He’s known for his debauched past and outrageous comments but Rupert Everett says he's finally mellowing and embracing life in his fifties
21:37 GMT, 24 August 2012
Rupert Everett never wanted to make it to middle age. He was going to live dangerously. Suffer fabulously. Die young.
‘When I was a kid I wanted to smoke cigarettes, suffer and finish off as badly as possible,’ he says. ‘It was seeing those faces on screen just living fabulous, dramatic stories. I wanted to be a raw movie icon. Die young like James Dean.’
Let’s just say he had a good crack at it. After dropping out of his posh public school at 16, he hotfooted it to London where he got high, had lots of sexual adventures and… well, I’ll spare you the rest.
Rupert Everett never wanted to make it to middle age. He was going to live dangerously. Suffer fabulously. Die young
‘I moved into some things – just anything that was the opposite to my upper-middle-class kind of classical English upbringing. I took drugs – all the Hoorays took heroin – and adored sex.
'At school everyone was fumbling around with each other but I had no idea there were places like gay clubs. Everything was slightly underground. It was heavenly, secret, fabulous. I didn’t think I was going to be alive by 53. I imagined a fabulous car crash aged 33.’
But here he is, aged 53, sipping a gin and tonic on the lawn at his mother’s picture postcard Queen Anne farmhouse in Wiltshire.
Rupert says as he has become older, the older middle classes have become more appealing
More To The Manor Born than Rebel Without A Cause. ‘Youth drags you out to sea and then middle age drags you back to familiarity,’ he sighs. ‘I love being here.’ And who wouldn’t The sun is shining and the birds are singing. Rupert mixes a pretty good gin and tonic too.
‘As I’ve got older this has become extremely appealing,’ he says. ‘I love the old English middle classes. I adore my mother, for example. T
'hey don’t make them like her any more. When you watched the Queen and Prince Philip standing through that hideous weather on the Diamond Jubilee flotilla, you just knew there’s nobody else who could do that.
‘You looked at Kate [the Duchess of Cambridge] and got the impression she thought it was quite a breeze. Then the harsh reality of being dcollet in sub-zero temperatures for three-and-a-half hours set in. She went from glowing to murderous, whereas they just do it. My mother has that same kind of air-raid mentality which I hated when I was 17.’
His delightful mother Sara is actually in the kitchen cooking Sunday lunch and, no, she doesn’t look a bit like Rupert in drag in St Trinian’s. She’s a soft, round woman and thoroughly charming, so much so you’d never guess they had a bit of a set-to earlier.
Turns out she ‘intercepted’ some of his mail and ‘took it upon herself’ to write to his fans. Rupert was spitting teeth, but I think it only goes to show that quirkiness as well as this old-English-middle-class thing runs in the genes. One day Rupert will inherit this glorious corner of England.
There’s an older brother Simon who lives in Nairobi, but he doesn’t want the house. Simon is ‘an eccentric character’ too. ‘In a very nice way,’ says Rupert. ‘We inhabit parallel universes.
He’s completely outside of the whole world. He has a helicopter company. I hardly ever see him.’ There’s a photograph of Rupert and Simon as children in matching sailor suits on the dresser. I wonder if this mother-they-don’t-make-any-more anticipated a different life for her sons.
Today, Rupert’s Brazilian boyfriend Enrico, who’s a good two decades younger than Rupert, is a regular visitor at her farmhouse. ‘I think on paper she accepts us but I don’t think she’d like us holding hands or anything like that,’ he says.
‘She’s supportive, but do any of that generation really, inside themselves, think two men should be together I don’t know. I think if my mum found us kissing she’d projectile vomit.’
Rupert’s father, retired Army major Anthony, would have preferred for both of his sons to have served in the Army or worked in the City. He died three years ago and they were never very close during his lifetime. Now though, says Rupert, his father’s death has brought him home. ‘I’ve become very close to my father since he died,’ says Rupert.
Rupert Everett and Kara Tointon at the 2011 Laurence Olivier Awards at the Theatre Royal in central London
‘I think about him a lot. Not in a sad way. He loved travelling. When I’m in an airport and think about him I feel very warm towards him.
‘We had one very sweet conversation when he heard I’d split up from a boyfriend. He said, “Mummy tells me you and Martin have split up.” I said, “Er, yes.” Then there was a pause. He said, “Is there nothing you can do to fix it up” It was so sweet.’ Rupert looks genuinely touched at this.
‘He was 89 and died of old age. You see yourself in an old person dying. He sneezed every day about seven times. I started sneezing. It’s just weird physical things you do that are similar. You see it and it gives you an opportunity to accept yourself in a way.’
Which might be why Rupert is so, well, un-Rupert-ish today. This is, after all, the flamboyant, quixotic Rupert who became a star at 24, famous for his on-screen love affair with Colin Firth (who remains a close friend) in Another Country and his off-screen tantrums.
In Another Country with Colin Firth
That’s right, the same Rupert who revealed with astonishing honesty how he mixed with film stars, models, junkies, hobos and rent boys in his brilliant autobiography Red Carpets And Other Banana Skins, but fell out with Madonna after calling her an ‘old, whiny barmaid’.
Are they speaking again ‘I don’t know,’ he shrugs. ‘We never come across each other to find out. She was somebody I’ve known and adored right from the beginning of my career.
But people are very uptight about being revealed for what they are. All I said was she was touching Sean Penn under the table once. But she’d repositioned herself as a religious diva so I suppose it was awkward. I think she’s amazing and I can only admire her tenacity. She just keeps on.’ Ouch.
We’re actually here to discuss his role in BBC2’s Parade’s End, a five-part drama with Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, War Horse) and Rebecca Hall (The Town, The Awakening) adapted by Sir Tom Stoppard from novels by Ford Madox Ford. Set shortly before and during World War I, the drama centres upon a love triangle between English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch), his flippant, socialite wife Sylvia (Hall) and Valentine Wannop, a young suffragette played by Adelaide Clemens. Rupert appears as Tietjens’ brother.
‘My father is played by the marvellous actor Alan Howard. I was his dresser at the RSC when I was a kid,’ says Rupert. ‘The last time I’d seen him was when I was fired.
His role was Coriolanus and there was this really sexy red leather outfit I’d borrowed to go to a club one night. I forgot to bring it back so when it came to the time to put him into costume it wasn’t there. I hadn’t seen him from that moment to this. He couldn’t remember it, actually. Funny though, that I should end up being his son in Parade’s End.
‘Tom Stoppard is an absolute stickler for the text being exact – understandably because he’s a brilliant writer,’ says Rupert.
‘But he was often looming behind the camera with a horrified face if one comma was missed. I was in a state of terror because of my memory. Poor Benedict had reams and reams of text to learn and we shot tons of film every day.’
With Benedict Cumberbatch in Parades End
Cumberbatch, of course, is the old Harrovian who has said he’s thinking of heading to America because he’s fed up with ‘posh-bashing’ in Britain.
‘I think everyone wants to leave the UK at some point. It’s the lure of money and Benedict’s very ambitious. Maybe he wants to be James Bond,’ Rupert muses. ‘We all want more. I certainly wanted to be something I could never be and wasted a lot of time trying to be it.’ So does he see something of his younger self in Cumberbatch ‘Oh, I was much prettier,’ he replies archly.
It’s funny, he says, that he should be appearing with Edward Fox’s son Freddie in The Judas Kiss, a play about Oscar Wilde in which Rupert plays Wilde and Fox his lover Lord Alfred Douglas.
Rupert Everett starred in St Trinian's 2 – The Legend of Fritton's Gold
‘I’ve known Freddie since he was five. I know all his family. Robert, his uncle, is one of my closest friends. Oscar Wilde is my Jesus figure. Hopefully, I’m making a film about his life. Colin [Firth] is going to be in it. I’m putting that down now in case he’s thinking of getting out of it. He texted me the other day to say, “All I’m hearing about is how your film’s happening. Should I be worried”’
Rupert is enjoying what he calls a ‘little renaissance’ career-wise at the moment. In truth, he’s had more ups and downs over the years than a big dipper.
A star at 24, he was a has-been at 30 then rose Phoenix-like from the ashes to superstardom after playing Julia Roberts’ gay confidante in My Best Friend’s Wedding in 1997, but spectacularly crashed once again after playing the gay father of Madonna’s baby in the disastrous The Next Best Thing in 2000.
‘The gay role was all right when it worked, but when it didn’t it really didn’t. I now think it’s great to have a wife in showbusiness,’ he says. ‘It’s great to have girlfriends. It’s great to divorce them, kill them, do whatever you want to them but have them. Anything works really. Now we’ve entered a period where prison is the best career move.’
Prison ‘Well, for example, you know Hugh Grant and that Vanity Brown, or whatever she’s called.’ He’s referring to Grant’s arrest after being caught with Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown.
‘That was a great, great success story.’ He ponders this for a moment. Rupert, who has just completed his second autobiography Vanished Years, has one of those brains that never stops whirring. ‘Selling books is like throwing a sausage up Oxford Street,’ he says.
‘It’s so difficult. You have to promote. I was thinking the best thing to do would be to film my own sex tape and put it out somewhere…
‘When I was big in Hollywood the last time, I used to have ideas and everyone would say, “Ooh, that’s a great idea.” Then I went on having the ideas after my star had waned and met completely blank faces.
Rupert Everett and Hermione Norris have done lots of charitable work through the years
The irony for me is if I’d written my Oscar Wilde film at the same time as I made My Best Friend’s Wedding it would have been made by now. As it is, that writing spark really only came a bit later – too late for me to manipulate it in the way I could have done. You miss the boat a lot in life and that’s just how it is.’
Weirdly this un-Rupert-ish Rupert seems rather cheered by this thought. ‘All I ever really wanted was to brand myself on the world. I was so obsessed by me and being the person I saw in the movies. When I was 16 and saw those black-and-white films – the faces, the kissing, the hair, the costumes, James Dean, Bette Davis – it was huge, immense.
'We were brought up in the shadow of rationing but suddenly there was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton somewhere in St Moritz with tons of diamonds. You see things like that and think, “I want that.” But everything became a disappointment because it never was that. I thought the whole business was bohemian and it wasn’t.
Showbusiness is a military occupation more or less, and I misunderstood that. It was a mistake.
‘Middle age has been a release for me. Not the jowls, but it’s brought me closer to my family. Closer to everything I hated when I was 17.’ With which it’s time for Sunday lunch, so we walk across the lawn to the house and the English middle-class way of life this thoroughly lovely middle-aged man now embraces.
Parade’s End is on Fridays at 9pm on BBC2. The Judas Kiss will be at the Hampstead Theatre, London, from 6 September, tel: 020 7722 9301.