What Hugh Grant's awkward moment tells us about failed conversations
Fascinating to get that analysis, which does help identify the dance moves they were both going through, if not the motivation.
It’s hard to separate HG from the persona he portrays in his earlier films, which I see as “awkward English self-deprecation, overlaying an acute observer”. I still tend to come down more on his side in this than against (partly for partisan cultural reasons), and feel that he genuinely couldn’t bring himself to big up his 3-second part in a movie that he couldn’t have had a “fun” participation in: turn up to some studio, open a door, say a line, thanks and goodbye...
Damn, I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking I have any sort of valid contribution to the issue. I don’t. It feels a little like the “bike shed roof” debate in “Parkinson’s Law” - a committee will defer to expertise on a major construction project, but everyone will feel able to voice their opinion on the best way to deal with the bike shed roof.
Fascinating. I think you're right about him "self-consciously creating a scene for the camera in order to display his craggy integrity", but possibly as a result of the interview going wrong. But the interview goes wrong because he's having his celebrity cake and eating it, as usual.
I think any sincere effort to avoid the extreme poles of a divisive topic is inherently and literally a “superior” posture. As in, it’s better to look for nuances than pick sides. There’s nothing noble about a bandwagon.
Excellent analysis, by the way. The whole thing is a fascinating example of how hard it is to bridge cultural and generational gaps, even among people who are supposedly in the same industry, at the same damn party!
enjoyed this intelligent analysis of a particularily complex and embarrassing moment
Fascinating analysis. Thank you. Having been on both sides of interviews like this, I'm going to weigh in.
Though I like Hugh Grant's wry humor in general and love wordplay, I think he was being uncooperative here. The "Vanity Fair" remark was, on the one hand, perfect; but given the context -- Academy Awards after-party thrown every year by Vanity Fair Magazine -- I can see why it would be confusing, even to people who know their Thackeray (and I'm not saying Ashley Graham does; I have no idea about her education).
By agreeing to do this interview in the first place, whether he was coerced by his p.r. handlers or not, Grant was agreeing to be cooperative, to go along with what we all know is fluff. That's the deal. That's the game. Don't wanna do it? Then don't. But don't pretend that grudging and barely more than monosyllabic answers are playing the game.
I'll never forget an interview I was conducting where the guest announced, literally seconds before we were to go live on air, that he hated doing interviews "like this" and didn't want to be there. I felt like slapping him. I'll also never forget a lesson an older, more experienced colleague gave me when I said, early on in my career, that I felt it was my responsibility to make interviews interesting, that I was afraid I would come across as stupid and ignorant if the thing wasn't scintillating. She said (paraphrasing):
"Wrong attitude. The way I see it when I interview someone is, 'Look, my job is to get something interesting out of you. Now are you going to cooperate or not?'"
Some of the best advice I ever got. A conversation is a two-way street. Both people have to share the burden (if it is one, and for dopey occasions like red-carpet interviews, yeah, it is).
Wow, Ian. What a brilliant extraction of meaning from their conversation. Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll be buying it.
I saw Hugh Grant speaking at a Hacked Off event in London before Christmas. Both the cofounders mercilessly mocked his 'terrible films.' As I was leaving I commented that they might at least acknowledged his brilliant TV work. It was clear that everything is really water off a duck's back to him. Regarding his conversation with AG, yes it was extremely curmudgeonly, but frankly, isn't she everything that's wrong with Hollywood?
Very interesting discussion and analysis. I do think this is over complicating things. IMO HG was trying to be funny and the interviewer didn’t get his sense of humour. I thought it was funny but maybe that just makes me odd……and British
I wonder if we assign mythology status to these kind of moments because it's Hollywood—because famous actors are our Greek Gods. And if we go with that mythology then maybe Hugh Grant is Loki or some other trickster God. But, aside from mythology, he's just a human with extraordinary gifts. That stammering romantic lead he does is indelible. We love the actor and so want him to be that person in real life. And it turns out that he's a terrific actor who is a jerk on many public occasions. And if gossip holds true then he's been a jerk on many private occasions, as well. The insight into the dynamics of the interview are awesome. For me, it almost felt like a movie review! And it was performance, as folks in the comments have noted. So let's give Grant an award for medium-level curmudgeon from a David Lodge novel.
Option 4: he was trying to be funny: playing the curmudgeonly Englishman for the global cameras in hope of a late career return to star billing in a fish-out-of-water comic blockbuster - think Forest Gump crossed with Jacob Rees Mogg. Option 5: PTSD from being back close to the scene of his encounter with LAPD. Feeling sorry for him yet?
Very interesting read, introduced me to a whole new area of analysis that I knew nothing about. For me, it all hangs on that response “My taylor”. As you say, it loses him points, but I am not quite sure it is as reasonable a reply as you think. In refusing to name a designer, and just referencing the tailoring trade, Grant is achieving a lot: being funny and lightly sarcastic; but also distancing himself from giving credit to the designer and so emphasising the self-actualising aesthetic of the (English) dandy and the self-regard of an English gentleman, who will not allow himself to be defined by the maker of his coat. The question is too close to the knuckle of Grant’s persona so he can’t resist making the joke, to the detriment of the conversation.
Really interesting analysis and made me more Hugh-sympathetic. I think Hugh is referencing Pilgrim’s Progress though, rather than Thackeray, who of course took the title of his novel from Bunyan. Even less reason for Ashley to know it.
I used to interview people for living (thankfully not on camera) and those moments where the question or reference or joke don’t land were always excruciating. Will check out Elizabeth’s book.
This is so good