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Hugh Grant Talks Pirates! Band Of Misfits


Funnyman Hugh Grant may play a ridiculous buccaneer in Peter Lord’s animated high seas misadventure, Pirates! Band Of Misfits. But the big challenge of getting into a character for whom he confessed not having a clue during this conversation, was all about the beard. Flinging punchlines around the room fairly nonstop during this strangely comical conversation, Grant also chimed in about all sorts of irrelevant but highly entertaining topics. Including odious pet peeves like Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin, antique furniture phobias, untrustworthy monkey butlers, and experimenting with silly voices.

So what was it like beating up a woman in Pirates, even if you were animated, especially somebody as distinguished as Imelda Staunton?

HUGH GRANT: Do I do that? I’ve forgotten the film! Oh, the queen. Yes, yes. it’s true, I do that. I do it rather beautifully.

But that was the whole joy of this animated film, is that things like physical comedy, I can’t really do that. And I really do that. But I didn’t have to.

I just left it to the animators. And they do the whole thing for you. In fact, they did everything for me! There are things that I can’t do in films.

Like what?

HG: I can’t do physical comedy, I can’t do stunts. I can’t do emotion! And they did it all beautifully.

So what did you think of the way Queen Victoria is portrayed in this movie, as a really evil shrew? And Charles Darwin as a wimp infatuated with her?

HG: Oh, well that was always a big plus! I hate those two! I’ve always hated them. Yep. But there are people who have fixations with historical characters.

I remember doing ‘Love Actually’ with Bill Bob Thornton. Who, as you know, is unusual. He has a proper phobia about 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He’s terrified of him!

And actually on that set I remember well – because we had a set of Number 10 Downing Street. I found a picture of Disraeli. And I used to go and just push it in front of Billy Bob. And he would break out in a sweat!

Isn’t he also afraid of spoons? Okay, what lured you into this movie?

HG: And antique furniture. Yes! What was your question? Ah, yes. I panicked, really! I read it on the page and I thought ugh, that’s not really me.

And then I looked at the character, the model they built. And I thought, that’s really not me at all. And then I realized, I’m going to have to do some acting!

So I just started experimenting with silly voices. And it sort of happened that way. I mean, every time I thought, oh I’m in character now – they’d stop everything for three months!

You know, you’d go away and they’d do some animating. And then you’d come back, and you’d forgotten again.

But my touchstone was always the beard, I must say. I felt if I stroked my beard, I became the Pirate Captain. And so I did a lot of beard stroking! Yeah.

Speaking of getting into character, did you relate to Pirate Captain obsessing about winning awards, maybe fretting about awards yourself, like the Oscars?

HG: No. I can’t say that! It’s never been a driving force.

Did you ever want to be a pirate when you were a kid?

HG: I can’t say I did, no. I really wanted to be in the US Cavalry. And I still haven’t given up hope entirely!

Would you say this is a message movie?

HG: Oh, I think there’s a lot of hidden lessons in there! Evolutionary theory, I think it questions that in there. Uh…Don’t trust monkey butlers! Yeah…

Do you think you learned anything from this acting experience on Pirates?

HG: Um, I could relax a bit. I mean, I love to panic, to the point of paralysis. But actually, really, the others do ninety percent of the work.

And so you just have to be in the right ball park. And then brilliant animators do funny things. So that would be my motto. Relax a bit!

And you realize that they’re only paying you a fraction of what you normally get paid, And so you give them a fraction of your normal effort! That would be my motto!

That all bullocks, by the way! I’ve never seen a more hands on director like Peter Lord, obsessed with minutiae!

Is being an animated actor a really lonely experience in that sound booth?

HG: No, on the whole they have a brilliant, all purpose actor who reads the other things. And otherwise it’s just Peter standing next to me. Being extremely critical and difficult!

Well, this all purpose actor was so brilliant, actually. That uh, if you wanted ping pong, you got ping pong.

People are always going off, oh it’s so important for actors to work off each other. But in a way, animated films sort of give the lie to that.

Because on the whole, you’re just doing it by yourself. And they stick it together in the editing room, and it sounds fine!

What roles do you go after, like something completely different from what you’ve done before?

HG: Uh, that’s what you’re supposed to do as an actor. I’ve always done it differently. I’ve just done jobs where I’ve found the script to be engaging.

And I actually wanted to turn the page without doing the Hoovering, or wanting to make a cup of tea. Which is quite rare!

And second, something which makes me laugh. Which is also very rare. And any time I came across one of those scripts, I’d do it no matter what the part was.

How do you see British humor as different from American humor, and do you think there are things that Americans just don’t get about British humor?

HG: People have asked me that for years. And honestly, I don’t think there are such big differences, no. Not really.

I suppose the only place is where maybe in Britain, the emphasis is on profound silliness. Just sort of almost surreal, childish silliness.

And that you see in Monty Python. Or in a lot of Aardman films, I think. But otherwise, I don’t think there’s a huge difference.

And it is also always true, that the more you try to be international with your humor or your entertainment, the more you’ll fail. And the more you try to be very local and indigenous and just do what pleases you, the more you’re likely to succeed internationally.

People like it, they like something different. They don’t like homogenized stuff.

What did you think when you first saw that strange pirate ship in the movie?

HG: Well, they took me down to Bristol. To see those lunatics at work! But it was just astonishing. And one animator can do great work, doing just six seconds.

Did you talk a lot about the movie at the end of each day’s work?

HG: No! We were over at the pub. That was our big treat. In three years of drudgery!

Trailer Pirates! Band Of Misfits:

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.

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