approach, and I’m wrong. She’s very hard-core about it. She won’t say a line unless she knows why she’s saying it. Now, while I do attempt to follow that principle, I must admit I’m occasionally tempted to just say a line because it’s funny.”
And Grant is used to funny, having starred in more than his share of romantic comedies.
“I don’t really know why I’ve ended up making so many romantic comedy films,” he said. “I never had a particular affection for them. I just suppose the only place I’m remotely comfortable acting is in a sort of light comedy vein. I don’t really do the deep, dark, serious thing. That’s not my milieu.
“In this case, I would argue it’s not really a romantic comedy, though I accept there’s a little bit of it in there. But I do think it’s more interesting that that.”
However, for his next film, it does seem the topic doesn’t exactly fall into that genre.
“What I’m calling my next excursion into show business — from fighting my political battles — will be to make a film directed by Stephen Frears, with Meryl Streep. It’s about a real woman, Florence Foster Jenkins, a very rich woman, who was the worst singer in the world but was convinced she was a great opera star.”
Asked about working with three-time Oscar winner Streep, who recently earned her 19th Academy Award nomination for “Into The Woods,” Grant quipped, “I think I can teach her a few things,” before quickly adding, “Frankly, I’m absolutely terrified — but I’ve been told she’s really quite a wonderful person, so I’m sure she’ll go easy on me, I hope!”