Everything changed for Richard E. Grant in 1987 when his big screen debut in Bruce Robinson’s iconic black comedy, Withnail & I, catapulted him towards Hollywood. By the time he wrote the following diary entry four years later he had worked with the likes of Steve Martin, Bruce Willis, Andie MacDowell, Robert Altman and others, and now he was nearing the end of rehearsals on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Perhaps most interesting of all is that twenty-eight years after this entry was written, Grant would star in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a blockbuster co-written, directed, and produced by the same J. J. Abrams he had met that day in 1991.
The Diary Entry
Very hot and airless. Very tired. Soupy. Rehearsal plod after the inspiration of the day before. Francis [Ford Coppola] visibly taking deep breaths to remain calm and patient. Until [Anthony Hopkins] takes the floor. He is ceaselessly inventive, provocative and thrilling to watch. Capable and willing to try anything that Francis throws his way. Buoys me up!
Suzanne Todd and David Willis invite me to the première of Rambling Rose, which stars Laura Dern and her mother Diane Ladd, both of whom I meet as part of a crush of congratulators. Meet a twenty-four-year-old scriptwriter called J.J. who wrote Regarding Henry, has a three-picture deal, and talks real fast, as do his friends, all of whom seem young, ruthless and rich. Holly Hunter introduces herself with a welcome line in flattery and declares, ‘I wanna do a movie with you.’
‘Oh, Holleeeeee, what can I say? Me too!’
She is the height of a pixie and has don’t-mess-with-me eyes. Having so admired her work in Broadcast News I need hardly tell you how plinked I feel.
While partaking of some Southern Fried specialities, in keeping with the film’s Southern locale, David [Willis, brother to Bruce] tells me that bro’ Bruce earned around $43 million last year which causes me to near choke on something fried, to the sounds of a Dixieland band giving it full throttle a few feet away.
Bruce Robinson opines that when, and if ever, I write my autobiography, it should be titled I Feel Unusual. I just hope to hell the Bastard lives long enough to write and direct me in something else. ‘Nobody else does your dialogue like I do, Bruce! What the hell are you farting around with Method actors for in the first place?’ gets him stoked up for a bit of argy-bargy.
Three volumes of Richard E. Grant’s diaries have been published, and all are a delight. The first, titled With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant, arrived in 1996 and contains entries stretching from 1985 to 1995, with each chapter relating to whichever movie he was working on at the time. The next volume came in 2006, titled The Wah-Wah Diaries: The Making of a Film, and relates purely to his directorial debut, Wah-Wah. The third book came in 2022. Presented in diary format, A Pocketful of Happiness (mainly) tells the story of his wife, Joan, as she reached the end of her life in 2021.
- In 1996, Grant kept a video diary that can be watched on YouTube
- Also on YouTube, a brief but fascinating interview with Grant in which he explains his reasons for keeping a diary
- Finally, again on YouTube, a ten minute clip from the BBC4 series Dear Diary, in which Grant speaks with Sheila Hancock about the diaries of Kenneth Williams
Diary entry excerpted from With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant by Richard E. Grant. Copyright © Richard E. Grant 1996. Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear.