An actor who can really write, with stories to tell. By Talitha Stevenson
Rupert Everett with a portrait of Byron.
Rupert Everett's real life is a career-best performance. The years may have vanished, but Everett sifted them as they went, and was left with a mixture of diamond-sharp insight, gritty cynicism and mud – for the purposes of slinging. His quirks, his mania, his delirious spiritual perspective – always a fusion of sacred and profane – all amp-up the drama.
by Rupert Everett
Everett's previous book, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, described the thrills of achieving fame, after starring in the filmAnother Country in 1984 at the age of 25, and the spills occasioned by sustaining it into his 40s. The new book focuses on the pursuits – mainly in the last decade or so – of the mature superstar: celebrity charity work, high-profile journalism, and branching-out into TV in America. Famous friends – Isabella Blow, Nicky Haslam – are always present, but they do not hog the limelight, which falls intead on a witch from LA and Rupert's adorable father.
Vanished Years maintains a discreetly chronological structure, but it's designed to prioritise digression and recollection. In the opening chapter, for example, we flashback to a cinema trip with Brock, Elliot and Wynton (chums from boarding school) and a Rupert-defining incident. They were 14, and the idea had been to wank over a saucy film in a York cinema.
But the film is estrangingly hip – Performance, with Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger. In one paragraph alone Rupert is "spellbound" and "in shock" – "I completely forget about wanking." For Everett, the great divider is not money, not class, but aesthetics. Unlike him, the others "hated the film" (Elliot complained that he "only came once"). "Our friendships cool from this day on."
When Everett's tricksy wisdom and wit rub against the right subject matter, the product is no ordinary spark. Take the exorcism he undergoes at the hands of the witch in LA in order to ensure the success of his TV series. Corky is an ancient Cuban lady with a Hollywood bungalow, a cockatoo and a spirit guide called "the Gypsy" – ''The Yipsy is drivin' me crazy today. Oy, Roopi!'' She involves him in a "deranged" ritual. At its climax the co-witch, Miguelina, "emits a blood-curdling scream and is literally thrown across the room". "You gonna see," Corky assures Rupert. Of course "Nothing Happens".
Apart from these signs of suggestibility, Rupert's convictions are held in his guts. While he was filming The Celebrity Apprentice, it was ideological loathing (along with Tramadol and vodka) that caused him to vomit at the mention of Tony Blair's arrival at the studio: "I swallowed hard and raised my eyebrows. Luckily I could that month."
He is no coward. The threatened media-exposure of a tape showing him having sex with a man in a restaurant loo in LA results in madcap revenge. The offending journalist, who had previously brought cocaine shame on Britney Spears, lived "on the edge of a swamp". Rupert and his accomplice drive there to throw a cream cake at him – "this one's for Britney" – and hurtle off in their car.
"Vanished years", from a poem by Noël Coward, suggests partied-out amnesia and the whoosh of time in the limelight. But for Everett the years are also a rosary of temps perdu, for thumbing over bead by bead: memories of (the other) Madonna "in the last days of her prime", or Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson swooping by in a speedboat, the Manhattan skyline behind them. The once dazzling and now irretrievable – Everett's memories are a reminder that even superstars turn to dust.
Equally poignant are his own regrets, the "conditioned" "post-coital remorse" that blighted, on a school pilgrimage to Lourdes, his lovemaking in the woods with a member of the cricket eleven. One memory in particular inspires excellent writing. In his early 20s, his young lover, Alfo, discovered and told Rupert he had HIV. They realise they are in love. Everett concentrates on the ordinary details, the bedside lamp with its "medium's shade with tassels", the "damp green walls" and the "traffic rumbling outside".
These same poetic powers are employed in his account of Hollywood. Landing at a private airport with Tina Brown and entourage, through the fence "the forest smoulders with heat, livid and threatening" and "It feels for a moment, as we squawk and clatter to our cars … that nature actually hates us." They are "a line of killer ants in black dresses and patent-leather bags" while lyme ticks hang in the trees "scanning the horizon for a passing blood bag to infect".
The mystery within this mystery is why a man as intelligent as Everett wished to take part in these soul-dimming goings-on. To learn that Harvey Weinstein's "legendary tantrums … made it all worthwhile" is to be none the wiser. Everett's chief pleasure seems to be in the dangled opportunity: after scoring Richard Curtis's phone number – "Orgasm. Images of renewed Hollywood stardom burst across my brain."
But stardom unquestionably supplied Everett with people to observe, and his chief gift is for characterisation. Weinstein looks "like a giant old couch that had been left on the street", Isabella Blow's arrival was always preceded by "a weird movement in the air and a clattering outside followed by screams and a crash". Rupert's own granny at home was "Empire under siege, small, neat and vice-regal."
On a ferry to Lourdes with his ailing father in a wheelchair, he reflects, as the sun sets, that ''Byron must have watched it disappear thus, before dragging his bad foot below for a drink." Perhaps it takes wisdom to be this silly. And it surely takes wisdom to be this wry in the face of disillusionment: "I am not built for excessive wealth. (Too tall)."
Everett is not only a good raconteur, he has musicality – he knows how and precisely when to turn elegy to jazz with a roguish blue-note of bathos. It is a tragical, comical, ironical Broadway-hit-show of a life.
Rupert Everett's new memoir has landed him in hot water. Again. But he thinks we just need to lighten up
by Decca Aitenhead The Guardian, Friday 28 September 2012
Rupert Everett: 'I'd hate to have a stroke doing a line of coke.' Photograph: Harry Borden/Contour by Getty Images
Poor old Rupert Everett thought he'd taken every care to say nothing in his first memoir that could upset his friend Madonna. Then the book came out, she threw a strop and stopped talking to him. His new momoir is less scandalously gossipy, so further fallings-out had looked unlikely – but before its release this week, he was already in hot water again. Everett can't understand it. "What's happened to humour? We're becoming American. Everyone gets so angry over everything."
by Rupert Everett
But I'm not sure how much he really cares, and to my mind you'd have to be even more humourless than Madonna to hold anything against him. After reading Vanished Years, I didn't just want to buy the book but kidnap its author and gallivant about town with him for ever.
Not so much a kiss-and-tell as a love letter from Everett to a lost past, the book is nostalgic for a world in which big stars were big characters. He's a dreadful snob, really, but of the most adventurous kind, drawn to life's underbelly and in thrall to extremes, but bored to death by mediocrity. Now 53, still handsome but no longer the shocking beauty of his youth, Everett writes with a rare blend of wistful lament, comic observation and opinionated mischief – and in person turns out to be exactly the same.
Vanished Years opens with Everett's account of his ill-fated appearance on Comic Relief Does The Apprentice, to which he'd agreed having never actually seen the show. Appalled to find himself on a testosterone-crazed team led by Piers Morgan, and overseen by a man he mistakes for Sid James but who turns out to be Sir Alana Sugar, Everett has a panic attack, bolts out of an emergency exit and legs it to the Ritz. Pursued by the production crew, he ends up cycling to King's Cross and escaping on a train to Norfolk. I'm not sure he's fully recovered yet.
"Seeing Morgan and Alastair (Campbell) and Ross Kemp was like a flashback to me of exactly why I peeled off from the mainstream in life so very early. Just feeling outside from groups of rugger-buggers at school; they just set off a kind of alarm bell in me. To me, Piers Morgan was a person who just reminded me, exactly, of all the people I was terrified of at school. I don't like how he is; I've seen him on a few other Apprentice-like things and he takes it too seriously. He's a killer. He's pathological.
"But, at the same time," Everett reflects, suddenly looking quite impressed, "I think how he's moulded himself into a new career – well, I love people managing to achieve things. I think it's quite clever. Also, he reminds me of Oscar Wilde, in a way. He could play Oscar Wilde if you put him in a long wig – he's so kind of slobby and elephantine. But I can't imagine him with poor Celia Walden [Morgan's wife]. She's gorgeous and very funny. I mean, she deserves to be fucked by a god."
Maybe she feels that's what she's getting? Everett considers this possibility doubtfully. "Maybe he is. I've always imagined him to be hung like a budgie underneath it all." He ponders the matter further. "Or maybe the penetrative act is not what turns her on. Anyway," he brightens, "it only makes it more riveting to me. I mean, the Celia factor does make it fascinating. I love his wife. So now that I love his wife, I'm rather confused about him. Because she´s so chic-looking and he dresses like a school slob."
I tell him Morgan now has a personal trainer on each coast of the US, and that last time we met he made me touch his tricep so I could feel the results. Everett's face lights up and he leans in, enthralled. "Ree-aa-lly?"
It's this ambivalence about whether he's one of them or one of us that makes Everett such a divine chronicler of celebrity. "It's good to write things down, because I think everyone kind of colludes in misrepresenting show business quite often – from your side and our side. We both ask each other and answer each other the wrong questions, always. And the bullshit gets wiped back and forth. It's so boring. So we all collude in misrepresenting the nuts and bolts of a rather interesting world."
Or at least, a world that used to be rather interesting. "I'm very romantic about the past, really. So I think it's also a middle-aged book. I guess middle age is, well, probably every generation feels the world is ending, slightly, at that age – and it is. I guess every generation is kind of ending. But New York has really changed. I mean it really has changed, so it isn't just a middle-age whine – the old New York of the 70s really doesn't exist. Everywhere is the same place now; everything's been made into a Disney Street. If you look at books of Hollywood homes in the 70s, it's just amazing how humble they are; they're like little beach shanty houses with bric-a-brac furniture. Now, the smallest fucking brainless Hollywood producer lives in an Earth Wind & Fire Egyptian palace. It's just… It's become so tasteless, I suppose."
Everett is comically glum about the sanitisation of show business – the military schedules of early nights and abstinence enforced by po-faced publicists, and all the "hollow, vulnerable" parties that make him long for Studio 54's carnival of freaks. But then again, he's become uncharacteristically abstinent himself; a few years ago he noticed his libido had vanished, and he stopped taking drugs once the thought had occurred, "Oh God, I'd hate to have a stroke doing a line of coke." So it's not always clear if he's mourning a world that has passed, or the passing of his own gilded youth.
Rupert Everett and heiress Sabrina Guinness in 1982. Photograph: Rex
He was only 21 when his role in Another Country launched him into a turbulent career of heady triumphs and disasters. He'd more or less run away from his Catholic boarding school in his teens, to train at drama school in London, making ends meet by working on the side as a rent boy until general insubordination got him kicked out. Another Country propelled him to Hollywood, and the auspices of Orso Welles, but after success with Dance With A Stranger, his early promise began to unravel. Following some forgettable films and a bizarre stab at pop stardom, Everett ended up making TV in Russia, lolled around Europe, wrote a couple of novels, did some modelling and gradually inched his way back into Hollywood's gaze with comic turns in The Madness of King George and Pret-A-Porter. In 1997, he starred alongside Julia Roberts in My Best Friend´s Wedding and was suddenly red hot again, charming everyone with Shakespeare in Love and An Ideal Husband – until an over-hyped 1999 comedy co-starring Madonna, The Next Best Thing, bombed so badly that both their Hollywood careers were over for good.
Since then, Everett has rebuilt a reputation as an unpredictable but inspired elder statesman of the theatre, and in 2006 surprised everyone again with his recklessly indiscreet memoir, Red Carpets And Other Banana Skins. No one writes about failure more delightfully than Everett. The only downside to it all has been having to experience it.
"Oh, it's horrible," he says. "You've been lulled into being somebody very important in a business – and our business is all about status – so every idea you have when it's going well, everyone says, 'That is a great idea, Rupert, we've got to go and have a meeting about that.' You think it's because it's the most fantastic idea, but you have the same idea the next year and no one listens. So it's a character destruction. You have to die – it's dying. The disaster is holding on. You keep acting in the way that you were to those people to whom you are no longer who you were, and they go, "You're not that person any more.' And that's when you become really vile. That's what normally happens."
Everett has always blamed all his false starts and failures on Hollywood's prejudice against an openly gay leading man. Any suggestion that self-sabotage might have played a part, too, has made him terribly indignant in the past, but today, when I observe that at the very height of his My Best Friend's Wedding renaissance, he scandalised America by telling a tabloid about his days as a rent boy, he just lets out a guilty little laugh. "Did I? Oh."
By his own admission, he behaved appallingly towards the director of Dance With A Stranger when he was still far too young to have seriously expected to get away with it. And how could he have thought Madonna wouldn't mind being called a "whiny old barmaid" who played with her boyfriend's penis in public? For all the white heat of Everett's ambition, I'm not convinced he ever truly wanted the success he thought he craved.
"That's weird, because I'm playing Oscar Wilde at the moment [in The Judas Kiss], and people say about him that he sabotaged himself. And I don't know that you realise, yourself. I mean, obviously it's true, but whether it's just from being a silly fairy or from really, inside, wanting to sabotage things, I don't know." Which does he think it is in his case? "Both, probably."
He thinks Aids had a lot to do with some of his early diva-ish misbehaviour. "Having been such a slag and a slut in the 1970s, then Aids came along and I spent six years in sheer terror." A mosquito bite on set one day was enough to plunge him into meltdown, when he mistook the red mark for a lesion. "That was part of my landscape then, this terror that was always there. Nearly everyone I slept with was dying, you couldn't test until about 1986, and that was really the big period of my life. That's what all queens went through who'd been in those days beforehand, when everyone fucked everyone just as a matter of course, so I think that's what started everything off for me in a kind of weird, skewed way. Because terror makes you behave very strangely. People have forgotten about that. It was absolute terror. So living like that, if something niggled you, you could explode and be really difficult."
I ask if he's ever had therapy and he looks appalled. "No!" He has been to a hypnotherapist, though – "To get me to go to work with a more cheerful attitude" – and to his amazement it worked. He thinks he'll probably need to see her again, though. "Mmm. Old habits die hard."
These days, he's a brilliantly funny observer of celebrity tantrums – "screaming and throwing things and torturing assistants and complaining about the schedule of their next movie to various vassals in offices still open on the coast" – so I tell him I can't understand how he can write like that and still be capable of behaving like that. "Oh, because you behave like a diva when you get tired. For example, last week I was really nasty to the lady in the wardrobe of my new play about putting on my new wig – I was horrible to her. Well, I just was horrible, because I was incredibly nervous and this lovely lady who doesn't normally put on wigs was very nervous, and I was unsure. I loathed the wig, and result: sheer tsunami of divadom."
And in that moment it feels entirely justified? "Oh, absolutely, yeah. Female circumcision was about to happen." And afterwards, how does he feel? "Awful. Terrible." Yet never so bad that it won't happen again? He offers a carelessly elegant little mea culpa shrug. "But things happen, don't they?" He chuckles, then sighs. "Things happen."
His problem, he thinks, might be that he grew up in the 1970s with a misleading impression of what stardom would entail and demand. "That was when stars like Elizabeth Taylor said exactly what they thought, and my notion of being a star was that there was only one way it was valuable, and that's if you are yourself. Not these mirages – these ghost figures, untouchable, who don't allow themselves to be anything." I wonder if he thinks he might also have been just a bit too clever. "For acting? Oh, yeah. I'm much too intelligent. The best thing to be is bovine in acting – it looks best on screen. Yes, I think being bovine is definitely a plus. Because then, if you just go, 'Moo', everyone goes, 'Oh my God, that guy has got so much hidden depth' because they can put anything they want into the moo."
Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde and Freddie Fox as Bosie in The Judas Kiss, London, 2012. Photograph: Rex
In many ways Everett must be the closest approximation we're ever likely to see of a 21st-century Oscar Wilde. He is capable of sincere appreciation of almost any activity, if skilfully executed; tabloid trickery is "genius", advertising is "genius", and when I point out that the Third Reich could also be described as genius, he looks pleasantly surprised. "That's the kind of thing I would say." But he's equally sincere about the charitable causes he's supported and gets worked up about everything from global poverty to the law that requires Jamaicans to get visas before they can visit Britain. "Just because, what, maybe some dealers are going to come over? We need dealers, to be quite honest. It's the English who want the drugs. It's so unfair." He adores the traditional high Tory old-fashioned values of stoicism and honour, while extolling a languid sort of affectless libertarianism – "People can do whatever they like, as far as I'm concerned" – and finds everything either wildly funny or deeply serious, sometimes simultaneously. Around his neck hangs a gigantic, diamond-encrusted crucifix, but his last words before we part are a baroque rant against churches.
"Why do queens want to go and get married in churches? Obviously this crusty old pathetic, Anglican church – the most joke-ish church of all jokey churches – of course they don't want to have queens getting married. It's kind of understandable that they don't; they're crusty old calcified freaks. But why do we want to get married in churches? I don't understand that, myself, personally. I loathe heterosexual weddings; I would never go to a wedding in my life. I loathe the flowers, I loathe the fucking wedding dress, the little bridal tiara. It's grotesque. It's just hideous. The wedding cake, the party, the champagne, the inevitable divorce two years later. It's just a waste of time in the heterosexual world, and in the homosexual world I find it personally beyond tragic that we want to ape this institution that is so clearly a disaster."
So I wasn't entirely surprised when, just a few days later, he landed himself in trouble. It was a throwaway remark to a Sunday supplement – "I can't think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads" – and within hours the world's media was buzzing with letters from angry gay dads calling Everett a dinosaur. Like every other ding-dong to have ever come his way, it seems to have taken him by surprise, because he calls and invites me to lunch to explain what he meant.
"For me, being gay was about wanting to do the opposite of the straight world, so I think that's where my problems in this particular area come from. For me, personally, the last thing I would like in the entire world would be to go through cocktailing my sperm with my boyfriend and finding some grim couple in Ohio who are gluten-free and who you pay $75,000 to have your baby. To me it feels absolutely hideous. But that's me, just me. I'm not having a go at gay couples who do. I think if Elton and David want to have babies, that's wonderful. I think we should all do what we want.
"Isn't there a middle way, where you can just say, 'Not for me, but it doesn't matter'? But no, everything's sort of turned into al-Qaida. I'm sure I'm going to be nail-bombed. David Furnish is probably going to send Patrick Cox with a bomb and blow up the theatre." Beneath the expression of pained innocence, he looks rather thrilled.
• Vanished Years, by Rupert Everett, is published by Little, Brown at £20.
Rupert Everett scoops Sheridan Morley prize for memoir Vanished Years
Judges reward 'surprising, hilarious and wise' follow-up to British actor's first autobiography Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins
By Matt Trueman / The Guardian / Wednesday 27 February 2013
Rupert Everett's Vanished Years: 'Just plain fun to read'. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Rupert Everett has won this year's Sheridan Morley prize for his second autobiography, Vanished Years.
by Rupert Everett
The memoir, which takes its title from Noël Coward's last poem, picks up the actor's story in the last decade with a generous helping of Proustian flashbacks en route. It's Everett's second memoir, following his 2006 publication Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, which detailed his rise to fame after starring in the film of Julian Mitchell's boarding school-set drama Another Country, at 25.
Everett, currently starring as Oscar Wilde in the West End production of David Hare's The Judas Kiss, has described the latest instalment "a middle-aged book" on account of its romantic nostalgia.
Published in September, Vanished Years was widely and lavishly praised in reviews, with the Guardian critic Talitha Stevenson describing it as "a tragical comical, ironical Broadway-hit-show of a life". Everett accepted the award at a ceremony at the Garrick Club in London.
The Sheridan Morley prize is given annually to a theatre-related book with a biographical bent. Previous winners include artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Dominic Dromgoole, actor Simon Callow and, last year, Stephen Sondheim. It commemorates the late theatre critic Sheridan Morley and is presented by his wife Ruth Leon, also a critic, in conjunction with the Garrick Club.
This year's shortlist contained a number of high-profile books: Kate Bassett's biography of Jonathan Miller, In Two Minds; Michael Pennington's personal reflection on Shakespeare, Sweet William; and Simon Callow's Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World. Playwright Arthur Laurents and writer Sue Prideaux completed the finalists.
The judges – Mark Shenton, Isla Blair and Braham Murray – said that Everett's book was "surprising, hilarious and wise".
Their statement continued: "It has been an extraordinary year for theatre biographies, but even in a very strong field, Rupert Everett's Vanished Years was a clear winner. It's just plain fun to read, and is a firsthand account of the everyday life of a working and highly successful actor from the inside."