To call Richard E. Grant prolific is an understatement: since he launched his career in the early ’80s, the Eswatini-born English actor has racked up more than 130 credits. Next up is one of his biggest yet – a villain called Allegiant General Pryde in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, out December 20 – so we’ve taken the opportunity to round up some of his most memorable roles.
Disclaimer: Because he’s been so busy over the years, we’re bound to have missed out one or two of your favorites.
Withnail and I
A true cult classic, this 1987 black comedy helped to launch the careers of Grant and Paul McGann, who later became the Eighth Doctor. Grant’s stupendous performance as Withnail, a flamboyant out-of-work actor with a drinking problem, is both iconic and undoubtedly his signature role. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think thank God for Withnail and I,” he said just last year. “The irony will never be lost on me that playing an out-of-work actor has helped me get every job I’ve had since.”
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Last year, Grant became a Hollywood awards contender for the first time ever thanks to his poignant performance in this biographical indie film. He plays Jack Hock, a charismatic vagabond living in New York City who becomes a companion and partner-in-crime to Melissa McCarthy‘s literary forger Lee Israel. It’s a supremely moving movie based on a true story, and the outsiders’ bond formed by Grant and McCarthy’s characters is its beating heart.
Before he appeared as a villain in the show’s 2012 festive episode, “The Snowmen,” Grant had twice portrayed the Doctor in non-canonical spin-offs: first in a 1999 Comic Relief special, and then in the 2003 animated web series Scream of the Shalka. Starring opposite Matt Smith‘s Doctor in “The Snowmen,” he’s in suitably sinister form as Dr. Simeon, an evil genius who controls an army of very scary malevolent snowmen. It’s definitely Grant at his spookiest.
Written by Julian Fellowes around a decade before he created Downton Abbey, this Oscar-winning country house drama is a little darker and more subversive than the subsequent TV series. Director Robert Altman marshals a massive ensemble cast brilliantly, giving top-notch thesps including Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Helen Mirren, and Sir Michael Gambon their individual moments in the spotlight. Grant is perfectly cast as George, a footman with a cutting tongue and a barely-hidden sneer of disapproval on his face. He’d eventually appear in Downton Abbey, too, as the flirtatious art historian Simon Bricker.
Jack & Sarah
Grant is better known for his supporting roles than his leads, but he shines as title character Jack in this underrated ’90s British rom-com. Sarah is actually the new-born baby Jack raises as a single parent after his wife dies from complications during birth, and the film follows his blossoming relationship with an American waitress (Billions‘ Samantha Mathis) who becomes his nanny. Grant’s Jack is much spikier than the average romantic hero, and he gets to bounce off a stellar supporting cast that includes Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, and Dame Eileen Atkins.
A Merry War (U.S. title) a.k.a. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (U.K. title)
Also a little underrated, this 1997 adaptation of George Orwell‘s only comic novel has another supremely enjoyable performance from Grant. He plays Gordon Comstock, a bohemian idealist who gives up his well-paid job in advertising to become an impoverished poet. Helena Bonham Carter co-stars as Rosemary, an artist from his former ad agency who supports Gordon’s dream and eventually becomes his wife. As you’d expect, they make for a very appealing lead duo.
Grant might seem an unlikely guest star for Lena Dunham‘s hipster sitcom about millennials living in Brooklyn, but he was cast because Dunham loved him as “the villain in Spice World.” He brings stacks of dandyish charm to his character Jasper, a sparky, fast-talking addict who befriends Jessa (Jemima Kirke) in rehab. Grant recently said that appearing in Girls “completely exonerated all the flak I got at the time for being in [Spice World].”
The Age of Innocence
Martin Scorsese‘s 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton‘s high-society novel has a starry cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder. In one of his classiest earlier supporting roles, Grant is memorably snobbish as Larry Lefferts, a character he described as “a lounge lizard of the highest order.” Grant has admitted that he threw himself at Day-Lewis’s feet during shooting to thank him for turning down Withnail and I, telling his fellow thesp: “Oh Daniel, I owe you my career!”
Grant worked with the late, great Robert Altman on three of the director’s movies: fashion satire Prêt-à-Porter, period drama Gosford Park, and this 1992 black comedy set in Hollywood. He gives a twinkly performance as Tom Oakley, a smooth-talking screenwriter who pitches a ridiculously uncommercial film concept to Tim Robbins‘ studio executive, only to have it turned into a shiny piece of Hollywood product.
Hugh Jackman‘s final outing as Wolverine won widespread acclaim in 2017 because it’s gutsier and more grounded than many superhero movies. Sir Patrick Stewart‘s affecting performance as Charles Xavier adds heft, but Grant also steals scenes as Dr. Zander Rice, a brilliant but unhinged scientist who wants to control mutant powers for his own gain. Grant will be playing another villainous role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and frankly we can’t wait.
Which is your favorite Richard E. Grant role that we haven’t mentioned here?