By HOWARD GENSLER

215-854-5678

WHILE I WAS waiting to speak with Hugh Grant yesterday about his new screwball-ish romantic comedy "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" the woman who did co-star Sarah Jessica Parker's make-up told him how nice he was and that he would make a very good husband.

She then offered to marry him.

"OK, let's get married," Grant replied.

You probably shouldn't buy a gift, but such is life when you're Hugh Grant, whose appeal to women spans literally all ages.

"Well, if it's true," Grant sighed, "and I think you're just saying it, I'm absolutely thrilled. I've never pretended not to have an ego that gets tickled by that type of thing. "

That ego, however, does not extend to Grant's acting ability. Asked what brought him back to writer/director Marc Lawrence for a third time (following "Two Weeks Notice" with Sandra Bullock and "Music and Lyrics" with Drew Barrymore), Grant gave his typical self-deprecating answer.

"There aren't many people who can write stuff that I can do, to tell the truth. I work in a quite a narrow tone," he said. And if it's not Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Knotting Hill," "Love Actually") or Marc Lawrence there aren't many others who fit the bill."

Plus, Grant added, "Marc can definitely write with my sort of rhythms. I think he hears me in his head, poor man.

"And my personal opinion is that he's unbelievably funny and rather touching. It really takes a lot to get me to go to work. I have to love the script - it has to make me laugh and I have to want to turn every page and he can do that. And not many people can.

"I also think that with the love aspect of these films," Grant continued, "it's very important that it's the real thing and not synthetic. And both Marc Lawrence and Richard Curtis are people who actually are interested in love and have suffered at the hands of love.

"I sometimes read more kind of factory-generated romantic comedy scripts out of Hollywood," Grant added, "where it just looks like the romance has been thrown in to please the girls and it's not the real thing."

Having worked with Lawrence before and because the "relationship" in his films are so important, Grant said the two talk a lot about casting.

"We discuss it for hours," he said. "But on this one the part required a high-energy, high-achieving New York girl, very urban in her tastes. A BlackBerry addict. And there's only one girl - it's Sarah Jessica Parker. She IS that girl.

"But she also has to be lovable, someone you would believe this guy would do anything to get back and I certainly believe you buy that with Sarah Jessica."

With so few writers able to tap into his limited acting range, at least according to him, Grant has repeatedly stated a plan to give up acting - although his backup plan is a bit murky.

"I have said that way too often," he acknowledged. "I've given up saying I'm giving up. Because I always come back, like a bad penny.

"As for what I would do, I did write half this novel once," Grant said, "and would like to finish it. If I could get three or four hours of that in, I feel more of a man and more alive by a long way than anything else I do."

As a "retired" actor, Grant could keep up with his golf game and perhaps become a dad. Although his "Morgans" character is nervous about being a good father, Grant said, "I don't have that worry - and I slightly regret that I've put it off this long."

As for golf, Grant said "I've bought myself good without really having much talent. I've had an enormous number of very expensive lessons all over the world."

Because he's not really giving up on acting, Grant is "flirting with two things, make that heavy petting," he said. He might also like to explore some darker themes.

Compared to Cary Grant earlier in his career, because of his success with romantic comedy, he hasn't had a director, like the other Grant had Hitchcock, to bring out another side of him.

"I can't do anything too emotional," Grant said, again downplaying his talent, "but I am quite a dark individual deep down. Quite tortured with a lot of blackness. And I would like to bring that out a bit more. You see little glimpses of it, perhaps, in 'Bridget Jones' or the beginning of 'About a Boy.' But I've never really exploited it."

Don't, however, expect Grant to spearhead his own dark project.

"If I had dream projects, I would do them," he said. "I think I still have enough power to do that, but I don't have the energy."

So does Grant basically sit around in his robe and slippers and not leave the house until Marc Lawrence calls.

"That's not so far from the truth," he said.

So what would it take to get Grant to sign on for a film?

"I want to entertain or thrill people," he said. "I'm not interested in the arts. I think there's a lot of piety around the arts, or art cinema. I'm not interested in going through all this effort - it takes about a year for me to make a film - if it's just going to please a few people in North London or on the Upper West Side of New York. That's not enough. I like to please mass audiences."

That's not to say Grant doesn't like "art" films, he loves them. He just doesn't want to make them. He also loves art and is a serious collector.

"But again, I'm conflicted," he said, "specifically with contemporary art. In many cases I love the things I have, but I couldn't even begin to put my hand on my heart and say it isn't all bulls- - -. As soon as someone starts to give me the shpiel about something representing the interface between time and space or how something is an undermining of our bourgeois values, I just think, 'Oh, piss off, you student.'