Hugh Grant's new movie includes action and ethics

September 22, 1996|By Dave Larsen | Dave Larsen,COX NEWS SERVICE

Hugh Grant is a naughty hair-puller.

This comes from the lips of Grant's staggeringly gorgeous girlfriend, actress and model Elizabeth Hurley, who is producer of Grant's latest film, "Extreme Measures," which opens Friday. The medical thriller is the first feature from Simian Films, a development company founded by Grant and Hurley in partnership with Castle Rock Entertainment.

It should be noted, however, that Hurley also twirls her luminous brown locks around her fingers as she talks. But not nearly so much as Grant, who at one point in our conversation absent-mindedly pulls his hair through the fingers of one hand and curls the thick strands around the fingers of the other.

This comes while we're discussing the fallout of his highly publicized arrest last year after being caught in the back seat of his BMW with a hooker in Hollywood. Curiously, Grant's new film -- which he and Hurley were developing long before the incident -- hinges on a moral dilemma and includes a scene of his character being arrested.

Grant plays Dr. Guy Luthan, a young British physician who stumbles onto a fiendish medical research program after a homeless man dies from bizarre symptoms in a New York City emergency room. The program has ties to one of the country's most revered physicians, Lawrence Myrick (played by Academy Award-winner Gene Hackman), and the discovery threatens Luthan's life and career.

The role is a departure for Grant, who established himself as RTC charming comedic presence in Mike Newell's 1994 hit, "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Playing Luthan required action as well as acting skills.

Grant rewrote the script to make it a gradual transition, adding touches of British wit to the character's early scenes. "I thought we needed to lower people into a different kind of me sort of gently," he said, "so I thought with a few jokes, that would do the trick."

His approach to action scenes, in which he dodges bullets and trains in the subway tunnels beneath New York, is also not what one might expect. In contrast to the fearlessness of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Seagal, Grant looks absolutely terrified.

"I thought that was important," Grant, 35, said. "All the way through I thought, 'What would I have done in those circumstances?' And I would have been pretty scared. And I didn't want to miraculously become an action hero. I thought that would have been ludicrous."

The climactic confrontation with Myrick -- in which they debate medical ethics with the possibility that Luthan might be swayed -- required a performer, not a pugilist.

"There was a lot of debate about that scene," Grant said. "In the classical school of film writing, you say you have to end with wham-bam explosions, chases and all that kind of stuff. And there was a version of the script where that was the end of the film. But I thought it was quite daring to try this thing where two people talk to each other and the arguments are so persuasive and so seductive that the audience is drawn in and starting to believe -- and then could Guy believe this stuff as well?"

Grant also took a risk by going through with the arrest scene. "He thought the audience would just fall around laughing, thinking of seeing him arrested," said Michael Apted, director of "Extreme Measures."

"Of course, had the film come out immediately afterwards I think it would have brought the house down, but now it's over a year, I think people's memories of it are slightly different," Apted said.

Public fascination with the story remains, however, particularly in Grant's homeland. "I love England -- England's my country -- and I can't live there because of the press," he said.

Grant and Hurley have made Los Angeles their temporary home. "There's a sinister part of me which quite likes it -- I worry about that part," Grant says with a self-deprecating laugh. "It's very easy. It's very nice. We've got a plush place and I quite like sitting by my pool on the phone talking business, but I know that way madness lies. I've got to get out sooner or later."

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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