The interview with the actor and author Rupert Everett was made in The Colbert, a French-style café on London’s Sloane Square. Everett recently returned to London from Europe, where he was filming The Happy Prince, his Oscar Wilde biopic. Later on Rupert was going to read at a charity Carol Service in Holy Trinity church on Sloane Street, the same street on which the infamous Cadogan Hotel where Wilde was arrested in 1895 is located.
You were an enfant prodige of the cinema, at age 25 you were in Hollywood, and worked with Orson Welles and Bob Dylan. What do you remember about them?
It was a privilege, but I was too young to cope with Welles, I was too scared of him. He needed you to stand up to him and be a personality. When I arrived in California to start work on his film I was such a different person to what he’d imagined, he’d only seen me in a film and I was too unstable a character for him to enjoy. I drove him insane I think. I was terribly shy and I couldn’t really talk to him. He was terrifying!
He got very angry at things or people, quite quickly, so you never knew how he was going to react. A friend of mine was appointed to be his assistant, and the second time I went to lunch with him my friend went to shake his hand and Welles said, “Don’t shake my hand! The last time you shook my hand you nearly broke it!” The boy thought he was being funny and laughed, and he angrily said, “Don’t laugh!” Also I was so thin and he was always chunky. Orson hired me to play himself, and my thinness was wrong for playing him. He was more like a bear, and I was a stick insect with a squeaky voice. It was a disaster!
And Bob Dylan?
We acted together in a very bad movie called Hearts of Fire (1987). He was in a much worse state than I was, quite vulnerable as an actor and bewildered by the process. He wasn’t used to being an actor, and I was very used to being an actor by then. I adored him, and he was very, very funny. In the film we did together we both played The Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto. We went on before a big band, so there were 20,000 people in the audience. I really enjoyed myself working with Dylan.
Is Dylan a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize?
I think prizes are horrible. Getting one is fantastic, but you can’t say if someone’s worth a prize or not. As for the debate about Dylan, who knows if Dylan is worth a Nobel Prize? But I think he’s an amazing folk singer and, like Oscar Wilde, he somehow eclipsed the time in an extraordinary way. He’s a very good writer, and Chronicles is a great book.
Is Oscar Wilde the obsession of your life?
No, he’s not the obsession of my life, although he has rather taken over my life just recently. I had an idea to write a film about him eight or nine years ago, and it became an obsession getting the film made. But I love Oscar Wilde very much. If you are gay he is definitely a Christ figure in some sense.
What is the title of your new film?
The Happy Prince. The actors are Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson. It will be ready for the cinema in April 2017.
Was this your first experience as a director?
Yes, I was both sides of the camera and I found it very difficult. You feel like a chicken, being pecked to death. I didn’t really enjoy it, I don’t think I would do it again. Soon I will write another book about the eight years it’s taken me to make my film.
Are there any similarities between you and Oscar Wilde?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s any kind of similarity that attracted me to him. He was a great intellect and I am a floozy. He really was extremely clever and extremely educated in the classics, which I am not. What I love about him is the sum total of everything, I am fascinated by his whole life.
Did being openly gay damage your career?
In one sense you could say it damaged it, in another way it made it. I went open, and it worked quite well for me up to a point, and then it didn’t. In the end it has worked as much for me as against me.
You played in two famous movies, one with Julia Roberts (My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997) and one with Madonna (The Next Best Thing, 2000)?
That was when it went well for me. When it didn’t go well, after the film I made with Madonna, I just didn’t get any more jobs. I was no longer successful.
What kind of women are Julia Roberts and Madonna?
Very successful women turn into something else, they become “beyond women”. They stop being women in some sense. I describe it with the English phrase, “the iron claw beneath the velvet glove.” They are granite women.
In your memoirs you wrote beautiful pages about your father. Did you get on well with him?
I didn’t like my father at all when I was young. I only made friends with him when he was much older, before he died.
What changed between you?
He began to accept me, and I began to accept him. He was a military man, very traditional, very conservative. He wanted to travel and so I took him travelling, and it was a great opportunity for both of us.
Why do you write?
I love reading books about what people did. It would be nice in hundreds of years’ time to read about what’s happening now. If you can make memoirs interesting they’re great, and we are living in very interesting times.
In what sense?
Things move so fast now. Everything changes so quickly. It’s interesting to be observing it all.
Are you interested in politics?
I was very disappointed by Brexit, because I think Europe is very interesting, but I was working on the film in Brussels – half the film was made there – and something about Brussels and the EU is depressing. Having been very against Brexit at first, I now think it’s understandable.
What about Trump, did you think he would be President?
I did think he’d win because he’s like they are. He represents that whitelash, people who are sick of liberals and political correctness.
Do you think he will “Make America Great Again”?
Any country that goes on endlessly about how great they are has a problem. America is nice, but its value systems are as bad as any other country. England is the same. It’s not really that great.
You lived in London in the 70s and then in Hollywood in the 80s?
Yes, I missed everything. Hollywood was amazing in the 70s, but I arrived in Hollywood in 1984, just as everyone had gone into rehab. It was still a better time than now, but the golden era of filmmaking and maverick characters was 1965-1979.
Did you have a drug problem too?
I took some, but I was too vain. In my generation in London they all took heroin, but I could never really cope with it. My bad drug time happened later with cocaine.
You have been writing articles for magazines like Tatler and Vanity Fair?
Yes, I wrote an article about Helmut Newton and one on David Herbert, the chief upper-class “Queen of Tangier”.
You made a documentary for Channel 4, “The Scandalous Adventures of Lord Byron”?
I love the end of Byron, and his mad love affair. I find his last poems very beautiful. He liked being loved, and he met Lukas when he was in Greece fighting the war. He made him the head of his army and dressed him up in special outfits and wrote the most touching poem about him, I think his sweetest poem, his second last poem before he died. But Lukas was basically a hustler. Lukas didn’t love Byron.
You worked very hard in theatre. What kind of an actor are you?
I’m a character actor essentially, and I think that I am a much better and more interesting actor now than when I was young and attractive. I like to keep working and doing things.
You are no more focussed on your good looks?
I was always too aware of trying to be good looking, and I never managed to relax. Nowadays it’s more relaxing to play, for example, Oscar Wilde, who died aged 45 and had a double chin and looked like an old man.
Are you religious?
I was raised by Benedictine monks, but I haven’t been to Confession or Communion for a while. I love knowing the Catholic rituals, but I wouldn’t say I am a Catholic. It’s much more exigent to be a Catholic in England than it is in Italy for example. I aim to be religious in the sense of the word, trying to tie yourself together with everyone and everything.
Where do you feel really at home?
I feel at home in Naples. I love Naples. Oscar Wilde ran away to Naples with Bosie. It’s a real town still, with character. In my film the Neapolitan actors are all sensational, they are such good actors. I think it’s got a nice, exciting spirit.
Do you speak Italian?
I learnt it on the hoof when I was working for a year with the Russian film director Sergei Bondarchuk and the crew were Italian so I learnt it to communicate. I couldn’t handle learning Russian!
You have a Brazilian boyfriend?
I have lived with a Brazilian for 10 years. I might as well be married, but I don’t like marriage, full stop! I hate weddings and wedding cakes, heterosexual or homosexual.
Is there still prejudice about homosexuals?
I am not sure people are really open to minorities. My reality is so spoilt, I can move from London to Rome, I can be anywhere I want, but if you’re stuck in one place I don’t think the world is as liberal as we think it is. My books are not published in Russia, and my Oscar Wilde film won’t be going there, or to Nigeria or Uganda.
An example of this happened to you in Bollywood?
I wanted to get into Bollywood and got myself a job there. At that time I was a UN ambassador, and they wanted me to find out the number of people who had AIDS in India. The government had got it all wrong, and I went to parliament to tell them, and after declaring that I was gay I found I had lost my job in Bollywood!
Why did you become an actor in the first place?
I wanted to be an actress. I used to wear my mother’s dresses. My parents didn’t care. They only started to care one Christmas when I asked for a doll when I was about six. Then they started to get stricter. They sent me to a boarding school, and I played all the girls’ parts in the plays.
Aren’t you too tall to be an actor?
Much too tall. It’s much better to be small. If you are tall you have to work with a tall woman, you have to make sure all the cameras are higher than you, else you are all chin.
What do you feel about the young actors of today?
I can only look at the world through my own eyes. The actors of today I don’t understand. Their references are completely different to mine.
Who were your idols?
When I was little, Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins”. Then, when I was 15 or 16, Bette Davis. Male actors I like are Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando, the 1950s’ actors. My school of acting is Greta Garbo in “Queen Christina”, who was told by her director,“Listen Greta, stop acting. Think of nothing.” Less is more, and technique-wise Garbo was my model.
Would you still be an actor if you could start again?
No. I would like to have a very rich girlfriend with lots of houses that I could run all over the world, and I would go on ahead of her and open up the houses. I’d love to do that. I’d love to decorate someone’s house, and buy the paintings, carpets and furniture. If I was starting a new life I would have been a proper gigolo. I’d have been very good at it, but I am too selfish now.
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December 12, 2016.