PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where a lifetime of success is met with a moment of confusion. It's called Not My Job. Richard E. Grant is one of those actors who's appeared in everything, from "Game Of Thrones" to "Gosford Park." But he's not really one of those character actors you see and say, that guy. He's the kind of character actor you see and say, that guy seems strangely awesome. This week, he is center stage, celebrating his Oscar nomination for his role in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Richard E. Grant, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
RICHARD E. GRANT: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: I always ask actors this, but usually, I have a guess as to what the answer is. In your case, I do not know. Is...
GRANT: Is that canned applause?
SAGAL: No, no. It's...
SAGAL: I'll prove it to you. Everybody, applaud.
ADAM FELBER: Everybody say, hi, Richard.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Hi, Richard.
SAGAL: There you go.
GRANT: Hi, y'all.
SAGAL: Oh, you've learned American. Very good.
GRANT: I have.
SAGAL: So as I was saying, I usually ask actors what role they're most recognized for. Usually, I can guess. In your case, I can't. So is there a role - is it "Withnail & I," that great cult movie you did a long time ago? Is it some more recent stuff?
GRANT: It falls into two distinct categories. It's either people old enough to have seen "Withnail & I," you know, this cult movie from 1987, or it's that other great masterpiece, "Spice World," the movie.
SAGAL: There you are.
SAGAL: Do you know, like, what, like, a quintessential Richard E. Grant part is? Like, somebody says, this is the perfect part for Richard E. Grant because it's a...
GRANT: Because the person is usually on the edge of a nervous breakdown or manic.
SAGAL: Yeah. I would say that your characters all seem either happily or unhappily on the edge.
SAGAL: Yes. That's the word I was looking for. We also read that you enjoy smelling things. You're very...
GRANT: I do. I make perfume.
SAGAL: You do. Yes. How do you go about making perfume? And if you're an actor, is this something you've studied?
GRANT: Well, in 1969, when I was 12 years old, the first American that I ever met, called Betsy Clapp (ph) with a double P - I fell madly in love with her. She was fast-talking, gum-chewing. She taught me how to French kiss. I don't know whether you know what that means. It's use of the tongue.
SAGAL: Oh, yes.
SAGAL: That has recently arrived here on these shores.
GRANT: Oh, good. And I tried to make perfume for her out of gardenia and rose petals balled up in sugar water - just turned into stink bombs. And then, finally, 40 years later, I professionally made it as an adult. So it's lime, marijuana and mandarin and signature notes of the original scent.
SAGAL: Wait a minute. You just said marijuana.
SAGAL: So - and is this - does this perfume have a name? Is it, like, you know, Passion by Richard E. Grant? What's it called?
GRANT: No. No, you fool. It's called Jack.
SAGAL: It's called Jack.
GRANT: It's called Jack. It's unisex, and it comes in a union jack bag inside a box. And you can buy it online here and in stores in New York and in LA.
GRANT: Yeah. That's right.
SAGAL: It's very useful if, like, somebody catches you, and you've been smoking weed all day, you can say, oh, no, you're catching a whiff of my lovely perfume from Richard E. Grant called Jack.
SAGAL: That's a great sales gimmick.
TOM BODETT: Yeah.
GRANT: Listen; you give me the best sales pitch here than I could have dreamt of.
SAGAL: I - everything I can do. We read that you're so interested in scent - obviously, you are - that you, like, smell everything you encounter. Like...
GRANT: Yeah. I don't understand why everybody doesn't.
SAGAL: Who is your best-smelling co-star?
GRANT: Well, I don't want to offend anybody because everybody has their own distinct ones. But there are some that I never want to smell again, and I'm not going to tell you who they are.
SAGAL: I do want to ask you about your new film, which is, again, amazing - "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" You play a real person, who really lived, and did some unpleasant things. He was, among other things, a bit of a liar and a cheat and a criminal.
SAGAL: And did that appeal to you when you got the part, or were you like, OK, that's going to be a challenge?
GRANT: It did appeal to me because you understand through the - telling the story how he falls into this life of crime with Lee Israel, who's so brilliantly played by Melissa McCarthy. And I think that, you know, once you understand why people do what they do, then compassion can flood in. So you understand people, and you can feel sympathy for them.
SAGAL: Right. The relationship between your two characters are extraordinarily central to the movie. And I always wonder if actors do this. Did you, like, spend time with Melissa McCarthy improvising, pretending to be the people so you could get to know each other? It was just - go on the set, and you were friends or whatever...
GRANT: I met her on Friday in January a year ago in Manhattan for two hours. And we had lunch, and then we started shooting on the Monday. And I knew within about four nanoseconds of meeting her that we would probably be friends for life because it felt like lightning in a bottle. So it was just luck as much as anything.
FELBER: And I'd imagine she smelled wonderful.
GRANT: She did. And she's having my triplets in August.
SAGAL: Oh, that's great. How wonderful for both of you.
One last question before we get to the game. Let's assume that you win. But even if you don't, getting an Oscar nomination, or hopefully an Oscar, gives you more options in terms of what you want to do next. So you've been doing all kinds of different roles and all kinds of different projects. Is there a dream thing? If somebody says, Richard E. Grant, Oscar winner, what would you like to do next? And you would say...
GRANT: I want to host your show.
SAGAL: Damn it.
FELBER: Bye, Peter.
SAGAL: Well, Richard E. Grant, it is a delight to talk to you, as I think I've shown. But we have invited you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Richard E. Grant, Meet Ulysses S. Grant.
SAGAL: You may or may not know we here in the U.S. once had a president named Ulysses S. Grant. He'll probably be the star of a hip-hop musical any day now. We're going to ask you three questions about our President Grant. Answer two correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of their choice on their voicemail.
SAGAL: Bill, who is Richard Grant playing for?
KURTIS: Chris Billig of Austin, Texas.
SAGAL: All right. Here we go. Grant's original name at birth was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he eventually dropped the Hiram. Why? A, he disliked being made fun of for his initials, H.U.G.; B, he found out Hiram was the name of his father's favorite mule; or C, Hiram Grant owed a lot of money to the local saloon, but nobody had ever heard of Ulysses Grant?
SAGAL: No. It was A. He didn't like being called H.U.G. Apparently, elementary school in the early 19th century was just as vicious as it is today. Next question.
SAGAL: One of Ulysses S. Grant's lesser-known claims to fame as a U.S. president is that he had what? A, he had the first known pet fish in the White House, named U-fish-es (ph) S. Grant...
SAGAL: ...B, according to a historian of hairstyles, Grant had the, quote, "hairiest cabinet in presidential history"...
GRANT: I've never heard it described like that.
SAGAL: I'm afraid that, like, hairy cabinet is a euphemism where you come from. It's not.
SAGAL: ...Or C, he wrote the song "Hail To The Chief," which he originally titled "Hail To The Me"?
GRANT: I think it has to be the hairy cabinet, and I...
SAGAL: Of course you're right. Yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GRANT: Thank you.
SAGAL: According to the book "One Thousand Mustaches," every man in Grant's cabinet had either a beard, a mustache or exceptional ear hair.
All right. Last question. It is - as we all know, Ulysses S. Grant first rode to fame and national stature as a general in the Civil War. But that fate, for him, was somewhat surprising. Why? Was it, A, he was so afraid of blood, he reportedly couldn't even look at a rare steak without freaking out; B, his high school voted him least likely to lead the Union army to victory...
SAGAL: ...Or C, he had a terrible allergy to hardtack?
GRANT: To what?
SAGAL: Hardtack, which was the kind of biscuit...
FELBER: That one might keep in a hairy cabinet.
GRANT: I think it has to be No. 2.
SAGAL: You think it's number...
SAGAL: Wait a minute. You think it was his high school?
SAGAL: In, like, 1834...
SAGAL: ...Whenever it was he graduated, voted him least likely to lead...
SAGAL: ...The Union army?
GRANT: Yes, definitely.
SAGAL: If you want to go with that, I will respect that 'cause I am a fan. So you just make up your mind.
GRANT: OK. I'm going with that.
SAGAL: You're going with that.
SAGAL: And you're - and as so many of your characters are, you're gloriously mistaken.
SAGAL: The answer was, of course, A. He was so afraid of blood, apparently, that he couldn't even deal with a raw steak. It does make you wonder how - I guess that's why he wanted to win so bad, so it would be over. Bill, how did Richard Grant do on our quiz?
KURTIS: You know, we're going to give it to him because he's starring with one of our hometown stars, Melissa McCarthy from Chicago.
KURTIS: So congratulations. You are a winner, Richard.
GRANT: Thank you. Have I won like Donald Trump won?
SAGAL: No, no.
SAGAL: Yeah, you won like Donald Trump. And in the analogy, Bill is Putin.
SAGAL: But he's president, and you're a winner, so it doesn't matter.
SAGAL: I hope it goes as well for you come Oscar night. Richard E. Grant has been nominated so justly for an Oscar for his performance in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" Richard E. Grant, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: What a pleasure to finally talk to you.
GRANT: Thank you so much.
BODETT: Good luck.
GRANT: A pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRANT SLEPT HERE")
STACE ENGLAND: (Singing) Ulysses S. Grant slept here. He was a hard-charging, hard-drinking, smoking Civil War stud.
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill turns heads when he walks our runway in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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