Hugh Grant on playing secretly gay politician Jeremy Thorpe: ‘I was quite panicked by this project!’

A very English scandal Hugh Grant Ben Whishaw
(Image credit: BBC/Blueprint Television Ltd)

Hugh Grant on playing 1970s Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe who faced a murder trial...

Hollywood actor Hugh Grant is about to return to a British television drama for the first time in two decades. He's starring as former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe MP, who was accused of conspiring to have his former lover Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw) murdered in the 1970s. Married twice, family man Jeremy then  stood trial alongside the co-conspirators at a sensational trial at the Old Bailey in 1979, for which he was acquitted.

What's On TV caught up with Hugh to learn more about his fascinating role in BBC1's new Russell T Davies drama A Very English Scandal (BBC1 on Sunday May 20, 9pm), how he learnt to play the violin for the part other the big challenges…


WOTV: It’s a fascinating true story. Do you remember much about the Jeremy Thorpe story from when you were growing up in the 1970s? "Yes, it was all happening while I was at school. I remember the Private Eye covers and all that stuff. Then I got sent the script and it was so up my alley. I love things that are funny and sad at the same time and that rejoice in eccentricity. I’ve also become very interested in politics over the last six years so I love that aspect of it, too."


WOTV: It's alleged that Jeremy Thorpe tried to have his ex-lover Norman Scott (played by Ben Whishaw) murdered to hide the fact that he was gay, didn’t he? "Yes, he had this very complicated inner turmoil about being gay in the age when it was illegal. But I think he did love Norman and then buried it."


WOTV: Did you do much research for the part? "Well, it’s unlike me to do any prep at all really but I was quite panicked by this project. I thought, ‘ooh, Ben Whishaw’s in it, I’d better try to be good!’ I’m also particularly frightened of British audiences, so I read every single book there is on the subject, met lots of people who knew Jeremy Thorpe and dug up old films from the bowels of the BBC. I don’t know if it did me any good but it seemed to soothe me a bit!"


WOTV: You also learned to play the violin especially for this. How did you get on? "God knows I tried for months! But the violin is completely impossible as it turns out, so I did my best. My children broke two violins!"


WOTV: Were any scenes particularly challenging to film? "It’s the old clichés about animals and children. They were all enchanting children playing Jeremy's son Rupert, but I’d be trying to do my best, being upset or something, and I’d be upstaged by a howling child!"

* A Very English Scandal begins on BBC1 on Sunday May 20, 9pm.

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.