"I'm not deep," bluntly declares the deceptively humble Hugh Grant. "I've always been drawn to shallow." While the sentiment reflects the image of the endearingly awkward bachelors whom the British actor has portrayed in his most visible films, it betrays the true nature of the man, whose wry British sensibility is actually rather stern, edgy and intense.
Indeed, the fact that Grant has made his career ostensibly reinventing the role he played in 1990's Four Weddings and a Funeral dismays the Oxford-educated actor, though he doesn't speak easily about it. After all, he has made dozens of films, many of which were not romantic comedies (including Small Time Crooks, Mickey Blue Eyes, Extreme Measures, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Restoration, An Awfully Big Adventure).
"[Being typecast] may be partly my fault," he says somewhat squeamishly of his most successful parts (in Four Weddings, Nine Months, Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill). "Because I've always chosen jobs more on the basis of -- is it well-written and entertaining rather than is it interesting and stretching for me as an actor? And that has meant that I probably have repeated myself too often."
Nonetheless, Grant's female fans can't get enough of his lumbering lotharios, and the actor has for some time now been compared to one of Hollywood's most remarkable romantic talents, Cary Grant. Despite his contagious charisma, Hugh Grant is known to be an intense presence on a movie set, an actor who works painstakingly at his craft.
"He oozes charm," says actress Sandra Bullock of Hugh, with whom she is currently filming the love story Two Weeks Notice in New York. "He's so smart and witty. But he has such a work ethic, that man. I am shocked every day. And he makes it look effortless."
"When you see his work, it seems very casual and off the cuff," says Paul Weitz, who, with his brother Chris, directs the actor in About a Boy, Grant's new film, also starring Toni Collette and Rachael Weisz. "But he does a great deal of work to make it seem that way."
Based on the popular book by British novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy topped U.K. best-seller lists and reached number two at the L.A. Times) - Grant's latest incarnation may at first glance appear to pick up where, say, Bridget Jones left off, but audiences should expect an older, wiser, more damaged and more reflective man this time out, one who is defined by his friendship with a 12-year-old boy rather than by his charming attentions to young women.
As presented by the Weitz Brothers (American Pie and American Pie 2), the heart of About a Boy lies in the use of comedy and emotion to explore themes of isolation, commitment and the nature of family in contemporary society. Hornby's protagonist, Will Freeman (Grant), is an aging trust fund kid who stumbles on the meaning of his life when, in an effort to meet women with low expectations for men and relationships, he contrives to join a support group for single parents and becomes entangled with a depressive vegetarian (Toni Collette) and her troubled son, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult).
"One of the great things about the novel and one of the reasons I wanted to be involved in the film of it, is because I love that area, where one thing bleeds into another," says Grant. "The comedy arises from quite a lot of pain. And the comedy is always better for it. Although I've never thought of myself as a natural serious actor, I'm more comfortable when the serious moments occur as sort of off beats between the comedy.
"The whole thing was right up my alley," continues the 42-year-old actor, who has replaced his signature cowlick with a short, spiky coif that is equally if not more becoming. "I do know the life of being a London slacker extremely well. I've spent huge swaths of my life watching afternoon television, saving up, going to the chemist as my treat for the day. I know all about that. And I'm also aware, because a lot of friends were like that, of what happens to those guys when they get to their late 30s. 'Cause, you know, the party is beginning to pale a bit."
At times it appears the same can be said of Grant's attitude to his own career. "I've been acting for nearly 20 years," he says somewhat wearily. "But Four Weddings came out eight years ago. And sometimes when I'm feeling particularly tired and grumpy and thinking I'm going to put a stop on this, I think maybe two more years -- that's 10 years of sort of successful acting. But I change my mind every day, really."
Should he decide in earnest to "put a stop" on his acting career, Grant would likely return to the literary pursuits of his college years. "I realized the other day that whatever personality I have is based on books I've read. My heroes have all been either characters in books or authors themselves - Lord Byron, Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh.
"I've always been more interested in writing than acting. And I would like to do that. I've written things in the past, but I haven't written either the novel that I was trying to write for many years or the screenplay that I've now been trying to write for two years."
Grant is also occupied with the business of his production company, Simian Films, which he developed with his former girlfriend, model-actress Elizabeth Hurley. While he does not shy away from the subject of his 13-year relationship with Hurley (who recently gave birth to a son, Damian; Mom says the father is American film producer Steve Bing), he is not forthcoming about his own current romantic status, except to confirm that he and Bullock, despite rumors to the contrary, are just good friends.
As for the inevitable queries about his personal parental urges, given Ms. Hurley's recent domesticity and his own role in About a Boy, Grant does not profess to any particular soft spot. "I have no objection to children," he says. "But I'm not one of those people who runs up to the kid in the room and swings him around my head."