This article is taken from the March 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
When I was a young journalist writing for the online arm of GQ, I was invited to Claridge’s to interview Rupert Everett about his first memoir, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins. Shortly before I left for the interview, I had a phone call from his embarrassed publicist. It transpired that Everett was expecting to be interviewed for the magazine, not for the website, and had peremptorily cancelled our appointment when he discovered otherwise. “Rupert doesn’t do online,” I was informed.
Although I was annoyed and disappointed, I grudgingly admired Everett’s prima donna attitude. Most actors would simply have gone along with the interview rather than risk the possibility of negative coverage, but Everett has always been the most unconventional of stars. He has enjoyed two great peaks of fame, firstly in the Eighties with his emergence as a heartthrob in Julian Mitchell’s West End play Another Country, and then a resurgence in the Nineties with his acclaimed appearance in the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding. Yet time and time again, his blithe lack of concern for the niceties of the film industry have led to his career being stymied or derailed altogether. The unremitting candour with which he has chronicled his misadventures has not helped.
His memoir is nominally about the struggles and tribulations that he underwent while attempting to fund and then produce his passion project, The Happy Prince
His third volume of memoir is nominally about the struggles and tribulations that he underwent while attempting to fund and then produce his passion project, The Happy Prince, a film about the final days of Oscar Wilde. Yet from the hilarious prologue, in which Everett describes a drunken dinner at J Sheekey with two producers attempting to convince him to play the role of a giant’s personal hairdresser before he realises that he has stood up Joan Collins and Christopher Biggins at The Ivy, this is as much a shaggy-dog meditation on the perks and indignities of being a B-list celebrity as it is any kind of exploration of Wilde or filmmaking.
Everett admits that his vanity led him to turn down the opportunity to have the film made by the legendary American producer Scott Rudin, who wanted Notting Hill director Roger Michell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Wilde. After he played Oscar on stage, in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss, Everett became obsessed with taking the role himself, as well as writing and directing the film.
After many years fruitlessly searching for funding, interspersed with extra-curricular visits to countless subterranean “gentlemen’s clubs”, Everett eventually managed to cobble together the (mainly German) money and the film was made, with a starry supporting cast including Colin Firth as Wilde’s friend Reggie Turner, Emily Watson as his estranged wife Constance, and Colin Morgan as Bosie. It was critically acclaimed but a commercial disappointment, failing to make back even its modest budget.
It often seems as if his labour of love was one that nearly sent him to an early grave, like his idol. Everett is both hilarious and revealing on the challenges of trying to mount a reasonably lavish period piece on a low budget, with him as untested director. He calls in favours, begs, borrows and throws tantrums until his Wilde is immortalised in celluloid, albeit at a time when audiences seem more interested in a different sort of caped crusader.
Everett remains an entertaining guide to the vagaries and pitfalls of the entertainment business, although there is a surprising amount of luvviedom present here
Everett remains an entertaining guide to the vagaries and pitfalls of the entertainment business, although there is a surprising amount of luvviedom present here, particularly when it comes to Colin “Frothy” Firth. It was Firth’s participation in The Happy Prince that secured much of the funding, and Everett writes about his long-standing friend (who first acted alongside him in Another Country) with a starry-eyed adulation not present elsewhere in the book. Firth ended up participating for free, a display of generosity that would have been approved of by Reggie Turner, who remained by Wilde’s side until the bitter end in Paris, as the playwright quipped that his wallpaper would get the better of him yet.
A sharper editor might have suggested a tighter focus on Wilde and The Happy Prince, but the rambling and discursive nature of the writing lends it an enjoyable appeal. One doesn’t finish reading his memoir necessarily liking Everett all that much, but it is hard not to admire his chutzpah, wit and determination. At a time when many of his peers have either ascended to superstardom or long since given up acting, he has a unique place in the industry. He may bite the hand that feeds but he also makes the process of acting seem tangible.
It is to Everett’s credit that he meets with triumph and disaster and treats both imposters the same. If he’s more entertaining about the latter, that’s because there’s so much more of it to go around.
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