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‘I feel Irish because Irish people love to chat and so do I’ – Actor Richard E. Grant

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The 67-year-old star is still beloved for his eccentric role in 1987 cult classic, Withnail and I.

And last night he bewitched a packed audience at the International Literature Festival in Dublin.

The Saltburn actor sat down with the Irish Independent after his public appearance and revealed how his memoir, A Pocket Full of Happiness, traced the history of a perfect 35-year marriage to his much-loved wife, Joan Washington.

Joan sadly passed away in 2021 at the age of 74, after suffering lung cancer.

Yet, four days before her passing, she encouraged Grant and their daughter, Olivia, not to be mournful – but, instead to “find a pocket full of happiness everyday,” the actor said.

Grant kept his promise to Joan and as a “lifelong diary keeper” he cherished their final days and their treasured love story, writing a diary at the end of each day.

The book, named after the dying wish from his wife, has gone on to offer solace to many who are enduring their own losses.

The diary had been to remember “whatever time we had together,” Grant said.

But somehow, in its publicised form, it’s become so much more as a type of handbook to help others in mourning.

And digging deep to find his happy place, the star ignited this audience. They lapped up every word and laughed at every single quip.

And as is the case with every Irish audience that adores a star, they wanted him to be one of our own and it seemed, he craved that too. “My future son-in-law, who’s Austrian, gave me a DNA test for Christmas and I found out I’m 25pc Irish,” he said.

And this statement was greeted with a raucous cheer. Finally, another star we can claim and the Brits can’t quibble one bit over this. After all, Grant was born in Eswatini (former Swaziland) in southern Africa. And now he’s claiming us.

The actor recalled spending his first night at his late wife’s home in Richmond, Surrey and he revealed his enduring romantic side.

“I brought a bunch of tulips to Joan’s house and entered, holding the bunch behind my back until Joan enquired why my hands were hidden for 10 minutes,” Grant said.

Originally, he’d written this publicised diary, as a record for himself of the precious time left with Joan and to look back on their history together.

But inevitably, he realised the story could help others and it was published.

He said: “When someone is diagnosed terminally, you have no control. The one thing I had, was at the end of everyday, I wrote down everything that had happened. It felt like a way of controlling something uncontrollable.”

Social media had helped those going through grief to respond to the book. And in turn, this had aided Grant in his own grief to “feel less alone,” in the darkness of mourning.

“It was a great way to navigate grief and everyday we try to find the ordinary things in joy and it’s been helpful,” he said.

When asked about faith, Grant revealed he does not believe in an afterlife. Instead, he encourages everyone to “make the most of your life.”

Grant read a passage from his book to the audience, outlining the final two days of Joan’s life. It received rapturous applause. And the connection between those who’d also lost someone and the actor, was visceral.

Despite his rise to fame, the actor had to overcome a great deal from an at times, traumatic childhood.

He told how his father, Henrik, a director of education in Africa, was an alcoholic, who shot at him when he was a child.

“He passed out and didn’t remember it the next day,” he said.

And he also told how he’d witnessed his mother, Leanne’s infidelity, when he was a child.

She had then fled with her husband’s best friend, when Grant was only 10-years-old. Grant’s latest project, The Franchise, is a Sam Mendes directed comedy series based on the making of superhero movies.

He said: “I’ve been cast against type, as very old and disgruntled. I make politically incorrect jokes all the time. But that’s scripted, it’s not me. We’re coming to the end of that now.”

The star shares how his character says inappropriate statements and offers a completely fresh take on the often sanitised superhero genre.

RTÉ broadcaster Rick O’Shea earlier interviewed the actor inside the Speranza tent at Merrion Square in south Dublin city.

At one point, when a member of the audience asked whom Grant’s favourite stars were from Hollywood’s golden age, he responded with gusto: “Marlon Brando, the King and Elizabeth Taylor.”

And he told how, his wife, dialect coach, Joan, had helped Brendan Gleeson perfect a distinctive British accent to play the role of Winston Churchill in Into the Storm in 2008.

Gleeson had asked Joan “how the f**k am I going to sound like Winston Churchill?,” Grant said. It turned out, he really shouldn’t have worried.

“Joan worked with (Gleeson) on many, many jobs. “He got the Emmy for playing Winston Churchill.”

Grant described Joan as a truth teller, who “told it like it was.”

“There is so much b******t that goes on, “ he said. “You’re fabulous until your thing’s a flop.”

But Joan offered people an unfiltered take on life. Her down-to-earth honesty is exactly why she became friends with Barbara Streisand, he said.

Despite Joan being a Scottish Presbyterian and Streisand coming from Brooklyn, both women were, he said, “straight talking” and respected each other for it.

Their friendship and Joan’s determination led her to becoming dialect coach for the cast of Yentl in 1983, a movie which saw Streisand become the first woman to receive a Golden Globe for best director.

And Joan had also used her powers of persuasion on her husband too.

He told how “she taught me to always be kind to people above all else,” he said.

“People can feel very rushed in this social media age, but if you can take time to be kind to someone, to really connect with them, it makes all the difference.”

But as for the journey of loss, he admitted it was without end. “Grief is something that people never recover from,” he said.

And with that, the interview was over, but all of Ireland would no doubt love him to stay.

“It’s something that stays with them always, but you can learn to grow with it. “I aim to find joy in the ordinary moments in life, as Joan had wanted. Small acts of kindness help in times of grief. That can lift you up.”

Thanks to Joan’s message and Grant’s willingness to help others with his own experience, he very much hopes others will now find their pocket full of happiness, too.

And as for his Irishness, it seems that’s giving him just the right dose of joy, too. “I feel Irish,” he said. “Because Irish people love to chat and so do I.”

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