looking back as
time goes by
Published 07/10/2012 | 08:00
The art of living is to die all the time," says Rupert Everett. The actor is in deep and profound mode, which is appropriate for the snug hotel library we find ourselves in.
At 53, Everett has lived more than a few lives, which he recounts in his latest memoir Vanished Years.
Awkward schoolboy, Hollywood star, Madonna's best friend, and Aids-fearing boyfriend are just some of the vignettes he presents, each as fleeting as the next.
While his first autobiography joyously revealed the ugly underbelly of showbiz, this is a much more sombre affair, which dwells on his own failures and remembers lost loved ones, including his father and friends Isabella Blow and Natasha Richardson.
"It's a great opportunity having a career in showbiz, because you die quite often: you're born, you have a fabulous youth and virility and then you die," he explains.
"It really is like death. The person you thought you were dies and you're not that person anymore. It gives you an opportunity to rebuild."
Everett sees his first book, Red Carpets And Other Banana Skins, published in 2006, as a moment of rebirth.
His latest attempt to revive his status in Hollywood had ended badly, when a disastrous pilot for a sitcom idea of his was not picked up for a series.
"When my latest career collapse happened, I really couldn't be bothered to try pushing and pushing again.
"Writing my first book was really what changed things for me because it gave me a sense of myself beyond being an actor, so it made me feel a bit more relaxed."
It also boosted his efforts with writing screenplays, which was "always the thing I dreamt of doing", says Everett, revealing that he's working on his own film. "Not that I've got it together yet," he says, flashing that languorous smile.
"As you reach middle-age, one does kind of regress to all the outlooks that one initially rebelled against, and I worked very hard on this book, so I'm pleased if anyone likes it and I've worked very hard on my acting, so I feel very happy to be doing things again." Doing things he is - in fact Everett seems to have launched a four-pronged attack on the world.
He recently appeared on TV playing Benedict Cumberbatch's brother in BBC Two's adaptation of Parade's End, is currently in cinemas as the co-inventor of the vibrator in period drama Hysteria, and he's earning rave reviews on stage as Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss.
Does he feel vindicated now he's being taken a bit more seriously as an actor, with a range beyond that of just the gay best friend?
"I think, in a way, the pigeonhole was my fault. If I was starting at acting school now, there are certain things you shouldn't do," he says.
"One of my problems was, and partly through neurosis probably, I was always laughing at everything, always laughing at myself or sending it all up. You have to be very very serious about things and then you will be taken more seriously. The actors of my generation who are very successful are the ones who are really very serious.
"To keep going in showbusiness is a miracle. It is like being a sperm getting into an egg, because you just can't imagine how it can happen."
Middle age seems to be suiting Everett.
He's still courting controversy- he's reportedly received death threats over recent comments suggesting gay couples shouldn't be parents - but he's put the hedonistic drug-fuelled days of his early career very much behind him.
While writing Vanished Years was not a cathartic experience ("It's always so nerve-wracking trying to pull something off"), he reflects on his regrets over his treatment of certain situations and people.
He movingly recounts the story of a summer romance with a beautiful Italian called Alfo, which ended when Alfo admitted he was HIV positive. "It was certainly one of the things I very much regretted in my life.
"I definitely did love him," he says, thoughtfully.
"He showed me to myself in a rather unflattering light, because I couldn't treat him well or look after him or be anything apart from self-centred in a relationship.
"I should have been able to - there's no should have, you are what you are, when you are - but obviously in retrospect, it would have been great to have been less afraid. I haven't seen him for years."
Everett long ago accepted his own mortality.
"One of the things about being gay in the Seventies and Eighties, you were brought up to confront mortality because I was right in the centre of the Aids storm when it first started.
"No-one can quite understand now, what it was like, we've got such short memories for things. But people with Aids in 1982 - which everybody who was gay thought, 'This is me next' - they looked like Night Of The Living Dead. People wouldn't dare go outside, they looked so terrifying.
"Middle age is a great lesson about dying because one notices everything slowing down and the beginning of things going wrong. We're so anti-death in the world, but I think it could be a good thing."
He certainly doesn't miss the age and money-obsessed ways of Hollywood, where he enjoyed success in the late 90s with My Best Friend's Wedding, before falling foul of what he perceives to be homophobia.
"When I came out in My Best Friend's Wedding, I was embraced by everyone and I felt like, 'I've arrived'. But actually it was the first note of failure and the door slammed shut. That's where I felt the phobia.
"I think homophobia in one sense is everywhere and in another sense it's very easy to be a homosexual."
Now convinced the new Hollywood is "not very me", Everett's going to make his own films instead, his own way. He says he's already cast his St Trinian's co-star Colin Firth in a film he's hoping to make next year about his literary hero Oscar Wilde, in which he'll reprise his role as Wilde.
"I wrote it about five or six years ago and, little by little, I'm edging towards getting it made. I've got the cast, I've got some of the money, I'm just getting the rest.
"I've realised now you have to be focused, finally I've realised it," he says, laughing.
"And actually once one is focused on things, you just push on like the sperm, you just go on pushing and pushing.
"Eventually you will find an egg and after knocking your head against a brick wall, it will open."
'Be very serious about things. Then you'll be taken more seriously...'