Hugh Grant, dressed entirely in black and clearly exhausted from a grueling publicity tour, brushed his hair back and lounged on a Dallas hotel couch to talk about his new starring vehicle, “Mickey Blue Eyes,” which follows “Notting Hill,” his smash romantic comedy with Julia Roberts, into theatres by only a few months. The two flicks mark his return to the screen after a hiatus of nearly three years, and “Mickey,” about an English auctioneer in New York who becomes involved with the mob, is the second project (after Grant’s last flick, 1996’s disappointing “Extreme Measures”) undertaken by Simian Films, the production company founded by the British star and his significant other, actress-model Elizabeth Hurley.
As it happened, “Notting Hill” and “Mickey Blue Eyes” were both ready for release almost simultaneously. “We asked which one should we bring out first?” Grant said. “We decided, let’s bring out the one with Julia first–that’s more guaranteed box-office. You know, Julia could do a film with Hitler…”
As originally written, “Mickey” was rather different from the picture that finally made it to the screen. “Like any production company, you get thousands of scripts, most of them unreadable,” Grant explained. “Someone clever spotted this one as having potential. It was originally written with a lead character who was a very neurotic, kind of anal lawyer living in New York who gets involved with the mob, and it made me laugh. So we had a read-through. We got all kinds of people together. Janeane Garofalo played Gina,…and John Mahoney was Frank. They were all excellent. I was crap. That’s when we knew we had to make it British, and with that thought came the idea that maybe that’s funnier anyway: ‘Brit meets Mob.’ We’d never seen that before. Then we thought, well, what job would a Brit have in New York that’s really convincing?”
They settled on the position of an auctioneer in a swanky establishment specializing in works of art, which accentuated the differences between the two worlds that clash in the plot. But Grant didn’t spend much time learning about the business before undertaking his role. “If I was any kind of actor I would have researched it in detail,” he noted with typical self-deprecating humor. “Daniel Day-Lewis would have spent five years doing that. But I forgot completely to do any research until the last day before we started shooting, and I quickly went to an auction at Sotheby’s in New York…. But they go so fast that I just made up my own auctioneering style, which I think will now be widely copied.”
Grant and his colleagues did, however, research the mob background of the story more thoroughly. “My friend Mike Newell, who directed ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and [the Mafia drama] ‘Donnie Brasco,’ called me and said, ‘You have to meet a guy called Rocco.’ I said, ‘What’s his last name?’ and he said, ‘No, there’s no last name.’ So we met Rocco, and Rocco took us around Queens, and we had a number of dinners with these guys, and became very good friends with them. They loved the script, but what they really loved was Elizabeth. They just worshipped her. She was very good with them–she’d sit on their knees–she even got a couple of senior mobsters down to the Estee Lauder spa at Bloomingdales!”
Of course, a good deal of the proper atmosphere was provided by James Caan, who plays the mobster dad of Grant’s fiance Jeanne Tripplehorn liked a middle-aged Sonny Corleone. “He’s fabulous,” Grant enthused. “A great icon of my growing-up. He hates me saying that–it ages him so horribly. I was in awe of him for about three days [when shooting began], and then we developed this sort of banter that’s been going on ever since. He decided quite early that I was an English wimp, and he’s been giving me hell for it ever since.” Then he added dryly: “And I think it’s disrespectful. After all, he’s certainly got a producer who plucked him from his old peoples’ home and gave him a job! My other theory is that he’s in love with me–some of his mob hugs lasted longer than they needed to do.”
Grant sees “Mickey Blue Eyes” as representing a bit of a stretch for him–“I thought I was pushing the envelope a little here–I’ve never stripped and massaged my buttocks on camera before (though I’ve always wanted to),” he said in reference to one uproarious sequence–but he noted that just before our arrival he’d read two reviews of the picture in industry papers. The one in Daily Variety praised Grant for trying something new, but that in the Hollywood Reporter said “that Hugh Grant does exactly what he’s done before,” as the actor paraphrased it.
“The Hollywood bloody Reporter,” he muttered.