Elizabeth Hurley: Hurley in the Morning

After several seasons of stormy weather and unpleasant headlines, Elizabeth Hurley is refocusing on what she came to Hollywood to do in the first place--make movies.

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At several points in her life recently, Elizabeth Hurley might have considered chucking it all and retreating to a cozy, secluded cottage tucked away in the Cotswolds. Considering what she's been through since 1994, it's not like anyone would blame her. After grabbing headlines for wearing an eye-popping Versace number held together--just--by safety pins to the premiere of her former longtime boyfriend Hugh Grant's movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, she suffered the trauma of being the wronged woman when Grant cheated on her with a lady for hire in 1995. There was the professional disappointment of seeing the medical thriller Extreme Measures and the Mob comedy Mickey Blue Eyes--the two films she produced through her and Grant's shingle, Simian Films--fizzle at the box office. There was the intense media scrutiny when she and Grant broke off their relationship last year. Then there's been the nonstop flurry of ludicrous, unsettling gossip items and strange happenings that the tabloids have had a field day dissecting. How she's been dating every man under the sun, from Denis Leary to Mick Jagger to art dealer Tim Jefferies to businessman Teddy Forstmann (most of whom are old friends). How she told Jane magazine that Grant was an unspectacular lover (the publication has since printed a retraction and apologized). How she filmed an Estée Lauder TV commercial during the SAG strike when she shouldn't have (she insists she didn't know she was violating any rules). How she considers Marilyn Monroe fat (she claims her quote was taken out of context). It's enough to make anyone want to run for the hills and seek blissful anonymity.

The last decade of Elizabeth Hurley's life hasn't been all about downturns and misunderstandings, however. Quite the contrary. She's flourished as the face of Estée Lauder; she has a healthy feature-film career, thanks to the big hit Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery; she's become an international icon and has appeared on "Most Beautiful" lists across the globe; she has several projects brewing at Simian, which she still runs with Grant; and she calls some of the most established people in the world from pop star Elton John to fashion designer Valentino her good friends. In the last year, Hurley decided to step up her work as an actress, which is why she now has three films due for release. She's costar-ring with Sean Penn in The Weight of Water, from Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow. She'll also appear opposite Denis Leary in Double Whammy, written and directed by Tom DiCillo, who turned out the quirky indie gem Living in Oblivion. Hurley's biggest film, though, is the comedy Servicing Sara, directed by Reginald Hudlin (The Ladies Man), in which she plays the titular beauty who causes trouble for process server Matthew Perry--who had a bit of trouble of his own during production.

I meet Hurley one morning at her leased house perched atop one of L.A.'s more famous hills. Looking sensational in tight slacks and a T-shirt, she greets me in her driveway with a hug and warmly welcomes me inside in that low, plummy voice that sounds as if she gargles Chambord. Despite the early hour, she is buoyant, supremely together and ready to have at the day. She leads me into her rambling home and we settle on a comfortable couch in the living room. Surrounding us are wraparound mountain views, shelves of expensive art and photography books and framed snapshots of Hurley with her parents, her sister and her beloved now-deceased dog. Occasionally, one of her assistants floats in to make sure we're well stocked with drinks and tapes. Oh, that's another thing--tapes. Once I set down my tape recorder on the couch, Hurley, with a flush of embarrassment, sets down one of her own.

ELIZABETH HURLEY: Please don't take offense, but I'm obliged to tape-record this conversation. I had a very bad experience with Jane magazine last year. Because of that, even when it's journalists and magazines I trust, my libel attorney has told me I must record everything I say. [Laughing] Hideous.

STEPHEN REBELLO: What happened with Jane?

A: They completely made up that quote [about Hugh Grant being a boring lover]. They passionately declared at first that they had everything on tape, which, of course, I knew they didn't. I think they were just sure that no one would ever dream of going up against a massive, frightening corporation. [Phone rings] I'm sorry, but I have to take this call. It's my libel attorney--I've just been libeled again. It's not a bad libel, but I believe in nipping it in the bud or they carry on like fungus. Someone's just written that I had two long, loving lunches with Mick Jagger. Which I didn't. [Hurley darts to another room to take the call, then returns a few minutes later.]

Q: You've never had a meal with Mick Jagger?

A: We actually had one dinner, yes. And I was with my boyfriend and six other English people at the table. And, suddenly, it. was two long lunches with Mick Jagger. That sort of thing does upset other people.

Q: A boyfriend?

A: I have been seeing someone for a while who's an American, and whom I'm very fond of. He would be so mortified if I talked about him in the press, I'd probably get strangled.

Q: That'd be a pretty extreme reaction.

A: [Laughing] He's not a mobster. He's not a rock star. And he's not an ex-president. None of the above.

Q: Have any of the men the press has connected you with been even passing flings?

A: No, most of them are either gay or married.

Q: Do you ever have moments when you think, "How did I get to this place, and why am I here?"

A: [Laughing] Sometimes, in moments of madness, when things are spiraling out of control. Great things that happen are not fair either, so I get on with it. Sometimes I have been in situations, like the Jane magazine thing, where I go, "I've never done anything wrong to anybody in my life, so it's not fair this is happening to me." But that doesn't last too long.

Q: Getting back to men, what sort of relationship is right for you at this time in your life?

A: Oh, Stephen, that's such a grown-up question. Oh, dear. I don't know. I've always considered that most things that happen are inadvertent. I take comfort in that, in a way. It's less frightening to me. I've never thought there was much to be gained by planning anything. I take a day-by-day attitude.

Q: Having undergone a very public split from Hugh Grant, do you feel for Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts, who've more recently experienced public breakups?

A: I think it's hideous to live your private life in public. Since going through bad times myself, even though it sounds very smug to say it, I swear to God I've never made a judgment on what somebody else does behind closed doors.

Q: You and Hugh handled your split admirably.

A: We cry, too. We both cried a while ago, actually. I was single at the time. He was single, as he always has been. We went out for dinner together in New York, then we went into a bar for a drink. For some reason, they played this incredibly sad Ella Fitzgerald song that we used to listen to, and we both sobbed. Awful. A nice Irish bartender just kept putting drinks in front of us and ignoring us. Life is sad. It's very sad when things don't work out.

Q: Did you or Hugh end the relationship?

A: I instigated it, but it was really mutual. I could easily not have done that, and we could probably have easily stayed together for another 50 years. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We're still enormous supports to each other. We speak all the time. I adore him.

Q: How are you feeling right now about life?

A: I'm rather tired. I've done a ton of movies in a row.

Q: Did you take a break for a while?

A: I took time off to finish Mickey Blue Eyes, which took way longer than I expected. I hadn't done a film, except a few small bits, for about a year and a half. So now, there are three movies all about to come out at the same time.

Q: Much has been written about Servicing Sara, and how production came to a halt when your costar, Matthew Perry, entered rehab. Was the making of the movie as fraught as it sounds?

A: It was a tricky movie. The eight weeks we shot first were quite difficult. I've seen footage from that, and it's sort of astonishing that I don't think anyone's going to actually pick up that Matthew wasn't feeling his absolute best.

Q: How true were the rumors that, for instance, he was constantly late, difficult and that the crew came to loathe him?

A: I think he was in torment. That can manifest itself, whether it's in lateness or whatever. I think it's hard for some people to wait. I don't mind waiting, myself. I only have to work a certain number of hours a day anyway. I think there was a lot of anger when the film shut down. I wasn't angry. There's not much point in being angry because it's not going to change it. I think the crew were very upset to lose their jobs, but I think anybody would be upset. We were shut down for 10 weeks. I wasn't paid an extra penny, and I couldn't take a job in that time. So, it's not great.

Q: Was there a moment when you felt you were caught in a vortex?

A: No, not really.

Q: How did you and Perry meet for the movie?

A: We had lunch together, just the two of us, before I signed on. You have to check that somebody makes you laugh and that they're going to be relatively nice. He's charming. Even when he was drinking a lot and not in good shape, he was always charming. He always got it together by the end of the day to get the scene.

Q: How different was he when he returned to the movie?

A: He seemed mortified to have upset everybody. But he was, literally, a different person, and was fantastic. And he's very funny in the movie. [A bug buzzes us both] There's a lot of insects up here. Just slap it. I'm an expert at catching spiders by one leg now.

Q: What do you do with them once you've caught them?

A: I'm not afraid of them. I take them outside and let them go. Unless they're in the sink. Then, I turn on the tap. Ants I'm not very kind to. But, touch wood, I've never seen an ant in this house. Of course, there's no food, so there's nothing for them to live for. [Laughing] I'm not particularly fond of insects. And if I saw a squirrel, I'd be happy to shoot it.

Q: Really? That surprises me.

A: They're rodents.

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