Diary: Oct. 8, 3 p.m.
V. excited. Have just learned will be interviewing Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. In a hotel room. At the Four Seasons. Will also meet with Renee Zellweger(sp?), who is of course star of “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” But cannot believe it will be anything like being in a hotel room with top lad and cad of recent cinema history.
Things I will do:
* leave early to find perfect outfit that reveals my Inner Poise while projecting both Sex Goddess and Serious Journalist.
* figure out how to mention to husband casually enough to avoid ludicrous but seemingly universal husbandly statement along lines of: “I don’t understand the appeal of that Hugh Grant.”
* see movie.
Things I will not do:
* ask Hugh if he shaved chest for very sexy topless scene in Thai bathhouse.
* ask Colin if he practices arrogant-locked-jaw- melts-into-puppydog-eyes thing in the mirror every morning.
* forget to talk to Renee as she is star of movie.
IN DANGEROUS WATERS
Unless it involves a monster, a sequel is a frightening proposition. The resurrection of something really nasty can usually ensure a follow-up film momentum -- think “Aliens” or “Return of the Jedi” or even, if we include monsters of the id, “The Godfather: Part II.” Comedic sequels, on the other hand do not have such a great shelf life -- the $4.99 bins everywhere are filled with your “Caddyshack II,” “American Pie 2" and “Ghostbusters II.” And romantic comedies, well, there’s a reason they didn’t make “When Harry Met Sally: the Menopausal Years.”
Which is why, though it seemed ridiculous at the time, the three principals of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” really did have reservations about making a follow-up to one of the most successful romantic comedies in years. For months, adoring fans were treated to tantalizing bits in the (mostly British) press -- Firth wasn’t happy with the script, Grant wasn’t happy with the script, Zellweger didn’t want to get fat again. But as with the two books, the happy ending was inevitable; the fun was in getting there.
And so, more than a year after filming, the three recently found themselves reunited at the Four Seasons for what must be, along with potential psychotic stalkers and postnatal paparazzi, one of the grimmest parts of movie stardom -- the press junket.
Diary: Oct. 14, 1 p.m.
Am told photo shoot with three actors will take place before separate interviews in their “holding suites.” (Do not have courage to ask what, precisely, demarcates a holding suite from a nonholding suite; perhaps they have re-created Thai prison from movie ...)
Diary: Oct. 14, 1:25 p.m.
Hugh first to arrive in what assume is “picture-suite,” all v. blue eyes and perpetually pillowcase hair. Exactly as on film only thinner and tired-looking. Says he just arrived at midnight and is very jet-lagged. Walks carefully as if head could fall off at any moment but attempts cordial conversation. Is startled by observation that things will be cooling off for the weekend. “Not too cool, I hope. I brought a girl and I promised she could lie by the pool.” (Wonder if this is heiress mentioned in People a few weeks ago; surely heiress would have own pool.) Mentions that he likes L.A. Times very much but that it smells funny, “like a wet dog.” Room smells funny too. “Does it smell like vomit in here?” he asks the three young women who have trailed him into the room. Eagerly accepts can of Red Bull.
THE JOYS OF ‘SPAZ’ FIGHTING
Grant, who reprises the role of Bridget’s bad-boy ex and former boss, Daniel Cleaver, says he was concerned about appearing in the sequel even though he is “one of the few who think the second book is better than the first.”
Daniel does not, however, occupy much of the narrative, which was a bit of a problem. Fortunately neither movie hews too closely to the books; in “Edge of Reason” Daniel gets many of the funniest lines, the hottest romantic scene and equal billing in a fight sequence that could be categorized as “Abbott and Costello Meet the Quiet Man.”
But he is an even bigger cad than last time around, which may be explained by the fact that he is now working in television -- neither of which Grant is thrilled about.
“I didn’t want him to be a bigger dog than ever going in,” he says. “In fact that was what I was afraid of. I didn’t want it to be all black and white. And I liked that about him in the first one, that he was in publishing, that he was smart. So I said if he’s got to be in television, let’s make sure it’s at least something smart.”
The second movie, like the second book, moves out of the territory of social commentary -- “Bridget Jones’s Diary” was as much about skewering certain types in British society as it was a girl-meets-boy story -- and that had Grant concerned as well. Helen Fielding, he says, is a comic genius -- “all you have to do is look at the crap that followed her, all this chicklit” -- who understands that the best comedy comes from pain. “Bridget’s essential predicament in life is just so painful,” he says. “It’s tough for girls of a certain age to know what they should be aspiring to and at the same time be afraid they’ll die alone and be eaten by Alsatians.”
He was even worried about the fight scene; a similar scene in the first film redefined the cinematic clash of two leads. “Spaz fighting,” says Grant. “That’s all it said in the script, and that’s what we did. We wanted to stay as far away from the stunt coordinator and just look like two yuppies going at it. But one has to wonder, how many times can you get away with that?”
This particular fight winds up in a fountain in Hyde Park. It was November when they were filming and the sequence took three days because the actors had to keep warming up between takes.
“The special-effects guys promised they would put warm water in the fountain,” Grant says. “But being British special-effects guys, they were unable to do this. They did set us up a little paddling pool with warm water. And so in between takes, Colin and I would leap in and embrace each other to stay warm. I believe there are several photographs.”
Diary: Oct. 14, 1:35 p.m.
Colin Firth arrives in photo-shoot suite. Manly embrace between the two. Absolutely expect mushroom cloud or whatever happens after nuclear collision.
“How’s it going?” Hugh asks, referring to TV interviews already done. “Are you being cheerful or crabby? I’m thinking of being crabby.”
“Oh I wanted to go for resentful and sort of broody,” Colin says, “but I wound up chirping in a most unseemly manner.” (If any more handsome, face would collapse from weight of handsomeness.)
Still waiting for Renee. Colin asks Hugh what sounds like “Have you gotten back to God?” Hugh says yes, but now has slipped a bit. Serious Journalist is curious -- God?? “No, no,” Hugh laughs. “Golf.” (Mortified. Clearly should have taken class in actorly-Brit-mumble, understood apparently only by dogs and other actorly-Brits.) “Does it smell like vomit in here?” Grant asks. “You know, it does a little,” Firth says.
A MAN OF MYSTERY
Sitting on a sofa after the photo shoot, Firth is surprised Grant has mentioned the paddling pool -- “Oh, he told you about the paddling pool, did he?” -- and the photos. “One photo,” he says quickly, “and I don’t believe it has made its way to the Internet.”
He points out that he and Grant really don’t know each other that well -- in each movie, they had only one scene together. “We just meet to snarl and fight,” he says. “But everyone seems to have us linked inextricably in their minds. So I’m always being asked questions about him, or people want to interview us together and I don’t really know him.”
But like Grant, Firth was nervous about donning the mantle of his character once again, in this case the stoic Mark Darcy. “It’s not a safe bet at all,” he says. “There’s a long way to fall.”
Darcy, he says, is an archetype, and that is difficult to portray twice. “His main characteristic is being unknowable,” he says. “And so it’s hard to develop him -- you want to show a little bit more but you can’t give too much away.”
Many of Firth’s roles are along the unknowable, archetypal lines -- from “Pride and Prejudice” to the more recent “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” he often plays the tense, silent types whose repressed passion is mistaken for arrogance only to be revealed in heart-stopping splendor in the last act.
“I do tend to simmer,” he says, laughing. “Though in ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ I was simmering with different things, which I hope was clear.”
Before the Darcy role in “Pride and Prejudice,” Firth preferred more demonstrative types. “I am myself much more loquacious, much more flamboyant than many of my characters,” he says. “In fact, the degree of containment that was required for Darcy seemed quite beyond me at the time. I didn’t know if I could do it because there didn’t seem to be much to do.”
It’s difficult, he says, to project the stillness required of a repressed character, which made the scene he did shoot with Grant in “Edge of Reason” that much more fun.
“It’s so hilarious -- two yuppies in their mid-40s fighting -- that I am amazed no one had done it sooner,” he says. “Now of course, we’ve pretty much trademarked it.” Some men, he adds, have a hard time believing he would let himself be filmed in such an unmacho way. “Guys shake their heads,” he says, “say: ‘Better you than me.’ ”
Diary: Oct. 14, 1:45 p.m.
Photo-suite-that-smells-like-vomit is suddenly full of 27-year-old publicists in hip-hugger bell-bottoms and pointy shoes carrying clipboards and Blackberries. Also makeup people who don’t like to be called makeup people but prefer “groomer.”
Young brunet in skirt and pointy shoes plops down beside Colin. “I’ve been trashing you two all morning,” she says. Have no idea who she is until head publicist (figure she is head because not carrying anything) says: “Great, now Renee’s here, we can get started.”
Cannot believe this is same woman as starred in “Edge of Reason.” Dark hair, eyes mascaraed into impenetrable fringe and approx. size of hummingbird. V. small hummingbird. Look to costars to see reaction toward fake Renee stand-in but both dutifully trooping toward bed where saucy photo to be shot. “Why does it smell like vomit in here?” Renee asks.
On bed, three arrange themselves as intimately as decorum and Renee’s v. tight skirt will allow -- Hugh looks as if born to be up on one elbow on bed in Four Seasons, Colin tries to look relaxed -- “I have no idea what to do with my hands,” he says. “You’re going to have to move in,” the photographer says. “Could you put your hand on Hugh’s leg?” Firth gamely tries. “Well, that’s very uncomfortable,” he says. “Can you think of something else?” -- while Renee poses perkily between them. “I’m having a great day at work,” she says. “Is everyone else having a great day at work?”
BRIDGET RAISES THE BAR
Zellweger doesn’t want to talk about the weight, which was, she says, the least-important part of playing Bridget Jones, but she knows she will have to so she does. “I never said I didn’t want to do the sequel because of the weight,” she says. "[Reports of that] were completely disgusting and not true. I didn’t feel like I was somehow worse off because I was heavier. I didn’t look at myself as there was something wrong. It was an honor to play this character.”
She was concerned about not being able to run or go to the gym, she says, because “these are the outlets that keep me sane,” and whether she would be able to get the weight back on in time and keep it on. “The skiing was worrisome, up and down those hills,” she said. “I didn’t want there to be big fluctuations in the weight, so I said, ‘Well, guess it’s time for a few candy bars.’ ”
Zellweger loves Bridget Jones, loves her ability to get herself into and out of hideously embarrassing situations, loves her pluck and her wobbly self-esteem. “She’s so human,” Zellweger says. “She’s self-deprecating in a humorous, honest way, but not self-pitying at all. She just keeps trudging forward. She has a way of minimizing these incredibly embarrassing situations that is really quite beautiful if you think about it.”
Most of the visual humor in the movie belongs to Zellweger and she pursues it with a zest that evokes the work of the women she says inspired it: Carol Burnett, Carole Lombard, Imogene Coca. “I love the broad, physical sense of humor,” she says. “It’s rare to be able to do it. In most circumstances it would be inappropriate, but because it reflects who she is on the inside, it’s perfect for her.”
She too has a fairly goofy scene with Firth, in which the two are running up a hill toward each other in a “Sound of Music"-type moment. “It was freezing that day,” she said. “And we had to keep taking off our coats which was horrible and Colin had no tread on his moccasins so he is trying to run up this hill, smiling ... it was hilarious.”
If female moviegoers think she is pretty lucky to have had romantic scenes with Grant and Firth in two movies, she agrees with them. “Aside from the fact that love scenes are incredibly uncomfortable and embarrassing to do,” she says, “if you have to do them, it helps when you’re working with such wonderful, witty people.”
But it is work, she says. More than any other movie, a successful romantic comedy must look completely effortless, light as a meringue or a souffle, and the process is just as treacherous. Bridget Jones is the most difficult role Zellweger’s ever had, she says, bar none. For the first movie, she spent nine months living in someone else’s apartment, learning essentially another language and creating another person’s body. And it wasn’t any easier the second time around.
“There were just a lot of things to pay attention to,” she says. “I wanted to show how she had grown but that she was still recognizable from the first film. The potential to fail was incredibly high. It was a new kind of thing to learn -- how to reanimate a character rather than start from scratch.”
Diary, Oct. 14, 2 p.m.
Group moves from bed to balcony -- groomer yells at photographer: “No side light. Sorry to be a brat, but no side light.” Catch Colin’s eye three times in a row. V. embarrassing. Want to tell him am Serious Journalist observing Interplay of Famous Performers not wallflower staring at Man Who Played Darcy. Odd to be a movie star -- trapped in hotel for days, bossed around by photographers and groomers and junior publicists in pointy shoes, stared at by Serious Journalists trying to think of way to make junket story interesting. Would feel sorry for them if not for the millions of dollars and all those gift baskets.
Also would be nice to have personal groomer, especially one prepared to yell “no side light” when required.
Mary McNamara can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.