The intervention in politics of non-political people – the Women’s Institute barracking Tony Blair, for instance, and denying him jam – is usually good, and often funny. But this conference season an actor is trawling round the party conferences, campaigning for a less corrupt and less idiotic media.
Initially, I thought – Great! Bring him to me alive! – but then I realised it was Hugh Grant, and my enthusiasm died. Why does it have to be Hugh Grant?
Actors playing at politics is not new. Colin Firth touts for the poor Liberal Democrats – well, he used to, before they held hands with the Tories – and Eddie Izzard is always appearing at the shoulder of Ed Miliband, which only serves to highlight the gulf between populist and weird. Martin Sheen, who played the US president in seven long seasons of The West Wing, began to think he was the president and flew around the US, telling people things, until he had to be stopped.
Grant has a case, indeed. His telephone was hacked by News International, and although he seems the most unpleasant of men – go on YouTube and watch him drive a car at a photographer with Jemima Khan sitting beside him – it should not have happened. But going to the law is not enough for him; he must have blood. He is in an actor’s rage now, as if all the frustrations and disappointments of his life are now focused on the media that dared to make him a star.
“It is a little late, working in the fetid industry that he does, to discover a taste for justice”
Grant cannot act. I have seen almost all his films, from the early car-crashes (The Lair Of The White Worm and Impromptu, where he played the pianist Chopin with a handkerchief in front of his face to disguise the fact that a Polish accent was completely beyond him), through one solitary good film (An Awfully Big Adventure, where his malice carried him through) to his late career sell-out phase. These are the Bridget Jones movies, the ghastly Music And Lyrics, and a film called American Dreamz where he played Simon Cowell with less charm. Cowell, for all his boasting, is a grateful man and, since one of his early hits was The Teletubbies Song, this is righteous. Grant is lucky that he has a pretty face, used to date Liz Hurley, and after Four Weddings he duly became a star. But it didn’t make him happy. Watch another YouTube video, this time him shouting at a photographer in his street – and here he is, raging at the media, as if it was us that did this to him.
If Grant was more honest, and less vain, he would realise that as a movie star, he is as complicit in the idiocies of the media as anyone. Thousands of words have been given to publicising his rubbish films in newspapers and magazines. They replaced more newsy and important fare, and he did not have to do it; plenty of actors do not play with the media, and they still work. Perhaps he resents the ancient Divine Brown scandal, where he was caught with a prostitute in LA and had to grovel to US talk show host Larry King in front of millions, and this is his payback. I have no sympathy here. Men who pay women for intimacy – particularly rich and handsome ones – deserve contempt. It is also a little late, working in the fetid industry that he does, to discover a social conscience and a taste for justice; I know of no prostitute recovery charity he supports, for instance. Because there are few industries more moronic, or insidiously dangerous than cinema – apart from fashion.
Cinema today offers bangs and superheroes to the lowest common denominator. Normal women are as rare as unicorns, and the scripts are terrible. Grant, who, had he played himself, could have had a decent career as a character actor, has embraced mainstream cinema as happily as any. But now he seeks a political platform, to tell us what is wrong with the media – well one of the things, Hugh, is you. From almost anyone else, I would be happy to hear it. But not from Hugh Grant. I can only remember Impromptu, watching him trying to act, and trying to sneeze.
What's your view? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Stylist's regular columnist Lucy Mangan is on maternity leave.
Main picture credits: Rex Features