Oscar Actors: Grant, Richard E.–Background, Career, Awards

Updated July 1, 2020
Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class:


Family: parents divorce; he watched his mom committing adultery in a car



Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: Withnail and I (1987); age 30

Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role: Can You Ever Forgive Me? 2019; age 61

Other Noms:

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film:

Career Output:

Film Career Span: 1980–present

Marriage: Voice coach


Death: NA


Richard E. Grant (born Richard Grant Esterhuysen; May 5, 1957) is a Swazi-British actor. He made his film debut as Withnail in the comedy Withnail and I (1987) and has had prominent roles in films such as How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), Hudson Hawk (1991), The Player (1992), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), The Age of Innocence (1993), Spice World (1997), Gosford Park (2001), The Iron Lady (2011), Logan (2017), and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

In 2018, Grant received critical acclaim for his role as Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male as well as receiving Oscar Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor.

Grant was born Richard Grant Esterhuysen in Mbabane, Protectorate of Swaziland (now Eswatini). He is the son of Leonne and Henrik Esterhuysen, who was head of education for the British government administration in the British Protectorate of Swaziland. He has English, Dutch/Afrikaner, and German ancestry. He has a younger brother, Stuart, a tour guide in Johannesburg, from whom he is estranged.

As a boy, Grant went to primary school at St Mark’s, a local government school in Mbabane that only recently had become racially integrated. When Grant was 10, he witnessed his mother commit adultery in a car with his father’s best friend, which led to his parents’ divorce. This event inspired Grant to keep a daily diary, which he has continued to do ever since.

Grant attended secondary school at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, an independent school near Mbabane. He then studied English and drama at the University of Cape Town. He adopted his stage name when he moved to Britain as an adult and registered with Equity.

Grant was a member of the Space Theatre Company in Cape Town before moving to London in 1982. He later stated, “I grew up in Swaziland when it was mired in a 1960s sensibility. The kind of English spoken where I grew up was a period English sound and when I came to England people said, ‘how strange’. Charles Sturridge, who directed Brideshead Revisited for TV, said, ‘you speak English like someone from the 1950s’.”

Grant at the 2007 BAFTA Awards
Grant’s first film role was the perpetually inebriated title character in the cult classic Withnail and I (1987). Following this film, Grant started appearing in Hollywood films, quickly establishing himself as a powerful character actor in a wide array of films, from blockbuster studio movies to small independent projects. Over the past 20 years, Grant has had strong supporting roles in the films Henry & June, L.A. Story, The Player, The Age of Innocence, The Portrait of a Lady, Spice World, Gosford Park, Bright Young Things, and Penelope.

While filming L.A. Story with Steve Martin, the pair communicated by fax in what became for both a hilarious dialogue. Martin wrote: “I kept these faxes, which grew to a stack more than 2 inches thick, because they entertained me, and because I thought they were valuable aesthetic chunks from a screeching mind, a stream-of-consciousness faucet spewing sentences – sometimes a mile long – none of it rewritten, and bearing just the right amount of acid and alkaline.”[13]

In 1995, Grant starred as the titular character in Peter Capaldi’s short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The film won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. In 1996, he portrayed a hilarious Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Trevor Nunn’s film of Twelfth Night. He released a single and accompanying video “To Be Or Not To Be” with Orpheus in 1997.

In 2003 Grant costarred in Posh Nosh, a spoof of cooking shows on BBC.

Grant has twice portrayed the Doctor from Doctor Who, both outside the main continuity. In the comedy sketch Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, he portrayed a version of the Tenth Doctor, referred to as the Quite Handsome Doctor. He also voiced a version of the Ninth Doctor for the BBC original animated webcast Scream of the Shalka. The latter had intended to be the official Ninth Doctor prior to the revival of the TV series.

Grant made his first official Doctor Who appearance in the 2012 Christmas special, titled “The Snowmen”, in which he plays the villain, Walter Simeon. During the episode Simeon is erased from his body and it is taken over by the Great Intelligence, voiced in that episode by Ian McKellen until the takeover. The Great Intelligence is one of the Second Doctor’s most infamous villains and, was last seen in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. Grant reprises the role in “The Bells of Saint John” and in the series 7 finale, “The Name of the Doctor”.

Grant as The Voice for 2+2+2 at Heavy Entertainment, London.
On 1 December 2006, Grant turned real-life investigator when, with the help of the BBC’s Newsnight, he exposed a $98 million scam to sell a bogus AIDS cure.[14][15]

Grant appeared as “The Voice” in 2+2+2 at American Nights at The King’s Head Theatre, from 3 to 29 July 2007, and in 2008 co-starred in the London-based comedy Filth and Wisdom. On 22 November 2007, he gave a keynote speech at North London Collegiate School in north London as part of their Performing Arts Centre Opening Festival,[16] and presented the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards.[17]

In 2008, he made his musical theatre debut with Opera Australia, playing the role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, a role he reprised in 2017 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In 2009, he played Alain Reille in Yasmina Reza’s one-act play God of Carnage at the Theatre Royal, Bath: and subsequently at Cheltenham, Canterbury, Richmond, Brighton and Milton Keynes.[18]

In 2010 he made an appearance in a music video, when short lived Bristol band The Chemists hired him to appear in their video for “This City”; the band split the same year. This appearance also followed up his previous involvement with the band the year before, in which he spoke the lyrics to “This City” to background music, as part of the intro and outro tracks on their only album Theories of Dr Lovelock.

Grant at the premiere of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, October 2018
Grant was a mentor on the British Airways Great Britons Programme.[19] In March 2013 Grant starred as intelligence analyst Brian Jones in David Morley’s drama The Iraq Dossier, with Peter Firth, Anton Lesser, David Caves, and Lindsay Duncan. It recounted the story of how British Ministry of Defence Intelligence expert Jones had tried to warn that his government’s September Dossier on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction was inaccurate.[20]

In 2014, Grant was cast on the HBO series Girls because Lena Dunham saw him in Spice World.

On 9 May 2015 Grant gave a reading at VE Day 70: A Party to Remember in Horse Guards Parade, London.

In 2016 Grant joined the HBO series Game of Thrones in Season 6 as Izembaro.

In 2017, he starred as Zander Rice, the main antagonist of Logan, opposite Hugh Jackman, in which he gained positive critical reception for his performance.

In July 2018, Lucasfilm announced that Grant would appear in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Grant’s critically lauded performance as Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), earned him Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. The part also won Grant a New York Film Critics Circle Award and other critics awards.

In March 2020, Grant joined the cast of Loki series on Disney+, though his role is yet to be revealed.

Grant wrote and directed the 2005 film Wah-Wah, loosely based on his own childhood experiences. A screenwriter recommended he write a screenplay after reading Grant’s memoirs of his Withnail and I experience. The film took him over seven years to complete, and starred Nicholas Hoult in the lead role, with Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Julie Walters and Emily Watson. Grant kept a diary of the experience, later published as a book (The Wah-Wah Diaries).

Grant married voice coach Joan Washington in 1986 and has one daughter with her, Olivia, and a stepson, Tom.

Grant is a teetotaller. His body has intolerance of alcohol, having no enzymes in the blood to metabolise it. If he does drink alcohol, he can keep it down for 10 minutes and is then violently sick for 24 hours afterward. After casting him as the alcoholic Withnail, director Bruce Robinson made Grant drink a bottle of champagne and half a bottle of vodka during the course of a night so that he had experienced the sensation of being drunk.

At age 12, he “developed a rhapsodic crush” on Barbra Streisand and remains a fan. He has done a tour of Streisand’s New York, visiting her early home, her high school, and the Village Vanguard, among other places.

Grant is a dual citizen of the U and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). He used to wear a watch on each wrist, one given to him by his dying father, permanently set on Swaziland time.

Grant is an atheist. He is an avid supporter of Premier League football club West Ham United. In 2014, Grant launched his new unisex perfume, JACK, exclusively at Liberty of Regent Street, London. Grant runs the perfume business with his daughter.