There’s something fascinating about the trauma that’s fueled Hollywood icons like Elvis Presley and Judy Garland, and now, the British limited series Archie introduces audiences to a Cary Grant many have never seen before. A leading man during the golden age of Hollywood, Grant dazzled the world with Mae West, Grace Kelly, George Burns, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, and Doris Day. He was suave, debonaire, and didn’t take himself too seriously. It turns out, however, this well-crafted façade was a far cry from the man who was born Archibald “Archie” Leach.
We talked to Archie stars Jason Isaacs (Good Sam) and Laura Aikman, who play Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon, about what to expect from the British series coming to BritBox – a challenging and beautiful tale that takes audiences from Grant’s impoverished London childhood to the glamor of Hollywood to uncover the man behind the legend and reveal how he finally found his happy ending.
Jason Isaacs was reluctant to play Cary Grant
When Jason Isaacs heard someone was working on a drama about the life of Cary Grant, he had absolutely no interest in playing the Hollywood icon.
“Who would be enough of an idiot to try to play Cary Grant,” Isaacs tells Woman’s World with a laugh. “But then I realized this story is not about Cary Grant. It’s about the man who struggled to play Cary Grant in life. We’re telling the story of an incredibly troubled man, badly toxic marriage, and a very, very slow journey towards some kind of healing.”
Those who have read memoirs like Dear Cary by Dyan Cannon or Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant, won’t be surprised by what Archie has in store. Those who haven’t, however, are in for a lot of surprises – not to mention a few soap-opera-worthy twists involving his parents, Elsie and Elias!
“This could have been a story about a man called John Smith and what happens would still blow your socks off,” Archie writer/executive producer Jeff Pope teases. “It’s this extraordinary Dickensian tale of a little boy from Bristol, in the early 1900s, who had this agonizing childhood. He’s poor, he’s cold, he’s hungry, and at the age of 10, he’s told his mother’s passed away. To think that that little boy becomes Cary Grant. What a trajectory!”
As head of Head of ITV Productions Factual Drama, Pope has a knack for turning history into entertainment without sacrificing the truth. For Archie, he spent a decade researching the story with help from Cannon and Grant, who serve as executive producers.
“There’s nothing in this series that’s created out of thin air,” he promises. “Everything is informed by the research and the work I did with Jennifer and Dyan. When you compress such an extraordinary life into four hours, a lot of the decisions are actually about what you leave out and, in the end, it’s about trying to find a way through all the material that’s coherent.”
The Truth About Cary Grant
While everyone knew Elvis was in decline long before he passed away, Archie peels back Cary Grant’s veneer almost four decades after his 1986 passing.
“Cary Grant’s brand has been kept pure, so magnificently, for so, so long,” marvels Isaacs, who shares the role with Calam Lynch (Bridgerton), Dainton Anderson (Patrick Melrose), and Oaklee Pendergast (Home) who play Grant through the years. “This sexual icon, this God amongst men, was the very opposite of every adjective that’s ever been bandied around about him. He worked hard to make sure the world thought a particular thing about him.”
Grant’s daughter reveals that even she was shielded from much of his story for much of her life. “He didn’t share the gory details,” Jennifer explains. “He used to say, ‘When there’s troubles, leave them behind. Focus on the positive.’ My father was graceful, elegant, eloquent, charming, beautiful, and all the expletives. He was also tender, hurt, and quite deep.
“Sadly, we don’t focus on the happy part of Dad’s life,” she adds. “We’re really looking at the troubled vein – and Jason plays it brilliantly.”
Isaacs and Aikman talk becoming Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon
Archie covers the majority of Grant’s life, from his childhood trauma and a midlife shocker to his mature reflection during his mid-‘80s speaking tour. As time shifts, Grant’s three-year relationship with Cannon – which came at the height of his fame in the ‘60s and was the fourth of his five marriages – serves as the anchor for the series.
Viewers watch as the Hollywood starlet is wooed by a global superstar who’s older than her father… only to find herself married to abusive, controlling Archie Leach instead of dashing Grant.
“It became a living nightmare,” Isaacs says of Grant and Cannon’s marriage. “He suffocated the life out of her and removed all the things that made her alive, independent and attractive in the first place. She wanted this to be forever love and despite all the terrifying warning signs, she kept leaning in. Until she had to run.”
To play the arc of this dysfunctional courtship, marriage and divorce, Aikman started by watching talk show footage of Cannon from the era. The British actress also screened her character’s movies, read her memoir, and once she landed the role, got to talk to Cannon, herself.
“We’re properly friends now, but initially, I sat by the phone shaking with a list of questions,” Aikman recalls. “So nervous! Jason asked her some incredibly personal questions. He’s a very brave man! But she answered all of them. And after we got through the specific things I wanted to know, we started getting to know each other and enjoying each other on the phone.
“By the time we started shooting,” Aikman adds, “I felt such a huge pressure to make the audience love her as much as I do.”
Aikman on Grant and Cannon’s old Hollywood glamour
While Isaacs and Aikman had to do internal work to become their characters, there was also quite a bit to do on the outside. As many know, Grant was a fashionista before the was even a word. He believed in sharp lines and smart looks, and that meant Cannon got a whole new wardrobe when she committed to him.
“We must have tried on over 150 outfits to get down to the ones that we picked,” Aikman recounts of her Archie makeover. “We went all over London to costume dealers. And we must have had at least four different three-quarter wigs. It was full out.
“But what was good about it was what you so rarely get – Jason had just as long in the makeup chair as me, because he had his prosthetics,” she adds with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Yes!’”
As a self-described slob, Aikman loved getting dolled up by wardrobe, hair, and makeup teams to get into character. She also appreciated the importance of Cannon’s shifting style.
“When they break up, we made this real effort to go back to the long wild hair and the cute clothes that she was wearing before Cary,” she explains. “We wanted to at least give a sense that this woman has found herself again, even though in reality, it took a lot longer than that.”
Cary Grant’s fairytale ending
Archie is a gorgeously shot yet challenging tale of childhood trauma, the cycle of abuse and ultimately, redemption. Cannon and Grant never got to ride off into the sunset together. Unlike many Hollywood tales, however, Grant does in fact get his own happy ending, and it starts with the birth of his daughter.
“At the height of his power and fame as a Hollywood icon, Grant gave it all up,” Pope says. “He said, ‘I’m going to stay at home and be a single dad,’ and he actually stuck to his word. From his early 60s, he never made another picture.”
Over 100 years after Archie’s birth and almost 40 years after his death, Cary Grant’s name still resonates – and in the age of crafting TikTok and Instagram personas, so does his story. While he was a private man who guarded his reputation throughout his life, his daughter imagines Grant would be pleased to see his story told so beautifully, today, and hopes it offers a lesson.
“We can’t just curate our lives in this Instagram fashion to look perfect,” Jennifer Grant concludes. “Everyone thinks of Cary Grant as this perfect being. I think perfection’s an impossibility, and in fact, a trap. My father was very human, and still quite amazing.”
On the heels of its premiere in England, Archie, starring Jason Isaacs and Laura Aikman, began streaming on BritBox December 7.
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