(Emma Bockes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/5; Photo: ‘All the neglect he suffered meant he made sure that that was not my life’ … Jennifer Grant. Photograph: Andrzej Lawnik/The Guardian.)
Born into extreme poverty, Grant was told as a child his mother had died. She had actually been placed in a psychiatric institution. It was the start of a life of repression and extraordinary reinvention
During the casting process for Archie – a forthcoming series for ITVX – about the life of Cary Grant, the late actor’s daughter, Jennifer, had several, unbreakable criteria. The actor playing her dad needed to be suave, of course, per Cary’s public persona. He had to be cerebral – her dad was an avid self-improver. And he had to wow her in a way that reflected the intensity of her relationship with a man who, at the age of 62, gave up a huge career to devote himself exclusively to raising her. Even by the standards of Hollywood, this last detail was eccentric.
It is more than 35 years since Cary died and to talk to his daughter, the sadness is still, sometimes, immediate. Jennifer Grant was a baby when her parents divorced – her mother is the actor, Dyan Cannon – and it was her father with whom she primarily lived until his death, when she was 20. “When will I stop missing him?” wrote Grant in her 2011 memoir and although, of course, the answer is never, working on the TV show has helped her close the circuit between the father she knew and the incongruity of his concealed origins – a hardscrabble upbringing in England. “I think it’s a story that deserves to be told,” says Jennifer, 57, from her house in Los Angeles, where she lives with her two children and works as an actor – most recently in the Brad Pitt film, Babylon. “It makes one appreciate Dad so much more. He had repressed so much – it was somewhat of a secret and it didn’t have to be. It was nothing shameful that he did, as a six-year-old boy.”
No aspect of his background showed up in his persona as the star of such classics as The Philadelphia Story and An Affair to Remember. It is hard to conceive now just how famous Cary was and what he represented: an idea of the sophisticated Englishman that made him Hollywood’s biggest male movie star of the prewar period, up there with Clark Gable and James Stewart. The question is how precisely he pulled this off and in the show, which has been written by Jeff Pope, who also co-wrote the Oscar-nominated movie, Philomena, the story flips between the childhood of Archibald Alexander Leach, as he was then known, and the mature Cary, who with his daughter’s approval, is played by Jason Isaacs. It was “clear from the outset,” she says, that he was the right actor for the role.
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