British Icon of the Week: Richard E. Grant, the Charming Character Actor Who's a Joy to Watch

(Photo: Getty Images)

Who doesn't love Richard E. Grant? Whether he's guest starring in Downton Abbey or popping up in a Star Wars movie, this prolific actor is always a joy to watch. He's currently delighting the internet with his role as Classic Loki in Disney+'s Loki series, so we're taking the opportunity to make him our British Icon of the Week. Here are 10 reasons we're gaga about Grant.

1. His performance in Withnail and I is iconic.

Grant's depiction of the title character, a flamboyant out-of-work actor with an alcohol problem, is all the more impressive given that he is actually teetotal. Grant's body has an intolerance of alcohol, which means that if he does drink even a sip of wine or beer, he can hold it down for just 10 minutes before he begins vomiting violently.

2. His performance in 2019's Can You Ever Forgive Me? will probably make you cry.

In this brilliant biopic of literary forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), Grant plays her charming but unreliable drinking partner Jack Hock. It's a scene-stealing comic turn laced with just the right amount of tragedy, which is why Grant thoroughly deserved all the awards nominations he received for it.

3. He's supremely self-effacing.

Speaking about becoming an awards season contender for the first time, at age 61, Grant told The Guardian in 2019: "This experience has been beyond anything I could imagine. You always think you won't get awarded for things. That's only for the elites: the Denches, the McKellens, and so on."

And you can check out the charming video he posted from his old London bedsit – which he rented for just £30 ($40) a week as a struggling actor – when he heard he'd been nominated for an Oscar here.

4. He wrote and directed a movie, Wah-Wah, loosely based on his own childhood.

Set in the 1960s, the film offers an evocative glimpse of the final days of the British Empire in Swaziland, where Grant grew up. A young Nicholas Hoult stars as Ralph, a character based on Grant himself, who witnesses his parents' marriage disintegrate as the outmoded colonial regime is belatedly coming to an end. The movie attracted a stellar cast of Grant's fellow thesps including Julie Walters, Emily Watson, Gabriel Byrne, and Celia Imrie.

5. And he wrote a riveting book about what a challenging experience it was.

In 2006's The Wah-Wah Diaries: The Making of a Film, Grant really doesn't hold back when recalling his fraught working relationship with the movie's producer, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar. According to Grant, he had to beg the King of Swaziland to shoot there – just 24 hours before production was due to start – because Mention-Schaar hadn't secured the necessary work permits. Eep! Luckily, he has the gift of the gab.

6. He was in Spice World: The Movie

Grant has a key role as Clifford, the girl-group's rather domineering manager. During an interview on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Grant revealed that Lena Dunham wrote a guest role for him in her zeitgeisty HBO dramedy Girls because she was such a big fan of Spice World: The Movie.

7. He’s a lifelong Barbra Streisand fan.

During an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Grant revealed that when he finally met Streisand a couple years ago, they spoke for a full 22 minutes. As a teenager, he had written to the showbiz icon to invite her to stay with him and his family in Swaziland.


8. He’s a true movie buff.

There’s something strangely mesmerising about watching Grant raid the Criterion Collection vaults while sharing a few thoughts on his favorite movies. His impression of legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau here is particularly spot-on.

9. He has his own perfume.

It's called Jack and contains notes of lime, marijuana, mandarin, vetiver, pepper, cloves, and gardenias. "These earthy, citrus scents combine to conjure up the hypnotic and unisexy perfume I’ve imagined for so long," Grant writes on the website. "Our sense of smell is the shortest synaptic leap in the brain to our memory, and every one of these ingredients is like a sensory trigger. I’ve aspired to create a fragrance that is as lickably-more-ish, as it’s addictive."

10. And finally, we’re about to see him as a drag queen.

Grant portrays ageing drag queen Loco Chanelle in the upcoming musical comedy movie Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which premieres on Amazon on September 21.

"I sing and dance in vertiginous heels. It was the most frightening job that I’ve ever taken on because of the singing and dancing, and also playing a drag artist. All in a proper [northern English] Sheffield accent," Grant told the i. Bring it on!

Do you have a favorite Richard E. Grant moment?