2023 BAFTA Awards: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is the top winner

February 19, 2023

Felix Kammermer in “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Netflix)

With seven awards, including Best Film, Netflix’s World War I drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” was the top winner for the 76th annual BAFTA Film Awards, which were presented at London’s Royal Festival Hall on February 19, 2023. The ceremony (hosted by Richard E. Grant and Alison Hammond) was televised in the United Kingdom on BBC and in the U.S. on BBC America. Eligible films were those released in the United Kingdom in 2022. With 14 nominations going into the ceremony, German-language “All Quiet on the Western Front” made BAFTA history as the non-English-language movie with the most BAFTA nominations. The BAFTA Film Awards are nominated and voted for by the British Academy of Film and Television.

In addition to winning Best Film, “All Quiet on the Western Front” won the BAFTAs for Best Director (for Edward Berger), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Not in the English Language. Also winning multiple BAFTA Film Awards was Searchlght Pictures’ Irish comedy/drama “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Warner Bros. Pictures’ Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis,” which won four prizes each. “The Banshees of Inisherin” won Best British Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (for Barry Keoghan), and Best Supporting Actress (for Kerry Condon). “Elvis” took the prizes for Best Leading Actor (for Austin Butler), Best Casting, Best Costume Design, and Best Make Up and Hair. Cate Blanchett of “TÁR” won the prize for Best Leading Actress. Costume designer Sandy Powell was given the Fellowship Award, a non-competitive prize whose recipient is announced before the ceremony takes place.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2023 BAFTA Film Awards:


Best Film

“All Quiet on the Western Front”*
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Outstanding British Film

“The Banshees of Inisherin”*
“Brian and Charles”
“Empire of Light”
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”
“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical”
“See How They Run”
“The Swimmers”
“The Wonder”

Best Director

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Edward Berger*
“The Banshees of Inisherin” – Martin Mcdonagh
“Decision to Leave” – Park Chan-wook
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
“TÁR” – Todd Field
“The Woman King” – Gina Prince-Bythewood

Best Leading Actor

Austin Butler, “Elvis”*
Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”
Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”
Daryl McCormack, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”
Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”
Bill Nighy, “Living”

Best Leading Actress

Cate Blanchett, “TÁR”*
Viola Davis, “The Woman King”
Danielle Deadwyler, “Till”
Ana De Armas, “Blonde”
Emma Thompson, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”
Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Supporting Actor

Brendan Gleeson, “The Banshees of Inisherin”
Barry Keoghan, “The Banshees of Inisherin”*
Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Good Nurse”
Albrecht Schuch, “All Quiet on the Western Front”
Micheal Ward, “Empire of Light”

Best Supporting Actress

Angela Bassett, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
Hong Chau, “The Whale”
Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”*
Dolly De Leon, “Triangle of Sadness”
Jamie Lee Curtis, “Everything Everywhere All At Once”
Carey Mulligan, “She Said”

Best Adapted Screenplay

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, Ian Stokell*
“Living” – Kazuo Ishiguro
“The Quiet Girl” – Colm Bairéad
“She Said” – Rebecca Lenkiewicz
“The Whale” – Samuel D. Hunter

Best Original Screenplay

“The Banshees of Inisherin” – Martin McDonagh*
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
“The Fabelmans” – Tony Kushner, Steven Spielberg
“TÁR” – Todd Field
“Triangle of Sadness” – Ruben Östlund

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer

“Aftersun” – Charlotte Wells (Writer/director)*
“Blue Jean” – Georgia Oakley (Writer/director), Hélène Sifre (Producer)
“Electric Malady” – Marie Lidén (Director)
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” – Katy Brand (Writer)
“Rebellion” – Maia Kenworthy and Elena Sánchez Bellot (Directors)

Original Score

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Volker Bertelmann*
“Babylon” – Justin Hurwitz
“The Banshees of Inisherin” – Carter Burwell
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Son Lux
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” – Alexandre Desplat


“All Quiet on the Western Front” – James Friend*
“The Batman” – Greig Fraser
“Elvis” – Mandy Walker
“Empire of Light” – Roger Deakins
“Top Gun: Maverick” – Claudio Miranda

Film Not in the English Language

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Edward Berger, Malte Grunert*
“Argentina, 1985” – Santiago Mitre, Producer(S) Tbc
“Corsage” – Marie Kreutzer
“Decision to Leave” – Park Chan-wook, Ko Dae-seok
“The Quiet Girl” – Colm Bairéad, Cleona Ní Chrualaoí


“All That Breathes” – Shaunak Sen, Teddy Leifer, Aman Mann
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” – Laura Poitras, Howard Gertler, Nan Goldin, Yoni Golijov, John Lyons
“Fire of Love” – Sara Dosa, Shane Boris, Ina Fichman
“Moonage Daydream” – Brett Morgan
“Navalny” – Daniel Roher, Diane Becker, Shane Boris, Melanie Miller, Odessa Rae*

Animated Film

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” – Guillermo Del Toro, Mark Gustafson, Gary Ungar, Alex Bulkley*
“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” – Dean Fleisher Camp, Andrew Goldman, Elisabeth Holm, Caroline Kaplan, Paul Mezey
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” – Joel Crawford, Mark Swift
“Turning Red” – Domee Shi, Lindsey Collins


“Aftersun” – Lucy Pardee
“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Simone Bär
“Elvis” – Nikki Barrett, Denise Chamian*
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Sarah Halley Finn
“Triangle of Sadness” – Pauline Hansson

Production Design

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Christian M. Goldbeck, Ernestine Hipper
“Babylon” – Florencia Martin, Anthony Carlino*
“The Batman” – James Chinlund, Lee Sandales
“Elvis” – Catherine Martin, Karen Murphy, Bev Dunn
“Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio” – Curt Enderle, Guy Davis

Best Costume Design

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Lisy Christl
“Amsterdam” J.R. Hawbaker, Albert Wolsky
“Babylon” – Mary Zophres
“Elvis” – Catherine Martin*
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” – Jenny Beavan

Best Make Up and Hair

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Heike Merker
“The Batman” – Naomi Donne, Mike Marino, Zoe Tahir
“Elvis” – Jason Baird, Mark Coulier, Louise Coulston, Shane Thomas*
“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” – Naomi Donne, Barrie Gower, Sharon Martin
“The Whale” – Anne Marie Bradley, Judy Chin, Adrien Morot

Best Editing

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Sven Budelmann
“The Banshees of Inisherin” – Mikkel E. G. Nielsen
“Elvis” – Jonathan Redmond, Matt Villa
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Paul Rogers*
“Top Gun: Maverick” – Eddie Hamilton

Best Sound

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Lars Ginzsel, Frank Kruse, Viktor Prášil, Markus Stemler*
“Avatar: The Way of Water” – Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Julian Howarth, Gary Summers, Gwendoyln Yates Whittle
“Elvis” – Michael Keller, David Lee, Andy Nelson, Wayne Pashley
“TÁR” – Deb Adair, Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley, Steve Single, Roland Winke
“Top Gun: Maverick’ – Chris Burdon, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Mark Taylor, Mark Weingarten

Best Visual Effects

“All Quiet on the Western Front” – Markus Frank, Kamil Jafar, Viktor Müller, Frank Petzold
“Avatar: The Way of Water” – Richard Baneham, Daniel Barrett, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon*
“The Batman” – Russell Earl, Dan Lemmon, Anders Langlands, Dominic Tuohy
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Benjamin Brewer, Ethan Feldbau, Jonathan Kombrinck, Zak Stoltz
“Top Gun: Maverick” – Seth Hill, Scott R. Fisher, Bryan Litson, Ryan Tudhope

British Short Animation

“The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse” – Peter Baynton, Charlie Mackesy, Cara Speller, Hannah Minghella*
“Middle Watch” – John Stevenson, Aiesha Penwarden, Giles Healy
“Your Mountain Is Waiting” – Hannah Jacobs, Zoe Muslim, Harriet Gillian

British Short Film

“The Ballad of Olive Morris” – Alex Kayode-kay
“Bazigaga” – Jo Ingabire Moys, Stephanie Charmail
“Bus Girl” – Jessica Henwick, Louise Palmkvist Hansen
“A Drifting Up” – Jacob Lee
“An Irish Goodbye” – Tom Berkeley, Ross White*

EE Rising Star Award (public vote)

Aimee Lou Wood
Daryl McCormack
Emma Mackey*
Naomi Ackie
Sheila Atim

Review: ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman

June 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Croatia, the action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A disgraced bodyguard is hired to protect the wife of the hitman who clashed with the bodyguard in the 2017 movie “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Culture Audience: “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a silly action flick that is horribly made and frequently sexist.

Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Outdated and idiotic, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” looks like it was made by people whose minds are stuck in the 20th century, when it was more acceptable for American action movies to portray non-white people as less-intelligent caricatures and for women to be treated as nothing more than sex objects. An all-white-male team of principal filmmakers (director, producers, writers) decided to dump this stupid sequel into the world. And like most sequels, it’s far inferior to the original.

Directed by Patrick Hughes, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was written by Tom O’Connor, Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy. The movie is the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a formulaic and occasionally funny action flick, starring Ryan Reynolds as neurotic bodyguard Michael Bryce and Samuel L. Jackson as gruff hitman Darius Kincaid who are (cliché alert) complete opposites, who don’t get along with each other but are forced to work together. Hughes directed and O’Connor wrote “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which was a mediocre movie but not as aggressively dumb and offensive as “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

It’s hard to know if the addition of brother screenwriters Phillip Murphy (who has a background as a graffiti artist) and Brandon Murphy (who has a background as a stand-up comedian) had anything to do with lowering the quality of this sequel, but enough people signed off on this crappy film that the blame can’t be put on just two people. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be an action comedy, but there’s almost nothing funny or exciting about this dreck that’s a brain-dead ode to toxic masculinity.

In “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the addition of Salma Hayek in a co-starring role could have been an opportunity to showcase her like Halle Berry was showcased as a badass equal to her male co-stars in the 2019 action hit “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” But no. The filmmakers of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” wouldn’t allow this woman of color to have her own powerful worth in this story. Instead, Hayek (who is capable of doing better-quality work) is reduced to being objectified and depicted in the worst negative stereotypes that Hollywood has for Latinas.

Hayek had a small role in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as Sonia Kincaid, the con-artist wife of hitman Darius Kincaid. It’s easy to speculate that Hayek reprised this role in this sequel because she wants to prove that she’s still sexy at an age when many actresses over the age of 50 get less opportunities because of ageism or they usually have to play safe “wife and mother” roles. Whatever she was paid to do “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (and it was probably a lot less than what Reynolds and Jackson were paid), it wasn’t worth the cost to her dignity for perpetuating Hollywood’s negative stereotyping that Latinas are nothing more than hot-tempered sexpots.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was also clearly an excuse to spend millions at different glamorous locations around the world. It’s all such a waste, because no amount of picture-perfect locations or flashy stunts can fool people into thinking that this is a good movie. Messy trash wrapped up in a shiny box is still messy trash.

The incoherent story that’s masquerading as a plot in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is that Michael is now a disgraced bodyguard who has lost his license because he couldn’t prevent his most important client (a political leader) from being assassinated. He’s gone from winning Bodyguard of the Year at the Executive Protection Awards to being unlicensed and facing an upcoming tribunal that will decide if he can get his bodyguard license back. Michael spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself because he’s not the respected bodyguard that he used to be.

Meanwhile, at European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Luxembourg, E.U. chief Walter Fiscer (played by Brian Caspe) has announced that the E.U. has issued sanctions on Greece. Greek billionaire tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (played by Antonio Banderas) is enraged by these sanctions, so he has some of his goons kidnap Walter. While in captivity, where he is tortured, Walter is told that he has four days to reverse the E.U.’s decision about the sanctions.

Michael has been in therapy, but even his female therapist has gotten sick of him and tells Michael that he has now “graduated” from therapy. Taking his therapist’s advice to go on a vacation, Michael is relaxing at a beach resort, as he reads the self-help book “The Secret” and listens to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones. All of sudden, mayhem breaks out in the resort.

Several armed terrorists invade the place and start shooting everywhere. This movie’s slapstick comedy is so witless that viewers are supposed to believe that Michael doesn’t hear the chaos because he’s got headphones on and he doesn’t see anything because he’s wearing sunglasses.

But someone comes to Michael’s rescue during this terrorist attack: Sonia, who grabs Michael and tells him that her husband Darius told her to find Michael so that Michael could be her bodyguard. Michael and Sonia escape by motor scooter and then jump off of a cliff. Darius eventually joins them for more shenanigans where there’s a lot of pointless arguing and more stunts.

Somewhere in this muddled mess of a story, there’s a Croatian computer hacker named Gunther (played by Blake Ritson), who’s hired by Aristotle to set off bombs at whatever places that Aristotle wants to be blown up. There’s an Interpol informant named Carlo (who’s never seen in the movie), who gets murdered. And there’s a sexist, xenophobic and arrogant Interpol agent from the U.S. named Bobby O’Neill (played by Frank Grillo, doing a dubious Boston accent), who’s determined to find out and capture who’s responsible for Carlo’s death and these revenge acts against the E.U.

At various points in the story, these things happen: Darius is kidnapped; Sonia disguises herself as Carlo’s blonde British mistress; and one of Michael’s rich former clients named Seifert (played by Richard E. Grant, in a cameo) almost blows Michael’s cover at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of predictable shootouts and explosions.

Michael reunites with someone from his past who currently lives in Italy. Morgan Freeman portrays that person from Michael’s past, and how his character knows Michael is supposed to be a surprise. This person’s connection to Michael is really just a way for the filmmakers to exploit racial stereotypes for badly written jokes.

Speaking of exploitation, this loathsome movie is unrelenting in objectifying Hayek and making her into a shrill, nasty and jealous shrew who shows off as many of her body parts as possible while fully clothed. There’s a lot of very “male gaze” close-up camera shots of her breasts and rear end. And at one point, during one of these rear-end angles, Darius says of Sonia in a terrible pun: “I’m just protecting my assets,” where he puts an emphasis on saying “ass.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It isn’t just the men who talk about Sonia’s body parts in crude and demeaning ways. There’s a subplot about Sonia and Darius wanting to start a family, but they haven’t had any luck conceiving. Sonia comments out loud to Michael on why she thinks she can’t get pregnant: “My pussy’s just too tight.”

In this very male-dominated film, the only female star who shares top billing is reduced to saying a line like that, which is no better than bad dialogue from a porn movie. That tells you all you need to know about how these filmmakers feel about how about a female star deserves to be treated in their movies. Meanwhile, the male stars in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” have dumb lines too, but nothing that makes them talk like low-level porn actors. It’s sexism that’s unnecessary and frankly disgusting.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this move isn’t sexist, just because Interpol agent Bobby has a female supervisor, because her role is nothing but being a cranky battle-axe, while Bobby gets all the glory of being the star Interpol agent in this story. Not surprisingly, Bobby resents having to report to a woman. Bobby’s supervisor is an older British woman named Crowley (played by Caroline Goodall), who is stereotypically stern and uptight in the way that American male filmmakers tend to portray older British women.

And the ethnic stereotyping doesn’t end there. The filmmakers make Sonia (who’s Mexican, just like Hayek is in real life) look so ignorant that she can’t pronounce Michael’s last name correctly in English. She repeatedly pronounces Bryce (rhymes with “rice”) as “breece” (rhymes with “fleece”). It’s yet another negative stereotype that makes it look like anyone whose original language is Spanish can’t possibly master the English language. There are racist undertones to this stereotyping, since Hayek is a woman of color.

The movie overall perpetuates negative and racist stereotypes because the three non-Anglo actors with the most screen time (Jackson, Hayek and Banderas) all portray characters who are criminals. The people who don’t notice these negative stereotypes are usually the same type of people who think this type of racist stereotyping should be normal in movies and television. But the reality is that what people see on screen, when it comes to representation of certain demographics, has an effect on how people perceive those demographics in real life. It’s part of the vicious cycle of bigotry that instills the false idea that certain races are “inferior” to others.

The male-female relationships in this movie are either about sex or resentment that a woman might be smarter than a man. Bobby is assigned a translator named Ailso (played by Alice McMillan), a Scot whose only role in the film is to be eye candy, based on the bland lines that she’s given. Instead of being impressed that Ailso knows multiple languages, Bobby just belittles her for her Scottish name, and she’s sidelined for most of the movie.

Sonia and Darius are portrayed as a horny couple, so there are repetitive scenes of them talking about their sex life or having sex, while a mortified Michael is nearby. It’s just more racist stereotyping that depicts African Americans and Latinos as hypersexual. Viewers won’t be surprised when it’s revealed that Sonia used to be Aristotle’s lover too.

There’s a flashback scene of Sonia and Aristotle’s past relatonship, where she comes across as a scheming gold digger. Hayek and Banderas previously co-starred in 1995’s “Desperado” and 2003’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” action films that were both written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although fans of those two movies might be thrilled that Hayek and Banderas are in another film together, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a cringeworthy reunion for both of these talented actors.

All of the stars of this movie are doing versions of other characters they’ve played in other films. Reynolds has made a career out of playing emotionally insecure and sarcastic characters in comedies. Jackson does his usual schtick as a quick-tempered loose cannon. Banderas, who is originally from Spain, has played a cold-blooded villain before, but in this movie he doesn’t even try to get into character because he sounds Spanish, not Greek. Freeman is doing his usual “I’m wiser than you are” persona.

But the most problematic way that a character is written and portrayed in the movie is with Hayek’s Sonia. Hayek is not a starlet who’s desperate to get a big break. She’s an Oscar-nominated actress who’s also an experienced movie producer. It’s kind of sad that she’s sunk to this level to be in such a horrendous and embarrassing dud. The next time she lectures people about Hispanic representation in Hollywood movies, she needs to check herself and think about why she allowed herself to be used in this degrading movie that’s the epitome of why there’s a culture of damaging discrimination against women and people of color.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t even have action scenes that are thrilling or imaginative. The scenes with fire and explosions have cheap-looking CGI effects. Watch any “John Wick” or “Mission: Impossible” movie to see how action scenes are done right and how action scenes can be innovative. Everything in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is like garbage that should’ve been thrown out a long time ago: It’s awful, it’s worthless, and it’s got a lingering stench that no amount of exotic locations can cover up.

Lionsgate will release “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2021, with sneak preview screenings on June 11 and June 12, 2021.

Richard E. Grant shows the art of playing a charming con man in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

October 19, 2018

by Carla Hay

Richard E. Grant at the New York City premiere of "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Richard E. Grant at the New York City premiere of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix)

Richard E. Grant has made a name for himself as a character actor in a wide variety of movies, such as the comedy “Withnail & I,” the period drama “The Age of Innocence” and the superhero flick “Logan.” He’s also had numerous roles in television, including playing the title character in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and guest-starring on “Downton Abbey” and “Doctor Who.” And now he’s getting some of the best reviews of his career as flamboyant con man Jack Hock in the dramatic film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” which is inspired by the true story of author-turned-forger Lee Israel (played by Melissa McCarthy), who enlists Jack to help her in her forgery schemes. Grant has received a nomination for Best Actor at the 2018 IFP Gotham Awards for his role in the movie, which is also garnering critical raves and awards buzz for McCarthy.

Set in 1990s New York City, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” tells the story of how a financially desperate Lee, who was once a successful biographer but whose latest books have been flops, turns to fabricating letters from famous dead authors and selling the forgeries to pay her bills. When some of her buyers start to get suspicious, she resorts to stealing real archived letters from research institutions, replacing the original letters with forgeries, and selling the stolen originals. “Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a crime drama, but it is also story is about how two opposites can attract—the prickly, introverted Lee and the charming, extroverted Jack—and form an unusual bond that is partially an alliance of convenience and partially an attempt to befriend each other out of loneliness. The real Lee Israel, who died in 2014 at the age of 75, forged hundreds of documents, and she and Hock were eventually caught and faced legal consequences. Hock was 47 when he died of complications from AIDS in 1994.

Israel wrote about her life of crime in the 2008 memoir “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The movie was directed by Marielle Heller, with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. The film’s cast also includes Dolly Wells as a bookstore owner who tries to befriend Lee; Jane Curtin as Lee’s increasingly exasperated agent; Anna Deavere Smith as Lee’s ex-lover whom Lee still tries to contact; and Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s real-life husband) and Stephen Spinella as literary collectors who make multiple purchases of Lee’s forgeries. Grant—who calls the film “a road movie in Manhattan that goes between bars and bookshops”—recently sat down with me and other journalists for a roundtable interview at the “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” press junket in New York City. Here is what he said.

What kind of insight did you bring to the Jack Hock character?

My immediate thought was, “What was the essence of what is happening in this story?” And I thought that [Lee Israel and Jack Hock] are like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in ‘The Odd Couple,” and also like Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy.” You’ve got two people who are on the fringes of society that are lonely and they’re in New York and they’re struggling. Despite all the wealth that you see around you and millions of people, they’re lonely and they’re struggling. And I thought that was the basis of their platonic friendship was they’re trying to find a movie reference.

And then I thought, because I grew up in Africa, I always see people and try and understand characters as, “What kind of animal would they be?” Just to get a lead in. And I thought she is essentially a porcupine. She’s prickly and private, and you’re going to get hurt if you go in her. And I thought Jack was like a Labrador [retriever], in that he’ll just go up to anybody and lick them into submission, to try and get petted, to try and get a jump on somebody, or steal their food or whatever. But he won’t give up … They have this kind of odd, platonic love/hate relationship …

We were going to start [filming “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”] on a Monday, and I thought we were going to have a week of rehearsal. That didn’t happen … Melissa McCarthy was coming in to New York on Friday … I was very aware of her comedy movies, from very subtle to very broad, and I didn’t know at what level she was going to pitch Lee Israel. So mercifully, we met for a half a day on that Friday, talked through the script and all the scenes we had together. And from meeting Melissa, within five nanoseconds, I realized what kind of person she was. And I saw how she was pitching it, and that affected what I did.

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” captures a bygone era of early 1990s New York City, before Times Square and other parts of Manhattan were cleaned up and made more tourist-friendly. Can you talk about that period of time?

The kinds of scams that you would see on 42nd Street … That doesn’t exist anymore, that kind of sleazefest that people operated in … I did a movie playing Sandra Bernhard’s husband called “Hudson Hawk” with Bruce Willis. And I went to meet with Sandra in the Meatpacking District in 1991, and on many street corners, there were emaciated men dying of AIDS, with placards saying, “I have no Medicare, my family has abandoned me, and I’m dying. Please help me.” It was so shocking, and I’ve never forgotten that …

In your research for this role, you couldn’t find any photos or video footage of Jack Hock. How did that lack of visual references affect how you portrayed him?

This was pre-social media. Now, we have people at Starbucks and they’re documenting it: “Look at me at Starbucks!” So, you’ve got a time, when all of his friends have died of AIDS, and a generation of men were being wiped out, and he was disowned by his family. So, if you’ve got people who’ve been disenfranchised to that degree, and then are dying of a plague, their photo records are minimal or don’t exist.

All I had to go on was that he had this shortened cigarette holder—because he was a chainsmoker, and he thought the [cigarette holder] would stop him from getting cancer—and that he had been in jail for two years for holding up a taxi driver at knifepoint because they disagreed about the fare. [And I knew] that he was tall, from Portland and blonde. That was a much of a description that Lee gave about him.

But she did say that he was really good at scamming, because if she reckoned that a letter that she’d done was worth 600 bucks, he’d come back with two grand. Even when he was trying to cheat off that two grand more money off her, he still was capable. He wasn’t good on the math, and he didn’t know who Fanny Brice was, which was bizarre to me, but he obviously had a way of charming people, and I thought that was a key to who he was.

He lived for the day, in the moment, and I think knowing that you have this time bomb of being HIV-positive probably added to that. “Tomorrow is literally another day; today might be my last.” I wish I could live my life like that but I’m too conservative, but it’s very endearing. I’ve known people like that all my life, and I’ve liked them and loved them, but I wouldn’t give them the keys to my apartment or my car or lend them money.

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

How would you define a true friend?

My dad, who died 37 years ago, said to me before he was dying, “If you have five friends in your life, consider yourself a rich man.” When it comes down to it, five is a lot: someone who you can call at 3 o’clock in the morning and who will hear you out. So how do you define a friend? Loyalty. Someone who is not married to you, who is not blood-related, someone who, despite what anyone else says, they know you, and you know them to the fullest extent.

Has playing Jack Hock made you appreciate your friends more?

Yes. I know Melissa [McCarthy] gains friends in every job that she does … But, in my experience [making a movie] is having really intense, emotional relationships for two or three or four or five months—and sustaining a friendship beyond that a testament of true friendship … I haven’t seen Melissa in a year, but our friendship is still intact, so it worked out.

Richard E. Grant and Christian Navarro in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

Jack is very charismatic. How would you define charisma?

I have no idea. My answer is always the same. I don’t think it’s something you can teach. If you go into a roomful of people, and what this indefinable thing is that we call “talent” that makes you want to watch somebody more than the person right next to them who may be better-looking or better-dressed or have more money—that something that makes you want to watch them, I don’t know what that is. I think if we knew what it was, we could bottle and sell it and make a million bucks. I think it’s an energy inside someone that either demands attention or you’re just drawn to that person. Some people have it, and some people don’t.

You and Melissa McCarthy became very close while working on this movie. Can you share any stories of hanging out with her outside of work?

She was on the set in every scene, and I wasn’t. I’d just come on the days I wasn’t working. I had lunch with her every day. That is pretty unusual. That’s what we did.

Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

Was it hard to have lunch with her in public since she’s so famous?

She had her Lee Israel wig on and a hat on, so we just walked down the street. And, you know, it’s New York City. We live in an age where the silhouette is this [he mimics someone staring into a smartphone], so actually looking up and having a conversation with somebody or recognizing somebody is far less [common]. We just walked around. [People recognizing us] didn’t happen.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has a female-dominated crew: The director, co-screenwriter, two of the three producers, the film editor and art director are all women. How did having a female-led movie compare to other movies, whose crew leaders are typically men?

I’ll put it like this: It felt like the most de-testosterized, communal, nurturing collaborative environment. I think because it was such an intimate story and female-centric, whereas the movie that I just come off before that was called “Logan,” which had a crew of 300 men with arms thicker than my thighs. I’m not exactly chunky, but it was guns and jeeps and cars and cranes. I felt like a dandelion in the wind amongst this macho set, so the contrast was enormous. It was a different kind of movie. [“Logan”] had people with blades coming out of their hands, people being decapitated in all directions, and even the 12-year-old girl in this was karate killing people with batons, so there’s some contrast to the world of Lee Israel and Jack Hock.



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