Jay Leno Reminisces About Hugh Grant's ‘Effed Up’ Hookergate
If one of Jay Leno’s producers asked him “What the hell are you thinking?” shortly before his climactic interview with freshly marred superstar Hugh Grant in 1995, his honest answer would have been, “Not much.”
Grant has been one of the most enduring and consistent leading men in all of film throughout the last four decades, but in June 1995, the delightfully distinguished Brit faced the biggest scandal of his burgeoning career. Just two weeks before the release of his first major studio film, the hit rom-com Nine Months, Grant was arrested for soliciting oral sex from a Hollywood sex worker, an incident that quickly became front-page news for every entertainment outlet. A couple weeks later, he appeared on The Tonight Show, and gave what would be one of the most impactful interviews of his and Leno’s careers.
Leno recalled his side of the story during a recent episode of Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? as he told the longtime broadcaster that his iconic opening query of “What the hell were you thinking?” came to him “just off the top of my head” in the heat of the moment. Grant’s companion probably had a very similar answer to a very different question when cops showed up.
Leno recalled his apprehension upon hearing of Grant’s arrest leading up to his scheduled appearance, but when the host called his controversial guest to confirm that the show would go on, Grant’s signature gentlemanly demeanor put him at ease. “You know, he was great. Nowadays, you’d have 100 handlers. I called him up, and I said, ‘You still in for tomorrow?’” Leno recalled. “He goes, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You know, I effed up. And, you know, it’s my fault.'”
“He showed up, didn’t have a publicist like nowadays, somebody explaining it who was on Xanax,” Leno explained, “So none of that nonsense, you know, and he was honest about it.” Leno told Grant that he would have no choice but to ask about the arrest, to which the Brit replied, “I get it.”
When the day finally came for Grant to face his sins in front of a live, laughing studio audience, it marked a turning point for both Grant and Leno — the much-anticipated interview drew better ratings than The Tonight Show’s main competitor Late Night with David Letterman for the first time in Leno’s tenure, but it would be far from the last. For the next two decades, Leno would reign supreme as king of late-night, but it started with a simple question about a hooker in Hollywood.
Grant’s humanizing humility during the interview repaired his reputation in record time, and he would continue his meteoric rise throughout the 1990s and early 2000s to the point where the average moviegoer couldn’t walk into a single theater without seeing him on some rom-com poster looking flummoxed whilst wearing a tailored suit and tie.
Today, Leno continues to perform live despite his countless car-related catastrophes, and Grant is slated to appear in the upcoming comedy Unfrosted: The Pop-Tart Story alongside the project’s co-writer and producer Jerry Seinfeld. If only Leno asked Seinfeld that same iconic question when he made Bee Movie.