Britain’s best-selling Sunday paper, News of the World, closed down last week following allegations that it hacked the phones of celebrities like Sienna Miller, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The paper is also accused of hijacking voicemails meant for the royal family, British politicians, and — perhaps most shockingly — a 13-year-old murder victim named Milly Dowler. (Journalists allegedly deleted some messages, potentially slowing down the police investigation.) The public campaign against the 168-year-old tabloid — which is owned by Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp. — has been in large part led by the unlikely figure of Hugh Grant. Earlier this year, the Bridget Jones actor secretly recorded an ex-News of the World reporter, Paul McMullan, admitting that phone hacking was ”routine.” He then published a damning transcript of their chat in the U.K. magazine New Statesman.
In the wake of the paper’s sudden closure, Grant, 50, talked to EW about turning the tables on his tabloid tormentors.
How did you get involved in this story?
I was told I was hacked about six years ago and the police did nothing about it. Then I had this extraordinary encounter with a [former] News of the World journalist when my car broke down. When he started boasting about how they’d been tapping my phone, and everyone’s phone, I was so appalled I did go back a few months later and I got him doing it again [on tape] over a few drinks. That created quite a big stir. But until [the Milly Dowler story] came out properly…it was difficult to get the whole country outraged. But now they are incandescent.
This is obviously a grim story. But was there a thrill in taping McMullan?
Yes. It felt like symmetry for sure. You know, they hacked me, I hacked him.
How did you feel when you heard they were closing News of the World?
I’m sorry for the noneditorial staff, who are innocent, you know. But that newspaper was finished. No one would buy it and no one would advertise in it, because people were so revolted.
News Corp. is an enormously powerful global media organization whose assets include 20th Century Fox. Do you worry that your role in this episode is going to affect your career?
It doesn’t bother me at all. Not remotely. I’m not wildly ambitious to make lots of films at the moment anyway. It would certainly stick in my craw to work for Fox. I did make one film for them 16 years ago [the comedy Nine Months], but I was naive then. I didn’t even know who owned it. I was just a beginner.
A look at just a few of the celebrities whose voicemails were allegedly monitored by the U.K. tabloid.
Reporters allegedly spied on George Michael, who tweeted, ”you gotta have faith in Karma” when the paper’s demise was announced.
In May, Sienna Milller was reportedly awarded more than $150,000 from the paper, which had improperly accessed her mobile phones.
The scandal has been brewing since 2006, when an editor was arrested for intercepting phone messages meant for Princes William and Harry.
Earlier this year, alleged victim Jude Law helped spearhead a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against News of the World.
That’s Gooped up: A private investigator hired by the newspaper allegedly eavesdropped on Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal calls.