Best of 2018: Richard E. Grant Talks Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

The actor, currently getting awards heat for his role in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, on two cinematic standouts from the past year.

I saw The Favourite at Telluride at 9 o’clock in the morning and before the last shot of the movie – a crossfade of chaos, with all the melancholy of this unresolved situation – there was an instant standing ovation. There were no stars from the movie in the room, it was just film lovers responding.

You always compare films to what you’ve seen before and try to define what they are; I thought The Favourite was Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract meets Barry Lyndon on cocaine, via Tarantino. That’s the route I took in my head to work out what it was, but even having said that, it’s right out there on the edge.

The way it deals with language is so bracing and exhilarating; it is absolutely uncompromising about the machinations of what human beings do to each other. Just the fact that it’s so confrontational must be applauded. In Britain, we’re going through Brexit at the moment, and there’s backstabbing in Parliament on a daily basis. Blood on the walls, figuratively speaking. Seeing The Favourite, there’s a lot of echoes of what is happening right now, and I think it is extraordinarily well done. I really enjoyed it, and also thought it was very funny, and melancholy as well.

I went to see Roma the day that it opened in Los Angeles. I tried not to read the reviews, because I find knowing the plot before you watch a film is the equivalent of doing a Wikipedia search on somebody before you meet them. You’re clouded by too much information. But, of course, knowing it was directed by Alfonso Cuarón was a plus.

Roma is as poetic a form of moviemaking as I’ve seen in a very, very long time. It has long tracking shots with very densely populated canvasses, where there’s always something in every corner of the frame to hold your interest. It’s a film made on an operatic scale. There are scenes with huge crowds of people, and your eye tells you that it’s not CGI. You can feel it’s a real, breathing thing. There’s not a huge amount of plot, except that everything seems to happen within it – it’s got all the big themes, like birth, death, family, betrayal, immigration, the haves and the have-nots. I don’t know that Donald Trump is going to be eating mince pies on Christmas Eve, watching Roma, but he might benefit if he did.

The main character, Cleo, is a house maid and she is prism through which we experience both her life and the life of the upper-middle class Mexicans who are based on Cuarón’s family. There’s a scene in which she gives birth to a stillborn baby; the scene slowly builds so that by the time you get to the end, it’s incredibly moving and powerful.

Yalitza Aparicio is the 22-year-old actress who plays Cleo and, according to the New York Times, she was told an hour beforehand, “You’re going to be doing a scene where you give birth.” Cuarón used real doctors and maternity nurses for this scene, so they were doing everything for real, and she only found out at the end that she’d given birth to a stillborn child. On the one hand, you think, “If a director can get a performance out of somebody who has no training or no experience whatsoever, it is all power to what this director has created.” And at the same time you think, “My training, my experience, counts for nothing,” because when you see and experience something that is so raw and visceral, it’s the real thing.

The screening of Roma I attended was absolutely jam-packed to the gunwales and as the credits rolled, there was spontaneous applause from this audience, which I’ve never experienced in England. You feel an emotional connection with 600 total strangers, bonded by this experience of saying, “We have to acknowledge what we’ve just seen together.”

Richard E. Grant is an accomplished actor, writer, director, raconteur, and a successful entrepreneur after the launch of his award-winning perfume Jack in 2014. Grant made his film debut in Bruce Robinson’s classic British comedy Withnail and I and has amassed a long, distinguished and varied career achieving recognition in both Hollywood blockbusters and smaller independent films with titles including L.A. Story, The Age of Innocence, Bright Young Things, Gosford Park, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Penelope, Logan and Star Wars: Episode IX. His performance as Jack in the 2018 feature Can You Ever Forgive Me?, starring opposite Melissa McCarthy, earned him the the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor, as well as nominations for Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild Award and Gotham Award in the same category. His latest film is Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, out September 17 globally on Prime Video, also starring Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Ralph Ineson, Adeel Akhtar and Sharon Horgan.