Author Topic: NYT Sunday Magazine: "Rupert Everett Is Not Having a Midlife Crisis"  (Read 885 times)

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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'--an MGM executive told his agent that “to all intents and purposes, a homosexual was a pervert in the eyes of America.”'


The school proved a sorry turn of events for a child who, at 5, fell in love with the movie “Mary Poppins” and spent most of each day singing its score while wearing a red tweed skirt of his mother’s.

Very, very long--and very good.

Viva Rupert! (Or: Good-oh, 'Everett Two'!)

“Be good,” he called as we headed down the stairs. “Careful on the bike.”


Rupert Everett Is Not Having a Midlife Crisis

Published: February 18, 2009

The first apartment never had a chance.

“That’s very bad luck, isn’t it?” Rupert Everett said, looking dolefully at a sparsely decorated Christmas tree on a late January afternoon. Everett flew in from London the night before, and this was one of six places he was scheduled to see that day. He actually owns a house in Greenwich Village that has a long-term tenant, so he and Brian Babst, his broker from the Corcoran Group, were hunting for an urban paradise with a six-month lease. On March 15, Everett will make his Broadway debut in a revival of Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,”  co-starring Angela Lansbury, and before rehearsals had even begun, his dry-martini delivery was pitch-perfect.

“Is there a cleaning lady?” he asked, surveying the floors. “She hasn’t been here very often, recently.” He stood in the middle of the living room, where each wall was painted a different color. “It’s a slightly weird atmosphere, don’t you think?” he said, sniffing the air. “It’s slightly ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ ”

“Not really,” Babst said, steering his client toward the door. “There’s no doorman, and it’s not on the park.”

There was no use arguing. Everett knows what he likes and what he doesn’t, and he never hesitates to say so. He is best known to American moviegoers as Julia Roberts’s gay best friend in “My Best Friend’s Wedding”  (1997), beloved by women for his Cary Grant charm, sage advice and diehard loyalty, not to mention his moves on the dance floor. Off screen, when he came out as gay in 1989, he essentially ruined his chances for leading-man stardom in Hollywood. (He has written that he was turned down to play opposite Sharon Stone in the sequel to “Basic Instinct”  after an MGM executive told his agent that “to all intents and purposes, a homosexual was a pervert in the eyes of America.”) You might think times have changed in Hollywood, based on Sean Penn’s recent acceptance speech at the SAG Awards for playing the gay activist Harvey Milk. “As actors we don’t play gay, straight . . . , we play human beings,” he said. That may be true if you’ve been married to Madonna in real life. But if you were Madonna’s gay best friend in real life (and on screen in “The Next Best Thing” ), you don’t play “human beings.” You play gay.

To his credit, Everett has taken it like a man. He has had a number of supporting or co-starring roles in films like “Shakespeare in Love,” “An Ideal Husband,” “The Importance of Being Earnest”  (with Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench) and Robert Altman’s “Prêt-à-Porter.”  He’s no victim, except, possibly, by his own hand. Everett’s behavior has always tended toward the outrageous. Before enrolling at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London (from which he was expelled for clashing with his instructors) and apprenticing at the avant-garde Glasgow Citizens Theater in Scotland, he supported himself as a male prostitute. His smashing 1982 West End debut in Julian Mitchell’s “Another Country,”  as a romantic homosexual student at a straitlaced British public school in the 1930s (loosely based on the notorious spy Guy Burgess), established him in a blaze of beginner’s hubris; after starring in the screen adaptation of the play, his next film, “Dance With a Stranger,”  was highly praised. But he behaved so badly toward its director, Mike Newell, that he didn’t work in British films again for 10 years.

Instead, he made French films and Italian films and played Oscar Wilde’s­ “Importance of Being Earnest”   onstage at the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris — in French. After not working for long stretches and ultimately going broke, he learned at least some of the benefits of keeping his mouth shut. (Not that he always succeeds: the headline of a 2007 Out  magazine profile of him was “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” ) He has modeled for Versace and Valentino, was the face of Yves St. Laurent’s Opium campaign from 1995 to 1998 and one of People Magazine ’s 50 Most Beautiful People in 2000. In the last two “Shrek”  movies he was the voice of Prince Charming, and when he’s not acting, he writes — two novels, a critically acclaimed autobiography, “Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins,”  and articles for Vanity Fair,  where he is a contributing editor.

Michael Blakemore, the Tony Award-winning director who cast Everett in “Blithe Spirit,”  told me: “Rupert is highly intelligent and very, very observant. I’m tempted to say to him, ‘If you don’t put me in your next book, I won’t put you in mine.’ He’s pretty much a merciless writer.”

The character he plays in “Blithe Spirit”  is also a writer, who, as research for a new book, hires a medium (Lansbury) to conduct a séance. When she conjures the ghost of his dead first wife, high jinks, as they say, ensue.

“Rupert brings that upper-middle-class milieu with him,” Blakemore said. “He’s very good with language, and he’s also slightly offbeat and modern, very much at ease but quite raffish.”

I saw what he meant during our apartment hunt. Everett, Babst and I piled into a car headed for the next possibility, in Chelsea. Would he ever get a moment’s peace living in Chelsea? Everett looked blank. “You mean queens?” he asked. “No, they’re very standoffish, queens. They’re so busy worrying about how we’re looking at them, they wouldn’t notice if Jesus came down the street.”

Babst talked about the building where we were headed. Susan Sarandon once lived there, he said. Everett said nothing, though he wrote in his autobiography about the affair he had with her years ago, as well as one with the French actress Béatrice Dalle and a six-year relationship with Paula Yates, which overlapped her marriage to the rock presenter Bob Geldof. Indeed, in the three days I spent with the six-foot-four Everett, I watched women be drawn to him like dogs to bones (though he no longer reciprocates). He will turn 50 in May, and the creases and crinkles on his unshaven face only make him more devastatingly handsome than he was before. He has the ability to intoxicate effortlessly, gazing deep into your eyes and listening acutely, no matter the topic. Spending time with him is like encountering your sixth-grade crush all grown up — instantly intimate in a way that’s both entirely silly and completely satisfying. No matter that he’s had only one bona-fide Hollywood hit. He is a star, which means everyone else in the world, journalists included, are fans. That he stops thinking about you the moment you’re out of sight is a given.

He attributes this same magnetic star power to Madonna. In his autobiography, he writes, “but when she looked away, it was like sunbathing on a cold day and suddenly a cloud comes.” He was taught by a master.

Outside the building, a co-broker waited. He was a young man in a long black coat that was, to put it plainly, filthy, covered with lint and short white hairs.

“Are you having chemotherapy, or is that a dog?” Everett asked, deadpan, as we got into the elevator. The co-broker half-laughed; he didn’t seem to know what Everett was talking about. The apartment was very large, decorated atrociously, with oversize paintings and sculptures.

After a quick walk-through, Everett said, “Thank you very much, it’s lovely,” before turning to go. The co-broker pressed him for a decision. “It’s not my kind of design, to be honest,” he said. “Very nice space, though.” We left him behind and got into the elevator. “Did you see his shoes?” Everett fumed. “I think a Realtor should have good shoes, especially in this climate.”

The next apartment was nearby, up a steep flight of steps. It was a large, wide-open space with a ’60’s psychedelic quality: pink wall-to-wall carpeting, white plastic furniture and a D.J. station set up with two turntables. We looked around, dumbfounded. This co-broker nodded. “It’s very unique,” he said.

“It’s like a place for orgies,” Everett murmured, being led through it. “Thank you very much, it’s very nice, but I don’t think I could really live in it,” he said. Once in the car, he laughed. “Can you imagine having Angela Lansbury back there? I don’t think so.”

The broker on the last apartment was Barbara Godson of Halstead Property, a British woman of a certain age, who, it turned out, rented Everett the house he eventually bought, in the late ’90s. It also turned out that she knows how to make an entrance — by bicycle.

To see Everett interact with older British women, as I would twice, was to see an exercise in hand-to-hand combat, white-glove division, that doesn’t exist in America. Everett, who grew up a son of a military-officer-turned-businessman, chafes at orders of any kind. Women of that age, no matter how polite, tend to give them. As he resists, Everett’s manners are sterling, but he gives as good as he gets. As she got off her bike, recognition dawned.

“I remember you,” he said, once we were inside the apartment. “I asked a friend to see the house for me, and you screamed at him because I didn’t go. You said, ‘I don’t show to assistants.’ And he was a friend.”

Godson stiffened her upper lip. “You have a bad view of me, then,” she said.

He parried. “No, not at all, very good actually,” he said. “That place brought me luck.”

She recovered. “This place could, too,” she said instantly.

He looked vaguely sorrowful, contemplating the living-room walls. “Not in the same way,” he said, finally. “Avocado could never give me good luck.”

He wandered through the bedrooms, each with child guards on the windows. “It’s a bit family-ish,” he said.

“From what point of view?” she asked sharply.

“From my point of view,” he retorted. Babst and I burst out laughing. This wasn’t conversation. It was dialogue.

She pushed some more. He pushed back. It was time to go. The parting shot was his.

“Be good,” he called as we headed down the stairs. “Careful on the bike.”

The next day Everett and I took time to talk in a room at the Greenwich Hotel in TriBeCa where he was staying. He wore black Adidas pants, a white T-shirt and sneakers. He rifled through the minibar with the freedom of not having to pay the bill and emptied a box of Dots and a bag of Swedish Fish onto the coffee table in front of him.

Because I knew he could be difficult, my heart sank the previous day when his publicist informed me that the costume fitting I was to watch was suddenly off limits; he had changed his mind. But when I turned up for the apartment hunt, he sat me down to explain his reservations: rehearsals hadn’t begun, he wasn’t sure who his character was — that sort of thing. He offered two alternatives: seeing a psychic, à la “Blithe Spirit,”  and meeting with Sophie Theallet, a clothing designer based in Brooklyn. She and Everett are great friends from Paris, where she worked for Azzedine Alaïa, and now that she has her own line, he has invested in her company. It was an un-divalike compromise, and crisis averted, we soldiered on.

‘Blithe Spirit’  came to me right out of the blue, and I didn’t think twice,” he said, sorting through the Dots. “Mine is not the best part, actually, even though it’s the lead. The ladies steal the show. But my perspective on work has changed. I’m very lucky to be working, particularly this year. That turns into a different thing when you get older. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity.”

With the great reviews he has received onstage — including for Noël Coward’s “Vortex”  in the West End — he could have worked much more than he has, in the theater at least.

“I wanted to be a movie star,” he said. “You can’t say about work that I didn’t try very hard. That really wasn’t true. I’ve always been a great opportunist, but the opportunity was not always there. I had a difficult set of circumstances to deal with, particularly for a movie career.”

Which was?

“Being gay, really. It just doesn’t work.”

I mentioned that a British newspaper accused him of sabotaging his career by coming out just as he was about to click as a romantic lead. Does he think that’s true?

“No,” he said. “I was out before. I was never really in, I don’t think. Everybody sabotages their careers to a certain extent, not consciously, but I don’t think I have more than anyone else. People get distorted ideas of themselves; being in this business, you can’t fail to. Suddenly you think you should be playing the Marlon Brando role in ‘On the Waterfront’  when you should really be playing a Noël Coward role.” He allowed himself a self-deprecating smile. “I think success in show business is a very heady wine when you’re a kid, particularly if it happens small, because you’re always trying to make it grow. There’s no happy moment in it, because you’re just grasping and elbowing, elbowing, elbowing your way to the next stop. And you make lots of wrong decisions because of it.”

Most of his wrong decisions seem to have stemmed from his unpredictable behavior, which has all-too-traceable roots to his upbringing. He was born in Norfolk, England, to an upper-middle-class family, and sent to boarding school at 7. His older brother went to the same school, where he was known as Everett One; Rupert was Everett Two. The school proved a sorry turn of events for a child who, at 5, fell in love with the movie “Mary Poppins”  and spent most of each day singing its score while wearing a red tweed skirt of his mother’s. He eventually transferred to Ampleforth College, a prestigious Catholic school where he found more of a community, at least in terms of acting. When he was 14 he played Elvira, the ghost of the writer’s dead wife, in a production of “Blithe Spirit,”  wearing a negligée he shopped for with his mother. Although he and his parents have had the expected rough patches — a son writing in his autobiography about his madcap days as a prostitute, every parent’s dream — Everett has remained close to them. During the time I spent with him, he was on the phone each day, checking in, as his 87-year-old father was ill.

“He’s a fantastic son,” said Robert Fox, who produced “Another Country”  in London almost 30 years ago. He and Everett remained friends, despite Everett’s refusing to renew his contract with the show. Fox, who is producing “God of Carnage”  with James Gandolfini on Broadway this spring, calls that period “a hiccup” between them. “He’s a very serious person, Rupert,” Fox told me. “Much deeper than he ever lets people see. Being a creative talent, he’s capable of being volatile, but that goes with the territory. He’s in a way a member of my family. He knows my kids since they were born, and he’s known me through a marriage or two or three. He’s been confrontational, it’s true, and he’s still capable of it, but he’s a good friend. Brilliant company.”

What Fox said of Everett proved true, at least in my time with him. He has been the bad boy in the British press for so long that he does it by rote now, and why not? Style as substance gets him loads of attention with minimum bother while letting him off the emotional hook. He tends to reveal himself in a more ad hoc  way — the stray comment, an unexpected observation, a flash of mood or temper. The narrative line evades him — and he it.

Everett does take full responsibility for “the bad bits,” as Fox called them, including his disastrous war for supremacy with Mike Newell on “Dance With a Stranger,”  the one that cost him 10 years of work.

“I tortured him,” Everett said simply. “You know, men are very weird things. You have to pay homage to the alpha male in the movie world, and I think half the problems in movies do happen because of this clash between the decorative alpha male on the screen and the practical alpha male off screen. I was horrible in that film, drunk on my own success. I was horrible to Miranda Richardson.  But she was very irritating. She’s extremely neurotic. She’s never talked to me since.” (“It’s a falsification,” Richardson said through a representative. “We’ve not crossed paths since the film.”)

But what damaged him most, Everett believes, was his 1987 flop, “Hearts of Fire,”  with Bob Dylan, calling it the “full-on, no-survivors crash of my career.” He compounded the film’s failure a year later by trying a career as a singer, which bombed on a similarly epic level.

“It’s very cyclical, very up-and-down, a career,” he said, gazing out the window. “I remember when mine came up the last time with amazing good luck, ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding,’  and the explosion of job opportunities I got from it. I remember feeling, I’ll never have the energy to go down again and come up, because going down you can never prepare yourself for it. You don’t even know yourself how exhausting it is, having to pick yourself up and start over again.”

His big break after that was “The Next Best Thing,”  in which he starred with Madonna, playing her best friend. The two have a drunken one-night stand, she becomes pregnant and they raise the child together, until she meets Benjamin Bratt, falls in love and wrecks the arrangement. Everett worked on the script and was an executive producer, but those assignments didn’t last.

“I was in control of the whole thing at first,” he said. “But everything takes so long, and I’ve got really bad A.D.D. in that sense. Then there was John Schlesinger, the director, and Madonna, all these big egos, and I don’t have a very good combative side. I give in to everything and get bored.” He shook his head. “So many burned bridges. I should never be in control or power. Every single decision I made was the wrong one.” (Though he and Madonna fell out for a while, they’re friends again, he said.)

Certainly now, Everett seems older and wiser. He’s philosophical about contemporary Hollywood, where playing gay is suddenly all the rage — and he knows it means nothing for him. “The paranoid moneymakers know that when the star goes to the first night with his wife, the public sees that,” he said. “They’ll accept someone playing gay because they know he’s really straight.”

For nearly a year, Everett has been living with a man who seems to make him happy, though Everett didn’t identify him. Much has been made of Everett’s difficulties with intimacy through the years — boarding school! absent parents! — though he writes (sparingly) in his autobiography about the boyfriend he had for eight years. Maybe it’s part of the mellowing proc­ess of age, but he seems rather content these days.

“I spent my whole life thinking I was missing out on something happening somewhere else,” he said. “It took me a long time to feel happy, just to collapse like a dog on the sofa and find great pleasure in a less-ambitious life. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m speaking badly about my other half. I just love sitting around, doing that with someone else. It was always a strain for me in relationships to be interested in the other person except for what I was going to change about them when I had the chance.”

Everett’s romances aside, he seems to have had a number of serial friendships, though the nature of his work is to go from place to place, project to project. “It’s like being in school,” he said. “You do develop very close friendships and close enmities that then evaporate quite often straight afterwards. That’s not peculiar just to me, that’s part of the gypsy side of acting, which is lovely, I think. You have to be like a kid. The only way to attack an acting career is to stay 18, because you end up being 94 and hobbling to a bus to go to an audition, and the only way you’ll do that is if you still think of yourself as an 18-year-old. Which is really exhausting for the people around us.”

It would be nice to see him work more, though he wasn’t convinced of this. “You shouldn’t work much more than every six months or so as an actor, he said. “People get very bored of you — all those people who do four movies a year. Barbra Streisand didn’t do four movies a year. Dustin Hoffman never did four movies a year until recently. They kept amongst themselves. I think you should do that slightly. You should be able to putter off and have a breakdown or a heroin addiction, whatever it is, your particular problem of choice. That’s what makes you an interesting actor, anyway. We’re more interesting if we are dysfunctional.”

Paula Roberts, who bills herself as “the English Psychic,” has lived and worked in New York for 30 years. When the producers of “Blithe Spirit”  held auditions for psychics to lend advice on things like the correct way to hold a séance, she won. But when she turned up at the Greenwich Hotel, her skills as a medium were not on offer, even though she conducted the 68th “Official Houdini Séance,” which was part of a documentary about Houdini shown on the Discovery Channel.

“I was told to do a regular reading,” she said briskly, setting a pack of Tarot cards on the table. Everett looked decidedly dismayed. Having written a screenplay about the last three years of Oscar Wilde’s life — a part he would like to play — he wanted to contact him, take a meeting, perhaps.

“I’m also a handwriting analyst,” Roberts said quickly, feeling the goodwill drain from the room. She set a piece of paper before Everett. “Please write a sentence and a signature.” He kept his composure while doing so, though his eye wandered to his watch with hopes for an earlier lunch. In the two lunches and one breakfast I ate with Everett, he was continually famished, eating my food as well as his own.

“I live in New York City and my name is Rupert Everett,” he wrote as instructed.

Roberts glanced at the writing. “You have enormous inner resources,” she said. “There are fairly wide spaces between your words. Metaphorically you need a lot of space around you.”

Everett stared glumly at the paper.

“Your attention to detail is not the most natural part of your personality,” she went on. “When writing the word ‘city,’ you omitted a T-bar. It’s unusual to omit a T-bar. It’s so rare it’s not actually covered.” He hadn’t crossed any of the T’s in his name either. “You’ve got a lot of mixed messages,” Roberts went on. “The warmth in the broad handwriting, yet this” — she pointed to something on the paper — “cuts out people.”

“Frosty,” he said.

“Well, I was going to be a bit more polite.”

He shrugged. “I come from a very frosty family.”

She kept going: “A live-in relationship broke. The effect has softened, but it’s still showing. Your signature says, ‘Don’t imagine you’ll get close to me easily.’ ” Now he looked disturbed.

I asked Roberts about her work as a medium. She said she appeared on “A Current Affair” to “read” the bed used by Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. “I wasn’t expecting anything when I touched it,” she said, her tone turning dramatic. “But when I get spirit contact, it hits the back of my shoulders.”

Everett’s tone turned impatient. “Can’t you get some now?”

“You can’t just conjure up anybody,” she protested. “In that bed the essence was still there. I burst into tears!”

“Bursting into tears is the easiest thing in the book, actually,” he said.

“Is it?” she asked, deflated. Everett recanted.

“Poor old Marilyn,” he said encouragingly. “What else did you think about her?”

Roberts rebounded. “She was in a fetal position, positively sobbing her heart out. You know, I have super psi,” she went on animatedly. “An ability to move back in time.”

“I wish you’d do a bit of that now,” Everett said.

I tried steering her back to Oscar Wilde. “You can’t call a specific person,” she said. “If Oscar Wilde is interested in us and we were in a place with some significance to him, maybe. But if he did appear, it would have to be what he wanted to do. Oscar Wilde as one being no longer exists. The essence becomes diffuse, perhaps reincarnated, and has moved on.”

Now Everett and I were both glum. Roberts bravely kept talking. “Rudolf Valentino appears quite regularly at séances,” she confided. “Houdini never does.”

“Versace invariably arrives late,” Everett offered.

Uh-oh. Dialogue again. It was time to wrap up.

Would the show be a hit? I asked her. “Absolutely,” she warbled.

We said goodbye to her in the lobby before going to the hotel restaurant for lunch. “I don’t believe anyone who does that for money, really,” he said, though a note of sympathy entered his voice. “But this is America; you have to sell everything. Thirty years later you don’t know who’s a ghost and who’s real.”

As we walked to the table, the women in the room looked at him devouringly. Every one of the men — young, old, gay, straight, fat, thin — looked at him with a single expression: dejection. Everett has had people staring at him for so much of his life that he seems quite unaffected by it. I couldn’t help thinking that any other man who got these kinds of looks from both men and women would be a complete monster.

Everett didn’t have to worry about any of that the following morning at Tea & Sympathy, a 23-seat restaurant in Greenwich Village run by British expatriates. The place is so small that the owners learned early to be brutal — no reservations, no incomplete parties seated — and people line up all the same because the food is good and the look of the place is charming. Everett gets no star treatment here, which he loves (just like home), so he arrived early to snag a table. I beat him by a few minutes — they didn’t care whom I was meeting — and back out on the street, I read the rules posted on the door. One said: “If we don’t need the table you may stay all day, but if people are waiting and you have finished your meal, then it’s time to naff off!”

A taxi pulled up with Everett, dressed in the same clothes from the day before, still unshaven and with Sophie Theallet in tow. She is a soft-spoken woman with dark hair and a sweet smile, beautifully dressed in a don’t-look-at-me way that makes you want to look at her. Like any designer in the midst of preparing a show, she seemed tired and distracted, but she adores Everett and rubbed his neck tirelessly as he assured her he was either getting arthritis or dying. She assured him she had the perfect acupuncturist for the job, and heartened, he tucked into a plate of bacon, eggs, sausage, broiled tomato and toast. When he finished that, he ate half my crumpet, with butter and Marmite.

“Very few designers design now,” he said. “They’re stylists, really. They have design teams. Sophie’s is very cottagelike. Her clothes have beautiful sewing, attention to detail and fashion literacy. Maybe Miuccia Prada does. No one else.” Theallet produces her clothes in New York, and she sells to Barneys and Jeffrey.

“What’s happening in fashion is not at all exciting,” Everett opined. “The obsession with having someone else’s name on your body is extraordinary. If fashion takes over your whole identity, it’s not chic, actually.”

When breakfast was finished, the two of them were going to look at a suite of hotel rooms that Babst had proposed for Everett’s stay; they were furnished, there were support services and there was no pink carpeting.

I said goodbye to them both, and Everett sat back down to finish his tea. As Theallet spoke, he turned toward her, gazing deep into her eyes, listening acutely. Although he had shaken my hand and kissed both my cheeks and thanked me profusely for the time we spent together, I felt the unmistakable chill of sunbathing on a cold day when suddenly a cloud comes. It was time for me to naff off. And so I did.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2009, 01:02:45 pm by jmmgallagher »
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"