Tea for two in Notting Hill

I'm Notting Love

Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant were originally in line to appear in Shakespeare in Love. Even though these plans fell through, fate found a way of bringing them together in this year’s most romantic movie…
Selected from the July 1999
Film Review

There’s something quite endearing about Hugh Grant. We all know the self-deprecating sense of humour, the modesty and reserve. Talk to anyone connected with him and you get “easy and amenable” or “cheerful and charming”. A bloody good chap by all accounts.

Upon encountering him, all expectations are indeed fulfilled. Rarely missing an opportunity to ensure we see him mocking himself, he relays an anecdote about recent weight-gain (fractional, if that). “I seem to have one love handle. I noticed the other day. I was standing in front of the mirror and I noticed I was S-shaped.” Grant’s eyes gently laugh as he plays out his public persona to perfection. He returns to the big screen in Notting Hill, a follow-up of sorts to the runaway success that was Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Successfully recapturing the tone of its predecessor, Notting Hill is another gentle homage to the stiff upper lips and shuffling embarrassment the world perceives as oh-so-very English. “I think for a certain breed of Englishman [romance is] hard. That’s not particularly me Hugh Grant, but it’s certainly (writer) Richard Curtis,” he says.

“Something seems to happen with the British in particular – the dividing line between the head and the body. I don’t know what it is. My mother always says all Englishman are two gin and tonics under par. She may be right.” Grant affectionately recalls his own bachelor days: “I certainly was a very unreliable date, I can remember that. And I think it did have the reverse effect of making them keen on me.”

I venture to ask his feelings towards his co-star Julia Roberts, who plays a world-famous film star, Anna Scott. “We got on well. I suspected we might,” says Grant. “I’d met her many years ago, when she was going to do Shakespeare in Love in London. I was one of many unknown English actors wheeled out in front of her, to audition for the part of Shakespeare. We were thrown around like so much trash. Nevertheless, we got on rather well, while I was being discarded.

"Then I met her a few years later after Four Weddings. I was making a film at Pinewood, and I was standing in the car park having a cup of tea with some of the crew, when two big Range Rovers screeched to a halt. Out jumped Julia Roberts, she gave me a big hug, jumped back in and drove away. And I said to the crew ‘That’s always happening...’”

Though one might instantly assume that Notting Hill is this close to autobiographical for Julia Roberts, one would be dead wrong. That’s the case, at least, if Ms Roberts is to be taken at her word. “I think Anna Scott’s different from me in almost every way, particularly early in the movie,” the actress insists. “She’s a very different person and she comes from a different place. I think that she’s most like me at the end of the film.”

How so? “She comes to an understanding,” Roberts replies, not spoiling the film’s surprises in the process. “She’s experienced some self-realization by the end and she has a stronger sense of herself and what it is she really wants in her life and why she wants it. She’s a much clearer person at the end than she is at the beginning. This movie, unlike most movies, takes place over a nice period of time so you’re actually able to chart some real growth and change.”

Roberts adored the masterfully written Notting Hill screenplay and she trusted director Roger Michell to bring screenwriter Richard Curtis’s words to vivid, touching life. “I thought the script was lovely, funny and sweet,” she notes. “My goal every day on Notting Hill was to try to really impress Roger as much as I possibly could. If I felt I had done that, I felt really good, because he’s so astute and precise about what he wants. He was really helpful to me in not putting my values and my standards and my reactions into a scene. He always wanted it to be very clear that it was about Anna, that it wasn’t my place to judge her or comment on what she was doing, but just to do it.”

Roberts laughs when asked if, since her career went supernova, she’s ever encountered anyone who didn’t know who she was. Such a moment happens in Notting Hill and Roberts acknowledges that it’s occurred to her, too. “In fact, it happened just a couple of weeks ago,” reveals the actress, who will soon begin production on the legal drama, Erin Brockovich, to be directed by Stephen Soderbergh.

“A woman at a dinner party asked me what I did for a living. I said, ‘I’m an actress.’ At that point, someone rather abruptly said to her, ‘Don’t you know who she is?!’ and sort of attacked her. This poor woman had no clue who I was and you could see that she was suddenly trying to access every piece of information she’d ever gathered in her life. Quite frankly, I was really impressed. I thought, ‘Her life is far more interesting than anybody else’s at this table if she doesn’t know who I am.’”

Images copyright: Polygram
Read the full Notting Hill interviews in this Film Review. Our review of it as Film of the Month (June 1999 issue) is here. Plus: director Roger Michell and newcomer Rhys Ifans are interviewed in the Film Review 1999 Summer Blockbuster Special
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