Actor Richard E Grant is bringing his one-man show Down Under

By Gill Canning

Richard E. Grant, London, August 2022. Photo by: Carsten Windhorst
Richard E. Grant, London, August 2022. Photo by: Carsten Windhorst
The 2019 Oscar nominee for Can You Ever Forgive Me? has written a memoir, A Pocketful of Happiness, following the death of his wife.

Currently appearing with Dakota Johnson in Persuasion (Netflix), Richard E Grant has starred in films like Withnail and I, Palm Beach and Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker. Blissfully married to his wife Joan Washington for 38 years, the couple was stunned when Washington received a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis in December 2020. She died in September last year.

Before passing, Washington had one message for you and your daughter, Olivia. What was it?

My wife said to my daughter four days before she died to try and find a pocketful of happiness in each day after she’d gone. She said, “I know you’ll be sad but I want you to, without any guilt, try and find joy again in your lives”, which seemed impossible at the time. It has been the mantra that my daughter and I have adopted and live our lives by now. It’s written across the top of my laptop, it’s on my phone, it’s on the dashboard of my car and it has become a habit in the last year to try, even in the simplest things to find something positive and uplifting in a day. And it’s proved incredibly healing and helpful.

You turned down requests to write a memoir after Washington’s passing but Olivia persuaded you to reconsider? 

Yes, she said, “I think this would help you, and it would be a way of honouring and being a lasting tribute to Mum.” She’s much wiser than I am – at 33 to my 65. And so I wrote it. She read it and said, “I think it’s hilarious, moving, tragic, raw, funny” – all the things that characterised the last eight months of my wife’s life and our almost 40 years together. She was right, it has proved to be very cathartic and has in print, resurrected my marriage, and my career with Joan. 

Tell me about the book.

It begins with her diagnosis on her birthday on 21 December, 2020 and ends with her death on 2 September, 2021, it then segues backwards and forwards through four decades of our time together and the highs and the lows … mostly the highs, so it feels celebratory as well as very, very brutally honest about what a progressive terminal illness does to your family.

Richard E. Grant, London, August 2022. Photo by: Carsten Windhorst

What’s an example of one of your pocketfuls of happiness?

I think the kindness of your friends and how they come through for you. My father said to me before he died that if you have four or five true friends in your life, consider yourself a rich man. At the time, I thought that sounded like an old man talking … nonsense. I thought ‘Well, I’ve got lots of friends!’ But the wisdom of that has come to fruition that when it comes down to it, if you’ve got a handful of people that you can absolutely 5000% rely on, then that really is more than money in the bank. 

What are you going to be talking about in Australia & New Zealand this November?

I’ll talk about everything – my career, my life and the book. And in the second half, I’ll answer whatever questions the audience has for me. I’m sure they will ask stuff that leads me down rabbit holes of conversation that you couldn’t imagine. And that’s the kick, the joy of it. The fireworks part of the evening!

What else are you planning to do on your visit?

Eat eat eat! Oh my goodness me, the seafood is absolutely extraordinary. It’s absolutely astonishingly good. And the fish market in Sydney … it’s just delicious.

At the age of 65, what excites, thrills or surprises you?

Talent. I’m doing a thriller at the moment, Saltburn, that is written and directed by Emerald Fennell, who won the Oscar in 2020 for Promising Young Woman. My son is being played by Australian actor Jacob Elordi (The Kissing Booth) and I’m playing the husband of Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). Being surrounded by talent … that’s a real thrill. I’ve also got a film noir coming out in 2023 with Daryl McCormack (Good Luck To You, Leo Grande) – another great young actor. 

In recent years, you’ve had roles in Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. How did you find being on those huge franchises, compared to smaller indie films?

As my wife said, “You’re in the condiment phase of your cameo career in that you’re dropped in like Dijon mustard for a mild flavour or hot mustard for a bit more villainous work but essentially you’re dropped in like a teabag to flavour up an episode or two, and then taken out again (laughs).”

  • An Evening with Richard E Grant
    Australian cities: 18-28 November, 2022
    Auckland: 26 November, 2022
  • A Pocketful of Happiness is released 5 October, 2022

 

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