When King first co-wrote the script for “Paddington 2,” he knew he wanted Grant to play the villain. Even though the “Wonka” director rightly anticipated that the “Love, Actually” star would be perfect for the part, he was nervous to approach him about it. The role wasn’t exactly flattering, and he wasn’t sure how Grant would take it.
“He seemed to have sort of retired at the time,” King recalled in conversation with Vanity Fair. “We wrote this very awkward letter — ‘We’ve come up with this role, of a kind of vain, washed-up old ham, whose best days are sort of behind him, his lips are sort of heading south along with his jawline, and we thought of you.’ Luckily he saw the funny side.”
The “Notting Hill” star took the role, but it ended up being a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Grant’s part in “Paddington 2” was announced at the Golden Globes, “people were full of derision,” Grant recalled to VF. “‘Christ, has it come to that. Poor old Hugh. ‘Paddington 2.’ Sequel to a kids film.'” The negative reaction didn’t deter him from celebrating the film though — in fact, he still believes “it may be the best film I’ve ever been in.”
Grant’s sense of humor is exactly what made his part in “Paddington 2” so great, and it was also why King wanted to work with him again for “Wonka.” He knew that the British actor encapsulated the precise brand of sarcasm and whimsy that was trademark to the Oompa Loompa. “Once you see Hugh Grant as an 18-inch high orange man with green hair, you go, ‘Ah, yes. I know what Oompa Loompas are,” the director told Total Film. “It all makes perfect sense.'”