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Richard E. Grant Reveals Who His "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" Character Is Based On

Also: Don Lemon urges us to have a little dirty fun, and the dark side of Carol Channing.

Richard E. Grant has won award recognition (and will surely nab an Oscar nomination tomorrow) for his performance as the bottom-feeding but somehow appealing Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Hock is portrayed in the movie as a woozy, boozy, drug dealing, life loving, endlessly propositioning gay grifter who befriends Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), the down on her luck lesbian author who resorts to forging celebrity letters to pay the rent. In one classic scene, Jack lusts after a diner waiter, only to have Lee quip about the food Jack ordered, “How are you gonna eat it with his dick in your mouth?”

At a party for the film—where I simply engorged myself with shrimp cocktail, I swear—I got to sit down with the Swazi-British actor and chat about his characterization and the grizzly early days of the AIDS crisis. Every word was authenticated. [Spoilers Below]

Hello, Richard. Your character is at the end of his road, but I enjoyed that you brought such joie de vivre to him. He seems game for anything.

Thank you.

What was your inspiration for that?

Ian Charleson was a Scottish actor who played the Scottish runner in Chariots of Fire. We did a TV movie together called Codename: Kyril. My wife is Scottish—that provided an instant connection for us—and she coached him for his American accent in a production of Fool For Love. Ian developed AIDS and approached it with a combination of incredible boyish charm and salacious, louche decadence. I thought that combination was maybe something Jack could have. Ian wore a bandana on his head, so I thought I could do that when Jack is dying of AIDS. Ian knew he was dying. He was so young. His appetite for squeezing every last drop out of every day in case it was his last informed this part.

I feel like Jack is one of those giddy drunks who hide a lot of pain. But he wasn’t always so willfully carefree. Why did he end up turning on Lee Israel? Because he had to?

He was caught and being a coward. And he was somebody to save his own skin. He’d already been in jail for two years for holding a taxi driver at knifepoint. And he knew he had HIV and didn’t have much time left, and didn’t want to spend it in jail. So he gave her up. She’d had to use him to fence these letters. She expected four or five hundred dollars for them. He’d come back with $2,000. He had a talent for schmoozing in whatever part of town he was in.

Do you look like the real Jack at all?

He was tall, blond, American, and died at 47. I am 61, grey, and English. [Smiles]

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26: Actor Richard E. Grant attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations to discuss his latest biographical drama film "Can You Ever Forgive Me" at The Robin Williams Center on November 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

What were your feelings during those dark days of AIDS?

When I tell young people about it, they say, “Are you being an actor about this?” No. A whole generation was wiped out. Do you know Sandra Bernhard?

Yes, since the ‘90s.

Me too. We did [the notorious flop film] Hudson Hawk together.

You’re brave to admit that.

Well, the good luck of that disaster is my lifelong friendship with Sandra. Once, I was going to visit Sandra and Isaac Mizrahi and I saw on the street people holding placards saying they had AIDS and had been abandoned by their jobs, abandoned by Medicare, and abandoned by their families. It’s literally a blink away in history. It was so shocking. An indelible memory.

It was so surreal, you had to be there to even believe it.

Rupert Everett expressed the notion that gay life has been normalized. He said, “You shouldn’t be mad at those kids.” And society has come so far. Would you have imagined same sex marriage?

No. When I was running around being gay in the ‘70s, for example, those rights weren’t even on the table yet. But now that the community has come forward, there are so many setbacks.

It’s always going forward. And you can’t stop it. Who you love is who you love.

Life Gives You a Lemon

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Don Lemon attends the 12th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on December 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN)

Thanks to my tenacity, I was one of the people honored at Metrosource magazine’s People We Love gala the other night—applause, applause—and so was CNN’s Don Lemon, who’s been a great critic of Trump’s various phobias. Addressing the crowd, Don (who was with his boyfriend, Corcoran Group real estate agent Tim Malone) said he had gotten recognition from gays all around the country for being on the Metrosource cover.

He also urged the crowd, “It’s okay to be gay. As a matter of fact, it’s fabulous. And it’s good to live in a time—and I think it’s going to get better—where people can love each other and be who they are without having to worry about it, and without having to make an excuse for it.” Unless you want to get into Karen Pence’s art class, that is. And then Lemon delightfully added, “Live, laugh, love, have fun, and do something a little dirty tonight!”

Well, before I took his marvelous advice, I chatted up another honoree, drag star Tina Burner, who won the Audience Choice award and told me her performances come from blending together bits of all the movies she grew up engorging herself on. Tina acknowledged the fact that Lypsinka paved the way in doing marvelous mashups of the type Tina later did and now virtually every drag queen feels is de rigueur. “Do a Google search, girls,” Tina and I both agreed about the importance of knowing your drag herstory. And performer/writer Ryan Raftery certainly did his research about Calvin Klein, the subject of his latest show at Joe’s Pub. (Previous ones have dealt with icons like Anna Wintour and Andy Cohen.) Ryan told me this one is loosely based on Black Swan, and has a Celine Dion “Where Does My Heart Beat Now?” sequence which deals with Klein’s trysts with various genders. (Mostly males, I assure you. Don’t get me started on the marriage he suddenly embarked on when AIDS was mounting.) Ryan also dug up an FIT teacher’s report on Calvin, calling him “talented and immature,” and yet someone who could possibly become a big style icon. And that he did. And with that, I went home, laid down in my Calvins, and thought of some wonderfully dirty things. Good enough, Don?

Blind Bonus Item

Wait, here’s more dirt: Remember that big opposite-sex celebrity breakup? Well, guess what I heard is one of the main reasons for the split? I’ll tell you: The husband is supposedly with his boyfriend now. Helleaux!

I Don't Mean Rhinestones

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 25: Actor Carol Channing performs during the Fourth Annual Actors' Fund of America gala, October 25, 2003 in the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at California State University in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

As for a sad goodbye, Carol Channing was a saucer-eyed delight, a larger than life creation who—as I told the press upon her passing last Tuesday—appealed to gays for her campy charm and also the way she played characters who used their wiles to get their just desserts. (As outcasts, we have to do that sometimes, working people to earn our proppers. Look at Jack Hock!) And Channing certainly loved gays back—in fact, she even married one! Whether dealing in “Raspberries!” or corn, Channing was musical theater perfection—never missing a performance or even a note—and I also loved her in the terrible movie Skidoo, the wacky Alice in Wonderland on TV (“Jam Tomorrow”), and virtually everything else she ever did, except her first major film, The First Traveling Saleslady, in which her big kiss with Clint Eastwood was so awkward that they cut it. And the woman was deliciously daffy to the end. In 2013, she was interviewed by Justin Vivian Bond onstage at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove (Fire Island) and was occasionally hazy, but mostly game and funny. She also turned serious when audience member Tommy Tune requested that she do her heart-tugging Hello, Dolly! monologue to her late husband, which she went into a letter perfect version of, complete with a crisp “Before The Parade Passes By.”

Unfortunately, Channing also seemed to cling onto her barracuda instincts. I hear she insisted that Bond sit facing upwards throughout the show, an old show biz trick dragged out of mothballs so Channing could have dominance. The performance also started with a few semi-jokey remarks Channing aimed at Bond, clearly in order to remain the star. And offstage, verbal darts were thrown Justin’s way too, but V. never let it show onstage, acting sweet, patient, and professional. If that’s too dark a look into Channing’s modus operandi, let me end with a cuter interaction that happened during that same trip to Fire Island. Drag performer Logan Hardcore met the legend at the Ice Palace during the day and told me, “Her face was right across from my tits, and she said, ‘I love your eyes!’"

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