Richard E Grant


Written by Emily Hobbs
Photos and illustrations by Nick Morrish
04 Wednesday 04th May 2011

The excellent and seminal Withnail & I spawned not only the biggest quote-off amongst students up and down the country for the past two decades, but also the career of the sublime Richard E Grant, who this week will be announcing his involvement in a competition sponsored by British Airways to find the next rising star in British film-making. Ironically, he’s actually allergic to alcohol.

On the set of Withnail & I

The winning entrant will develop their script under Grant’s tutelage and produce a short film, which will then be shown on board all BA long haul flights and, thrillingly, at the Olympic Games opening ceremony; offering a combined audience of, oh, only most of the world.

On the day of this interview Richard E Grant is in a serious mood, yet despite having spent all morning in a windowless meeting room on what will be the hottest day of the year so far, there is still a sense of mischief about him.

“There’s somebody whistling in the background, can you just ask them to shut up?” interrupts Grant. Someone is quickly despatched to find the offending whistler and put a cork in them.

“I hate whistling. Stop fucking whistling. Jesus Christ! Is there anything more naff than whistling? Winking and whistling are the two things I could take a machete to,” he says completely straight-faced but with twinkling blue eyes betraying an appetite for Withnail-ish maniacal absurdity.

Richard E. Grant with Tom Waits in Dracula

“Anyway,” Grant resumes, “we’ve gone off piste.”

Over a quarter of a century ago Daniel Day Lewis turned down the part of Withnail to work on The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Richard E Grant was cast in his place. What followed that serendipitous turn of events has been a career spanning three decades during which time Grant has been actor, writer, director and producer.

“I’ve got enough experience and know what not to do as much as anything so hopefully I’ll be able to help somebody through that process. Writing and directing my own film and having gone through the 26 drafts I know that you’ve got to be open to other peoples’ input and accommodate work around that. Hopefully I’ll be able to help. That’s the theory.”

So apart from absence of whistling and winking, what will he be looking for in the potential winning script?

“Something that’s original and extraordinary and hopefully brilliant,” is his reply. “You usually know within 5 to 10 pages whether something’s going to hold your attention or not. The advantage of a short script is that you’ve got to be very clear and precise about what you’re doing. Whereas over 100 pages of script – 100 minutes of screen time – it’s a bigger opportunity for people to waffle on or get lost”.

Grant likens scripts to online dating, “I know people who have been on internet dates, they meet somebody and see them across the room and think ‘Oh God no’; it’s pretty similar with a script, you make a decision very, very fast. And it may be entirely inaccurate but you go on your instinct. I’m always struck by the fact that you make big decisions about where you’re going to live or if you fall in love with somebody, that may involve a whole lifetime or all the money that you’ve never had; you make those decisions much more quickly than you would decide what book you’re going to buy from Waterstone’s for example.”

Bowling in Love Hurts

Instinct and fortune are valuable ingredients in the recipe for success, equal to talent and good old hard graft. But the first knack to master is spotting the right opportunities in the first place.

“I know that in my case if Daniel Day Lewis had done Withnail & I 26 years ago I wouldn’t be sitting here now,” says Grant.

“But it’s given me almost every job I’ve had subsequently, as a result of that so I’m indebted to it.”

”Whether you’re successful or not has always been luck of the draw as much as perseverance and ambition. And everybody knows really talented people who just haven’t had the break. So I think that the opportunity to mentor somebody on this programme and give them a platform such as being shown on BA flights and at the Olympic ceremony is an unbelievable opportunity; that in the midst of the recession there’s something like this. There’s always an opportunity somewhere, it’s just finding what it is.”

“Hopefully the short film that somebody makes for this programme will be the one lucky break and lead them onto much bigger things. And hopefully employ me in the future. Yes! Mentor somebody and think ‘Now that I’ve helped you; reciprocate’. It’s the long game, the big picture! Why not?”


In the run up to the London 2012 Games, British Airways is offering career defining opportunities to three talented Brits in the fields of food, film and art, with mentoring from Heston Blumenthal, Richard E Grant and Tracey Emin. For entry details, visit

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