Rupert Everett discusses LGBT politics, why he will be forever grateful to Colin Firth and the decade it took him to make Oscar Wilde Biopic, The Happy Prince.
I first interviewed Rupert Everett at Sydney Mardi Gras in 2007, where he was promoting his autobiography Red Carpet’s and Other Banana Skins. It was a strange interview where he quizzed me on: the availability of cocaine in New Zealand, how many people I planned to have sex within Sydney, and mocked me when I told him ‘none’. I am forever reminded of it with a photo I had taken on a non-digital camera of me looking around, sweaty, red and joyous, and him looking tall, gaunt, pale and miserable.
To break the ice for this interview I remind him of that day, where the two of us looked like polar opposites. ‘Well don’t worry; I’m looking pretty red, fat and sweaty now too,’ he chuckles. Today’s Rupert Everett feels more humble, grateful and wise. After fighting for ten years to get it made, his Oscar Wilde biopic, The Happy Prince, has been released and critics have showered Everett in praise for acting (he plays Wilde), directing and writing, because this movie is his Streisand-like triple-threat.
“I wasn’t getting offered many roles in cinema and the ones I was getting were more and more boring and so I decided to take the law into my own hands and write myself and whacking great big role,” he tells us when asked what inspired him to write, The Happy Prince. “I’d written a couple of books and I’d always imagined those segwaying into scriptwriting and work on my career as an actor. Wilde seemed to be the right character as my own career has been so intertwined with my sexuality, so in that sense, Wilde was very much the patron saint of me, and the right person to try and write about.”
While the gay poet and playwright was a winning character for Everett to embody, a number of insurmountable challenges lay in his path to getting the film green-lit. Firstly, getting a director.
“It’s very difficult to engage directors with your own very personalised project,” he tells us. “The kind of directors I was approaching were people who had tonnes of their own projects that they were trying to get together at the same time.” After spending over two years getting half-a-dozen no’s from the directors he wanted, he decided to take the helm himself.
The Happy Prince became an encompassing passion project and life goal. “Those ten years were really tough and it then did become a kind of obsession in my life because I thought after being at it for five years – at that point, you know, I was 54 or 55, I felt the whole of my life had disappeared in a way and I didn’t know really who I’d be if I didn’t make it. By the time I actually did shoot the film, it was my life.” He admits.
Looking back Everett feels that the decade of obsession made for a far better film. “I don’t think that if I had had it handed to me on a plate – director, writer and actor right at the beginning – I probably wouldn’t have it known it so well. By the time I did get to make the film I really knew it backwards. I knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to make it.”
The movie was finally green-lit once Everett’s long-term friend and frequent co-star Colin Firth agreed to take a role. “All the money was dependent on him showing up. By him showing up the movie got made, so I’ll never be able to repay him,” Everett says humbly.
Firth and Everett first co-starred together thirty years ago, playing lovers in Another Country; a breakout film for both of them. “I think that’s one of the nice things about getting older in this business. Having relationships that are longstanding. He really has been a great friend to me,” Everett reflects.
While Everett was the one who walked away from Another Country with a Bafta nomination, it was Firth who’s Hollywood career went on to flourish. Everett remains convinced that it was his openness about his sexuality, that stunted his career. Though, “it’s less of an issue not I am too old to play the romantic lead,” he muses.
On the politics of LGBT issues in modern Hollywood he agrees with critics who were disappointed that straight comedian Jack Whitehall has been cast in Disney’s first major openly gay role in the film Jungle Cruise; but believes it was a mistake for activists to protest Scarlett Johansson being cast as a transman in Rub & Tug. “Hollywood is a business. No trans actor had the name value to get a film with an $80 million dollar budget greenlit… And in the long run, the film would have probably helped shed a light on transgender issues and helped other trans-actors get future roles.”
Reflecting on his own battles, he says he never minded straight actors getting picked over him for gay roles. “It’s the straight roles that gay actors really want,” he confides.
What Everett ‘really wants’ next is for his new screenplay to get made, and for it to take less than a decade to happen. It won’t tell us the exact premise but says it is set around the fashion industry in late seventies Paris.
A Happy Prince will be released in select cinemas around NZ on Boxing Day.