Watch CBS News

"Archie," the man who played Cary Grant

Cary Grant: The man we thought we knew
Cary Grant: The man we thought we knew 06:43

For the new TV series "Archie," out this week on the streaming service BritBox, actor Jason Isaacs is portraying one of the best-known stars of the silver screen, Cary Grant. But it turns out, there was plenty that audiences did not know about this debonair actor.

"I'm not Cary Grant," said Isaacs. "But he wasn't Cary Grant, either, that's the point."

He was in more than 70 films, yet his biggest role may have been playing Cary Grant, a name and a persona he created. Hollywood's leading man was, in fact, an Englishman born into poverty, named Archibald Leach. "He invented Cary Grant," said Isaacs. "Cary Grant was a character to save him from himself, to build a career, and to try and exercise his demons."

"Sunday Morning" was on set last year in Spain as they were shooting "Archie." The show's creator and writer, Jeff Pope, said, "In his early career, Cary Grant was the master of screwball comedies and a light romantic leading man. And then, Alfred Hitchcock spotted something in him and cast him in very dark thrillers. This story explains what it is that Alfred Hitchcock saw. It's a thriller, a real-life thriller."

"You don't think of the life of Cary Grant as being a thriller?" asked Doane.

"No, no, you don't," said Pope. "You do think of him, you know, as this incredibly suave [man], who's my mom's favorite movie star!"

Actor Jason Isaacs, who stars as Archibald Leach, the man who became Cary Grant, in the new BritBox series, "Archie."   CBS News

Isaacs said it was serious work delving into Grant's character off-screen: "He was an incredibly private man. In fact, one of the hardest things was trying to work out what he spoke like. You can't find a recorded interview with him anywhere."

Archibald Leach was born in Bristol, England. His father was said to be abusive and an alcoholic, and committed his wife to an asylum, telling the young Archie she was dead. Leach made his own way to the U.S. and show business. "When he was a young actor in New York trying to make it, he was told, 'You'll never make it with that accent,'" said Isaacs. "And he ended up with this thing that he's trying to sound American. His speech patterns on screen are almost always exactly the same. They weren't in life, of course. You know, you spill a hot coffee on someone's lap, they don't go, Oh, that is a rather hot coffee!  He wasn't that thing. He worked really hard at being that thing in public, and what we're showing was who he was when he shut the front door."

Actress Dyan Cannon was Cary Grant's fourth wife, and mother of his only child, Jennifer. Both are producers of the series. 

Cary Grant, Dyan Cannon, and Daughter
Cary Grant in 1966 with wife Dyan Cannon and their three-month-old daughter Jennifer, just before boarding the SS Oriana bound for England to visit Grant's mother. Bettmann via Getty Images

Doane asked Cannon, "Did Cary Grant play Cary Grant at home with you? Did he ever let that facade down?"

"Oh sure, yes, he did, of course," she replied. "Real people have emotions. He had a very tough boyhood. He was abandoned, felt left alone, unloved, unneeded, unwanted, deprived. Shall I go on? All those things. And of course, who we came to know as Cary was this magnificent, gorgeous, leading man – a personality that never stopped. He was so graceful! And what a gorgeous body. And he never exercised – which really used to really tick me off! And he looked great with no clothes on, I will tell you."

Doane said, "One of the scenes they were shooting when we were with them in Malaga was the scene where your character – where you – are confronting Cary Grant with the rumors of him being gay. You write about it in your book."

"I think early on in Palm Springs I said to him, 'You know, I hear these rumors. Are they true?'" Cannon said. "And I never saw any indication of it. And as far as I know, Cary was faithful to me when we were married. That wasn't the problem. Fear was."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Fear that he would be abandoned. Fear that he would not be loved."

Grant was a star by the time he learned his mother was actually alive in England.

But the world only really ever knew him as Cary Grant. He would retire from acting, becoming by all accounts the doting father he never had. He died in 1986 at age 82.

"I enjoyed playing him in his eighties a lot," said Isaacs. "He's a very different man. When he stepped away from the limelight he thought was sustaining him, I think he found out how little good it was doing him. It reminds me how complicated we all are, to delve deeply into anyone's life like this. Even the people who seem to have everything we want."

To watch a trailer for "Archie" click on the video player below:

Archie I BritBox Original I Exclusive Trailer by BritBox on YouTube

See also: 

For more info:

Story produced by Mikaela Bufano. Editor: Emanuele Secci. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.