Richard E. Grant says 'lead actors should negotiate' to close gender pay gap (exclusive)

Hanna Flint
Richard E Grant talks to Yahoo Movies UK

Richard E. Grant has been in the movie business for over 30 years and he still can’t understand why there is a gender pay gap.

The actor, who appears opposite Melissa McCarthy in the critically-acclaimed biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? says he is “astonished” that women continue to be paid less than men.

“The disparity in pay between men and women is ongoing,” Grant tells Yahoo Movies UK. “having been a teenager in the 70s when the women’s movement was so powerful, I thought that those things would have been resolved then, but it’s still not.

“I’m still astonished that women get paid so much less than men do for the same job. I think it’s absolutely iniquitous.”

The Oscar-nominated actor believes that one of the ways in which the gap can be closed is if leading stars are more proactive in making changes. “If you’re a leading movie star, the leading actor of either sex, you can negotiate at that level,” he explained. “If you’re a supporting actor of either sex, you have no power to do that. So I’m not in that conversation.”

He was, however, happy to reveal that he took home a smaller paycheque than his co-star. “I was getting paid way less than Melissa McCarthy! My entire career will always be less than Melissa McCarthy,” he said. “Happily for me.”

You can read our full interview with Richard E. Grant below where he discusses Can You Ever Forgive Me?, his career so far and his plans for the Spice Girls reunion.

YAHOO MOVIES UK: So Richard, congratulations on your Oscar nomination. Where were you when you found out?

RICHARD E. GRANT: I was sitting with my daughter in a restaurant in Notting Hill Gate. She had it live streamed on her iPhone with some earpieces and we both burst into tears when we heard the news. We just could not believe it. People around us thought that we’d had bad news but we said, ‘oh no, we’re fine.’ There were drinks and food and stuff. So it was all good it all ended well.

YM: Did you give Melissa a call?

RG: Yes, I called her, we both could barely talk. She was crying so much and I was and we were just absolutely astonished. Yes, I’m thrilled.

Is it slightly bittersweet that Marielle Heller didn’t get a Best Director nod?

She posted something on Instagram. She said, “I don’t feel snubbed. I feel seen.” I mean it is striking me as very odd that with the #MeToo movement, you know, the Zeitgeists of that, that all the directors of the nominated films this year, are male, without exception. That begs the question, how do these two big acting nominations happen without a director?

Considering your body of work an Academy Award nomination does feel like it was a long time coming.

I love doing my job. The reason I’ve done it is not because I thought I’d ever become rich or that I’d end up being in movies, I thought I’d have my entire career in the theatre. That I’ve just spent so many years making movies and have now at my age been nominated for all this stuff is, I’m just astonished by it. I think that if you have expectations of something else, you, you’re kind of setting yourself up to either be disappointed or to fall on your face. So yeah, if you don’t you won’t.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a film that couldn’t succeed without the perfect duo in the leading roles and the chemistry between you and Melissa was wonderful. How did you get to that point?

That was instant. Instant. I tell you, I met her on Friday, the 20th of January, a year ago, on a Friday morning for two hours and we talked through all the scenes with the director, had lunch together and then we started shooting on the Monday. I knew within ten nanoseconds of meeting her that we had an absolutely profound connection and it would be alright working together. I just hoped that that would transmit into the characters that we played and it seems to have done by people’s response.

Did you maintain your characters in between scenes?

I was always struck by, because Melissa’s not a method actress and nor am I, when we had lunch together or dinner together, she was a normal ebullient, life-affirming, hugely delightful, hilarious person to be around. But as Lee Israel, she was, she was so invested in playing that curmudgeonly woman of, you know, real misanthropic, difficult, prickly person.

She lowered her voice, her centre of gravity seemed to shift, south. So it was always a contrast seeing her out of costume and when she wasn’t being Lee. But you know, Lee was pretty funny in an acerbic way as well, so it was an undiluted joy to work with her.

The fact that she’s an “unlikeable” character is why I love her so much.

Yes, it proves that you can make a movie with a middle-aged, female lead character who doesn’t have to look or behave in a certain way. He or she can be a complete curmudgeon and yet people still root for her.

Do you bring anything from past roles to your performance or is it a blank slate each time you take on a new character?

Every part you begin hoping that it’s something that you haven’t had to repeat. But obviously the last time I played an alcoholic was 32 years ago, in the first film I ever did. So yeah, there is an obvious reference point there, but that Withnail was so misanthropic, self-entitled and utterly selfish. Jack Hock is hedonistic but he tries to lick everybody like a Labrador into submission, you know, for a buck, a bed or some booze. So, you know, that’s a very likeable thing to play.

Richard E Grant’s first role in Withnail & I

And he’s very human and warm-hearted although a thief, a coke dealer, and you know all those other things at the same time, though I’m not in any way condoning his criminality. But that element of charm that he has is something that’s very attractive to do because somebody that lives for the day in the day, knowing that they’ve got the Damocles of being HIV positive, means that that gives you a great energy to try and get as much as you can out of every minute, because you don’t know how many you’ve got left.

Some people have said that Jack is the kind of the grown-up version of Withnail – do you agree?

Uh, that’s for other people to decide, I can’t. Yeah. It’s too difficult to decide I can’t be objective about myself!

This is based on a memoir but you yourself keep diaries too right?

Yeah. I’ve kept a diary since I was 10 years old.

Why do you keep them?

Most of the stuff that I find happens is so beyond any expectation that I could have had when I was an adolescent wanting to be an actor. It’s a way of, at the end of the day, just collecting what has happened. I try to make sense of stuff and in writing it down, it makes it real life. If I’ve met absolutely extraordinary people, been somewhere, in writing it down it somehow makes it feel more real.

The Can You Ever Forgive Me? stars are nominated for top prizes.

You’ve published some diaries in the past too I believe.

Yeah I did The Wah Wah Diaries about the making of an autobiographical film and I did Withnail’s The Film Diaries in 1996 I think.

Have you got any more diaries that you want to release?

Oh, I hadn’t thought of doing that. No.

You don’t do as many leading roles as supporting ones – why is that?

You get more money [doing leading roles] but it’s a bigger responsibility if the thing is a failure. So, you know, my whole career has essentially been supporting roles and I’m very grateful for it because of the variety of people that I’ve got to work with. It has been absolutely extraordinary. And there’s no plan about that. It’s just the way that it’s happened.

Who do you want to work with?

A huge list of people. Oh my God. No, I mean to look at all the directors, Damien Chazelle and, uh, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg up, down and sideways. Barry Jenkins, Spike Lee, I’d love to work with Lone Scherfig again because I loved working with her. Jane Campion, Lynne Ramsey, piles of them.

We’ve seen Liam Neeson go down the action hero route in his 60s, do you think that you’d ever be up for something like that?

Action man? No. That’s never going to happen and I don’t have those expectations that [the Oscar nomination] is suddenly going to lead to things that I’ve never had before. I think of it the other way around that it’s kind of, it’s the highest accolade I could have for what I’ve done in the past to have got to this rather than assuming that it’s now going to lead to other things.

Because there are not that many great roles for people of my age and older out there because it’s very youth-centric. I understand why; it’s very attractive to look at people who are in the bloom of their youth on screen.

Grant in Spice World

What do you think are the biggest issues Hollywood and the film industry still needs to address and work harder to resolve?

Well between the #MeToo movement and diversity casting, the disparity in pay between men and women is ongoing. And you know, having been a teenager in the 70s when the women’s movement was so powerful, I thought that those things would have been resolved then, but it’s still not. I’m still astonished that women get paid so much less than men do for the same job. I think it’s absolutely iniquitous.

This feels awkward to ask but did you get paid the same as Melissa on Can You Ever Forgive Me??

I was getting paid way less than Melissa McCarthy! My entire career will always be less than Melissa McCarthy. Happily for me.

Is it part of an actor’s responsibility to know whether there is a pay gap on set?

If you’re a leading movie star, the leading actor of either sex, you can negotiate at that level. If you’re a supporting actor of either sex, you have no power to do that. So I’m not in that conversation.

Well, to finish up I have to ask about the Spice Girls – are you planning anything with them for their reunion tour as their “former manager”?

I am doing the tour” It’s because Posh Spice is not doing it so I’m doing Old Posh Spice.

Is this, is this actually real?

Yeah, I’ve got my showgirl’s legs. I’m going to do that.

Are you going to wear the black dress as well?

Black dress and huge platforms. I’ve got all the moves down.


Withnail and I
How to Get Ahead in Advertising
LA Story
Bram Stoker’s Dracula 
Age of Innocence
Jack and Sarah
“Baby Pouch”
Portrait of a lady
“Unrequited love”
“Old Spice”
The Little Vampire
Gosford Park
Iron Lady
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is in cinemas from Friday

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