How could Hugh Grant’s agent have made such a terrible mistake? There was Hugh, thinking he was on his way to the Hay Literary Festival to speak on psychic structure in the novels of William Thackeray, when he suddenly found himself on the red carpet at the Oscars, of all places, facing banal questions of the sort usually put to actors.
The first sign that the vox pop interviewer was well below postdoc standards was when she mistook Hugh’s jovial reference to Vanity Fair, the 1848 novel, for a reference to Vanity Fair, the magazine that happened to be part-sponsoring the event they were both at. Hugh looked at her in absolute astonishment. Toto, we are not in Oxbridge any more.
Things only went downhill from there. Next, the interviewer, the American model Ashley Graham, tried a question about who might be up for an award (the Oscars, Hugh was sensing, was some sort of awards “ceremony”). Was he excited for anyone? “No one in particular.” This was surely enough to deflate her, Hugh thought – but, undeterred, Graham actually went on to ask him what he was wearing. Wearing? Who on earth did she think he was, someone who dressed up for a living? “My suit” he said firmly, and swiftly walked away, hoping he hadn’t missed the key note on FR Leavis’s Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture.
A video clip of Grant being rude to his red carpet interviewer at the Oscars last night has gone viral, and plenty think it shows him in a good light: skewering the banality of showbiz journalism. To which I say – really? Red carpet questions are always like this, and an intrinsic part of the job of “enormously successful actor” – a role Grant both chose and lucked into – is to turn up to these sorts of events and answer those questions. The unfortunate vox popper is just a girl, standing in front of a boy, trying to do her job. Grant is not doing his.
In fact, Grant actually chose to accept a role presenting awards at the Oscars. What did he expect to talk about, if not fashion, the after party, and runners and riders?
Here’s the real problem. It is all too easy for those at the top of an industry to “skewer its norms” by being rude to those at the bottom. Grant is not alone in this kind of thing – there is something about being very famous that eventually seems to lead you to disdain the sort who put you there. See Daniel Craig pouring scorn on the James Bond films in interviews, while hundreds of his colleagues tear out their hair. See Michael Caine on Jaws 3, a film on which hundreds of others worked: “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” See various “big names” proudly screenshotting rude interactions with junior production staff asking them onto political programmes with which they disagree.
These people may think they are challenging their industry, but in fact they are merely demonstrating their power within it. It is fine for Grant to break the rules, but his career sits atop a pyramid of others – production staff, runners, caterers, agents, publicists and, yes, showbiz journalists – who could not do the same without risking their jobs. He can play around with industry norms while they must keep strictly within them. To be rude in such circumstances is, in a nutshell, very unfair.