Who Plays Waverly In 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'? The Scene-Stealer Is A Movie Star, But You'd Barely Recognize Him Here
Less than a third of the way through The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the plot already unspooling like a skein of fine wool, Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo checks into a glamorous Rome hotel behind a grey-haired, bespectacled man. Audiences hardly hear the man give the clerk his name, as Solo soon takes the screen. That name, though, is Waverly, and it's enunciated with just enough force that, if you're paying attention, you might suspect that the man will soon return. It's just a quick introduction, but the man, in a neatly tailored suit and horn-rimmed glasses, is so familiar, but impossible to place, at least at first. So who plays Waverly in Man From U.N.C.L.E. ?
Get ready for this one: Waverly is played by Hugh Grant. You're forgiven for not realizing, though; the actor re-emerges on many occasions throughout The Man From U.N.C.L.E. under many guises — though all still called Waverly — like any top spy. Each time you think you've pinned down the mysterious man, he returns with new contacts and a different identity. You might think that Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander are the stars of this show (and all the press around the film so far would lead us all to believe that), but it's really Hugh Grant's moment to shine. At risk of spoilers (and there will be many ahead — seriously don't read this if you haven't seen the movie), I want to unravel the many faces of Hugh Grant in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. , starting with that first hotel scene. Because sorry, Solo; Waverly is really the super-spy of U.N.C.L.E.
He's there at the desk during check-in. A harried Napoleon Solo briefly flirts with the woman behind the desk and drops his things with a bellboy before hurrying out after a suspicious-looking Italian duo bent on unmasking his partner Illya Kuryakin as a KGB agent. Waverly barely betrays his surprise at crossing paths with Solo; his expression could equally be read as amusement at this presumptive young man. He convinces everyone around him — and the audience, too — that he's just another hotel guest. It's still Solo's show, after all.
Then there's the party. Solo, unfortunately, didn't receive the invite to villainess Victoria Vinciguerra's racetrack gala, so it's a good thing Waverly did. When Solo accidentally-on-purpose bumps shoulders with him, allowing his nimble fingers to lift the invitation from Waverly's pocket, the older man seems none the wiser. He remarks that his invitation has gone missing without pointing fingers. But then, commenting on a sleight of hand Solo performs for Victoria with a tablecloth, Waverly notes that he's quite "good with his hands." Solo blanches, thinking his deceit has been discovered — until Waverly nods at the now-bare table. But later I realized — Waverly is entirely messing with Solo. He knows that Solo stole his invitation, and he's letting it slide.
(The racetrack is also approximately where I realized that Hugh Grant was Hugh Grant. It took a while, but I got there eventually. He's a man of many faces.)
Waverly's next big moment is on the helicopter en route to Victoria Vinciguerra's island estate, where Gaby's uncle and father are hard at work on a nuclear warhead that will give the Italian family the edge in the arms race. After Gaby ostensibly betrayed the Americans and the Soviets, Waverly reveals that he was behind her double-cross. You see, he's a British spy, and he got to her even before Solo managed to make off with her in the beginning of the film. This Hugh Grant is sheepish, yet sly — his prime advantage, and his only pawn in the scheme, has gone off the grid. He takes advantage of Solo and Illya's clear attachment to her to get them on his side and retrieve her.
Through flashbacks, the film pretty heavy-handedly (i.e. lines like "For a special agent, you're not having a very special day," directed at Solo) reveals how this twist had been building all along. But it's a testament to Grant's subtle performance that he doesn't give away his true nature at the start. He bides his time and exploits every opportunity available to him, like any good spy. He's less of a satire than each of the characters around him, acting more as an homage to the serious spies to emerge from his motherland (like Bond, though his films, too, were a satire in their own way) than a commentary on the genre.
I was far from familiar with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series of the ’60s when I saw the film, so the name "Waverly" didn't immediately ring any bells. And, considering the target demographic for this film is probably not the same audience that came of age at the height of the Cold War, it's likely I'm not alone. Waverly pops up again in the final scene, when the heroes are about to part ways. They have an hour to pack their bags, he announces. They're going to Istanbul as part of a new operation — codename U.N.C.L.E. Waverly will be the operation's handler. It's the last reveal for Hugh Grant, who finally shows who his character really is. Director Guy Ritchie has described The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as the origin story of the television series, but Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin come with back stories and arrive fully formed. It's Waverly's genesis tale, and Hugh Grant is the star.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures (3)