Hugh Grant has opened up about a crippling battle with stage fright that's dogged him throughout his career, revealing that, at its worst, his anxiety attacks forced him to quit acting.

After 1999's mammoth worldwide hit Notting Hill, Grant found himself getting "absurd stage fright attacks" with alarming frequency.

"I really don't know where it suddenly came from. They would just hit me in the middle of a film and they would only last a morning or something, but it was devastating," he tells The Hollywood Reporter.

After Notting hill, Hugh Grant decided to quietly retire from acting.
After Notting hill, Hugh Grant decided to quietly retire from acting.

"It would be some very simple scene, you'd rehearsed it perfectly, maybe shot the other guy's close-up, they turned around on you, you'd walk in there whistling and then suddenly, out of nowhere, you've got sweat shooting from your armpits and you can't remember your lines.

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"These were terrible and embarrassing occasions. You could almost never use the scene, you actually had to cut the scene from the film."

Filled with "dread", Grant decided to quietly retire from acting. In recent years his big-screen roles had been limited to small, supporting parts, and it wasn't until this year's Florence Foster Jenkins - starring alongside Meryl Streep - that he returned to leading man status.

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He admitted he was nervous taking on a main role in a film again, but the strength of the material had swayed him.

"It was not only a brilliant script, but it had an amazing part for me. Plus [director] Stephen Frears, plus Meryl Streep! So I had to do it."

Grant now keeps his stage fright in check when on set, using methods like regular exercise and herbal calmers to alleviate his anxiety. He says the daily battle is a "pain in the ass," but one that's worth the effort.

Hugh Grant as St Clair Bayfield and Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins in the film Florence Foster Jenkins. photo / AP
Hugh Grant as St Clair Bayfield and Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins in the film Florence Foster Jenkins. photo / AP

"Once I was over it, in many ways it was a treat. Performing with the greatest female actress possibly of all-time is no hardship. Things go better. You know, if you play tennis with Rafa Nadal, you play better tennis."

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter if he was officially out of retirement, Grant said he was taking his career one day at a time.

"I don't know quite what will happen now. I did enjoy enormously making this film, Florence, and I think I got a bit better at acting doing it. And when you improve, it's like when you improve your serve at tennis - you want to play again."