February 12, 2015 at 10:59 PM EST

Hugh Grant has been rather occupied in recent times taking News International to task over the phone-hacking scandal in his native U.K. But the Brit has now returned to his acting day-job with The Rewrite, a romantic comedy that will be released theatrically and via VOD on Feb. 13. Grant plays a washed-up screenwriter named Keith Michaels who reluctantly takes a teaching job at New York’s Binghamton University. The film also stars J.K. Simmons, Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney, Chris Elliott, and Bella Heathcote, who plays a student with whom Michaels immediately embarks on an innapropriate relationship.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What attracted you to The Rewrite?

HUGH GRANT: Well, I love Marc (Lawrence, the film’s director). We’ve made lots of films before, and some of them have been quite successful, and his stuff makes me laugh, and I feel like I can act them. And I needed a break from politics! It’s quite hardcore and exhausting and stressful. And so I thought, What nicer thing to do than to go away for a couple of months and make a film with Marc?

I imagine the phrase “I needed a break from politics” is one you never thought you would be using just a few years ago.

Never, ever, ever in my life. I used to have big fights with my girlfriend, who loved politics. And I always said, “Oh, politics,  it’s for second-rate intellects.” And here I am, up to my neck in it.

What was the shoot like?

We were on Long Island. I liked it. Every evening, I ate alone, in a diner, on the something-turnpike. Actually, I felt so tragic that I alternated — there were two diners next to each other. I didn’t want to seem too tragic by going to the same one every night, so I alternated, and learned my lines.

Sometimes I watch moves and wonder what actors talk about between takes, given their often disparate backgrounds.I had that thought while watching you and Chris Elliott.

Well, we do [come from different backgrounds], I suppose. We like a bit of showbiz gossip, preferably negative about people. I’m much more negative than him. He’s really quite a nice person. What else did we talk about? Well, paranoia. Insecurity. Marc is very neurotic, full of anxiety, and it turns out, so is Chris.

You must know a lot of screenwriters. Was there anything your borrowed from any of their real characters for your fictional writer?

I don’t think so. I mean, my screenwriter friends are Marc and (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid scribe) Bill Goldman, oddly enough, whose always been a great friend of Castle Rock, the people who made this film. But I’m not sure there’s any Bill in this film. Bill’s great obsession is the height of actors. I’ve seen him often at the Cannes Film Festival, sitting by the pool, trying to measure up Tom Cruise, or whoever it is coming out of the pool.

You do a good job at the start of the film of selling a character who is reluctant to teach at an upstate New York college. But I get the impression you would actually quite enjoy doing that.

We’re in quite a dangerous area here, but I can see why Keith quite enjoyed collecting a class of pretty young students…

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you would want do this to cleave your way though a class of attractive young women. Rather, that you might actually enjoy teaching.

Well, I did once have to give an acting masterclass. I don’t know how I got myself into it. I was sort of bullied by some woman I know. I dreaded it more than having my teeth extracted. But actually I did quite enjoy it in the end. My mother was a teacher and there’s something uplifting about it.  They were very keen – and that was very charming. And then just occasionally you can give them a hint which makes them better and you feel you’ve achieved something.

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