A man of many faces
Innocent, plotter, maniac or queen? Rupert Everett claims to be all of the above but Kaleem Aftab finds the actor in sanguine form
Rupert Everett just gets better and better. The actor and now producer of St Trinian’s, the most anticipated British film of the year, is having a blockbuster 2007. Before the lesson in misbehaviour that is St Trinian’s, we’re going to be seeing Everett in the spectacular Stardust, Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, alongside Robert De Niro, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfieffer and Sienna Miller.
‘I play one of the princes of this kind of parallel universe and he’s killed by one of his brothers in the first scene and then appears as a ghost in the rest of the film. He falls 20,000ft and smashes to the ground when he dies and you see a kind of smashed ghost for the rest of the film,’ says Everett of Stardust.
He describes his St Trinian’s role with as much relish. ‘It’s something that I wanted to do. I’m playing quite an old bag.’
The 48-year-old actor recently returned for the third time as the voice of Prince Charming in Shrek the Third. With typical forthrightness, he says of the gig: ‘It’s the best job you can really have in show business. The films are fantastic. Work is fairly minimal. The pay is good. If you are into promotion, you can go promote yourself around the world. If you’re not, well, you’ll just have to do it.’
It’s the acerbic wit and no-nonsense attitude that anyone who has flicked through his hilarious autobiography Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins would expect. The book has just been released in paperback and offers a candid insight into the world of celebrity that Everett has inhabited for the last three decades. What really struck the actor when he was writing the book was how much the world has changed in that time.
‘So many things, cell phones, Walkmans, telephone answer machines, have all been invented since I turned 18. Being an actor is a different thing now. Back when I started it was a vocational job and a serious undertaking to be an actor. Even in a political sense, the Communists thought that they were going to find the new revolutionaries in the theatre. Because of the old Labour thing, writing in the theatre was very political. It was really a reflection of what was going on in society. Now, post-Thatcher and New Labour, looks and ambition are what counts, not talents or ideas or putting a mirror to society.’
As well as his acting career, Everett has enjoyed success as a model and has written two novels. His autobiography contains dozens of photos of Everett mingling with fellow celebrities - suggesting the star could easily have worked with Piers Morgan if acting hadn’t worked out. In a moment of self-analysis, Everett says he has gone through four stages in his life before now: ‘innocence, plotting, maniacal and queen’.
Since he finished writing his biography he must have been going through another phase because, in the London hotel where we meet, he doesn’t look or act remotely like a queen. He has a five o’clock shadow and his high cheekbones look slightly saggy. These, though, are the only minor flaws in his appearance.
If there is a surprise, it is that Everett seems remarkably sanguine. He is not at all like the frivolous, flamboyant characters he has recently made a habit of playing, nor does he give any hint of the curmudgeonly behaviour other interviewers have noted in the past.
He says that the public persona of him is invariably wrong. ‘Film actors get reputations for the parts that they play,’ he says. ‘No one really knows them. It’s not like being on the TV, where you are in the press the whole time. As a film actor, you’re only out once or twice a year and people don’t get a view of what you’re like, really.’
What sets Everett apart as an interviewee, and what is clear in his book, is that he isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. In Stardust he doesn’t share any screen-time with Robert De Niro, but says that he wasn’t too bothered about acting with one of the great actors of our time. Everett instead reveals: ‘I’d much rather work with Shirley MacLaine. De Niro always has the same expression. I never understand when people say De Niro lives the characters; I think he is the same all the time. Even in his great roles, he is kind of weird.’
Everett’s childhood was his age of ‘innocence’. The ‘plotting’ phase came when he decided that the wanted to be an actor. After being kicked out of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama for clashing with teachers, he found a setting better suited to his personality at Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre. His performances attracted attention and his fame rocketed after Another Country moved from stage to screen.
His rebellious streak caused him to clash with the press. When he came out in 1989 he helped challenge the once commonly held perception that you couldn’t be openly gay and a star. By this time he had entered what he calls his ‘maniacal’ phase, running around between modelling gigs, acting and writing.
In his book, Everett says he only made inroads into the ‘queen’ stage when he starred in mega hit My Best Friend’s Wedding, the film that took his popularity Stateside. By 2004 he found himself cast to do the voice of Prince Charming in Shrek 2. He quips: ‘I guess they just saw what a self-involved vain person I was and thought, “That’s the one”.’
Everett’s all-consuming involvement in the making of St Trinian’s, combined with the success of his autobiography, has given him a hunger to be more of a creative force behind projects. ‘I’ve always wanted to combine writing with my work on the screen, which is what I’m doing at the moment. I’d love to be able to write my own roles. The trouble with that, though, is that you need to have the opposite of the kind of attention deficit disorder that I have. You have to be able to focus on an idea for seven to eight years.’
Everett plans to appear on the London stage next year as well as writing another biography. As I leave I’m surprised to hear the actor shouting after me - ‘I hope I wasn’t too much of a disappointment!’ Perhaps Everett has just entered his ‘humble’ period.
Stardust is at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 21 & 23 Aug and on general release from Fri 19 Oct. St Trinian’s is out on Fri 21 Dec. Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins is out now