Richard E Grant: ‘Therapy saved my life, so I loved working with Stephen Mangan on Hang Ups’

Hang Ups star Richard E Grant talks Star Wars, selfies – and what Withnail and I taught him about comic acting

Richard E Grant (Getty, HF)

What are you watching on TV, Richard

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Where I grew up in Africa, there was no TV. So, now I watch Gogglebox, Graham Norton, Breaking Bad, The Staircase, Comedians in Cars, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Very English Scandal, Big Little Lies, Anatomy of a Murder, anything we can buy on Amazon and on YouTube.

Camping, Gavin & Stacey on repeat, Billions, Patrick Melrose, The Crown

That’s a lot of television…

I am an addict! I think you can say I love television. We are living through an utterly golden age. I can remember 35 years ago, The Jewel in the Crown and Brideshead Revisited were two huge series, the best things in the early 80s… And now we have the equivalent of those almost on a monthly basis.

Is your TV room styled in the minimalist chic we saw in Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets?

Not at all, I take a maximalist position on clutter. There’s a sofa, log-burning fire in winter and books, then there’s my collection of puppets by the British company Pelham, which I have been amassing since I was a boy. I have fairy-story characters, teachers, doctors, nurses, witches pirates, wolves… whatever. When I was a child I got two for Christmas, and two for my birthday every year and I did puppet shows in my school holidays to earn money in a home-made theatre in my parents’ garage. I also have original Star Wars toys and models from the 70s.

And how are you preparing for the role of Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars IX?

I’m not playing the Star Wars character you’ve just mentioned. I’m not allowed to tell you anything. Otherwise I would be fired. It’s a complete lockdown on any information whatsoever.

Hopefully you’ll be as good as you are in Hang Ups. 

Thank you. I learnt from Bruce Robinson 32 years ago when we were making Withnail and I that you have to play comedy deadly serious. Show you know it’s funny: it’s dead in the water. I really enjoyed improvising with Stephen Mangan and the subject of the show matters to me. I had a nervous breakdown when I was 42. I sought psychoanalysis to help me recover and it saved my life, so I believe in it entirely – if you find the right psychoanalyst! I did, and at the end of 18 months he said, “You’re fixed up now.” I’ve never gone back. If I needed to, I would in a nanosecond.

British actors Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant film a scene in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, for the movie 'Withnail & I', 1986. (Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)
Richard E Grant and co-star Paul McGann together on the set of Withnail & I (Getty)

Do you have any stress-busting tips? 

I like the smell of box hedging and flowers. I’ve no snobbery about what flowers are good or bad – I like all of them. I love the smell of geraniums. I launched my own range of scented candles.

You take a lot on, Richard.

I’m not someone who sits around. To just survive in this profession is an achievement in itself. I’ve done everything to avoid the trap of “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve”, which I think is very easy to fall into.

Do you mind being approached by the public?

As long as you don’t get abused by people – which doesn’t happen often – it’s part and parcel of your job description. Though if I’m in a public loo and someone sticks a mobile under the door, I have to say, “Yes, I’ll do a selfie with you, just let me wait until I come out of the stall!”

Did that really happen? 

Yes, yes! I’m not making it up. But apart from that, people are actually very polite.


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Hang Ups airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4