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Hugh Grant discusses gay sex scenes with Ben Whishaw: ‘We just went for it. I got a rash from Ben’s beard’

Adam Bloodworth May 18, 2018

The drama triumphed over several other nominees (BBC)

Have you heard of Jeremy Thorpe? He was the bisexual British politician who stood trial for murder, but despite his unbelievable story Thorpe’s name is largely forgotten – mention it to younger audiences and you’ll be met with blank stares.

Enter Hugh Grant, who has been tasked with breathing fresh life into the truly remarkable story of the bisexual political figure from the Sixties and Seventies for a new BBC television series called A Very English Scandal.

The three-part series recounts the bizarre tale of Thorpe and his lover Norman Scott, who threatened to out Thorpe publically in an age when homosexuality was career-ruining.

At dinner with a colleague at the House of Commons restaurant in an early scene from the series, Hugh Grant’s Thorpe whispers to a confidante that he’s “80 percent gay.”

“Those words have never been said within these walls before,” his guest coyly replies.

Related: Hugh Grant comes @Out4Marriage and says ‘love is the same for everyone’

What follows seems barmy beyond belief – Thorpe allegedly tried to have his younger lover murdered to block being outed, to save his family, career and the fate of The Liberal Party, which he was leader of at the time.

A book by John Preston published in 2016 refreshed the tale and inspired the series, which has been written by Russell T Davies and directed by Stephen Frears, director of classics like High Fidelity and Dangerous Liaisons.

Hugh Grant – returning to the small screen for the first time since the 1990s – is in autopilot as the charming, charismatic and deceiving Thorpe: in many ways the character feels straight out of rom-com territory.

“I think he [Thorpe] was very very tormented,” Grant explained to PinkNews. “When you feel your family’s threatened we’re all capable – however priveleged or genteel – of surprising violence.”

Grant presents Thorpe the popular figurehead as an opportunist, committed to making Britain more politically inclusive, but also as a man closely guarding of his power.

Reputation is the operative word for Thorpe, whose homosexual dalliances are controlled to never be more than a hedonistic treat – until Scott changes that.

Related: A Very English Scandal trailer: Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw caught in a gay affair

Ben Whishaw plays younger country bumpkin Scott, who is a beguiling mix of innocent and calculating as he impulsively drip feeds revelations about his affair with Thorpe to those closest to the MP.

Talking to PinkNews, Grant revealed he “just went for it” when it came to filming the raunchy gay sex scenes.

“There we were one Sunday morning,” the Notting Hill actor teased. “We did our whole love story in a day… Just went for it. I got a rash – I went home to my kids with a rash from Ben’s beard.”

Frears’ series is light-hearted and comic, and features a number of traditionally rom-com-style romantic moments, which may catch out viewers expecting a show about a murder trial to be some quite serious watching.

Grant addresses how Preston’s book “brings out the black comedy in the whole thing.”

Grant, who was young during the Thorpe scandal, remembers the mood of the time. “We were just sniggering. The whole of Britain was sniggering.”

“Let’s not forget that Norman Scott didn’t get killed in the end,” he explained. “If he got killed it might have had a different tone to it.”

Grant says the social climate was “very different then, Britain was very different,” which raises questions as to wonder whether the discourse surrounding the Thorpe scandal – at least, finding it funny – could feel uncomfortable today.

Could the humour surrounding the case be seen as a crass historical hiccup, now that men romancing together isn’t idle gossip or the subject of condemnation?

Whatever the fact, Grant believes nothing’s changed in Westminster. “The motivation for politicians in the Sixties and Seventies was really no different [to today],” he offers.

“I’m afraid their motivation is always themselves. How do I get ahead, how do I move up the Westminster ladder – that was crucial for Thorpe, he was incredibly ambitious.”

“[However] people seem more and more interested in politics… We have social media and the internet to thank for getting people woken up.”

Related: First look at Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw as real-life secret gay lovers in new TV drama

Then there’s the inquisitiveness over a queerness now largely forgotten. Grant believes “people will be interested to see how all that Machiavellian stuff went on in a pre-internet age.”

Moreover, Frears and T Davies’ product is just a “marvelous story” which feels pacy, salacious and as weird and inconceivable today as no doubt it did then.

Ben Whishaw had a taste for “a complicated and unusual character” in Norman Scott. Describing the role to PinkNews, Ben told us the series was “the chance to set the record straight, to give his [Norman’s] side of the story.”

“There’s always a disjunction about what people say and what they put across, and what’s really going on…that’s really rich territory for stories,” he mused.

“On the one hand it feels like a really different time, but the messed up love story at the centre of the story feels pretty universal,” says Whishaw, confirming that Grant is back in rom-com territory with the role.

When asked about more rom-coms Grant joked “that bird has flown,” but with all the passionate wooing and snogging in A Very English Scandal the loveable toff demonstrates there’s fire in the engine yet.

More: BBC, ben whishaw, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Thorpe

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