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.
Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark with the September 17 global release on Prime Video of the feelgood biopic Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, starring Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Richard E. Grant and Sharon Horgan, the beloved Grant shared some of the things that brighten up his life. — N.D
I grew up in Africa and in 1969, when I was 12 years old, my father said, “You have to have a cultural experience of your heritage, so we’re going to go to Britain and to Europe.” When we were in Rome, there was one movie playing in English: Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand. I had heard her voice before when my parents played her records, but I’d never seen the face that went with the voice, and it was an epiphany. I thought, “Wow, this is the most extraordinary talent!” Shortly after, I went through the hormonal storm of being a teenager and seeing her in What’s Up, Doc? She looked unbelievable and she was hilarious and she sang to Ryan O’Neal while lying on a piano.
I watched her subsequent movies, got all her albums, and when I was 14, wrote her a fan letter when, according to a movie magazine I’d read, she was having relationship troubles with Ryan O’Neal. I told her, “If you want to come to a place where nobody will know who you are, you can stay at my parents’ house. We have a lovely pool and a view!”
I never got a reply, but three years ago when I was on the awards circuit for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, I had a day off and I drove with my wife to Point Dume, where she lives up in Malibu. My wife said, “What are we doing here? We don’t know anybody here.” I said, “No …” She said, “This is Barbra Streisand’s house, isn’t it” I said, “Yeah, could be …” She said, “You’re going to be arrested. This is insane.” I went and pressed the buzzer, as I knew a security person would come out, not her. The security person said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’ve been a lifelong fan. I’ve never received an Oscar nomination in my life, and I’m now here at the Holy Grail. May I have your permission to take a selfie at Barbra Streisand’s gates?” He said, “Well, this is a public highway. You don’t need my permission, but thanks for asking.” So I took a selfie standing outside her gate and then posted it on Twitter, along with the letter that wrote to her when I was 14. And a day later, she replied!
As a lifelong fan of someone you’ll understand what it meant for me to take this snap outside the home of @BarbraStreisand Asked Security for permission & he replied ‘It’s a public road, but thanks for asking’ Wrote her this letter when I was 14. My wife is very understanding! pic.twitter.com/3SohXKpgZT
— Richard E. Grant (@RichardEGrant) January 29, 2019
I subsequently met her at the Oscars, and she gave me tickets to see her shows in London and at Madison Square Garden. After that, I was at Donna Karan’s house in the Hamptons and she was a guest there too and I spent two hours having a one-to-one conversation with her. I told her that I had a sculpture commissioned of her head – a three-quarter profile of the left side of her head, which is what she prefers – and she told me, “You’re crazy.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” She said, “No, you are crazy!” But that’s fine. The sculpture is now in my garden, and it is three feet high and she knows about it. My love of Barbra Streisand was a phase I was supposed to pass through in adolescence, but clearly at 64, I am still there. The fact that she just had a number one album at the age of 79 is just astonishing to me and a legacy of her amazing talent.
My Obsession with Movies
I’m just obsessed with movies. For example, I’ve seen Nashville 27 times, and this was all before video, DVD, Blu-ray, etc. It was in the old days when you had to go to a movie theater and put your money down to see a film. The idea that I would actually end up working on three movies that Robert Altman directed is just beyond fantastical, and as a movie buff, finally getting to work with Altman was absolutely amazing. When you grow up in a place like I did – the smallest country in Africa, which had one movie theater, no television and a radio station – you’re so far from to the epicenter of theater in London and New York, and movies in L.A., the idea of becoming part of that world doesn’t even enter your head. So the fact that anybody from there could have succeeded in making a living as an actor in that world and met these idols is an astonishment to me, and I’m still astonished by it. I’m starstruck.
I’ve still got all my movie magazines from when I was a teenager, which I spent all my pocket money saving up for. So the idea that I ended up being in movies is so far-fetched, because when I finished theater school, I was given my final assessment by a drama professor who said, “Look, I think you have real talent as a writer-director. But you’re too lightweight and you are too old-looking; you’ve got a long face like an old lantern or a bucket. I don’t really think you’re going to really make it as an actor.” So the fact that I’ve managed to write and direct and have a career as an actor – even with the bucket face! – is a great “fuck you” to the people that think they know better.
In Swaziland, as it was then called (its name was changed to Eswatini a few years ago), I grew up eating giant prawns, because it was only 100 miles from Mozambique and the Indian Ocean. Eating those giant prawns and going to the cinema are two activities that are deeply ingrained in me, so any time I have something to celebrate, I will get barbecued giant prawns and watch a movie.
But it’s not just prawns, I love all seafood – anything with a shell. I will eat lobsters, particularly, but even squid, which has got a tiny little shell. And I love the fact that lobsters like eating squid, and squid like eating prawns, that they like to eat each other. I understand it because I’m exactly the same.
I’ve seen My Octopus Teacher three times and I cried like a baby every time at the end because I found it incredibly moving. But it hasn’t stopped me eating squid! If I had an octopus in an aquarium, though, I sure as hell would not be thinking, “Hmmm, that would be good, battered up and deep fried.” I have a dog and a cat, but I have no intention or desire to eat either of them!