Richard E. Grant on Working With Melissa McCarthy and Joining ‘Star Wars’ (Exclusive)

Richard E Grant
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The acclaimed actor is earning Oscar buzz for his performance opposite McCarthy in the new Lee Israel biopic.

Acclaimed actor Richard E. Grant -- famous for his varied roles in everything from Game of Thrones to Robert Altman’s Gosford Park -- is enjoying some much-deserved attention. 

Coming off of last year’s Oscar-nominated Logan, in which he played Dr. Zander Rice opposite Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine, he’s starring in high-profile, back-to-back releases -- the Lee Israel biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms -- as well as the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX, which is currently in production and slated for December 2019. 

While he’s unable to divulge details about his role, the 61-year-old actor is amazed to be part of not only the new film, but the franchise as a whole.

“The first one blew my head off,” Grant recalls of seeing Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which came out a decade before he made his film debut in Withnail and I. “So that four decades later I would be actually in one seems as unlikely as it was to say that I wanted to be an actor in 1969, when I was 12 years old when they landed on the moon.” 

Believing that it was “in the realm of impossibility,” the actor adds, “I can’t really believe that it’s happening.”   

While anticipation builds for the final chapter of the latest Star Wars trilogy, Grant is enjoying much-deserved Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Jack Hock, a close friend of author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) who began forging letters by famous actors and writers when her writing career stalled, in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. As Jack, Grant balances out Israel’s closed-off, often angry attitude; he is able to needle his way into her solitary lifestyle, bringing much-needed joy and life to her world as well as the screen. 

The unexpected relationship between these two characters is brought to life by the actors’ palpable chemistry and dynamic, which may seem surprising since they only met each other just days before filming. “As you can imagine, she and I hated each other on sight,” Grants jokes with his dry wit, revealing that they were able to carve out a bit of time -- “a half a day” -- for lunch and discussion about the film. 

“I absolutely loved and adored her instantaneously and we really got on,” the actor clarifies, adding that he and McCarthy ended up eating lunch together every day of their 28-day shoot. “That was a testament to how well we connected. That inevitably, in retrospect, informed how we riffed off each other, playing these parts.”   

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Since debuting on Oct. 19, the film -- directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and adapted from Israel’s memoir by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty -- has earned rave reviews, in large part for the performances by the two actors. 

“On paper, you’ve got an incredibly unlikable, socially inept, porcupine of a woman who is a homely, Jewish lesbian and she forms a friendship with an HIV-positive kleptomaniac,” Grant says, almost in disbelief that the film has managed to garner as much as attention as it has. “You go, ‘Does that really sound like the movie that you want to go and invest your time and your care and your compassion in?’”

But the fact that the reception is so “astonishingly positive” delights the actor, who remains slightly wary of all the good feedback. “The bad news has to be coming at some point,” Grant jokes.  

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is now in theaters; The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is out Nov. 2.