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An irresistible ‘Scandal’ lures cinema snob Hugh Grant to TV

Hugh Grant plays Parliament member Jeremy Thorpe in "A Very English Scandal."

Hugh Grant plays Parliament member Jeremy Thorpe in "A Very English Scandal" on Amazon Prime. | BBC ONE

The current golden age of television has enticed dozens of film actors to cross back over to the small screen in the last decade. But Hugh Grant has long been a holdout.

That changes Friday when his three-part BBC miniseries “A Very English Scandal,” his first TV role in nearly 20 years, premieres on Amazon Prime Video.

Grant plays Jeremy Thorpe, a closeted member of Parliament who resigned his leadership position within the Liberal Party in 1976 and was later voted out entirely following revelations that he conspired to kill his male ex-lover, Norman Scott (played by Ben Whishaw). Ultimately acquitted, Thorpe died in 2014 at age 85.

In an interview, Grant explained why “A Very English Scandal” drew him to TV, what the Thorpe imbroglio has in common with today’s political scandals, and his decision to get married last month at age 57.

Q: Lots of movie actors have abandoned their reservations about TV, but you held out longer than others. Why come back to TV now and why this project?

A: I was about to do another film until I had dinner with Stephen Frears, who I did “Florence Foster Jenkins” with, and he said, “Oh, don’t do that. I’ve got something for you.” He sent me this script and the first thing that I saw was that it was three episodes of television. And I thought, “Television, darling? I don’t think so. I don’t do that. [But] I saw why he loved it. It’s just such a lovely combination of drama and black comedy. And it’s about a period that’s appealing to me because that was my childhood and teenage years. I remember the whole Thorpe scandal.

Q: What surprised you the most about Thorpe?

A: In a way, it was what was unsurprising about him. … What strikes me [about British politics] is how similar it is to showbiz. A lot of people call it showbiz for the ugly. It’s rampant narcissism and egomania. That’s really what’s propelling all these guys instead of principle and desire to improve the country.

Q: Did you realize that people were comparing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chastisement of President Donald Trump at the G7 conference with your character in “Love Actually” calling the American president a bully?

A: Yeah, I saw that. I feel sorry for these heads of state. I can see it’s not easy for them. They’ve got to stay friends with America as a nation and the American people and rightly so. … But at the same time, what do you do? You’ve got this impossible president to be civil to. So it’s a very difficult balancing act. I’m not sure anyone could really do what my character did in “Love Actually.” Not in the world of realpolitik.

Q: Now that you are actually a married man, does anything from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” ring especially true to you?

A: What people forget about “Four Weddings” is that it’s an anti-marriage film. The last line is something along the line of “Do you think you might possibly be able to not be married to me?” And that’s why Richard Curtis wrote it. He’s been to a lot of weddings but found that when he got engaged, the whole thing turned sour. Things imploded. He’s always been a believer in not getting married. And to this day, he lives with his very nice girlfriend and their children in an unmarried state.

Q: Which begs the question: Why did you decide to get married?

A: I think my wife [Swedish TV producer Anna Eberstein] agrees with me that marriage is a pretty preposterous social construct. But when you’ve got three children, it’s a nice thing to do. I didn’t like going through immigration into countries where they’d say, ‘Everyone with a Grant passport, over here, and all the others through there.’ She went through with the nannies. That seemed all wrong.

Q: So now that you’ve finally returned to TV, are you open to doing more of it?

A: I am rather snobby about it, but that’s more because I love the glamour of cinema. But the trouble is, cinema itself isn’t very glamorous anymore. … So I don’t know where I am anymore.