Actor, author and now perfumer, there’s no stopping Richard E Grant. Here he explains to Niki Browes why he has a nose for things
Richard E Grant might well be Swaziland’s most famous export, but London is where he calls home. ‘There is nothing that begins to compete with this city for its endless number of languages spoken, different types of restaurants and the staggering cross-section of theatre, opera, ballet, music, galleries, museums and cultural life,’ says the 57-year-old, best known for his cult role in Withnail And I. ‘My wife [voice coach Joan Washington] had a house in East Twickenham and we lived there for 12 years before moving to Petersham 16 years ago.’
Their home is a former Georgian rectory built in 1830 next door to St. Peter’s Church, with a walled garden. The views of RichmondPark, he says, give the illusion that you’re in the middle of the countryside, which is what made the house irresistible to buy. From his study – his favourite room in the house – there’s a beautiful view of Star and Garter Hill, and the area has everything he needs to contain his ‘relentless energy’.
Talking exclusively to us from the set of the new series of Downton Abbey, where he plays art historian Simon Bricker, Richard won’t give anything away in this interview. ‘I’m told if I say anything more, my knees will be taken off,’ he laughs.
The job reunites him with Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton. Fellowes wrote Gosford Park, the Oscar-winning film in which Richard played a footman at a stately home, but Downton’s not the only hit TV show Richard’s involved in.
Earlier this year, he played a cameo role in the cult US TV show Girls. At the time, he tweeted to his 17,000 followers, ‘Getting cast in @girlsHBO by @Lena Dunham, legend in the making, is about as kick-arse as it gets!’
It took him a ‘quarter of a nanosecond to say yes,’ not least because he had seen every episode of Girls more than once thanks to his 25-year-old daughter, Olivia. He has since been refreshingly vocal of his support for Lena. ‘She’s smart as a whip and wise beyond her years, that one,’ he concedes with admiration.
In the show, she cast him as Jasper, a fast talking coke fiend. ‘Ever since I can remember, people have said, “You’re like an over- wound clock”, so going into hyper-coke mode is not the biggest stretch. Playing someone with a Zen-like character would be a challenge!’
A place he used to like burning off this unbridled energy was Richmond ice-rink. ‘When it was demolished and replaced with luxury apartments, it was supposed to be re-located,’ he sighs. ‘Today, I’m curious as to why that never happened.’ The ghost of ice-rinks aside, if he didn’t live in Richmond, Westminster would be his home, ‘so it would be possible to walk everywhere’.
Away from his busy acting and writing career, Richard can now add perfumer to his CV as he’s just launched his unisex fragrance Jack in Liberty (jackperfume.co.uk). ‘Since I can remember I’ve compulsively missiled my nose at everything in sight,’ he explains. ‘As a boy, I tried to make perfume from gardenia and rose petals in boiled sugar water in jam jars where I grew up in Swaziland. Then, two years ago whilst we were on holiday in the Caribbean, Anya Hindmarch found me with my head stuck in a gardenia bush and asked if I’d ever thought of making my own perfume, which was the catalyst.’
Two years later Jack was launched. The scent includes all of his favourite smells, including lime, mandarin, clove, pepper, nutmeg, vetiver and musk, contained in a bottle that’s sleeved inside a vintage style Union Jack calico bag with a luggage label attached to personalise.
Concocting new perfume blends is never far from his mind. ‘I have plans for more and hope to release one every year. Like cooks who constantly think of combining foods, I am always thinking about scent blends.’
It’s yet another role that has contributed to such an unusual and wonderfully varied career. ‘I made a toy theatre out of a shoebox with cut out figures stuck onto lollipop sticks when I was seven, attempted to make perfume at nine and began keeping a diary at ten. These childhood pursuits have all become adult “occupations”,’ he muses
‘The chances of succeeding as an actor, growing up in a tiny African Kingdom, seemed so remote that I have never stopped marvelling at how lucky I have been. Being able to earn a living writing, acting and directing has been the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Curiosity and relentless energy have always stood me in very good stead.’