Hugh Grant gave a lively — and funny — discussion during the Paddington 2 presentation at The Contenders London event. He talked about acting opposite of a stick, his “weird history” with the voice of Paddington Ben Whishaw, and that big Busby Berkeley-esque musical number at the end of the film.
In the Warner Bros. family film, Grant plays the villainous Phoenix Buchanan, a narcissistic former stage star looking to rekindle his glory. He is out to get Paddington and frames him for stealing, but in the end, justice is served and Phoenix gets put in prison — which leads to the big musical number with his fellow inmates. After the clip of was shown, Grant said that it was the first scene they shot for the movie.
“They are all professional dancers — touchingly, some of them haven’t worked for a long time and were out of shape,” joked Grant, “but at least they knew what they were doing!”
He said that he had “no clue” what he was doing when he put on his leotard and tap shoes to rehearse in the same dance studio he did for Florence Foster Jenkins. While filming, he was watching the playback of a scene where he, with the help of his fellow musical inmates, flips over. He recalls leaning over to producer David Heyman and jokingly asked him, “Is this the end of my career?” to which Heyman said, “Yes, I think so.”
The character of Phoenix is described as vain and washed-up actor — and director/co-writer Paul King created him with Grant in mind. He wrote him a letter saying this and to ask if he would do it. “It was a very helpful letter — and true!” said a self-deprecating Grant. “They originally called the character ‘Hugh'”
Grant said that he took the role because he “needed a job” and “thought it might be fun” — and it gave him the opportunity to pull from his experiences when he did regional theatre, which was filled with lovely — and “slightly predatory” versions of Phoenix Buchanans.
As Phoenix, Grant basically terrorizes the adorable Paddington, which is voiced by Whishaw. He never worked with him on set, but he does point out that he has a very — interesting — track record with the actor. He starred in Cloud Atlas with Whishaw, who played his wife. “I was very unpleasant,” he pointed out. “Now, he’s a bear that I try to put in prison and kill.”
Grant also stars with Whishaw in A Very English Scandal — and their on-screen relationship gets even darker. “I rape him as Jeremy Thorpe and try to kill him!” Grant exclaims.
Lifting the dark cloud of his acting relationship with Whishaw, Grant points out the good Paddington brings to cinema and the world.
“Bringing out a positive message is extremely difficult without being yucky — and not to edge over to sugar,” he said. “Paul King and his whole team deserve huge credit for bringing out the positive message from the books which is: ‘see the best the best in everyone’.”
He jokes, “Thats an extraordinary message to me because I have always seen the worst in everyone.”