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Richard E. Grant Interview

Ryan Ormonde

This December, renowned actor Richard E. Grant is to narrate Paddington’s First Concert at Cadogan Hall alongside fellow luminary of stage, screen and written word, Simon Callow. The concert will be performed by the Mozart Symphony Orchestra. London Calling asked Grant about his links to Callow, Paddington and London.

London Calling: You will be sharing the stage with Simon Callow. In your 90’s film diaries you mention his interest in the two of you working together – he was to direct Ballad of the Sad Café and he was considering you for the role of Vanessa Redgrave’s lover – then on 21st May 1989: ‘Fax of apologia from Simon Callow to say that Keith Carradine is to play in Sad Café but he hoped and believed we would one day work together’ – what do you make of this diary entry today?

Richard E. Grant: Thank you for reminding me as I had completely forgotten about this. It is a measure of Simon's good manners that he wrote to me, because more often than not, when another actor is cast in your place, you never hear another word.

LC: How well did you know Simon Callow then?

REG: I have met Simon socially a handful of times so cannot claim to know him, but have long admired his writing talent. His biography of Orson Welles is a masterpiece.

LC: In 1999 you played alongside each other in Trial and Retribution on television, then in 2003 you were both in Bright Young Things. Were there any other times you either worked together or were close to working together?

REG: That's the illusion of film making. Whereas in the theatre you rehearse together and get to know people over the course of a play's run, with films, it's the opposite. Unless you are in the same scenes together, you don't even meet. So this will be the first time that Simon and I will have worked together.

LC: To stay with the Simon Callow theme, he was also at the launch for your fragrance JACK last year. Will JACK stand alone or can we expect more fragrant pursuits?

REG: JACK-COVENT GARDEN was launched in Spring this year at Selfridges and I am in the final stages of preparing JACK-PICCADILLY for 2016. As I have been 'led by my nose' all my life, establishing a fragrance brand is the fruition of a boyhood dream ever since first trying to make scent to impress my girlfriend when I was 12 years old in Swaziland.

LC: The only apparent Paddington connection with you is that it was the station you set off from with Paul McGann to film in the countryside for Withnail. Do you remember this trip?

REG: I had never been in a film before and that three-and-a-half-hour train journey from Paddington to Penrith in the summer of 1986 irrevocably changed my professional life. Paul and I had rehearsed the script for two weeks at Shepperton studios with the writer-director Bruce Robinson which gave us a solid basis before we began filming. That train journey north was full of anticipation, nerves and excitement at the prospect of actually starting.

LC: You were a year old when Paddington Bear first appeared – do you have memories of him from when you were a child, or later as a father?

REG: My parents read the story to me when I was a boy and I likewise did so when my daughter was little. Whenever I felt abandoned or misunderstood as a child, Paddington Bear was the perfect 'companion' as he understood these things implicitly which is probably why his popularity increases generation by generation.

LC: Do children really want to go to a classical music concert for Christmas?

REG: My parents had a large classical music record collection when I was growing up, for which I am eternally grateful as there was no orchestra in Swaziland, so this was the only way to hear classical composers. I hope that the combination of Paddington Bear and the music will prove to be a draw card for children.

LC: What are you first memories of London and how would you characterize your relationship with the city?

REG: I first flew to London on my own when I was seven years old in 1964 from Swaziland on a BOAC plane. My parents had spent six months in the USA lecturing on African education for the Carnegie Foundation and we had a family reunion in London. I have very strong memories of feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, going on a rollercoaster ride in Battersea Park, seeing the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and trying to ice skate for the first time at Queensway in Bayswater. Watching Bill and Ben on television too as TV only arrived in Swaziland in the late 1970's!

I visited again in 1969 when I was twelve and have an indelible image of Eros surrounded by Hippies and the smell of Patchouli, being taken to the musical HAIR at the Shaftesbury theatre, and getting a 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' dinky toy for my birthday as well as a pair of Pelham Puppets from Hamleys that prompted a lifelong passion to collect them. When I emigrated to London in 1982, I felt like Dick Whittington seeking my fortune and have never looked back. For me it is unequivocally THE greatest city on the planet.

LC: Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a great novel about London life. Its themes of struggling with the system are still pertinent. Did the book help you in your life and have you re-read it since the film?

REG: Orwell detailed his struggles to become a professional writer with enormous insight and eloquence. When I did 'Aspidistra', my own struggle to stay afloat during the lean years wholly informed how to play the role. Landing in London just before my 25th birthday was very daunting as I did not know many people and having not gone to university or drama school here, I didn't have a network of people to turn to. I worked as a waiter in Covent Garden for seven months until I began to get dribbles of acting work. I gave myself five years and decided that if I didn't succeed in making a living, I would go back to Africa and try another career. Luckily for me it worked out.

Paddington Bear’s First Concert is playing Cadogan Hall for two performances on Sunday 20th December. To book tickets, see website.

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