Kidman swanned over and purred, ‘You’re heartbreaking and brilliant’; Tom Hanks called me ‘perfect’… Oscars ‘Selfie King’ RICHARD E GRANT on why he LOVES rubbing shoulders with the A-list and why he won’t be skewering them as he hosts tomorrow’s Baftas
- It will give me the opportunity to welcome guest presenters I have long admired
- Remembering Elizabeth Taylor’s quip, I shamelessly took selfies with everyone
The invitation came as a pinch, punch, first-day-of-the-month surprise when I was asked to host this year’s Bafta awards. Not something I ever thought this old star-struck Swazi boy would ever be offered.
It will give me the opportunity to welcome guest presenters I have long admired and to have a unique view from the stage of the extraordinary array of talent assembled in the Royal Festival Hall: Cate Blanchett, Austin Butler, Eddie Redmayne, Paul Mescal, Viola Davis, and on and on.
Trying to fathom why I was chosen, I concluded that my undiluted enthusiasm and embrace of the award circuit four years ago was the likely clue.
That awards season was quite a ride. Melissa McCarthy and I were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor for the low-budget movie, Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
Remembering Elizabeth Taylor’s quip that ‘there’s no deodorant like success’, I shamelessly took selfies with everyone. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There were blurry headshots of me with Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Olivia Colman, Laura Dern, Regina King, all of which I gleefully posted on social media.
Did that make me a natural candidate for hosting the EE Baftas? I hope so.
Richard E. Grant taking a selfie with Bradley Cooper during the 2019 Oscars
Richard enjoying his night at the american awards night in 2019 with ‘poker face’ star Lady Gaga
Here’s how that adventure in 2019, from awards season ingenue to over-enthusiastic veteran in 2023, began.
Like almost every other movie you choose to scratch the history of, the film was decades in development with several other names mooted for the main roles, before finally being made by director Marielle Heller, with Melissa McCarthy and lucky me, due to the actor playing my role dropping out at the 11th hour.
Who knew? This is the behind-the-scenes scenario for umpteen movies. What if Paramount Studios had prevailed in their choice of Robert Redford, Warren Beatty or Ryan O’Neal to play Michael Corleone in The Godfather, rather than the director’s choice of Al Pacino?
Luck, talent, timing, ambition, perseverance, blind faith . . . call it what you will, it’s a gamble.
A year after we wrapped, in September 2018, Melissa and I were flown to a one-horse town on a Colorado mountain top for the world premiere. I asked Melissa if she ever feels this disconnect between ‘real’ movie stars and herself. Her reply surprised me: ‘I’ve never felt like a member of that club’, she said . Ditto.
At 4pm came our film’s screening, when we watched it with an audience for the first time. Laughs came in expected and unexpected places. When my character says goodbye, clearly dying of AIDS, there were audible sniffles.
There was sustained applause and enthusiastic endorsement during the Q&A. Then the first trade reviews landed and they were unequivocal raves, predicting the film as an awards contender.
This had never happened to me, and I cut all the praise in half, like American food portions.
At the Toronto Film Festival the reaction was the same.
Even though I know it’s all ephemeral and the winds of favour can redirect themselves in a heartbeat, if I wasn’t a pensioner, and hadn’t been around the career block for more than three decades, I can see how easy it would be to believe all this pony trap and ride.
My friend Gabriel Byrne emailed from New York: ‘You’re on the pig’s back these days.’ He was right: it’s a short bumpy ride and you can fall off at any moment.
The predictions proved true and the film was an awards season contender.
The nomination sequence feels like this: imagine walking out of your door and a bunch of strays come over and lick your legs.
Get to the gate and bigger pooches appear, get on their hind legs for a cuddle and stroke, and now you’re feeling the ‘love’ big time.
And then, you get an Oscar nomination and the entire street is barking to the moon, and like the Pied Piper, you are happily hounded, followed, wag-tailed and pounced upon by the friendliest pups on the planet.
The season started with me being invited to the Governor’s Honorary Oscar Ball, held two months before the Oscars, in a vast ballroom in Hollywood. ‘You’re both perfect. Perfect. In the perfect movie. Perfection. CONGRATULATIONS!!’ Tom Hanks declared loudly. Steven Spielberg was directly behind him. The room tilted on its axis as you’d expect.
Clint Eastwood, beamed smiley praise, Hilary Swank greeted me like we were old buddies. Nicole Kidman called me ‘heartbreaking and brilliant’. It felt like being a temporary member of the Fame Club.
Richard dancing the nigth away at the Academy Awards with Samuel E, Jackson
Richard posing for a picture with american singer Barbra Sreisand at the 2019 Oscars
In January 2019, I landed a Golden Globe nomination. No matter how many times people make predictions, I’m still awe-struck.
The Golden Globes translates into pouring onto the red carpet with bleachers of fans and lots of screaming and selfie snapping.
Penelope Cruz and Lady Gaga appeared, bedecked in voluminous skirted extravaganzas that required their own minders to get through the throng.
The table cram inside was insane. No food, just booze and sweets. Melissa McCarthy had brought a bag of ham rolls and I scoffed six.
After two hours Dick Van Dyke, now 97, loudly declared: ‘OH MY GOD! My butt is dead. The only person I know here is Carol Burnett.’
It was a fabulous evening, and I wasn’t surprised not to win. But this wasn’t the end of my awards season journey, as I was then nominated for a Bafta and on January 22, 2019, the nominees for the Academy Awards — the Oscars — were to be announced.
My email inbox began pinging good luck messages throughout the night and morning for the 5.20 am announcement (1.20pm in London).
I picked up my daughter and drove to an Italian restaurant in Notting Hill. She positioned her iPhone against a salt cellar and gave me one of her earphones to listen to the live feed from Los Angeles.
When I heard my name, I looked at my daughter and we burst into tears. Nothing prepared us for what it would feel like, for this unreality to become real. It felt like the room had revolved 360 degrees at Mach II speed.
Being nominated by your peers, is the highest accolade of all, which is why the Baftas and Oscars are the Himalayas of showbusiness awards.
When my lifelong idol Barbra Streisand appeared as a presenter on the night, I shot upright. Meeting her afterwards was more reward than I imagined possible.
As for tomorrow night, my excitement is over-riding my nerves — although I am slightly worried Bafta might prohibit me from taking selfies with people I’ve long admired!
My presenting style? Comedians are licensed to skewer their audience, but I don’t have that option as character assassination of my peers would be careericide.
Hosting is a bit like making a peanut selection — do you opt for dry roasted, toasted, honeyed, caramelised, salty or plain Ricky Gervais Armageddon? No prize for guessing my choice.
- Richard donated his fee for this article to Longfield Hospice (longfield.org.uk).
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