Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film

Grant grows into role of respected comedic actor

By SHARON KNOLLE

There's a downside to being a romantic comedy icon, says Hugh Grant: "You always get people from 'Entertainment Tonight' telling you 'You're so lovable.' You just want to hit them in the mouth."

Grant, whose new film "Love Actually" opens Friday, hasn't had to pop anyone on the jaw to shake up his nice-guy screen persona. He simply had to expand his range a bit by playing less-than-sympathetic guys in 2002's "About a Boy" and 2001's "Bridget Jones's Diary." Along the way, he's also earned new respect from critics.

"Little by little, a movie at a time, Hugh Grant has flowered into an absolutely splendid romantic comedian," says critic Roger Ebert. "He makes it look effortless," agrees Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum.

Despite the critical acclaim, awards recognition has been slow to come to Grant, recipient of the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film.

Still, no one can deny that Grant has created a handful of indelible, incredibly funny screen moments, from stammering "I think I love to you" in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," to the frisky Prime Minister in "Love Actually."

Grant's newly elected PM character is not so far removed from his well-established screen persona. Despite his position of power and prestige, he can't help second-guessing his every move, from how he waves to the public to how he greets the girl who brings him his tea.

"It's a bit like 'Short Cuts,' but with much more love and much more comedy," Grant says of the new ensemble film, which co-stars Emma Thompson as his sister and Martine McCutcheon as his tea-bearing crush.

"Love Actually" reteams Grant with "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill" writer Richard Curtis.

"When it comes to light comedy, there's virtually no one in the world who can write well, but he can," Grant says of Curtis, who also directed "Love Actually."

"I mean, the jokes are funny. He's got great heart. I don't have great heart. I have a sad, shriveled, thing. It's a unique thing how much he actually likes people. He likes the world and believes in love and all kinds of weird things like that; hence the film, 'Love Actually.'"

Grant's past films have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide.

"I think he works beautifully with Richard Curtis and his kind of storytelling," says Schwarzbaum. "It's absolutely appropriate that he ends up playing the prime minister, because we all want a prime minister who dances like that."

Published in Daily Variety, November 7, 2003