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People Top 5
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- July 10, 1995
- Vol. 44
- No. 2
A Night to Remember
Irresistible Englishman Hugh Grant Went Up a Hollywood Street and Came Down on the Wrong Side of the Vice Squad. What Was He Thinking?
Oh, indeed. Until last week, Hugh Grant, the shy, beguiling Brit who shot to stardom as the bumbling bachelor in last year's surprise smash Four Weddings and a Funeral, was every mother's—not to mention sister's, daughter's, aunt's and grandmother's—dream: a clever and charming 34-year-old who loved his mum and dad; adored his longtime girlfriend (29-year-old Estée Lauder model Elizabeth Hurley); was bold enough to be naughty ("I've always had a crush on cheerleaders. Catholic cheerleaders—my double favorite," he recently quipped); modest enough to be embarrassed by the fuss of fame ("The money offers are hysterical. They make me giggle," he said); and yet honest enough to admit that, well, yes, he was quite fond of the attention and the other rewards that fame brings. As he recently explained about his new Mercedes-Benz, "I've driven so many crappy old cars. I wanted something that had a solid sound when I shut the door."
Seldom, though, has an actor sped so quickly from zero to 60. Grant reportedly made only $100,000 for Four Weddings; if his new movie, Nine Months, is a hit when it opens next week, his asking price could rise to $6 million per picture. Meanwhile the fans fawn. From as far away as Japan, they send origami dragons and earnest notes saying he has a compassionate face. And in America modest box office returns in May's The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain couldn't dampen enthusiasm for the dashing darling: As far as his many admirers were concerned, the actor could do no wrong.
Until 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 27. In L.A. to promote Nine Months, a comedy about a man who flips—and not with delight—when he learns his longtime girlfriend is pregnant, Grant, along with costars Jeff Goldblum and Tom Arnold, had spent most of Saturday and Sunday doing the usual publicity-junket jazz: answering press questions with trademark wit, smiling that crooked smile for the cameras. Sunday afternoon he did laps in the pool of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel. Monday was his day off, and in the evening he dined on sushi and saki with Nine Months director Chris Columbus at the trendy Matsuhisa restaurant.
At half past midnight, when the two men parted ways, Grant climbed into his white BMW and headed east on Sunset Boulevard. About an hour later he pulled the car to the curb near the corner of Courtney and Sunset in Hollywood. There he exchanged words with one Divine Marie Brown: 23 years old, brown hair, green eyes and—as the LAPD vice cops who happened to be watching the encounter described her—a "known prostitute."
Brown climbed into Grant's car, they turned onto Hawthorne Avenue, a tree-lined residential street, and parked. A few minutes later officers Terry Benny worth and Ernest Caldera walked over to the BMW and arrested Grant and Divine for engaging in what the policemen called a lewd act. Within hours, press the world over was trumpeting the news, and the man who until then had never met a situation he couldn't finesse with a glib quip issued a seemingly heartfelt statement. "Last night I did something completely insane," Grant said. "I have hurt people I love and embarrassed people I work with. For both things I am more sorry than I can ever possibly say."
He may have to spend a lot of time trying. The New York Times reported that Grant hired L.A. lawyer Howard Weitzman, who defended Michael Jackson against child-molestation charges, to handle the case. In England, the headline writers had a holiday. "YOU'VE BLOWN IT, HUGH" blared The Sun, which also posted flyers in Los Angeles with a photo of Divine Brown and an offer to pay $150,000 for a "world exclusive interview with Hugh Grant's lady of the night."
Some of Grant's friends tried to minimize the damage. "I wonder how significant it all is really," says Mike Newell, the director of Four Weddings. "He hasn't hurt anybody." But it's hard to believe Hurley is feeling unscathed. While still at the police station, Grant, reportedly in tears, put in an overseas phone call to the South Kensington headquarters of his production company, Simian Films, where he knew he would find Hurley, his business partner and, more pertinent, his girlfriend of eight years. No one outside their circle knows what was said, but William Cash, the Hollywood reporter for the London Daily Telegraph and a good friend of Hurley's, notes, "I very much think that she will stand by him and this will be forgotten."
Wherever the news spread, though, jaws dropped. "It seems illogical, incredible and totally out of character," says stunt coordinator Glenn Wilder, who worked with Grant on the San Francisco set of Nine Months. "My first reaction: They must have got the wrong guy."
In Hollywood, however, some entertainment executives were wondering if they had backed the wrong up-and-coming superstar. "Sean Penn could get away with this. But not Hugh Grant," says a prominent female producer. "Every woman in America wanted him to take her out for a malt. Now the buzz in the secretarial pool is, 'Oh, yuck.' It was a self-destructive act." Not everyone agrees. "In terms of business," says producer Steve Tisch, "it's going to be a speed bump on his career path."
Yet as shocking as the news was, serious Grant-watchers might have seen trouble coming. Stardom for Grant was a heavy halo atop that famous flop of thick brown hair. "It's reached the straining point, where it's a bit sink-or-swimmy," Grant says in this month's Vogue. "I mean, if Nine Months goes well, then maybe I'll go on being at the top. But I think I could quite easily fizzle back to subzero quite fast. And that makes me tense."
Being on the top was never, in fact, in the game plan of the kid known to family and friends as Hughie. The second son of James, a carpet salesman, and Finvola, a teacher, Hugh, along with his older brother Jamie, now 36 and a banker at J.P. Morgan in Manhattan, indulged in his share of boyish fun. Speaking of his grade school production of Alice in Wonderland, in which he played the White Rabbit, Hugh likes to say, "I was extraordinarily moving. It was a huge success. And it just went on from there, just spiraled out of control, my career."
Hardly. Though not one to dwell on dark times—at least not without a dose of caustic wit—Grant will concede that a harsher reality hit the household when the recession of the '70s wiped out his father's livelihood: a carpet business that once occupied four floors of a building in London's West End.
Despite their problems, Grant's parents kept their eye on what they considered the ultimate prize: a good education for their sons. They sent both boys to the respected Latymer Upper School in West London. "Hugh was very, very friendly, and like now, very self-deprecatory," says language teacher and rugby coach Bruce Perkins. "The little kids here now say, 'Did he always have a toff's [upper-class] accent?' That's partly natural, partly a put-on. He has always been putting on different personae, anything to make an effect on other people."
Grant made enough of an impression on the admissions people at Oxford University that in 1979 they offered him a scholarship to study English literature.
After graduating from Oxford in 1982, Grant dabbled briefly in advertising, writing copy for Brylcreem and Red Stripe beer, and plugged away at an acting career in regional theater. In 1987 he won his first leading role, as a bisexual aristocrat in Edwardian England in the Merchant-Ivory production of E.M. Forster's novel Maurice. The performance won him a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival. That in turn led to roles in 1991's Impromptu, 1992's Bitter Moon and 1993's The Remains of the Day. But it was an earlier, almost entirely forgettable film—1988's historical drama Rowing with the Wind—that gave Grant his most cherished prize: then 21-year-old costar Elizabeth Hurley. "Hugh did look particularly fine in those cream britches," she has said of his Byronesque attire. "But I think I might have liked him anyway. There was an instant rapport. He made me laugh."
From the beginning, the couple has had an unusual relationship. For starters, they spent more time apart than together: He traveled to far-off locations for whatever film part came his way; she, later, moved to L.A. for two years to establish herself as an actress there. (It was not a terribly successful effort; her only significant job was a small role in 1992's Passenger 57.) Last year, Hurley moved back to London to live with Grant. They split their time between the two-bedroom apartment in London's rather posh Earl's Court neighborhood, where Grant has lived for several years, and a farmhouse in West Littleton, about 100 miles outside London.
The subject of marriage does not exactly seem to dominate their conversation. Like his Four Weddings counterpart, Grant finds the prospect of commitment terrifying. Very scary. Very scary," he has said. She seems accommodating but not of a like mind. "I can't imagine being 40 and not having children," she said last year. Yet the bond between them has always been strong. Grant says they are in many ways like brother and sister. "Which isn't to say that's not a sexy thing," he has said. "Because I think the idea of incest is quite titillating." Bored silly by interview-speak, Grant revels in the the unexpected remark. "I always find love scenes a tremendous turn-on," he told the Washington Post last year, "because you're kissing strangers and it's so naughty."
Of course, Grant deals with a good bit of naughtiness off-camera too. "There was always some woman throwing herself at him," says a crew member from Nine Months. "He's a magnet for babes. Even [his Nine Months costar] Mia Cottet had a big crush on him. Hugh would say, 'Oh, why is it you always have these temptations when you already have a girlfriend?'"
Which raises the question of why he was out on Sunset in the wee hours, cruising for a career bruising. "Ah, the mysteriousness of human beings," says director Newell, when asked for his opinion. "I can't play amateur psychologist. A significant section of this country has been playing amateur psychologist, and I'm bored with it. He's a wonderful actor, a joy to work with, and I think we should get past this awkward little juncture."
Will Hurley absorb last week's news with a stiff upper lip? There is some reason to think so. Neither can claim to be an angel: Grant has long liked to loosen up with a friendly round of beers; Hurley once sported pink hair spikes and a self-pierced nose and stayed out partying at punk-rock clubs all night long. The two seemed to have gotten over petty jealousies and reached a point where, with his movie career taking off and her campaign for Estée Lauder about to begin, they could be a true comfort to each other. At the end of the day, Hurley said recently, "neither of us has another person who we'd rather ring to tell the day's events or to ask advice."
Yet there had been strains even before last week's events. "My life is very very busy. Much too busy," Grant told the Calgary (Alta.) Herald in May. "At the moment I can't cope. That makes me very ratty. I'm thoroughly unpleasant to my girlfriend about it. Mind you, she's thoroughly unpleasant to me. She's under pressure as well."
Hurley's lucrative cosmetics contract, even if it has a morals clause, does not appear to be threatened by Grant's actions. As Eileen Ford, the grande dame of modeling, puts it: "It's not she who was found with a prostitute." Still, less than an hour after Grant called Hurley from the police station in Hollywood, she rushed out of their Simian Films production office, wearing dark glasses to mask the fact that she was extremely shaken, and into a waiting car. Later a friend was seen collecting clothes for Hurley from the Earl's Court flat. She spent the night at the West London home of her friend Henry Brocklehurst. By the following morning, Hurley had regained her calm but was offering no comment on her boyfriend's arrest.
Comments from others, though, were easy to come by. "If he were my boyfriend," says Eileen Ford, "I would go out and get another man." Friends of Grant's are kinder. "Maybe this is like a form of escape," says Cash, "from all the pressure he's been under." But what if the thing Grant has escaped from is career momentum? A few weeks ago he dreamed aloud about being able to return to the days spent staring vacantly at the telly: "I could go back to watching cricket all day, which I really like." That won't happen; the actor simply has too much going on. A week after Nine Months opens, Grant will be seen in yet another movie. It's called An Awfully Big Adventure, and, truth be told, it won't even be his first of the summer.
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
JOHN HANNAH, KURT PITZER, JOYCE WAGNER, LYNDA WRIGHT arid ANNE-MARIE OTEY in L.A., ALLISON LYNN in New York City and LYDIA DENWORTH in London
- John Hannah,
- Kurt Pitzer,
- Joyce Wagner,
- Lynda Wright,
- Anne-Marie Otey,
- Allison Lynn,
- Lydia Denworth.
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