Studies have shown that Valentine’s Day is becoming more of a burden than a pleasure for American couples. It seems people would rather forget the day designated for romance than celebrate it with the ones they love. Hollywood hasn’t forgotten though, as they continue to release romantic movies every February in hopes of getting jaded old lovers to take a few hours to feel the love.
This year, Music and Lyrics hits theaters right on February 14. The romantic comedy starring lovable Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore hopes to put a song in everyone’s heart. Grant plays has-been ‘80s rocker Alex Fletcher, hired by a new pop star to write a song. But he only does music. It was his more successful former partner who always did the lyrics. Luckily, his plant waterer Sophie Fisher (Barrymore) has a knack for words so they collaborate on the song, getting closer and closer behind the scenes too.
While the public may be losing the Valentine’s spirit, these actors still have it. Barrymore was taken aback by the suggestion that nothing romantic happens on Valentine’s Day anymore. “Oh dear,” she said. “Oh my goodness. We’re going to make something happen for YOU that’s very special on Valentine’s Day. I’m going to go out of my way.”
Short of the arrival of a care package from Hollywood, this writer will assume that Barrymore was just being nice. Grant, in his famously deadpan sarcasm, more specifically touted the joys of the Hallmark holiday. “I take it extremely seriously,” he said. “If I don’t get a lot of cards and things, I get crabby. I like a lot of attention and at school there was a system where you put things in letter boxes, which was weird because it was an all boys’ school.”
For a man who rules the romantic comedy genre, going back to Four Weddings and a Funeral and taking us through Nine Months, Notting Hill, two Bridget Jones movies and Love Actually, Grant may not be such a romantic on Valentine’s Day in real life. “I sit around and moan, and I play a bit of golf, and I see my friends and read a book,” Grant admitted. “Actually, I watch films.”
Even his real life romances have ended up in apathy. Though his longtime relationship with Elizabeth Hurley was said to end in friendship, he won’t be at her upcoming wedding. “I’m not, no, I’m not invited.” And the mere question of wedding bells for Grant and current girlfriend Jemima Kahn just made him antsy. “I’m not going to answer that question if that’s all right with you.”
Barrymore’s love life has been publicly rocky. Her first marriage to Jeremy Thomas lasted only one year, and the oft mocked nuptials to Tom Green only half that. She is currently engaged to Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti, but has learned not to discuss such things in the press.
Regardless, both actors are expert at making screen couplings click. Grant has wooed the likes of Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings) Julia Roberts (Notting Hill), Sandra Bullock (Two Weeks Notice), Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones), Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) and Rachel Weisz (About a Boy), all with equal charm.
”Drew was the perfect person for this thing,” said Grant of his current co-star. “I sat down with [director] Marc [Lawrence] and we watched every romantic comedienne working at the moment, and it was quite clear it had to be Drew. She’s got incredible charm. She’s just perfect, perfect for the part, and very kind and supportive to an extremely grumpy, difficult actor.”
Barrymore has made unlikely pairings work with the likes of Adam Sandler (Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates), Luke Wilson (Home Fries), Sam Rockwell (Charlie’s Angels and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Jimmy Fallon (Fever Pitch) and Ben Stiller (Duplex). Hugh Grant is the most conventional leading man she’s had.
”I was excited to work with him because I love all of his movies,” she said. “To me it was like getting to work with someone who really is a king, an ace, a genius and a master in their field. So I was like, ‘Sign me up, I’m there. Lucky me.’”
What was not initially so exciting to the actors was the prospect of singing on screen. Barrymore had starred in Woody Allen’s musical Everyone Says I Love You but refused to sing herself. Dubbing was not an option in Music and Lyrics.
”I’ve always been told that I was not allowed to sing and how horrible it was,” she said. “This has been an interesting two years because I got to sing in the Curtis Hanson film [Lucky You] and now in this film. So that was a very pivotal moment for me. I’m not a ‘no’ person. I’m not a ‘can’t do.’ I’m the sort of person who believes you can do anything you put your mind to. But I was just given a little bit more of a chance and some more time and encouragement, and I think since that moment happened, I thought, ‘Oh god, I never want to go down like this. I will not be on my deathbed thinking would have, should have, could have.’ So it was good. It was essential for me not to fail, or go ahead and fail, but at least try.”
The duet between Barrymore and Grant is preserved for the rest of eternity on the Music and Lyrics soundtrack, but don’t expect a solo album. “I think it is really terrible, but at least it means I faced my fears. That’s such an important thing in life.”
The actress again became private when pressed about other fears she may face. “Talking about it, you want to go out there and do it because when you talk about it, it sort of takes the wind out of the passion. I would love to focus on the next few years definitely facing fears and doing things I haven’t done before. So I think about that a lot, actually. And I look forward to scaring the ever-loving crap out of myself for the next two or three years.”
Luckily, Sophie did not have to sound like an experienced singer. Alex did, and his character does the bulk of the film’s performing. “I heard a lot of the singing beforehand because you work for days and days to do these recordings,” said Grant. “It’s not how I imagined it. I mean, you must sing every song about a thousand times and then they take one syllable that you might happen to have got vaguely right, and they stitch it together with another syllable. Literally, it’s that fine. Then they put it through the machine 1600 different ways and tune you and put what they call ‘slap,’ which is sort of an echo effect which makes you sound better. And it’s unbelievable and by the time they finish doing that and you’ve learned that you can do it, you actually do sing better anyway. You get more relaxed. You think, ‘They can fix this.’ I have learned to love the sound of my own singing voice.”
Once the tracks were recorded, Grant had to shake his booty like the best ‘80s hair bands. Women attending the film’s early screening swooned for Grant’s dancing. “I’m glad you liked them. It was misery for me. I don’t play the piano, I don’t sing and I definitely don’t dance. They can teach you to sing a bit and the computer can put you in tune and they can teach you to play the piano, but nothing can make you move like a pop star if you haven’t got it in you. I used to go to these choreography sessions. There’s a brilliant choreographer on the film who did all these big numbers. We just used to stand there looking at each other. He would put the music on and say, ‘Go, just go. Just do your own thing’ and I would say, ‘I have no thing.’ And in the end I had to rely heavily on the makeup woman bringing me what looked like a 7-Up bottle but was in fact whiskey.”
Stuffing his whole body into tight pants did help him feel the character of Alex Fletcher. “I must say when I got into my costume, I thought, ‘Yeah, quite sexy.’ Especially with those high heels.”
When it comes to playing music, Grant took to his role and pulled it off. But when it comes to talking iPods, Barrymore’s the one with all the experience. “I love a lot of stuff,” she said. “Adam Green, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, I just love every type of music and I think this particular going back into the ‘80s, because the film does explore that time, there was such a great dichotomy of music happening. Whether you were into a Joy Division type of headspace or a Madonna/Duran Duran type of headspace, I just love the music that came out of that decade. And the start of MTV, punk rock turning into alternative, turning into pop, it was such a great time for music.”
Grant’s musical knowledge only proves what a great actor he is. “I’m a fraud and a charlatan in this film, because I have no interest in music. I never have had. I don’t have any records. I never play music, so it’s very difficult for me to tell you my favorite song. Sorry.”
Music and Lyrics opens on Valentine’s Day, February 14