Exclusive: Rupert Everett interview

THE EXPRESS Jun 14, 2010

IN AN exclusive interview, Film Editor Henry Fitzherbert talks to the waspish actor about cross-dressing, posh politicians and Piers Morgan..

You’re still blond!” says Rupert Everett, referring to our last encounter more than 20 years ago when I was a star-struck 16-year-old, interviewing the actor about his school days at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire, where I was then a pupil.

The actor’s memory astonishes me but then his powers of observation are no surprise having read his memoir, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, a superbly written account of his idiosyncratic showbusiness career. As for me, my teenage encounter with the star of Another Country remains indelibly fixed.

Rupert Everett conducted the entire interview in his Y-fronts while I, attired in schoolboy tweed jacket and tie, grew dizzy on his generously proffered pink champagne (the only drink available in his dressing room at London’s Garrick Theatre).

Now a very well-preserved 51, Everett is no less charming and remains the most refreshingly un-airbrushed of movie stars; perceptive, articulate and devil-may-care honest, with a turn of phrase that would surely please Oscar Wilde, about whom he has written a movie with a view to starring in (concerning the last three years of the writer’s life).

On being an openly gay actor, for example, the star who played Julia Roberts’s gay confidante in My Best Friend’s Wedding insists: “Any young actor thinking of coming out should immediately book in for a session of electric shock therapy. It doesn’t work.”

On the acting profession in general he muses: “It’s an adventurers’ game that’s gone mainstream. I always think being an actor in the 16th century would have suited me best, when the person playing Richard III was probably a murderer who’d killed someone in the last town in a brawl.”

I immediately think of his memorable cameo as Christopher Marlowe in Shakespeare In Love; perfect casting.

Soon to play Henry Higgins in a stage production of Pygmalion, some of Everett’s sharpest comments are reserved for the current occupants of 10 and 11 Downing Street, fellowpublic schoolboys.

“I wouldn’t ever vote a public schoolboy into running the country because 90 per cent of this country aren’t from public schools and  they’re just worlds apart really,” he blasts. “The idea of a Cabinet full of Old Etonians, all those bullies from school that I can remember, is to me extremely depressing.”

He admits having harboured particular venom for whey-faced Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who has an estimated fortune of £4million thanks to his stake in Osborne & Little, the wallpaper company founded by his father.

“I used to really hate George Osborne, especially since he comes from that awful wallpaper shop that should have been deported years ago,” he quips. Yet his views softened having read two historical works by Mr Osborne’s wife Frances Howell. “When I realised his wife wrote those two marvellous books I did think: ‘My goodness, maybe he is nicer’ but who knows?” He stares out of the window of the café in London’s Soho where we meet, then shrugs, as if to say: “Who cares what I think?”

Seemingly more comfortable on society’s fringes (he loved being homosexual in his youth, he says, when it was borderline illegal) he goes on: “Nobody shares my views on anything really so I don’t think there’s any political party that is seriously worthwhile for me. Having said that, maybe this coalition is going to work.”

If it doesn’t then there’s only solution: send for Camilla Fritton, the redoubtable Headmistress of St Trinian’s, played by Everett in the two smash-hit revivals of the Ealing comedy series and modelled on the Duchess of Cornwall and his mother.

“Rather than the Etonians they’d be much better in the Cabinet. God knows what would happen!” he laughs, pondering for a moment. “There’d be no nonsense, lots of spanked bottoms and tons of insider dealing.”

The idea of reviving St Trinian’s was Everett’s, fuelled by his strong vision for the headmistress (“a Home Counties hooray, the kind of woman I absolutely adore”), which was suitably distinct from Alastair Sim’s memorable original.

“For me, being such a fan of  Alastair Sim, it was a great dare trying to take over,” says Everett, who took the idea to Barnaby Thompson, head of Ealing Studios. Taking the job of cross-dressing extremely seriously, he spent months

creating the character with costume designer Penny Rose, while Jennifer Saunders wrote much of his dialogue.

“I really wanted Jennifer, she understood all the references,” he says. The attention to detail paid off: Everett received rave reviews, stealing the film with his effortless comic timing. “I feel, as an actor, everything I’d learned I really put into action and it was a thrilling thing to have done.”

Nevertheless, he reveals that he won’t be reprising the role a third time, even though plans are afoot for another. “It’s enough, to be honest. Two is great, three’s a crowd.” St Trinian’s without Everett? Is it really worth it?

Perhaps he fears typecasting, although I doubt it: at 51, with a career of remarkable peaks and troughs behind him, Everett (who stars alongside Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt in upcoming caper comedy Wild Target) seems beyond actorly fretting.

“When you’re young, showbusiness is so unnerving all the time, you feel that everything is a make-or-break moment and I suppose it is to a certain extent but when you’re older you just think ‘**** it’ and don’t worry.”

Having experienced typecasting as a serious, brooding actor early in his career, courtesy of his breakthrough  in Another Country, before being liberated by comedy, Everett understands that most actors are powerless to affect their careers.

“Showbusiness is a game of chance in the end and I think that everyone has to go into it realising it’s partly a roulette wheel.”

Indeed, the phenomenon of TV talent shows, of which Everett is a guilty devotee, shows just how many talented people are out there, he says, waiting for their break: “It throws our job a little bit into question. You suddenly turn on the TV and everyone in the country can do exactly what you can do but better, or up to a point better.”

He finds the X-factor culture “endlessly fascinating” and salutes Piers Morgan, his former nemesis on Celebrity

Apprentice, for his reinvention as a talent judge and chat-show host.

The sharp-tongued former tabloid editor has become the new sir Michael Parkinson, he says admiringly. “He’s turned into ‘Chummy Piers’ who sits there and smiles and says very little, clearly accessing Parky. I thought: ‘That’s so clever’.”

Morgan will be one of the characters profiled in Everett’s next book, which he describes as a Christopher Isherwood-esque series of portraits  of people and places, along with fellow Celebrity Apprentice Alastair Campbell, the late stylist Isabella Blow and his father, who died last year.

Meanwhile, he is about to wow audiences as Henry Higgins at the Chichester Festival Theatre, alongside Honeysuckle Weeks as Eliza Doolittle. Higgins today, he claims, would have his work cut out trying to fathom people’s class.

“Twenty years ago you could have told everything about someone by looking at them; their politics, their background, the music they listened to. Now consumerism has taken over. Everything’s become a look or a lifestyle choice so it’s difficult to know who anyone is.”

To add to the confusion, he says, the class divisions have blurred. “When I was a kid I remember my parents saying we were upper middle class and now there’s just two classes: toffs and everyone else.”

It’s a world unrecognisable from that of his Ampleforth school days in the early seventies. Coupled to that is the craziness of a recession in which everyone, he notes, still seems to be splashing the cash, at least in London.

“It’s a very extraordinary time but don’t look for any conclusions from me! I’m just concentrating on keeping going, in any way I can.”