Aardman animation's new pirate movie has aboard a very unlikely buccaneer in Hugh Grant, reports Michelle Manelis
The casting of Hugh Grant in a 3D-animated family movie is an unusual choice.
But the 51-year-old British actor, known for the type of comedic fare that features his characteristic droll humour in such movies as About a Boy, or Bridget Jones's Diary, leapt at the chance.
In Pirates! Band of Misfits, he voices the lead character, Pirate Captain, in the latest stop-motion feature by Peter Lord's Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas).
"Everyone loves Aardman movies. You can't not love them," says Grant in Las Vegas to promote the movie. "I realise I'm an unusual choice and I liked that I was such bad casting for it. I'm not this big, barrel-chested, bearded rogue character. I actually had to act it," he smiles. "That's been most unlike me, recently. So, it was nice to do a bit of that."
The story is based on the first in Gideon Defoe's Pirates series of books about the Pirate Captain and his hapless crew who try to win the Pirate of the Year Award over their American counterparts, Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).
During their quest they join forces with Charles Darwin (David Tenant) and battle Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
The production employed 525 people, including 33 animators and 41 shootings units. An impressive technical feat, Grant says of the patience and personality type required to work on this level of animation. "Well, those people are not well in terms of their mental health. Imagine working for an entire week, and if you are really lucky, you've filmed three seconds. It's crazy."
You might think playing a pirate is nothing short of a dream role for an actor. Like many boys during their childhood, did Grant ever fantasise about being a pirate?
"Well, no. I don't know if I'm enough of a man, really. I never dressed up as a pirate when I was a child. I was too busy dressing up as a girl," he deadpans. "That's much more British."
Joking aside, Grant says, "I read Treasure Island, which I loved. And while the pirate element of this is film is lovely, it's not the reason I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it because it was a very funny and unusual script, and funny in a quintessentially English way. Profound silliness and those things are very rare."
Although we haven't seen Grant on the big screen since the ill-received, Did You Hear About the Morgans? in 2009, we watched him on news reports as an integral part in last year's News of the World phone hacking scandal after he published an article about a conversation he had with a former journalist. Grant, somewhat of a pirate himself it seems, secretly taped the conversation that helped expose and bring an end to the Rupert Murdoch newspaper.
"How do I feel about it now?" he says, mulling over the question. "Well, I feel frightened most of the time because it is a frightening opposition. The tabloid press in conjunction with the police, in conjunction with the government, is extremely frightening. There's a lot of fear but at the same time, I've been so angry about the issue for so long, it actually feels cathartic to be working on the problem, and especially gratifying. People who used to roll their eyes when I'd say, 'You don't understand. It's a stitch-up between Murdoch, the police and the government'. Now those people are beginning to realise that it's actually true."
And how did he feel during his surreptitious antics of covertly taping the famed conversation? "Well, it was scary but I was more scared that the tape recorder wouldn't work," he recalls, laughing. "The jukebox was playing very loudly in the background, so I had to pretend, 'Oh, can you turn that down. That's really deafening.' And he's no fool, that guy. He kept saying, 'You're not recording this are you?' And you could hear me on the tape going, 'No'," he illustrates, in a high-pitched voice.
Now Grant has had a taste of public life in the real world, perhaps he might like to venture into politics?
Grant smiles. "Well, it's been a novelty getting into a taxi and saying, 'House of Lords, please'. And certainly, real life I find very refreshing after 30 years of making synthetic life. It's incredibly interesting."
As opposed to George Clooney who'll tell you that a political life would be impossible for him due to the many skeletons in his closet, Grant says, "Well, everyone knows mine. But people don't care too much anymore.
"This chap Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, his cupboard is full of skeletons and he's not very well-behaved, either. He keeps making mistakes in things he says but instead of hating him for it, the public loves him for it. I think politicians get it very wrong when they try to regiment everything and have their set answers. People love you, I think, much more if you're human rather than if you're apparently perfect.
"As for me, I've done all the politics in the last six months that I'm going to do. That's been almost a full time job," he says.
Grant has no time for the seriousness that some actors will bring to their profession. "There's a lot of serious talk about show business that I find strange. Acting is only messing about, trying to entertain people. It's not something deep, dark and vitally life-changing or important," he says.
The master of self- deprecation, Grant says of the final result of his work in Pirates, "I loved the film. I mean, I hate almost all my films, but this one genuinely makes me laugh. I'm incredibly proud to be attached to it."
Who: Hugh Grant
What: Pirates! Band of Misfits
When: Opens at cinemas today in 2D and 3D
-TimeOutBy Michelle Manelis