Jason Isaacs slips into the skin of Cary Grant with commendable conviction in ‘Archie’

Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in ‘Archie’. Picture: Supplied

Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in ‘Archie’. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 30, 2023


While it may be difficult to recognise Jason Isaacs with the make-up and wardrobe department working their magic to ensure he bears a close resemblance to legendary Hollywood star Cary Grant in the four-part BritBox series, Archie, his resume is impressive nonetheless.

Isaacs played Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” film franchise. He also played Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” and was cast in “Black Hawk Down”, “The Tuxedo”, “Abduction” and “Mass”. “The Great” and “Good Sam”.

But where you truly get a sense of his depth and expertise as an actor is in an interview. Despite my croaky Eartha Kitt voice thanks to the flu, he was truly wonderful to chat with.

Having caught two episodes of the show ahead of the exchange, I complimented him on his portrayal of Grant and asked him if he was head-hunted for the role.

He laughed: “Well, I was offered it. I don’t know who they offered it to first, or whether I was cheaper. I’m glad that you think there are similarities but there are no similarities at all, physically. They did a lot to make me look like him.

Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in ‘Archie’. Picture: Supplied

“I didn’t want to go for a ‘Mission Impossible’ latex mask. But really what I wanted to do was I wanted to find ways to show you who he was off screen.

“There is a reason why the show is called ‘Archie’. He was the opposite of everything Cary Grant was known for.

“If Cary Grant was suave, smooth and a lady killer, he was terrible in relationships and destroyed as many marriages, he was neurotic, had ADHD and alcohol problems, and alternated between rage, depression and being a control freak.

“And all of these things were just manifestations of the open wounds of his terribly, terribly damaging and scarred childhood. So I’m hoping that I managed to represent that. But I don’t think that that is any part of me.”

This series, which was created by Jeff Pope and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, looks at the life of Archibald Leach. This was in Bristol in 1904.

Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant with Laura Aikman as Dyan Cannon and baby Jennifer in ‘Archie’. Picture: Supplied

Years later, he was celebrated as one of Hollywood’s influential icons, Cary Grant. What this series attempts is to do a deep dive into his success story, laying bare his disturbing childhood, insecurities and vices.

Isaacs pointed out: “Jeff, who wrote it, has spent decades bringing real-life stories to the screen, with great success, and he had researched a lot of it, spent a lot of time talking to Dyan Cannon and daughter Jennifer Grant.

“The interview with his daughter wasn’t very useful because, of course, she only remembers this doting dad. But he was many other things, certainly before she was born.

“Dyan was a fantastic resource for Jeff and me. We concentrate mostly on that relationship; he had five marriages. It was toxic and terrible.

“He spent a lifetime trying to quell these storming seas in his heart and his head and it is up to the viewer to figure out whether he got somewhere.

“It was a torturous journey. And one of the reasons to tell it is that it is informative and entertaining to see that the world’s biggest star and the world’s most desired man, thought he was unlovable.

“And he pursued people and stalked them in many ways. And he was so terribly fragile.”

He continued: “It also reminds us of today’s world and our phones where these global icons look like they are perfect, but nothing is what it seems and none of those people is who they are.”

Aside from having the script as a guideline, Issacs was determined to ensure he got the character nuances right.

He said: “He (Cary) was abused, abandoned and physically violated. The one thing that the cameras can never capture is the hunger, literally and physically, he was starving for a lot of his life.

“And it made him do all kinds of things and become all kinds of people - whatever he needed to do to get food and shelter, he did. But it brought him a lot of shame later in life.

“I think it was a need in him, not consciously, but he spent a lot of his life trying to get people to love him and drove a lot of them away.

“When we look at the scale of what it meant to be a global superstar, maybe on some level, he thought if I can get everybody in the world to love me, I will feel lovable.”

Isaacs added: “Of course, instead of filling the hole, it made it bigger. It was only when he gave up acting and stepped away from the limelight, stopped seeking other people's approval and validation, and started giving love to his daughter, did he really begin to heal.”

The actor noted: “He didn’t give interviews, there were no interviews. He knew how far removed he was from his on-screen persona. I found one illicit interview, through some detective work, that gave me access to what he sounded like.

“Mostly acting isn’t the outside stuff, it is the inside stuff, it is what is his inner voice, that thing that we all have. What are we struggling with on the inside? What are the behaviour patterns? That saying, hurt people, hurt people, he held deep grudges.

“He was obsessive and extreme. It is that stuff as an actor that you have to do. You immerse yourself in everything. You trust that you have done enough work and you be in that moment.”

Isaacs sang the praises of co-star Laura Aikman, who slips into the skin of Dyan.

“I thought she was amazing. There was a lot of improvisation in this. She just is the perfect dance partner. She could be funny, sad or angry at the turn of a hat. Scenes took a direction that none of us planned because she was so on her toes.”

If you enjoy watching biopics, this is one that shouldn’t be missed. Aside from the stellar performances, and taut script, it offers a glimpse into a man loved by the world but not so much by himself.

It exposes his insecurities, shortcomings and fallibility as a human being.

It looks at how his star shone so bright in front of the camera but darkened when he was away from it as despair and loneliness suffocated him.

As they say in showbiz, truth is stranger than fiction, and this is one such example.

∎ “Archie” will be streaming on BritBox from December 7.