By Paul Freeman [1995 Interview]

The sudden superstardom of Hugh Grant is easy to understand: The British actor simply causes female hearts to flutter, and Hollywood executives to tremble in anticipation of box-office ecstasy.

Though he already had appeared in more than a dozen films, it wasn't until last year's surprise smash, "Four Weddings and a Funeral," that Grant captivated the masses. Providing the sort of elegant romantic lead that's been sorely missed since the golden age of movies, he is a very hot Hollywood property.

"People in Hollywood are suddenly ringing me up for lots of work," he says. "Studios are being very nice to me. But the one really big moment was getting a parking space at the BBC, which is unheard of. You can be starring in a series there and they urge you to take the bus. The other day, I went to do a show and they actually let me park in the forecourt. I have arrived."

Fans gush over Grant wherever he goes. "It's quite titillating to be recognized," he admits. "On days when I'm not recognized, I mind bitterly. Having said that, there are moments when I have to summon up all my niceness, like when I've just arrived from a flight, I'm awaiting my bags and someone comes up and wants to take pictures of me wearing their holiday hat. But on the whole, it's been lovely. I really can't moan."

The demands on his time are great. "I get a bit tired and frazzled," he says. "I haven't developed the technique to get everything done. Perhaps I need an entourage.

"There are so many decisions to be made, which I'm bad at. I found myself being pitched a film in which I was to play a sort of Abominable Snowman. It was the day after the Academy Awards and I wasn't feeling my best. I thought I might be dreaming, but the guy seemed to be serious."

Grant made an excellent decision in selecting Miramax's "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill, But Came Down a Mountain" as his latest release. Set in World War I Wales, the film casts him as a map maker who arrives in a quaint village to determine whether the local landmark is a mountain or a hill. Also featured in the ensemble are Colm Meaney, Ian McNeice and Tara Fitzgerald as Grant's love interest.

Writer-director Christopher Monger was grateful that Grant, who had signed on in '93, was still willing to make this enchanting little movie after his spectacular success.

"So few scripts are any good," Grant says. "This one was a gem. I just thought it would work. That's the key word, work. It's funny and charming and had a nice resonance to it."

Certainly that description fits Grant himself. Those enamored of hison-screen persona would be equally taken with him in person, blue eyes blinking, crinkly smile flashing, witticisms flying.

He admits that selecting projects these days is not as simple as it once was. "It's a bit of a bifurcation in one's agenda now. It isn't just choosing the best script or the most interesting part," he explains. "Suddenly there's this new element . . . people expect you to maintain your status. It's not entirely to be sneered at. I'm still trying to work it all out in my mind."

He says that there's a downside to being able to pluck any role he fancies. "The two things I used to enjoy most about films were getting the part and having finished. Getting the part is no longer a thrill."

After making a number of low-budget features, Grant is attracted to bigger projects. "The grass is always greener," he said. "I find myself being drawn to anything with a beautiful picture. Sometimes that means fantastic cinematography. Sometimes it means seeing money on the screen. I'm sure that's unhealthy."

Grant recently completed Twentieth Century-Fox's "Nine Months," a remake of a French comedy that was shot in San Francisco. "It's an extraordinarily nice place," he says of the city. "It has that California weather and seaside-ness along with being civilized."

In the movie, cast opposite Julianne Moore, Grant portrays a reluctant father-to-be. Of working in a major studio project, he says, "It was frightening, because you can't say, `We didn't get that bit quite right because we didn't have the time or the money.' We had the time, the money and director Chris Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire"), who's got an amazing track record."

Grant feels more pressure about the response to "The Englishman." "When you make a small-budget English film, you think, `Well, if it's a success, that's a bonus,' " he said. "It's not the be-all and end-all. But I got a sense in making a Hollywood film that it was the be-all and end-all.

"And that's great. It's very good discipline. You've got to be good, otherwise, you're a failure. There's not the same concept as noble failure."

Grant has played small roles in several films yet to be released, including "Restoration," and is ready for some time off. He plans to spend the summer writing a script, possibly an adaptation of a black comedy. He has set up a production company, called Simian Films, in association with Castle Rock.

"We only want to make movies about monkeys," he quips. "Elizabeth thinks I'm a monkey and it came from that." The woman to whom he refers is his significant other, Elizabeth Hurley, an actress who recently was named the new spokes model for Estee Lauder. She and Grant had conducted a trans-Atlantic romance for several years. Now they share a country home outside of London.

The two also are collaborating in the film business. "When you're working 14 hours a day making a film, it's hard to run a company," he said. "The other difficulty is finding somebody to do it for you who really knows what you like. I'm very, very particular. The only person who could do it was Elizabeth. So she runs the company."

Any wedding bells in the near future? "Marriage is always on my mind," the actor says, "mostly because my mother talks about it all the time. But Elizabeth and I never discuss it. I don't know why."

Both the professional and personal sides of his life elicit envy. In England, that can take the form of resentment. "I was in a British men's magazine as `the man we hate the most,' " Grant reveals. "I sympathize. I'm of that British sensibility that can't bear anyone's success.

"I enjoy people being taken down a peg. It's half-healthy, half-unhealthy. But I do think that my own success should be applauded," Grant deadpans. "I should be adored for it."