Hugh Grant's biggest mistake -- Can the ''Nine Months''' star still find success?

By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated July 21, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hugh Grant is motoring his snow-white BMW convertible slowly along Sunset Boulevard. He hangs a right onto a secluded residential street, wheels up a winding hill, and pulls to the curb. ”Very impressive, isn’t it?” he asks, grinning coyly at the stranger sitting in the passenger seat. ”Quite lovely, no? A bit smaller than expected, though, don’t you think?”

Okay, wipe that filthy smirk off your face. Grant is talking about Cary Grant’s old house — a stunning Deco edifice perched high above Hollywood — and his car mate on this late-June day is just a magazine reporter with an enviable, though now ironic, assignment: Cruise around Los Angeles with England’s hottest new screen sensation and let him riff on the town that’s about to make him a megastar. We’ve even brought along one of those cheesy tourist maps of celebrity homes for inspiration.

But four days after our grand tour, the 34-year-old actor was caught taking a cruise of an entirely different sort. The details of his awfully embarrassing adventure are by now well known: On June 27, at about 1:30 a.m., Grant was arrested in Los Angeles for inviting a Sunset Strip prostitute named Divine Marie Brown into his BMW, driving to a secluded residential street, and engaging in what the LAPD discreetly described as ”an act of lewd conduct.” Within hours, it was the bust heard round the globe. Grant’s bummed-out mug shot was plastered on front pages on both sides of the Atlantic (”Hugh Dirty Dog!” shrieked the always subtle New York Post). CNN and local news programs played the story as if it were the capture of the Unabomber, complete with up-to-the-minute bulletins. And, of course, the late-night boys had a ball, with Letterman offering a Top Ten list on Grant’s future movies (No. 1 was Poca-hooker).

The timing could not have been worse: just two weeks before the July 12 opening of Nine Months, by far the most important movie of Grant’s career. If last year’s Four Weddings and a Funeral was the film that got Grant noticed in Hollywood, this was to be his first shot at a genuine blockbuster. Directed by hitmaker Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone), it casts Grant as a happily unmarried man who goes off the deep end when his girlfriend — played by Julianne Moore (Vanya on 42nd Street) — announces she’s pregnant. Disarmingly witty, beguilingly bumbling, handsomely mop-topped, the character was shaped as the perfect vehicle to launch Grant into the stratosphere of stardom.

But, of course, that was ”B.S.” (Before Scandal).

”It’s all very weird,” admits Columbus. ”We’re perplexed and wondering what effect it will have on the movie. But as far as Hugh is concerned — it’s just a blip in a great actor’s career. I honestly feel if it happened to someone who wasn’t so incredibly talented and such a gifted actor, it wouldn’t mean anything.

”At least,” Columbus says, ”it wasn’t an animal.”

Two weeks later, just a few hours before taping his July 10 guest shot on The Tonight Show — his first post-arrest public appearance — Grant is talking on a phone from his hotel room in Los Angeles. ”Well, I can’t pretend that these have been the best couple of weeks of my life,” he says contritely. ”To be honest with you, none of it has been the kind of press you really want. None of it is what you might call nice. Curiously, though, the suffering one goes through in these circumstances — you don’t mind it too much. I almost feel as if I deserve a good whipping.”