Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Directed by Marielle HellerCertificate 15☆☆☆☆
LIKE a slimmer version of the great Uncle Monty, Richard E Grant sashays his way into this marvellous film with an unquenchable thirst for substances that make him feel skewwhiff, a vocabulary of gorgeously pronounced swear words (can anyone else give the f-word such depth and richness?), and a tragic backstory that feels so much like Richard Griffiths’ seminal outing in Withnail and I that it feels like Grant is paying homage to his co-star.Throw in a knockout performance by fellow lead Melissa McCarthy, and you could have had this these two characters doing absolutely nothing but sitting in a bar and I’d pay top dollar to watch it.
Richard E Grant is playing another starry-eyed drunk and this time he’s Oscar nominated
In 1991, actor, perfumier, director and keen diarist Richard E Grant was on the set of Rambling Rose with Laura Dern when he met an enthusiastic young chap who had just scored a three-picture deal. “Met 24-year-old J J Abrams – incredibly self-confident, self-possessed and rich,” wrote the Swaziland-born artist.
He must have made an impression. More than two decades later, Abrams cast the actor in the still untitled Star Wars IX.
“Let me tell you all about it,” says Grant. “So my character is called [he mouths words] and the end of the movie is just fantastic. It’s [he mouths more words]. It’s a good story, isn’t it? How’s your lip-reading?”
It stands to reason that the man with the world’s jolliest Twitter feed likes to have fun during interviews. On Melissa McCarthy: “What a terrible person to work with!” he cries, in utmost insincerity. On Brexit: “I think the current strategy is carry a cork and stick that up your arse.” On Yorgos Lanthimos: “He’s the person I most want to work with: put that in print: I’m bent over in readiness.” On his early career: “Well, when I started a hundred thousand years ago…”
“I’m nearly 62,” he says. “It seems to me you only have one crack at this. So enjoy the ride while you can. There’s so much that you can moan about. But try not to.”
Grant has seldom been away from our screens since his iconic drunken turn in Withnail and I in 1987. In recent years, he’s had recurring roles on Doctor Who, Girls and Game of Thrones. Of late, however, he’s on something of a roll. Following Jackie, Logan and The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Star Wars is just the latest in a series of high-profile projects to feature the affable 61-year-old.
“You can’t plan a career in acting,” he says. “Or I certainly can’t at the level that I’m at. All you can really do say yes or no to something. I’m always constantly reminded of something John Lennon said before he died: life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. I never imagined I’d be the guy shot by Wolverine in his last ever movie. I certainly never imagined I’d be in Star Wars. I remember seeing the first one when I was 20 years old at drama school. Forty-one years later and here I am. It feels surreal.”
‘One of those’
With Star Wars under his belt, it seems inconceivable that movies featuring Grant won’t pass the billion dollar mark in terms of this year’s box office. But, having been named by more than a dozen critics’ circles as 2018’s best supporting actor for his work on Can You Ever Forgive Me?, he may well be shortlisted for an even bigger accolade. There’s major Oscar buzz around the film which has already been shortlisted by the National Board of Review and the Golden Globes across multiple categories. And it’s another starry drunk role for the teetotal actor
Richard E Grant has captivated the internet. The actor greeted the news of his nomination for an Academy Award by returning to his first rental when no one had heard of him. There he whooped with childlike delight, and then shared the whole thing in an utterly disarming Instagram post. He also phoned up his co-star and co-nominee Melissa McCarthy, and together they cried. Perhaps now Grant will finally be umbilically linked in the public mind to his performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (pictured below), for which he has been nominated as Best Supporting Actor, as well as his career-igniting turn in Withnail and I. Continue reading →
The much-loved Penrith tea room scene from Withnail & I (actually filmed at a chemists’ in Milton Keynes)
Unspecified cake it was, which for this publication is a rarity. “Just bring out the cakes.” “Cake, and fine wine.” The context was all. A couple of wastefully drunk and filthily arrogant unemployed actors bumbling into the Penrith Tea Rooms at closing time. And Richard E Grant’s unimprovably bonkers follow-up, somehow both slurred and royally, commandingly, articulate: “We want the finest wines available to humanity.”
It was 1986 and the filming of Withnail and I. Yet the writer and director Bruce Robinson, for whom this was pretty much autobiographical, was back in 1960s Camden. Railing as ever against an unestablishable establishment: and moving the setting to the Lake District effectively moved the decades. The distaste on the face of the proprietor, the fine character actor Llewellyn Rees, surely echoes the pursed lips of all who had dogged Robinson’s 60s days with twitching curtains and long noses when all he was trying to do was … have some fun.
Robinson is thankfully very much alive, as I found a few years ago. As are of course Grant and Paul McGann, the “I” of the film’s title. Rees died in 1994. But I managed to catch up with photographer Murray Close, who took this still. Did anyone, I ask, have an inkling of what a success, a cult, that film would become, with its timeless celebration of simple friendship and generational differences?
“Not at all. Bruce had to fund the last reel himself. We didn’t have a clue. It was a great script, of course, but everyone was an unknown – though I believe Bill Nighy read for the main part. But slowly, slowly, videos and then DVDs came out, and … yes, in hindsight, it’s a great film, but I just remember it as truly tremendous fun, with a UK crew of a certain age and propensity to laughter.”
Murray’s website has many more extraordinary outtakes. The “Penrith tea-rooms” location was in fact what is now a chemists’ shop in Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes. The last few lines of Robinson’s script, with Grant doing Hamlet by the London Zoo wolves, still enthral. “What a piece of work is a man … [yet] man delights not me, no, nor women neither, nor women neither.” [The wolves are unimpressed. Withnail exits into the rain.
Vivian MacKerrell – the man whom WITHNAIL was based on.
Grant said that his early ambitions upon moving to England were to be in theatre, but a new agent steered him to the comic role that made his name.
He said: “I genuinely thought that my entire career would be in the theatre, and never thought I’d ever be in films.
“I got a new agent, Michael Whitehall, who introduced me to casting directors – one of whom, Mary Selway, auditioned me for Withnail And I, which completely changed my professional life.
“I am so indebted to writer-director Bruce Robinson for taking the chance on a complete unknown, and for the decades-long friendship that’s ensued. I am allergic to alcohol, so it’s ironic being identified for playing a drug-addled alcoholic.”