The cynics in Hollywood are already lying in wait for Hugh Grant. Talk to any hard-nosed agent about his recent, improbable comeback — before Notting Hill he hadn’t made a movie in three years — and you can still sense a shade of doubt mixed in with the wonder. The rap goes something like this: After disappearing from the screen for a dangerously long period of time, Grant hit the romantic jackpot once again in this summer’s megahit date movie Notting Hill. Not only is it his biggest film, it’s also the first British film ever to top $100 million at the U.S. box office. But how much was Hugh Grant responsible for Notting Hill’s success? After all, the movie did star Julia Roberts, only the most bankable actress known to mankind. And perhaps he’s a sure bet at the box office only if his movie rings all those Four Weddings and a Funeral bells. His next film will be the real test of his draw.
Well, Mr. Grant, that moment of truth has arrived. On Aug. 20, his all-important follow-up to Notting Hill, the movie that could cement his return to Hollywood, debuts. Titled Mickey Blue Eyes, the film is a fish-out-of-water story mixed with a romantic comedy. It stars Grant as a British auctioneer in New York, Jeanne Tripplehorn as his schoolteacher fiancee, and the inimitable James Caan as her father, who gets Grant’s character caught up in the family business, which just happens to be the Mob.
Put a stiff, proper, and very English Grant in the midst of the Mafia and laugh as the cultures clash. As you can imagine, it’s not the mobsters who end up running scared. ”Hugh’s a little inept at trying to be a member of the family,” says Mickey’s director, Kelly Makin. ”He’s trying to not break his own fingers.”
Grant, 38, isn’t on the line simply as an actor. Mickey Blue Eyes is the second film that he and his shagadelic girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, have produced through their company, Simian Films, which has an ongoing deal with Castle Rock. (Extreme Measures, Simian’s first effort and the last movie Grant starred in before Notting Hill, pulled in a dismal $17 million in 1996.) In addition to producing Mickey, Grant also did quite a bit of rewriting, up until the last days of filming. There were also persistent rumors, and a report in Daily Variety, that Grant took a hand at directing reshoots after clashing with Makin, an assertion that both he and Makin firmly deny.
”It was a pretty big undertaking for him. He really felt a lot of pressure. So I’d try to lighten him up sometimes,” says Caan, whose idea of soothing Grant was to playfully taunt him with a rather humbling nickname during the shooting of the film. ”I used to call him Whippy,” continues Caan. ”He worries about things. That’s why I called him that. It’s short for whippet. You know, those little whippet dogs that get nervous and you gotta put a sweater on them when they’re cold.”
Whippy. Now, there’s a nickname that could haunt you if the movie doesn’t do well. Quiet. Can you hear the sound of butterflies flapping in Grant’s stomach right now?