In Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant plays a former pop star who aspires to re-ignite his career by writing a hit for a rising teen star. After he tries (many times) to unsucessfully write suitable lyrics, he gains a partner in Drew Barrymore, as an aspiring music writer from a very different background. The stars sat down in Los Angeles, CA with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to talk singing, dancing, closure and the pressure associated with creating films...
Emmanuel Itier: Hugh - With “American Dreamz”, you said that you were portraying sort of a version of Simon Cowell: Was there a specific '80's pop star that you were channeling for this performance?
Hugh Grant: I really don’t have one. I did watch a lot of Wham tapes.
EI: It was adorable.
HG: Good - I’m glad you liked it. The thing is that I loved many aspects of this project, but the bit that I dreaded was the music because I’m not a musical person and... I’m frankly miscast in the whole film. So it was very tough for me to have to get up there. I learned to play the piano a bit. I learned to sing a bit… or rather the computer can put you into tune, but the dancing – there is no hiding there or in delivering a song onstage, by yourself, in tight trousers, and I never enjoyed that. It’s the only time I seriously used alcohol and drugs for acting, actually.
EI: Marc Lawrence said it was really you singing, and that you were rather good.
HG: I worked like a dog to get better at it, but I have to be honest that it’s really the computers. Computers are unbelievable. You bring a dog and get it to bark, and by the time they’re finished with it, it sounds like Aretha Franklin.
EI: But you said that you had to do the recording of the songs?
HG: Yeah, that’s harder. That really, really was difficult. People kept saying, “Just express yourself.” I’d say, “I don’t know what to express. I have no movement or life or joy in me.”
Drew Barrymore: I will say this though, there is quite a bit of singing in the movie that has nothing to do with the computers where you’re singing A Cappella, is that it? Yes, thank you.
EI: In the piano store?
DB: In the piano store, in the apartment, in the City Bakery, the restaurant there where he sings “I’ve Got Sunshine”, there was the stuff at the desk…all of that has nothing to do with computers and still sounds pretty damn good, and that’s all Hugh.
HG: Well, I got better. What happens is that it boosts your confidence after a bit. It’s a bit like singing in the bath where you have that lovely echo and it makes you sing better. After you spend some days in the recording studio and they’ve played some things back to you that sound unbelievable, it gets better.
EI: Now The Wedding Singer was turned into a Broadway musical.
DB: Yes, it was.
EI: Does this mean both of you are thinking of a future on live stage?
DB: Not for me because I don’t think that I have any musical talent, but it was certainly fun to do this film because I love romantic comedies that are set in a world–that it’s not just a boy and a girl falling in love and out of love and back in love, whether it’s with the
Boston Red Sox, or a girl who loses her memory in Hawaii, or in the ’80s with The Wedding Singer – I like it set in a world. I love this world that Marc Lawrence obviously created and that is close to his heart. I was excited about that.
EI: And Hugh: Broadway, The West End?
HG: No, no, I hate the theater. You couldn’t get me there. I won’t even go and watch a play, let alone be in one.
EI: So what does this say about show business, this movie? It’s a romantic comedy and has great chemistry, but we’re looking at a guy who’s still living in a fantasyland of what he did 20 years earlier.
DB: But I also think that this shows there are always second chances out there too: That’s a huge part of it. I think that it has to be earned. He has to go out and work and write and create something in order to come back, and that’s a big part of the story. But if anything that this town shows is that you can crash and burn at 180 miles an hour, and with the statute of limitations, and hopefully with someone’s talent, they can absolutely come right back again. I think that this is a very sort of flexible world that way.
EI: Who would you like to see make a comeback from the ’80s pop world? Who do you miss the most?
DB: Oh God, I don’t know. Most of them are still out there working today - a lot of the bands that I loved. I can’t think of anyone in particular because then that would also hurt that person’s feelings thinking that I think they’re gone.
HG: Yeah, very often in these interviews people say to me, “Is this a sort of comeback for you?” “What do you mean?”
DB: This crazy woman came up to me the other night - she was literally psychotic, and she was like, “You need to go back to work.” I was thinking, “That’s funny: I was thinking that I needed a freaking vacation...”
EI: [Laughs] So, in the concert scenes in the movie – you’re singing in front of real people. We’ve seen you sing onscreen before in “About a Boy”, but was that still nerve racking? Was it shot in sequence?
HG: It was relatively late in the shoot and it was very frightening, and there were a lot of extras. A lot of them are put in by CGI, but some of them are flesh and blood–enough to be really scary, but normally what happens is that you’d record beforehand and then they play it on playback on speakers and you mime to it. That’s the normal procedure for shooting, but I’d gotten so cocky about singing and thought that I was so good at this song that I said, “Forget the playback. I’ll actually sing live.” Then I completely seized up in terror in front of a thousand extras and sang like a dog. There was a terrible deafening silence at the end of the take and I think that we went back to the old method after that.
EI: How do you see Alex: Is he really happy living this life that he’s fallen into?
HG: Well, I think that it’s interesting. I think that it’s one of those situations where you think that you’re really comfortable in your little groove. “This is okay. This is where I belong. It’s fine. I’ve got a sense of humor about it.” But actually, you’re not really happy, and deep down you know that you’ve undersold yourself and you know that you could do better, and you need someone like the Sophie character to come along and shake you like a rat and get you out of it and tell you that you’re better at that.
EI: So he does repudiate what he’s been doing and does try for something else?
HG: Yeah. He thinks that he only writes dessert, but he can, in fact, write dinner.
EI: It seems like you guys have done this film before, the two of you, but you’ve not worked together before.
DB: It’s like we’re a bunch of repetitive dogs.
HG: Do you mean that it’s like we’ve worked together before?
DB: Oh, good. Okay, sorry. I tried to make a joke that tanked.
EI: Can you talk about the good things of working together and the bad things?
DB: There is no bad for me.
HG: She’s got a really tough job over the next few days where she has to do a lot of lying about this because, although she is buoyant and friendly and warm and funny on a film set – I’ve told you this before – I am a monster. I’m not actually physically nasty to anyone, but I’m just so worried and neurotic and silent and grinding my teeth with anxiety. It’s not easy for me and it doesn’t create a perfect atmosphere on set.
EI: Even after doing all of these kinds of films?
HG: More and more as the years go by, yeah.
EI: You would think that you’d get more comfortable.
HG: Yeah, I know, but it’s the other way around. I promise you.
EI: So you really have thought about stopping acting all together?
HG: Oh yes, yes, yes.
EI: What makes you come back, then? Was it the character?
HG: Well, it was that I didn’t quite get down to the other project that I had in my head and then, after a year and a half or two years of not really doing very much, I thought, “My God, I’ve got to work.” And then this thing came up and I thought that it was genuinely funny, and I love Marc’s work.
I think that he writes better dialogue than anyone that I know, and it was something quite close to his heart and I thought that it had a nice warmth because of that. It wasn’t formulaic romantic comedy. It was something more interesting–something more intelligent than that, and I thought, “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
EI: And Drew?
DB: Exactly, and I always wanted to work with Hugh because I loved his movies.
EI: He’s so funny.
DB: Yes, so funny and, contrary to what he said about his intensity, I think it’s also about making it as good as it can be, and a lot of people that I admire like that are like, Let’s party later, but let’s get the work done now and make it the best it can be. He’s just incredibly punctual and thoughtful and professional about everything that he does. So it’s true that sometimes I’m a little bit more spacey and giddy than he is in moments, but we worked really well together and it was a total dream come true for me because I love his work.
EI: You have great chemistry onscreen.
DB: Thank you.
EI: Your character seems to be involved in this thing with the writer and getting over a relationship and getting through it.
DB: Where are you going with this one? [Laughs]
EI: You just did a cover story in Harper’s Bazaar...
DB: You always go for the dirt, don’t you?
HG: But he waits 15 minutes first... [Smiles]
DB: [Smiles] I know. Next question!
EI: What was it like working with Haley Bennett, who did so well with a character that could’ve been a disaster? Did you help her get accustomed to Hollywood?
DB: I thought that she definitely had an innocence about her and a wide-eyed attitude that I really liked. I’m a total girl’s girl, and so we just hung out and she was so super fun and cute and excited about everything. She had to wear these tiny little outfits and she was skipping lunch and I was like, “No, no, eat lunch. It’s good. Food is a good thing.” She’s just very sweet and she really cares about making it good, and I actually had the biggest pleasure in the world working with her because she’s really just enthusiastic about it. I like people who like what they do and want to make it the best that they can.
EI: How old were you in 1984 when that video was done?
EI: I was hoping that your character would have a second chance to see the book published.
DB: Do you know why? I was going to say that women love closure. We love closure.
HG: There’s a bit that you didn’t see in the screening that is now being added on. We can tell them what that is, right?
DB: Yeah, it’s a new pop-up video.
HG: Do you remember that? So we play the video again, but this time it’s pop up-video and the pop-ups gradually reveal things about what happens next, including that the film of Sally Michaels tanks, that it’s one of the worst films ever made.
DB: So you get closure in a bubble.
EI: Hugh, I just realized that you did a fight in a movie again. You’re like an action star.
HG: Yeah, yeah.
EI: Have you taken any fight training?
HG: No, I don’t need to. I bring a natural menace to the screen. That’s been the basis of my career.
EI: As romantic comedy veterans, how do you think these films affect people?
DB: I think that people should be full of romance and poetry and chivalry, and know that life is not necessarily a fairy tale but it also is. Fairy tales have a lot of darkness in them and love stories–they have the “it’s-not-going-to-work” moment just like we have in real life all the time. I think that it’s nice to stay sort of striving for the ultimate romance. I mean, what are we supposed to do, throw in the towel? “Yeah, life sucks. I’m never going to lift a finger for my lover and you’re just going to screw me over anyway so I’m going to go ahead and screw you.”
HG: That’s my philosophy.
DB: I set that one up good for you.
EI: But can’t life be like a movie?
DB: Yeah, but there are all these different types of movies out there. I mean, if life is like a movie, then there is comedy and there is tragedy, and that’s what life is. It’s a bit of both. So thank God for the comedy!
EI: What are you doing next?
HG: You’ll be glad to know that I’m going back into retirement for another two or three years. There’s nothing that I particularly want to do, and it took me two or three years to summon up the energy to do this one.
EI: Are you really that complacent about your career?
HG: I’m not sure that complacency is actually the right word, but yeah, I’m sort of neutral about that. If something fantastic comes up, then great, but I’ve never been one who’s sort of like, “I’m burning to act, darling, because it’s my life.”
EI: And for you, Drew?
DB: I have, like, five things in development right now and so it’s whichever one comes up first and to the best of it’s ability as it’s being written–that’s what I’ll do next. I’m going to try and enjoy my time off now because I’m such a workaholic. I’m always thinking about work and so I’m trying to think about other things for just a minute.
EI: You two would balance each other out nicely.
DB: I know. We would be a really nice balance, actually, if you think about it. I would be a bit more grounded in reality and less flowery and I wouldn’t be such a workaholic [Laughs].
EI: The longer that you’ve been in this business and the more success that you’ve had, does all that make it harder to stay in the business? Do you feel more pressure to try and create another hit film?
DB: I don’t think that you can work from a place of fear, and I don’t think that you can work from a place of what people expect from you. If you live your life trying to please other people I think that you’ll have quite a miserable one. So I just try to do what feels right in my heart and to be prolific is an accomplishment in itself. If I get ripped apart by wild animals in a field somewhere because I totally screwed up everything royally, then I’ll deal with that when it comes.
EI: And what about you, Hugh?
HG: Yes, terrible pressure, obviously. Yes, it gets tougher all the time. There is terrible pressure, and I’m feeling it right now...
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Music and Lyrics' is in theaters on Valentine's Day.