Model Ashley Graham interviews Hugh Grant at the 95th Academy Awards in Hollywood. Photo / ABC
“You have to see this Oscars interview,” said Don.
“I don’t,” I said. “Everything about the Oscars fills me with a pompous anger. I hate every shred of it, the back-slappery, the self-promotion, the
fake humility, the superficiality, the phrase ‘Academy of Motion Pictures’, the genital-free statuettes, the fake gold on the genital-free statuettes, the acceptance speeches, the acceptance weeping, the actual literal red carpet, the crowds that line up to watch people on the actual literal red carpet, the mythologising, the not-even-skin-deepness, the limitless insincerity, the whole sham-for-money shebang. It’s like one of those roadside billboards depicting a scene of romance, but go behind and it’s just plywood and cheap lumber.”
“I repeat,” said Don, “you have to see this Oscars interview.” So I saw it.
It was part of a programme called, Countdown to the Oscars which title tells you everything you might want to know about it. It featured interviews on the hoof with stars arriving for the beano.
The interviewer was a tall woman called Ashley Graham, by profession a “plus-size model” which phrase I’ll leave to another day. Ms Graham was wearing what looked to be a 1950s two-piece swimsuit in black. Her legs were encased in a veil of chiffon gauze (forgive me if I have the terminology wrong. I do not belong in this linguistic paddock) and her shoulders in a Batman cape, also black. It was the sort of costume that you just longed for her to get caught in a rainstorm in, or to have to do something practical in, such as take out the trash, or debristle a hog.
The interviewee was Hugh Grant, the actor who specialises in playing hesitant, deferential Englishmen. She asked him his favourite thing about going to the Oscars. It was the sort of question you’d ask a six-year-old. Grant paused. You could see him wrestling with his conscience. He knew the game he was required to play. He knew that Hollywood in general and the Oscars in particular required a conspiracy to celebrate, to fake it. But this was so vacuous a question. Eventually he produced an anodyne, generic answer. “The whole of humanity is here,” he said. “It’s Vanity Fair.”
The reference was to the well-known novel. But it wasn’t well-known to Ms Graham, who presumed he was referring to an after-party hosted by the magazine Vanity Fair (the irony of the title being lost on most who attend the party, I suspect, and even on some who write for the magazine.)
“Oh yes,” said Ms Graham, grinning and eager, “it’s all about Vanity Fair. That’s where we need to let loose and have a little fun.”
Oh dear. Ms Graham and Mr Grant had parted intellectual ways but only Mr Grant was aware of it. On she went, wearing the sort of smile that is compulsory in Hollywood but does not denote happiness.
“What are you most excited to see tonight?”
“To see?” said Mr Grant, now committed to his path. “No one in particular.”
“What are you wearing tonight,” asked Ms Graham, sensing something wrong but plunging on in desperation. If in doubt in Hollywood keep it on the surface. The world is a two-dimensional image. Just as there’s nothing behind the billboard, there’s nothing within the clothes. We are the exterior we present, the dress, the teeth, the jewellery, the lie.
“Just my suit,” said Mr Grant.
“Who made your suit?”
“I can’t remember – my tailor.”
Ms Graham floundered. She was primed to bolster a myth and here was a co-religionist dismantling it. But the power of her training, of the big cultural construct, of the shallow glamour of film and fame, was just too great. She couldn’t abandon this particular ship. She just couldn’t.
“So tell me what it felt like to be in Glass Onion. It was such an amazing film. I really loved it…..How fun is it to shoot something like that?”
“I’m in it for about three seconds,” said Mr Grant.
“But you still showed up and had fun, right?”
“Almost,” said Mr Grant and then, out of belated kindness, he turned away. The interview was over. It had been cruel and funny and delicious. It felt almost like hope.
It will make no difference, of course. The Oscars will go on as horribly as ever. But for a moment Hugh Grant had ripped the veil from the Hollywood altar and revealed its Tupperware chalice. I owe Don a drink.