“I have some actor friends who took themselves very seriously and were very disdainful of my participation in Spice World.”
Picture-Illustration: Vulture; Picture by Columbia Footage

You could possibly describe 1997’s Spice World as a film about 5 younger pop stars preventing to claim their autonomy within the face of a music trade that treats them like plastic playthings and a tabloid press that’s decided to tear them aside. Or you may extra precisely describe it as a film concerning the sheer absurdity of making an attempt to make a Spice Women film within the first place — a cameo-studded, self-referential journey that careens by dream sequences, sight gags, musical performances, an alien encounter, a haunted mansion, and a string of action-movie parodies that climaxes with Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham delivering an unhinged Speed homage.

Essential to pulling all this off is Richard E. Grant’s Clifford, the group’s rageaholic supervisor, full with Nike-swoosh sideburns and a group of jewel-tone energy fits that resemble Professor Plum gone Hollywood. When he’s not cracking the whip as the ladies put together for his or her high-stakes gig at London’s famed Royal Albert Corridor — the closest factor the film has to a central storyline — Clifford endures a stream of more and more ridiculous film pitches from a pair of Hollywood producers (led by Cheers’ George Wendt) making an attempt to shamelessly money in on the Spice Women phenomenon. (Justice for Spice Force Five!) With blatant references to merchandise potential, formulaic studio filmmaking, and the irrelevant query of whether or not anyone within the band can really act, director Bob Spiers and screenwriter Kim Fuller — brother of the group’s then-manager, Simon Fuller, and future author of less-beloved pop-star automobiles like From Justin to Kelly and S Membership 7’s Seeing Double — made it clear that even when satisfying critics was by no means within the playing cards, Spice World not less than was in on the joke.

The Spice Women themselves, who this yr are celebrating the twenty fifth anniversary of their debut single, “Wannabe,” have had different and altering opinions of the film — Melanie “Sporty Spice” Chisholm has mentioned she was solely actually capable of recognize it after revisiting it by her daughter’s eyes. However Grant has all the time been glad to speak about it and the various methods the position has continued to repay for him years later: Lena Dunham’s affection for Spice World led her to provide him a component in Women, and that position in flip partly inspired Marielle Heller to solid Grant reverse Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which earned him an Oscar nod for greatest supporting actor in 2019.

Over Zoom, Grant — who performs drag-queen mentor Loco Chanelle within the movie adaption of the West Finish musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (premiering on Amazon Prime Video on September 17) — incessantly broke into full-jaw, show-all-your-teeth laughter as he recollects the delightfully chaotic summer time of 1997. To him, it’s the cult favourite he by no means noticed coming. “I had no idea there are nights where people dress up as the Spice Girls and go to screenings like it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” he mentioned throughout our dialog in August. “I have some actor friends who took themselves very seriously and were very disdainful of my participation in Spice World. They said, ‘How can you consider yourself a legitimate, proper actor if you go and be in that kind of movie?’ And I said, ‘Because it was just one of the most fantastically enjoyable jobs to do — and it was a hit!’ There’s nothing I can complain about.”

Perhaps it’s as a result of Sporty Spice has joked that performing with the group will not be in contrast to performing with a bunch of drag queens, however there was one thing about seeing you in a campy, music-driven film like All people’s Speaking About Jamie that made me wish to revisit you in Spice World, and I’m wondering in the event you felt that in any respect.
[Grins nervously.] It’s that bizarre factor — I’m conscious of different individuals’s careers, however in your personal, like a pit pony, you’re trying ahead. So I didn’t look again till you requested me to.

You had a younger daughter if you signed on to do that film. What was your relationship to Spice Mania on the time? 
Effectively, as a result of my daughter had been listening to them solidly from the age of seven, that’s all I heard within the automobile, all I heard within the bed room. So I knew each music of the Spice Women earlier than I set to work with them. I used to be absolutely educated in all issues Spice.

The Beatles’ A Arduous Day’s Evening is incessantly referenced because the precursor to a film like Spice World. The previous got here out if you have been roughly the identical age your daughter was when the latter got here out. Did that assist you to perceive the group’s reputation and a film undertaking like this?
Having been a lifelong Beatles fan, I used to be completely astonished to be in a public scenario the place that Spice Mania paralleled what I’d seen on newsreels or examine occurring to the Beatles. However what I used to be so struck by is that despite the fact that they have been the epicenter of this world whirlwind, they appeared as stunned as I used to be strolling into this. They stored saying again and again, “We can’t believe this has happened to us.” In order that was very touching and weak.

The 5 of them collectively will be an unstoppable drive — in old TV interviews, they typically bulldoze the host in a approach that appears fairly intimidating. What have been your impressions of assembly them and appearing throughout from them?
I had simply turned 40, and so they have been about half my age. And Scary Spice, Mel B, pinched my bum on the primary day and mentioned, “You’re not bad for an old guy.” [Laughs.] I believed, If that’s a seal of approval from the rowdiest of the Spice Women, then I used to be A for away. They only appeared capable of discuss something. They have been so uninhibited, and so thrilled with the success that they’d, that it was onerous to not be taken up by all that power.

And the producers have been completely thrilled as a result of, on the primary day, every of us had enormous Winnebagos with a lounge and nearly each trendy factor {that a} Tom Cruise Winnebago may have. They usually mentioned, “We feel lonely in here; we want to be with each other.” I actually didn’t give mine up — it’s the largest one I’d ever had in my profession — however all of them insisted on becoming a member of up. So, to the producers’ delight, they removed 4 Winnebagos that they now not wanted to pay exorbitant leases on as a result of all of them needed to be collectively on a regular basis.

You have been one of many first individuals solid on this film. How did Kim Fuller pitch the film to you?
This was so way back, and in these days, we had answering machines. Do you even know what that’s?

I do!
It’s a machine with a cassette in it, slightly mild that beeps and flashes purple. And when my daughter got here again from college, she went into my examine and pressed the button as a result of the sunshine was flashing. And she or he heard this message saying, “Hi, it’s Kim Fuller. I called your agent, and I want you to be the Spice Girls’ manager in the Spice World movie.” And my daughter was completely hysterical. She mentioned, “I don’t care if Disney offers you a lifelong contract — you have to work for the Spice Girls so that I can come and meet them.” And in order that’s mainly the way it occurred.

Within the movie’s end-credits scene, a faux have a look at life on set, you’re on the telephone with an agent questioning aloud if this position will harm your profession. What did your precise agent assume on the time?
My agent was, and stays, very money-focused. And when he noticed what they have been providing, he was very, very glad, as was I. So smiles throughout the desk.

What did you consider the script? There’s not a whole lot of plot; there are such a lot of bizarre tonal shifts and spoofs. Believing that it might all add up onscreen looks like it might have been an act of blind religion.
I knew that my position in it was to mainly be anyone making an attempt to herd cats, making an attempt to keep up management the place management was the very last thing on anyone’s thoughts. In order that was my overriding impression. Due to the A Arduous Day’s Evening movie, I knew that narrative wasn’t the strongest level of it. It was nearly like a collection of sketches all woven collectively to be able to pitch the Spice Women into no matter excessive scenario they might, whether or not it was seeing aliens or Meat Loaf [who plays the group’s bus driver]. It was that barely improvisatory, anything-goes model.

When Roger Moore accepted the half [as the Chief, the band’s enigmatic label head], sending himself up as James Bond, stroking the cat like Blofeld, I believed, Effectively, that could be a measure of simply how random a whole lot of it appeared to be. In order that was actually fulfilling. And, after all, we knew the critics have been going to have a discipline day and say, “This is not cinema in the true sense.” However we’ve had the final snigger, as a result of individuals have nonetheless carried on watching it nearly 25 years down the road, which is astonishing.

The Chief communicates with Clifford totally through cryptic phone calls. I do know telephone calls aren’t all the time filmed stay between actors — did you get to work together with him a lot whereas he was filming?
Oh, fully; we did every little thing inside that complete day. Within the studio after we have been working, all people went very quiet [when Moore showed up]. I hadn’t skilled that earlier than, however it was Roger Moore — a legend. And on this whole silence, he simply mentioned, “Do I owe anybody any money in here?” And that broke the ice. He was actually, actually charming and really good. When he launched himself, I’d mentioned to him {that a} girlfriend I’d had nicknamed my dick Roger Moore as a result of it solely has two expressions: one eyebrow up or down! [Laughs.] I instructed him this, and he thought that was humorous.

Oh my God.
In order that’s a measure of this man’s nice humor.

The film is crammed with so many cameos, from well-known musicians to iconic character actors and TV personalities. Did you might have any favorites?
Elton John got here in Storm Troopering. He’s born with the IMPATIENT button pressed firmly down, so it’s a must to get Sir Elton in a short time or he’s gone earlier than you possibly can blink. I’m making an attempt to assume who else …

Elvis Costello is your bartender if you’re ingesting after a struggle with the band.
Sure! And Meat Loaf on the bus. Meat Loaf was so pleasant. I believed he was going to be in one other dimension of … I don’t know what I anticipated, actually, however I didn’t anticipate this actually pleasant man to be there.

Was Clifford absolutely fashioned if you took the position or did you might have room to make him your personal?
They only mentioned, “Be as bossy and extreme and manic as you like. The more and more you do that, it’s more for the Spice Girls to bounce off.” So I went for it. They usually gave me nice garments, all these tight-fitting coloured fits with fancy shoulder pads and large collars. I received to maintain the entire costumes. I don’t assume I’d match into any of them proper now, however they’re all in my loft.

And the facial hair — these insane sideburns, that soul patch. You needed to preserve that for, what, about two months?
It’s simply glue, only a little bit of glue.

That is like discovering out the Spice Bus isn’t actual! I think about that Clifford, who’s mainly on the verge of a breakdown your complete film and has these suits of eye-bulging rage, will need to have been actually enjoyable to play. Nothing appeared like too massive of a swing.
It was license to thrill, license to kill. There’s additionally one thing about the truth that you realize you’re making a film that’s totally for followers of this band. They’re not people who find themselves going to be studying Sight & Sound journal and following the internal workings of [Andrei] Konchalovsky’s profession. It’s popcorn, popular culture, unequivocally and unapologetically. I believe its nice celebratory high quality is what comes throughout within the film and why it’s such a worldwide success.

There’s a winking reference within the movie as to whether the ladies may even act, however as I’ve revisited Spice World through the years, I’ve developed such appreciation for his or her comedic timing and over-the-top line readings. What did you make of their performances?
There can be issues that have been scripted after which there can be a free-for-all ambiance: “Do I have to say that line again? Do I have to do exactly what’s been written down?” There was a whole lot of improvisation, which made it extra vigorous. None of them pretended to be skilled actors, so having to do one thing ten occasions over for technical causes, they simply had no persistence with it. So there was only a feeling that you just mentioned “Action!” and no matter occurred, they grabbed.

Is that hectic?
Oh, it was enjoyable. I’ve by no means had an expertise like that, earlier than or since.

The group reportedly rejected a script with extra fictionalized variations of themselves previous to the one Kim wrote, and Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell wrote within the film’s official companion e book that she spent a whole lot of time fine-tuning it with him. They didn’t look like girls you may simply feed traces to.   
They didn’t ask, “Could the line be like this?” They’d simply do it. They’d simply say, “Oh no, what we’re going to talk about is much better than this.” They usually’d go for it.

What have been your favourite reminiscences of taking pictures?
The stuff in Albert Corridor, where they’re performing and the place Clifford has a big argument with them on stage. That’s the day I keep in mind greater than another. It’s such an iconic venue for Londoners, and to be there with my daughter and all her associates plus her many new associates that summer time — that was an incredible feeling. [The kids] didn’t thoughts how lengthy they needed to wait watching the infinite replays or the miming of the songs. Typically with extras, by the tenth take, the assistant director’s received to go, “Okay, come on, get your energy back.” However the second [the band] completed a quantity or did a scene, all these younger feminine followers of theirs went completely bananas. You could possibly really feel their power. It was extraordinary.

You and Geri reunited just before the pandemic and posted a heartwarming picture on Twitter. How typically do you run into the band members?
I see Geri each every so often. Victoria despatched me a Spice Girls T-shirt for Pride two months in the past. I used to be on a radio present that Emma [“Baby Spice” Bunton] was DJ-ing on. I noticed Mel C just lately — she requested me to do an interview together with her for one thing. After which I used to be filming a Christmas particular just a few weeks in the past that can come out later this yr, and Scary was on that. I hadn’t seen her for some time. From them having been 20 or 21 or no matter Geri’s age was, after which now seeing them with youngsters and ongoing lives, it’s pretty candy. They usually all the time ask after my daughter. It appears like a win-win having met and labored with them.

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By this time, Grant had appeared in films like Withnail and I (1987), Methods to Get Forward in Promoting (1989), Hudson Hawk (1991), The Participant (1992), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and The Age of Innocence (1993).

Among the many well-known actors, musicians and personalities with small components and cameos: Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Invoice Paterson, Dominic West, Bob Geldof, Peter Sissons, Jools Holland, Alan Cumming, Kevin McNally, and Michael Barrymore.

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