Interview: Rupert Everett sur pourquoi Madonna ne lui parle pas.
I wouldn't advise any actor thinking of his career to come out
He had Hollywood at his feet at the age of 25. So why has Rupert Everett never lived up to that early promise? Here, the outspoken actor talks about homophobia, deranged A-listers and why Madonna isn't speaking to him
The Observer, Sunday 29 November 2009
Can anyone look more world weary than Rupert Everett? At certain points in the interview, he gives the impression of having been in the acting game since at least the dawn of time, if not before. These are eyes that have seen it all – glittering success, abject failure, critical acclaim, the best reviews on earth, the worst. But then, at times, his career trajectory has resembled the cardiogram of a 60-a-day, overweight smoker: up, down, up, critical, dead, alive again! He was a star at 22, a has-been at 30, a Hollywood ingenue at 40, and here he is again, aged 50, still handsome, still game, gadding around in the new St Trinian's film in a made-to-measure girdle and a pair of false breasts.
But then what hasn't Everett done? There's a touch of the Forrest Gump to the story of his life, as contained within his funny, candid, and intermittently rude memoir, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins. He was part of a bohemian demi-monde in London before he was famous, through whom he met David Bowie, Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol. His first play, Another Country, was a smash hit, which was made into a film which was an even bigger hit, and that led to Orson Welles hand-picking him to be his protege (inconveniently dropping dead before fulfilling his promise), which took him to Hollywood, where he managed to meet his hero, Christopher Isherwood, within about five minutes, and then almost everyone else: Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck. He was still only 25.
What's more, he has a special knack of always being where the action is: in Moscow with the tanks and Yeltsin during the 1991 coup, strolling through downtown Manhattan on 11 September, nightclubbing in Miami with Gianni Versace before he was shot, sleeping with Béatrice Dalle when she was the most desirable woman in France, having an affair with Paula Yates when she was one half of the most famous couple in Britain. Not forgetting his most publicly defining role: gay best friend to Madonna.
Or at least he was. Until she read his book.
"She really didn't like it."
Didn't she, I say? But it's very affectionate.
"I think it is very affectionate, and certainly with her I was very careful to only write things that were. But she felt it was an infringement of privacy."
In fact, it is mostly very affectionate. Of their first meeting, he writes: "She had the cupid-bow lips of a silent screen star, and it was obvious that she was playing with Sean [Penn]'s cock throughout the meal. She was mesmerising. She oozed sex and demanded a sexual response from everyone. It didn't matter if you were gay. You were swept up all the same."
When I read it a second time around, though, I think I spot some of the areas of potential concern. His observation that she smells "vaguely of sweat", to take one example. Or that, like all Hollywood's alpha females, she's something of a "she-man". Or just possibly it was this bit that she didn't care much for: "Just like America, everything about Madonna had changed. And what had happened had been carefully wrapped in psychological clingfilm and locked inside an interior fridge. Sometimes, in moments of stress, Madonna had power cuts and the old whiny barmaid came screaming out of the defrosting cold room."
Still, I say, it's not like you give anything away.
"No I don't, but goddesses like that are obsessed with their public image and want to control everything about it, so if anyone is to tell anyone anything about her it's got to be her."
So has she forgiven you for that now?
"Elephants don't forget."
Has she not forgiven you in a jokey way, or has she really not forgiven you?
"She doesn't trust me any more."
Oh dear! Although she's probably not the only one. Everett's memoir is entirely unlike the usual Hollywood memoir: he tells stories that aren't always entirely flattering, about himself, about other people, about the way the star system works, which is fabulous for the reader, but perhaps less so for his subjects. Julia Roberts is "beautiful and tinged with madness". When she gives him a lift on the Sony jet from Chicago, where they're filming, to New York, he writes, "I witnessed the whole machine grind into action, the grandeur of Hollywood in transporting its livestock from A to B." Sharon Stone he describes as a goddess, but it's only when he starts rehearsals that "I realised something that had hitherto escaped me. She was utterly unhinged."
He's writing a sequel, but this time around is taking the precaution of focusing on people who can't actually sue him. "It's easier when they're dead," he says. There are surely more revelations to come.
It's not just that Rupert Everett is unusually candid, he's also unusually articulate, and if he criticises other people it's only because he criticises himself first. The great mystery, of course, is why he's not Madonna-famous himself. His alter ego, the actor for whom he's endlessly mistaken, is Hugh Grant, and if you read his first reviews, or saw his first films, Another Country and Dance With a Stranger, you'd have thought that he'd have gone on to conquer the universe. He was all set to be the new Cary Grant, a latter-day Gregory Peck. Instead he's spending what should be the glory years of his career gadding around in a skirt and heels. He's back next month in St Trinian's 2, The Legend of Fritton's Gold. He played both the headmistress, Camilla Fritton, and her brother, Carnaby Fritton, in the first and was a star turn as both, although particularly as Camilla, modelled on a mixture of his mother and the real Camilla (Parker Bowles). He's the best thing in it by about a million miles, his comic timing brilliant, but it's not likely to be the sort of work that is garlanded with awards and critical praise.
There was a flurry of headlines earlier this year when, while publicising a Channel 4 documentary he presented on Lord Byron, he said something that resulted in a story in the Sun: "Posh actor Rupert Everett has branded British soldiers 'whining wimps'." And shortly afterwards, he managed to bring down the wrath of the collective Michael Jackson fandom when he said that maybe it was as well he died before doing the O2 concerts.
What was the headline?
"'Why Michael Jackson Had to Die.' I had death threats and everything from it, but it's particularly upsetting because I really adored Michael Jackson. And then on top of that this other journalist who I mentioned in another interview made this photograph of me looking like I had a facelift, and put that out. And it went all the way around the world and it's lost me tonnes of jobs."
He's so outraged. (He's never had plastic surgery, he says.) But it's not as if he tries particularly hard to be extra diplomatic with me because of it. Almost the reverse. But then what has he got left to lose? He's lost it so many times before, it's little wonder that he shrugs in the face of public disapproval, or Hollywood outrage. At one point, after making the film Hearts of Fire, the press was so bad he went to live in France. "I had always been considered a talentless nob, but now there was proof," he writes.
After years in the wilderness, he thought he'd hit a new low when he was sent the script for My Best Friend's Wedding and saw that the character they wanted him to play had three lines and was introduced as "George, a middle-aged gay man, sits at a table with a flute of champagne… I thought I had finally arrived at the end of the road." But the part was rewritten for him and went on to be a huge hit, and he was courted by every major studio in Hollywood in what he calls his "Evita victory tour". It didn't last though. Because it never does with Everett. He appeared in The Next Big Thing with Madonna. Only it wasn't. "I have never read such bad reviews in my life," he writes. "It blew my new career out of the water and turned my pubic hair white overnight."
But then, it's at the moments when he's down on his luck that he appears to have the most fun. "We now live in a world where the only thing to have is success, but failure is marvellous. It's fertiliser, it's like living fertiliser, because you're forced on yourself. Mind you, having said that, I don't know if aged 60 I'm going to be able to come up with some fabulous new reinvention."
He says that he was ambitious when he was young, that he was determined to succeed at all costs – he describes both himself and Paula Yates as "hell-bent" – but it seems to be as much a hunger for life as it is for global domination. Conventional stardom is beyond him. Or at least it is now. "What I really wouldn't want to do is to spend my time going to awards ceremonies, and going, 'And the nominations are,' which is what you have to do if you're in the big time now."
St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold is released on 18 December.
Source: The Observer.
Photo: Dean Chalkley.