It literally does not matter what I see Richard E. Grant in. Invariably, my first thought is, “Oh, hey, he has a lot of verve!” This is an awfully obscure reference in a man whose career is, let’s be real, full of obscure references. There are a few times when he rises above it; Admittedly “one of Lucy’s suitors” isn’t the most memorable part in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but still. Telling you that he’s done two movie takes on The Nutcracker involves reminding you that we have had, in the last dozen years, two movie takes on The Nutcracker, and I’m not sure even he reliably remembers that.
Still, where he first came to my attention was as Roland from L.A. Story, and it’s a delightfully silly role. He’s done a few characters over the years with Roland’s peculiar blend of intelligence, enthusiasm, and dimness. Heck, Sir Anthony Aguecheek is just Roland without any moments of intelligence—which could be deliberate, given Steve Martin’s continual Shakespeare references throughout. I am given to understand his Hudson Hawk character bears similarity to it, though from what I remember (I haven’t seen it since the mid ’90s, and I don’t think I saw all of it then), no one in the cast is all that bright.
Such a contrast, then, from Withnail. (Who is also distinct from Grant himself inasmuch as Grant is extremely allergic to alcohol!) It’s true that Roland’s not the only kind of character he can play, even if that’s where I think of him first. He’s done any number of characters over the years. Okay, so Classic Loki has something of a Roland vibe, filtered through, well, Loki. And I’m not sure there is a better actor of his age to have played Sir Percy Blakeney. Still, I can’t imagine Roland as Long John Silver.
The man himself also seems charming as anything. His reaction to his Oscar nomination was completely adorable; he responded from the flat he lived in while a struggling actor early in his career. He doesn’t seem to take the whole thing terribly seriously; I’d imagine it would be hard to, in his situation. After all, he’s seen the whole thing from every level of the profession. He’s been in costume dramas, biopics, and blockbusters. He’s in Corpse Bride and Spice World. It’s a wild career.
And all that from a nice young man born in Eswatini, at the time known as Swaziland. He did school plays with Nelson Mandela’s daughters. He played Franz Kafka in a short directed by Peter Capaldi, which one the Best Live Action Short Oscar in 1995. He has had an incredible career. In the sense, sometimes, of “it’s hard to believe.” And at the end of the day, he still has a lot of verve, and I don’t think he’d mind if you told him so.