- In “A Very English Scandal,” available on Amazon Prime starting Friday, Hugh Grant plays Jeremy Thorpe, a real-life British politician put on trial for allegedly conspiring to murder his former lover, Norman Scott.
- Grant told Business Insider that, while he believes Thorpe was guilty, he found sympathy for him because he lived in a time when his sexuality wasn’t accepted in society.
- Grant, who was a student at Oxford during the scandal in the late 70s, said that at the time, it was unfortunately the source of “schoolboy” jokes throughout Britain.
Hugh Grant says that the “tragedy” of being a gay man in a world that refused to accept it helped him have more sympathy for his character – politician Jeremy Thorpe – in “A Very English Scandal,” which drops on Amazon Prime Friday.
At a New York City tea hosted by Amazon in June, Grant sat down with Business Insider and other journalists to discuss the series. The series, which is based on a true story and poignant event in British history, follows Thorpe in the decade following an affair in the early 1960s with Norman Scott (played by Ben Whishaw). Norman is openly gay and tells people about his affair with Thorpe. But in the series, Thorpe goes out of his way and uses his privileged position to prevent it from getting out in the press, and eventually conspires to have Norman killed.
Grant said that Thorpe, though corrupt, “incredibly spoiled,” and in Grant’s opinion guilty of conspiring to murder his ex-lover (Grant compared Thorpe’s acquittal to O.J. Simpson’s), is a tragic figure because he hid his sexuality for his entire life. Grant says this helped make his performance sympathetic, even though his character was awful in many ways.
“The tragedy of being unable to express your own sexual nature, and especially not being able to love someone in that context … I think we kind of hit at that,” Grant said. “[Thorpe] probably was in love with Norman Scott back at the beginning. Because of the law and social mores, he was either unable to let that develop with him or with anyone else in his whole lifetime. Even though he loves his wives, he was never able to really be himself. So I found that tragedy rather sympathetic.”
Grant, who mentioned that he’s met men like Thorpe who still exist today in British politics, said that he prepared for the role by reading books about Thorpe and the scandal, talking to people who knew him (some who said he “couldn’t hurt a fly, and some called him a “monster”), and by watching footage of Thorpe on YouTube. In his research, Grant learned that Thorpe lived an “extraordinary double life.” Grant also remembers the scandal, but not fondly – he was 18 or 19 and at Oxford at the time.
“I’m afraid it was just a source of great schoolboy jokes,” Grant said. “For the whole nation it was schoolboy jokes. And it was too good to be true. It was like Monty Python, here with this member of the establishment, ex-Oxford and Eaton, very well connected, on trial with his lover saying, ‘and then I had to bite the pillow.’ And the Vaseline, I mean, the jokes, there were thousands of jokes … ‘join the liberal party and widen your circle.’ That’s how he was really regarded, I’m afraid.”
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