Richard E. Grant savors awards season success of latest role

Richard E. Grant savors awards season success of latest role
Fox Searchlight
Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in "Can You Ever Forgive Me''

The movie awards season is in full swing, and one person’s name we’ve been hearing often is Richard E. Grant, one-half of the amazing screen duo opposite Melissa McCarthy in director Marielle Heller’s comedy-tinged, true-life drama, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Already honored with the Best Supporting Actor award from the New York Film Critics’ Circle, Grant, a veteran film and television actor of more than 30 years, has also picked up nominations in the category from the Gotham Independent Film Awards, the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Now playing in theaters nationwide, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” adapts the stranger-than-fiction memoir of author Lee Israel (McCarthy), a once-successful book biographer who, after falling on hard times in the early 1990s, pulled herself out of debt by forging letters from such literary luminaries as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward for the collector’s market. Grant plays Lee’s good-natured friend and partner-in-crime Jack Hock, who is even more destitute and has already been taking to extreme measures to survive.

While “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” tells a story that has serious criminal implications (Lee’s activities eventually caught the attention of discerning collectors and the FBI), Grant said in a phone conversation hours after his Golden Globes nomination last week that the film is one to which people can still relate.

“I think the bottom line is, even if you have had no criminal activity in your own life or whatever your sexual orientation is, the film is essentially dealing with the nature of friendship and everything that that involves, from the loyalty to the love to the almost inevitable betrayal and then the poignancy of reconciliation,” Grant, 61, said.

Grant said it was great to hear from audiences at film festivals about how they could relate to Lee and Jack’s friendship.

“All the screenings that I’ve been to, it has been a recurring refrain of someone saying, ‘I’ve been through a friendship like that,’ or, ‘I know somebody who is exactly like that,'” Grant said. “So, it obviously it has resonance or is reverberating with people.”

Grant thinks what makes Jack’s story sobering in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is the eventual revelation that Lee’s only friend is dying of AIDS. And while the diagnosis of the disease was viewed as a death sentence in the time when “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is set, Grant said he approached the crucial, sub-narrative as a tale of hope.

Grant said before Hock died in 1994, he lived life like a “ticking time bomb.”

“Rather than being self-pitying or being self-destructive and thinking he was going to go and hide away in a corner, he lives every day, for the day, in the day, in the belief that it may be his last day,” Grant observed. “I think that gave me great impetus and energy to approach everything. It is such a contrast to Lee Israel, who was such a curmudgeon, porcupine-like, private person who really had to be drawn out to get out of the apartment. That was really my guiding thought about the whole thing.”

Lucky for Grant, he found the perfect collaborator in McCarthy, the acclaimed comedy star who shows her dramatic range by playing an embittered, unlikable character. But Grant assures that McCarthy in real life is quite the opposite.

“She’s the best of the best — the most collaborative, generous, kind, open — all the things you hope to find in another human being,” Grant said. “To be paid to turn up for work and work with her every day was an absolute, undiluted, 40-carat gold delight, and on the days I wasn’t working, I’d come in to have lunch with her or have supper. Usually, on a movie, when you’ve spent 12 hours a day with somebody, you want respite — you want time alone. But we just magnificently enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the film and have stayed friends ever since.”

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