Born: September 9, 1960
Birthplace: Hammersmith, London, UK
Hugh John Mungo Grant (born 9 September 1960) is an English actor and film producer. Grant has received a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Honorary César for his work. His films have earned more than US$2.4 billion from 25 theatrical releases worldwide. Grant first received attention after earning the Volpi Cup for his performance in James Ivory's Maurice (1987) but achieved international success after appearing in the Richard Curtis-scripted Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). Grant used this breakthrough role as a frequent cinematic persona during the 1990s, delivering comic performances in films such as Mickey Blue Eyes (1999) and Notting Hill (1999). One of the best known figures in 1990s British popular culture, Grant was in a high-profile relationship with Elizabeth Hurley, which was the focus of much attention in the British and international media.
By the turn of the 21st century, Grant had established himself as a leading man, skilled with a satirical comic talent. Grant has expanded his oeuvre with critically acclaimed turns as a cad in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), About a Boy (2002), and American Dreamz (2006). Grant later played against type with multiple roles in the epic sci-fi drama film, Cloud Atlas (2012). He is also known for appearing in period pieces such as The Remains of the Day (1993), Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016).
Within the film industry, Grant is cited as an anti-star who approaches his roles like a character actor, and attempts to make his acting appear spontaneous. Hallmarks of his comic skills include a nonchalant touch of irony/sarcasm and studied physical mannerisms, as well as his precisely timed dialogue delivery and facial expressions. The entertainment media's coverage of Grant's life off the big screen has often overshadowed his work as an actor. Grant has been outspoken about his antipathy towards the profession of acting and in his disdain towards the culture of celebrity and hostility towards the media. In a career spanning 30 years, Grant has repeatedly claimed that acting was not his true calling but rather a career that developed by happenstance.
Grant was born at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, London, the second son of Fynvola Susan MacLean (b. Wickham, Hampshire, 11 October 1933; d. Hounslow, London, July 2001) and Captain James Murray Grant (b. 1929). Grant's grandfather, Colonel James Murray Grant, DSO was decorated for bravery and leadership at Saint-Valery-en-Caux during World War II. Genealogist Antony Adolph has described Grant's family history as "a colourful Anglo-Scottish tapestry of warriors, empire-builders and aristocracy." A few of his notable ancestors include William Drummond, 4th Viscount Strathallan, Dr. James Stewart, John Murray, 1st Marquess of Atholl, Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Nottingham, Sir Evan Nepean, and a sister of former Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.
Grant's father was an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders for eight years in Malaya, Germany and Scotland. He ran a carpet firm, pursued hobbies such as golf and painting watercolours, and raised his family in Chiswick, west London, where the Grants lived next to Arlington Park Mansions on Sutton Lane. In September 2006, a collection of Capt. Grant's paintings was hosted by the John Martin Gallery in a charity exhibition, organised by his son, called "James Grant: 30 Years of Watercolours." His mother worked as a schoolteacher and taught Latin, French and music for more than 30 years in the state schools of west London. She died at the age of 67, 18 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Grant's accent is an inheritance from his mother; and, on Inside the Actors Studio in 2002, he credited her with "any acting genes that might have." Both his parents were children of military families, but, despite his parents' backgrounds, Grant has stated that his family was not always affluent while he was growing up. Grant spent his childhood summers shooting and hunting with his grandfather in Scotland. Grant has an older brother, James, living in Portugal.
Grant started his education at Hogarth Primary School in Chiswick but then moved to St Peter's Primary School in Hammersmith, Grant was then educated at an independent prep school Wetherby School. From 1969 to 1978, he attended the independent Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith on a scholarship and played 1st XV rugby, cricket and football for the school. He also represented Latymer on the popular quiz show, Top of the Form, an academic competition between two teams of four secondary school students each.
In 1979, Grant won the Galsworthy scholarship to New College, Oxford, where he starred in his first film, Privileged, produced by the Oxford University Film Foundation. He read English and graduated with 2:1 honours. Actress Anna Chancellor, who met Grant while she was still at university, has recalled, "I first met Hugh at a party at Oxford. There was something magical about him. He was a star even then, without having done anything. Grant joined the exclusive Piers Gaveston Society at Oxford, a group with a reputation for debauchery and decadence".
Grant received an offer from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London to pursue a PhD in the history of art, but decided not to take the offer because he failed to secure a grant. Viewing acting as nothing more than a creative outlet, he joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society and starred in a successful touring production of Twelfth Night.
After making his debut as Hughie Grant in the Oxford-financed Privileged (1982), Grant dabbled in a variety of jobs, such as working as an assistant groundsman at Fulham Football Club, tutoring, writing comedy sketches for TV shows, and working for Talkback Productions to write and produce radio commercials for products such as Mighty White bread and Red Stripe lager. To obtain his Equity card, he joined the Nottingham Playhouse, a regional theatre, and lived for a year at Park Terrace in The Park Estate. Bored with small acting parts, he created his own comedy revue called The Jockeys of Norfolk, a name taken from Shakespeare's Richard III, with friends Chris Lang and Andy Taylor. The group toured London's pub comedy circuit with stops at The George IV in Chiswick, Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice and The King's Head in Islington. Starting on a low note, The Jockeys of Norfolk eventually proved a hit at the Edinburgh Festival after their sketch on the Nativity, told as an Ealing comedy, gained them a spot on the BBC2 TV show called Edinburgh Nights. During this time, Grant also appeared in theatre productions of plays such as An Inspector Calls (at the Royal Exchange, Manchester), Lady Windermere's Fan, and Coriolanus.
Grant's first leading film role came in Merchant-Ivory's Edwardian drama Maurice (1987), adapted from E. M. Forster's novel. He and co-star James Wilby shared the Volpi Cup for best actor at the Venice Film Festival for their portrayals of lovers Clive Durham and Maurice Hall, respectively.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Grant balanced small roles on television with rare film work, which included a supporting role in The Dawning (1988), opposite Anthony Hopkins and Jean Simmons and a turn as Lord Byron in a Goya Award-winning Spanish production called Remando al viento (1988). He also portrayed some other real life figures during his early career such as Charles Heidsieck in Champagne Charlie and as Hugh Cholmondeley in BAFTA Award-nominated White Mischief.
In 1990, he made a cameo appearance in the sport/crime drama The Big Man, opposite Liam Neeson, and in which Grant assumed a Scottish accent. The film explores the life of a Scottish miner (Neeson) who becomes unemployed during a union strike. In 1991, he played Julie Andrews' gay son in the ABC made-for-television film Our Sons.
In 1992, he appeared in Roman Polanski's film Bitter Moon, portraying a fastidious and proper British tourist who is married, but finds himself enticed by the sexual hedonism of a seductive French woman and her embittered, paraplegic American husband. The film was called an "anti-romantic opus of sexual obsession and cruelty" by the Washington Post. His other work in period pieces such as Ken Russell's horror film The Lair of the White Worm (1988), award-winning Merchant-Ivory drama The Remains of the Day (1993) and (as Frédéric Chopin in) Impromptu (1991) went largely unnoticed. He later called this phase of his career "hilarious," referring to his early films as "Europuddings, where you would have a French script, a Spanish director, and English actors. The script would usually be written by a foreigner, badly translated into English. And then they'd get English actors in, because they thought that was the way to sell it to America."
At 32, Grant claimed to be on the brink of giving up the acting profession but was surprised by the script of Four Weddings and a Funeral (FWAAF). "If you read as many bad scripts as I did, you'd know how grateful you are when you come across one where the guy actually is funny," he later recalled. Released in 1994, FWAAF became the highest-grossing British film to date with a worldwide box office in excess of $244 million, making Grant an overnight international star. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, and among numerous awards won by its cast and crew, it earned Grant his first and only Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It also temporarily typecast him as the lead character, Charles, a bohemian and debonair bachelor. Grant and Curtis saw it as an inside joke that the star, due to the parts he played, was assumed to have the personality of the screenwriter, who is known for writing about himself and his own life. Grant later expressed :
|“||Although I owe whatever success I've had to Four Weddings and a Funeral, it did become frustrating after a bit that people made two assumptions: One was that I was that character - when in fact nothing could be further from the truth, as I'm sure Richard would tell you - and the other frustrating thing was that they thought that's all I could do. I suppose, because those films happened to be successful, no one, perhaps understandably, ... bothered to rent all the other films I'd done.||”|
In July 1994, Grant signed a two-year production deal with Castle Rock Entertainment and by October, he became founder and director of the UK-based Simian Films Limited. He appointed his then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, as the head of development to look for prospective projects. Simian Films produced two Grant vehicles in the 1990s and lost a bid to produce About a Boy to Robert De Niro's TriBeCa Productions. The company closed its US office in 2002 and Grant resigned as director in December 2005. He also starred in the film Pirates! Band of Misfits as the leading character Pirate Captain.
Grant's first studio-financed Hollywood project was Chris Columbus's comedy Nine Months. Though a hit at the box office, it was almost universally panned by critics. The Washington Post called it a "grotesquely pandering caper" and singled out Grant's performance, as a child psychiatrist reacting unfavourably to his girlfriend's unexpected pregnancy, for his "insufferable muggings." The same year, he played leading roles as Emma Thompson's suitor in Ang Lee’s Academy Award-winning adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and as a cartographer in 1917 Wales in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. In the same year he performed in the Academy Award-winning Restoration. Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote Grant is "having a fine and liberating time playing a supercilious court portrait painter" and Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times said he has "some delicious moments" in the film.
Before the release of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Grant reunited with its director, Mike Newell, for the tragicomedy An Awfully Big Adventure that was labelled a "determinedly off-beat film" by The New York Times. Grant portrayed a bitchy, supercilious director of a repertory company in post-World War II Liverpool. Critic Roger Ebert wrote, "It shows that he has range as an actor," but the San Francisco Chronicle disapproved on grounds that the film "plays like a vanity production for Grant." Janet Maslin, praising Grant as "superb" and "a dashing cad under any circumstances," commented, "For him this film represents the road not taken. Made before Four Weddings and a Funeral was released, it captures Mr. Grant as the clever, versatile character actor he was then becoming, rather than the international dreamboat he is today." Grant made his debut as a film producer with the 1996 thriller Extreme Measures. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel each gave the film three out of four stars with Siskel writing "Hugh Grant's work in 'Extreme Measures' is a refreshing standout."
After a three-year hiatus, in 1999 he paired with Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, which was brought to theatres by much of the same team that was responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral. This new Working Title production displaced Four Weddings and a Funeral as the biggest British hit in the history of cinema, with earnings equalling $363 million worldwide. As it became exemplary of modern romantic comedies in mainstream culture, the film was also received well by critics. CNN reviewer Paul Clinton said, "Notting Hill stands alone as another funny and heartwarming story about love against all odds." Reactions to Grant's Golden Globe-nominated performance were varied, with Salon.com's Stephanie Zacharek criticising that, "Grant's performance stands as an emblem of what's wrong with Notting Hill. What's maddening about Grant is that he just never cuts the crap. He's become one of those actors who's all shambling self-caricature, from his twinkly crow's feet to the time-lapsed half century it takes him to actually get one of his lines out." The film provided both its stars a chance to satirise the woes of international notoriety, most noted of which was Grant's turn as a faux-journalist who sits through a dull press junket with, what the New York Times called, "a delightfully funny deadpan." Grant also released his second production output, a fish-out-of-water mob comedy Mickey Blue Eyes, that year. It was dismissed by critics, performed modestly at the box office, and garnered its actor-producer mixed reviews for his starring role. Roger Ebert thought, "Hugh Grant is wrong for the role strikes one wrong note and then another," whereas Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said, "If he'd been on the Titanic, fewer lives would have been lost. If he'd accompanied Robert Scott to the South Pole, the explorer would have lived to be 100. That's how good Hugh Grant is at rescuing doomed ventures."
While promoting Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks on NBC's The Today Show in 2000, Grant told host Matt Lauer, "It's my millennium of bastards". In 2000, Grant also joined the Supervisory Board of IM Internationalmedia AG, the powerful Munich-based film and media company. Small Time Crooks starred Grant, in the words of film critic Andrew Sarris, as "a petty, petulant, faux-Pygmalion art dealer, David, is one of the sleaziest and most unsympathetic characters Mr. Allen has ever created." In a role devoid of his comic attributes, the New York Times wrote: "Mr. Grant deftly imbues his character with exactly a perfect blend of charm and nasty calculation." A year later, his turn as a charming but womanising book publisher Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) was proclaimed by Variety to be "as sly an overthrow of a star's polished posh - and nice - poster image as any comic turn in memory". The film, adapted from Helen Fielding's novel of the same name, was an international hit, earning $281 million worldwide. Grant was, according to the Washington Post, fitting as "a cruel, manipulative cad, hiding behind the male god's countenance that he knows all too well".
Grant's "immaculate comic performance" (BBC) as the trust-funded womaniser, Will Freeman, in the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's best-selling novel About a Boy received raves from critics. Almost universally praised, with an Academy Award-nominated screenplay, About a Boy (2002) was determined by the Washington Post to be "that rare romantic comedy that dares to choose messiness over closure, prickly independence over fetishised coupledom, and honesty over typical Hollywood endings." Rolling Stone wrote, "The acid comedy of Grant's performance carries the film gives this pleasing heartbreaker the touch of gravity it needs," while Roger Ebert observed that "the Cary Grant department is understaffed, and Hugh Grant shows here that he is more than a star, he is a resource." Released a day after the blockbuster Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, About a Boy was a more modest box office grosser than other successful Grant films, making all of $129 million globally. The film earned Grant his third Golden-Globe nomination, while the London Film Critics Circle named Grant its Best British Actor and GQ honoured him as one of the magazine's men of the year 2006. "His performance can only be described as revelatory," wrote critic Ann Hornaday, adding that "Grant lends the shoals layer upon layer of desire, terror, ambivalence and self-awareness." The New York Observer concluded: " gets most of its laughs from the evolved expertise of Hugh Grant in playing characters that audiences enjoy seeing taken down a peg or two as a punishment for philandering and womanising and simply being too handsome for words-and with an English accent besides. In the end, the film comes over as a messy delight, thanks to the skill, generosity and good-sport, punching-bag panache of Mr. Grant's performance." About a Boy also marked a notable change in Grant's boyish look. Now 41, he had lost weight and also abandoned his trademark floppy hair. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman took note of Grant's maturation in his review, saying he looked noticeably older and that it "looked good on him." He added that Grant's "pillowy cheeks are flatter and a bit drawn, and the eyes that used to peer with 'love me' cuteness now betray a shark's casual cunning. Everything about him is leaner and spikier (including his hair, which has been shorn and moussed into a Eurochic bed-head mess), but it's not just his surface that's more virile; the nervousness is gone, too. Hugh Grant has grown up, holding on to his lightness and witty cynicism but losing the stuttering sherry-club mannerisms that were once his signature. In doing so, he has blossomed into the rare actor who can play a silver-tongued sleaze with a hidden inner decency."
Grant was also paired with Sandra Bullock in Warner Bros.'s Two Weeks Notice, which made $199 million internationally but received poor reviews. The Village Voice concluded that Grant's creation of a spoiled billionaire fronting a real estate business was "little more than a Britishism machine."
Two Weeks Notice was followed by the 2003 ensemble comedy, Love Actually, headlined by Grant as the British Prime Minister. A Christmas release by Working Title Films, the film was promoted as "the ultimate romantic comedy" and accumulated $246 million at the international box office. It marked the directorial debut of Richard Curtis, who told the New York Times that Grant adamantly tempered the characterisation of the role to make his character more authoritative and less haplessly charming than earlier Curtis incarnations. Roger Ebert claimed that "Grant has flowered into an absolutely splendid romantic comedian" and has "so much self-confidence that he plays the British prime minister as if he took the role to be a good sport." Film critic Rex Reed, on the contrary, called Grant's performance "an oversexed bachelor spin on Tony Blair" as the star "flirted with himself in the paroxysm of self-love that has become his acting style."
In a 2005 speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair referred to Grant's character, saying: "I know there's a bit of us that would like me to do a Hugh Grant in Love Actually and tell America where to get off. But the difference between a good film and real life is that in real life there's the next day, the next year, the next lifetime to contemplate the ruinous consequences of easy applause."
In 2004, Grant reprised his role as Daniel Cleaver for a small part in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which, like its predecessor, made more than $262 million commercially. Gone from the screen for two years, Grant next reteamed with Paul Weitz (About a Boy) for the black comedy American Dreamz (2006). Grant starred as the acerbic host of an American Idol-like reality show where, according to Caryn James of the New York Times, "nothing is real ... except the black hole at the centre of the host's heart, as Mr. Grant takes Mr. Cowell's villainous act to its limit." American Dreamz failed financially but Grant was generously praised. He played his self-aggrandising character, an amalgam of Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest, with smarmy self-loathing. The Boston Globe proposed that this "just may be the great comic role that has always eluded Hugh Grant," and critic Carina Chocano said, "He is twice as enjoyable as the preening bad guy as he was as the bumbling good guy."
In 2007, Grant starred opposite Drew Barrymore in a parody of pop culture and the music industry called Music and Lyrics. The Associated Press described it as "a weird little hybrid of a romantic comedy that's simultaneously too fluffy and not whimsical enough." Though he neither listens to music nor owns any CDs, Grant learned to sing, play the piano, dance (a few mannered steps) and studied the mannerisms of prominent musicians to prepare for his role as a has-been pop singer, based loosely on Andrew Ridgeley, the lesser-known member of 1980s pop duo Wham!. The Star-Ledger dismissed the performance, writing that "paper dolls have more depth." The film, with its revenues totalling $145 million, allowed Grant to mock disposable pop stardom and fleeting celebrity through its washed-up lead character. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "Grant strikes precisely the right note with regard to Alex's career: He's too intelligent not to be a little embarrassed, but he's far too brazen to feel anything like shame." In 2009, Grant starred opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in the Marc Lawrence's romantic comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans?, which was a critical failure but was a box office success. He reunited with Lawrence again for a dramedy film The Rewrite, starring opposite Marisa Tomei. The film received mixed-to-positive reviews, while Grant's performance was praised by many critics. Director Quentin Tarantino has stated that the film is one of his favorites of the year and called Grant a "perfect leading man." In 2015, he had a supporting role as Alexander Waverly in Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Entertainment Weekly described his performance as "the only bit of fun" in the film. Glenn Kenny of Rogerebert.com gave film a mixed review but stated that "while it can’t be said that Hugh Grant saves the movie, his return to prominence in the last half-hour, after a plot-seeding-walk-on earlier in the movie, peps things up considerably."
In 2016, he played St. Clair Bayfield, partner of the title character, in the film Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Meryl Streep. Grant's performance was raved by film critics as "career-best" (Screen International), "one of his best performances in years" (Indiewire), "best work of his career" (Variety) where he "goes deeper, darker and riskier places" (Rolling Stone). Rafer Guzman of Newsday said "Surely the 55-year-old actor has just sealed his first-ever Oscar nomination." Carrie Rickey of Yahoo! Movies commented Grant "deserves the Globe, an Oscar nomination, and the recognition — finally — that he is unique and irreplaceable among modern actors." Grant was nominated for his first individual Screen Actors Guild Award and also earned nominations for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a Critics' Choice Award, a Satellite Award and a European Film Award. Several critics have put his work among the best acting performances of the year. Most award pundits have predicted him to get his first Academy Award nomination for his performance but Grant was not nominated.
Grant's next appearance was as a villain in the family film Paddington 2, which was a commercial and critical success. The Guardian described his performance as "scene-stealing", while IGN commented "Grant continues to make an astonishing comeback in his career, once again by playing into his expert comedic abilities as Phoenix Buchanan, who dons each of his ridiculous disguises with a kind of egotistical obliviousness that Grant is perfect at pulling off." Grant went on to win London Film Critics' Circle Award for Supporting Actor of the Year and also nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance.
Grant has predominantly been a comedy (especially a romantic comedy) actor for almost all of his mainstream film career. He also never ventures to play characters who are not British. While some film critics, such as Roger Ebert, have defended the limited variety of his performances, others have dismissed him as a one-trick pony. Eric Fellner, co-owner of Working Title Films and a long-time collaborator of Grant, said, "His range hasn't been fully tested, but each performance is unique." A majority of Grant's popular films in the 1990s followed a similar plot that captured an optimistic bachelor experiencing a series of embarrassing incidents to find true love, often with an American woman. In earlier films, Grant was adept at plugging into the stereotype of a repressed Englishman for humorous effects, allowing him to gently satirise his characters as he summed them up and played against the type simultaneously. These performances were sometimes deemed overbearing, in the words of Washington Post's Rita Kempley, due to his "comic overreactions—the mugging, the stuttering, the fluttering eyelids." She added: "He's got more tics than Benny Hill." Grant's penchant for conveying his characters' feelings with mannerisms, rather than direct emotions, has been one of the foremost objections raised against his acting style. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post once stated that, to be effective as a comic performer, he must get "his jiving and shucking under control." Film historian David Thomson wrote in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film about how it is merely "itchy mannerisms" that Grant equates with screen acting. On his choice of roles, Grant has said:
|“||I've never been tempted to do the part where I cry or get AIDS or save some people from a concentration camp just to get good reviews. I genuinely believe that comedy acting, light comedy acting, is as hard as, if not harder than serious acting, and it genuinely doesn’t bother me that all the prizes and the good reviews automatically by knee-jerk reaction go to the deepest, darkest, most serious performances and parts. It makes me laugh.||”|
Grant's screen persona of later films, in the new millennium, gradually developed into a cynical, self-loathing cad. Claudia Puig of USA Today celebrated this transformation with the observation that finally "gone the self-conscious 'Aren't I adorable' mannerisms that seemed endearing at the start of film career but have grown cloying in more recent movies." Using his facial contortions and an affected stammer for varied comic purposes, According to Carina Chocano, amongst film critics, the two tropes most commonly associated with Grant are that he reinvented his screen persona in Bridget Jones's Diary and About a Boy and dreads the possibility of becoming a parody of himself.
Nonetheless, Grant has occasionally acted in dramas. He played a sleazy, snide community theatre director with a penchant for adolescent boys in the drama film An Awfully Big Adventure, which received critical praise, and for "a very quiet, dignified" performance as Frédéric Chopin in James Lapine's biopic film Impromptu. In 2012, Grant played six "incredibly evil" characters in the epic drama film Cloud Atlas, an experience he has spoken about positively. Grant said:
|“||I do a lot of killing and raping ... But it was a laugh. I thought before I read it that I'd turn it down, which I normally do, but I was interested in meeting the Wachowskis because I have always admired them enormously. And they are so charming and fascinating.... I slightly called my own bluff. In one of the parts I am a cannibal, about 2,000 years in the future, and I thought, "I can do that. It's easy." And then I am suddenly standing in a cannibal skirt on a mountaintop in Germany and they are saying, "You know, hungry! We must have that flesh-eating, like a leopard who is so hungry," and I am thinking, "I can't do that! Just give me a witty line!"||”|
Grant has expressed boredom with playing the celebrity in the press and is known in popular media for his guarded privacy. On probing of his personal life, he has remained steadfast in "offering a dead bat to any question he feels is not general enough." Grant has described himself as a reluctant actor, has called being a successful actor a mistake and has repeatedly talked of his hope that film stardom would just be "a phase" in his life, lasting no more than ten years.
A 2007 Vogue profile of Grant referred to him as a man with a "professionally misanthropic mystique". Grant has expressed distaste for focus groups, market research, and emphasis on opening weekend box-office numbers, saying: "It's so destructive to the filmmaking process. What was wrong with the way they used to release films, more slowly, let them build?" The director Mike Newell has said: "There is at least as much of Hugh that is charismatic, intellectual, and whose tongue is maybe too clever for its own good as there is of him that's gorgeous and kind of woolly and flubsy." Filmmaker Paul Weitz said that Grant is funny and that "he perceives flaws in himself and other people, and then he cares about their humanity nonetheless." British newspapers regularly refer to him as "grumpy".
Grant is a self-confessed "committed and passionate" perfectionist on a film set. The American film critic Dave Kehr has written that Grant "is known in the film industry as a meticulous performer who takes his time to prepare a role - someone who works hard to make it look easy - though that isn't a trait he admires in himself." Grant is noted by co-workers for demanding endless takes until he achieves the desired shot according to his own standard.
Grant dropped his agent in 2006, ending a 10-year relationship with CAA. Grant has proclaimed in interviews that he does not listen to external views on his career: "They've known for years that I have total control. I've never taken any advice on anything."
In 1996, Grant won substantial damages from News (UK) Ltd over what his lawyers called a "highly defamatory" article published in January 1995. The company's now-defunct newspaper, Today, had falsely claimed that Grant verbally abused a young extra with a "foul-mouthed tongue lashing" on the set of The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.
On 27 April 2007, Grant accepted undisclosed damages from the Associated Newspapers over claims made about his relationships with his former girlfriends in three separate tabloid articles, which were published in the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday on 18, 21 and 24 February. His lawyer stated that all of the articles' "allegations and factual assertions are false." Grant said, in a written statement, that he took the action because: "I was tired of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday papers publishing almost entirely fictional articles about my private life for their own financial gain." He went on to take the opportunity to stress, "I'm also hoping that this statement in court might remind people that the so-called 'close friends' or 'close sources' on which these stories claim to be based almost never exist."
On 27 June 1995, Grant was arrested in Los Angeles, California, in a police vice operation not far from Sunset Boulevard for receiving oral sex in a public place from Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown. He pleaded no contest and was fined $1,180, placed on two years' summary probation, and was ordered to complete an AIDS education program by Robert J. Sandoval.
The arrest occurred about two weeks before the release of Grant's first major studio film, Nine Months, which he was scheduled to promote on several American television shows. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno had him booked for the same week. In the much-watched interview, Grant was noted for not making excuses for the incident after Leno asked him, "What the hell were you thinking?" Grant answered, "I think you know in life what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it."
On Larry King Live, Grant declined host Larry King's repeated invitations to probe his psyche, saying that psychoanalysis was "more of an American syndrome" and he himself was "a bit old fashioned." He told the host: "I don't have excuses." Grant was appreciated for "his refreshing honesty" as he "faced the music and handled it with tongue cheek."
In April 2007, Grant was arrested on allegations of assault made by paparazzo Ian Whittaker. Grant made no official statement and did not comment on the incident. Charges were dropped on 1 June by the Crown Prosecution Service on the grounds of "insufficient evidence."
In April 2011 Grant published an article in the New Statesman entitled "The Bugger, Bugged" about a conversation (following an earlier encounter) with Paul McMullan, a former journalist and paparazzo for News of the World. In unguarded comments which were secretly taped by Grant, McMullan alleged that editors at the Daily Mail and News of the World, particularly Andy Coulson, had ordered journalists to engage in illegal phone tapping and had done so with the full knowledge of senior British politicians. McMullan also said that every British Prime Minister from Margaret Thatcher onwards had cultivated a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch and his senior executives. He stressed the friendship between David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), agreeing when asked that both of them must have been aware of illegal phone tapping, and asserting that Cameron's inaction could be explained by self-interest: "Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election ... So that was my submission to parliament - that Cameron's either a liar or an idiot."
When asked by Grant whether Cameron had encouraged the Metropolitan Police to "drag their feet" on investigating illegal phone tapping by Murdoch's journalists, McMullan agreed this had happened, and stated that police themselves had taken bribes from tabloid journalists: "20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms?... And what's wrong with that, anyway? It doesn't hurt anyone particularly."
Grant's article attracted considerable interest, due to both the revelatory content of the taped conversation, and the novelty of Grant himself "turning the tables" on a tabloid journalist.
Whilst the allegations regarding the News of the World continued to receive coverage in the broadsheets and similar media (Grant appeared, for example, on BBC Radio 4) it was only with the revelation that the voicemail of the by then murdered Millie Dowler had been hacked, and evidence for her murder enquiry had been deleted, that the coverage turned from media interest to widespread public (and eventually political) outrage. Grant became something of a spokesman against Murdoch's News Corporation, culminating in a performance on BBC television's Question Time in July 2011.
Grant said, "It's been fascinating to have a little excursion into another world. I really needed that and also to be dealing with real life instead of creating synthetic life, which is what I've been doing for the last 25 years."
On 5 February 2018, Mirror Group Newspapers apologised for its actions towards Grant and other celebrities, calling the affair "morally wrong". It is understood that this came after Grant accepted a six figure sum to settle a High Court action. Grant donated the payout to the press campaign group Hacked Off.
In 1987, while playing Lord Byron in the Spanish production Remando Al Viento (1988), Grant met actress Elizabeth Hurley, who was cast in a supporting role as Byron's former lover Claire Clairmont. Grant began dating Hurley during filming and their relationship was subsequently the subject of much media attention. After 13 years together, they separated in May 2000. He is godfather to her son Damian, born in 2002.
In September 2011, Grant had a daughter, Tabitha, with Tinglan Hong, a receptionist at a Chinese restaurant in London. His daughter's Chinese name is Xiao Xi, meaning "happy surprise". Grant and Hong had a "fleeting affair", according to his publicist. Grant has said that Hong has been "badly treated" by the media; the press intrusion prevented him from attending the birth of his daughter, with Hong obtaining an injunction to allow him to visit them in peace. In September 2012 Grant had a second child, John Mungo Grant, with Swedish television producer Anna Eberstein. He subsequently reunited with Hong, with whom he had his third child, Felix Grant, in 2013. Grant and Eberstein then had a second child, Grant's fourth, in December 2015. Elizabeth Hurley let slip in March 2018 that Hugh had had another child with Anna, date and gender unknown.
In 2011, Grant appeared at the Liberal Democrats' conference on the News International phone-hacking scandal, where he briefly met then-party leader Nick Clegg. Grant said that he was attending the Conservative and Labour conferences as well, but told Lib Dem activists that "You, more than any of the other parties, have a good bill of health. You have never been in bed with these scumbags."
In the 2015 UK general election, Grant expressed support for prominent Liberal Democrat figure Danny Alexander and later hosted a dinner for the Liberal Democrats, in which he met the winner of a draw of donors to the Liberal Democrats. In an email sent by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, Grant wrote: "I am not a Lib Dem, a Tory, a Labourite or anything in particular but I recognise political guts."
In the 2015 election, Grant also endorsed two Labour candidates: Tom Watson (saying "I wish he could be our next Prime Minister to be honest"), and his former agent, Michael Foster.
As a young boy, he played rugby union on his school's first XV team at centre and played football as an avid fan of Fulham F.C. He continued to play in a Sunday-morning football league in south-west London after college and remains an "impassioned Fulham supporter." Grant is also a supporter of Scottish football club Rangers. Grant's other interests include tennis and snooker.
In 2011, the BBC apologised after Grant made an offhand joke about homosexuality and rugby when he was invited into the commentary box during coverage of an England vs Scotland game at Twickenham Stadium. Talking about playing rugby during his school days, Grant said: "I discovered it hurt less if you tackled hard than if you tackled like a queen."
After production on Restoration ended, Grant’s co-star, Robert Downey Jr., revealed to Gayl Murphy on Hollywood Correspondent that he and Grant did not get along during filming.
Downey went on to say that: "I kinda think he's a jerk," he told Murphy, “Don't know, I just think he is. My personal experience with him is I think he's this kind of self-important, kind of, like, boring flash-in-the-pan a--hole Brit."
In 2018, after filming of Paddington 2 was done, Grant would later go on to confirm the on-set tension he and Downey had, stating: "He hated me. He took one look at me and wanted to kill me," he said of the actor. "I was so hurt."
As a result of Grant’s confirmation of their decades-long feud, Downey later went to Twitter to make amends with Grant, to which Grant agreed.
In addition to the confirmation, Grant also revealed that he and Drew Barrymore did not get along during production of Music & Lyrics, the latter having yet to catch wind of the interview.
"Well, Drew, I think did hate me a bit. But I admired her. We just were very different human beings," Grant explained. "She was very L.A. and I was a grumpy Londoner. The funny thing is, although it was fractionally tense on the set of that film, I think the chemistry is rather good between us. Sometimes tension makes a good crackle."
Despite this however, there are several co-stars whom Grant enjoyed working with, some even becoming friends with him afterwards.
He praised Meryl Streep, who co-starred with him on Florence Foster Jenkins, calling her “a genius”, while only noting that she had trouble with her eyesight during production.
Other leading ladies whom Grant enjoyed working with include Bridget Jones co-star Renee Zellweger, Two Weeks Notice co-star Sandra Bullock, Did You Hear About the Morgans? co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, and Emma Thompson, who collaborated with Grant on Love Actually, Impromptu, Sense and Sensibility, and The Remains of the Day.
He also recalled having good experiences with Four Weddings and a Funeral co-star Andie Macdowell, whom he called a “Southern peach charmer”, and Nine Months co-star Robin Williams, whom he called “a genius on another level” and “very kind”.
Grant is a patron of the DIPEx Charity, which operates the website Healthtalkonline. Grant is also patron of the Fynvola Foundation, named after his late mother; the foundation supports the Lady Dane Farmhouse, a home in Faversham for adults with learning disabilities.
Since the death of his mother in 2001, Grant has worked as a fundraiser and ambassador for Marie Curie Cancer Care, promoting the charity's annual Great Daffodil Appeal on several occasions. Grant is also a patron of Pancreatic Cancer Action.