The 'Notting Hill' stars cite the dangers of being recognized... and not being recognized

By Josh Wolk
Updated May 28, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Barry Talesnick/Retna

In the new romantic comedy ”Notting Hill,” Hugh Grant’s character — an everyday bookseller — is mostly unfazed by the throng of paparazzi who appear outside his door after he spends a night with a world-famous actress (Julia Roberts). That’s a stretch from the VERY fazed reaction Grant himself gave to the photographers stationed outside his home in the aftermath of his whole 1995 Divine Brown… uh…”incident.” ”I was attacking them with my umbrella, which is not what you’re supposed to do,” Grant remembers. ”Especially with your mother’s umbrella, which it happened to be at the time. It was so uncool, it had a little duck’s head on the end. The duck’s head flew off, and I had to scrabble for it in the gutter.”

The newsmen have long since decamped from his front lawn, but even when a celebrity like Grant or Roberts isn’t in the throes of a tabloid carnival, there’s still the pitfall of walking around with a famous face. ”I was at the movies with my mom, and I had gone to the loo,” says Roberts of the moment she realized she had lost her anonymity. ”Someone in the bathroom in a rather loud voice said, ‘Girl in stall number one! Were you in ”Mystic Pizza”?”’

Grant also had an embarrassing introduction to celebrity. He was sitting in a British movie theater when a trailer for what would become his breakthrough movie came on, ”and the voice on the screen said, ‘You are cordially invited to ”Four Weddings and a Funeral,”’ and the bloke on my right said, ‘I don’t THINK so,”’ Grant remembers. ”Then the lights came up between the trailer and the main feature, and I could see he and his friend recognizing me. When the lights went down again, I could hear them having this furious conversation: ‘Should we move?’ ‘Why should we move?’ ‘It’s embarrassing!’ It was depressing, because at that point ‘Four Weddings’ hadn’t come out, and I thought, My God, the whole world is sitting there watching this trailer saying, ‘I don’t THINK so.”’

But sometimes the toughest thing about being a celebrity is convincing people you are one. ”Rather frequently someone comes up and says, ‘Are you Julia Roberts?”’ says the actress. ”And I say yes, and they say, ‘No!’ And I say yes again, and they say, ‘No!’ And short of pulling out ID, I let it go.” Well, at least THOSE fans are impressed. Remembers Grant, ”I had one girl at a gas station in New York say to me, ‘Hey, you look like that Hugh Grant…. No offense.”’