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Rupert Everett's dream realized -- 'overnight success' in 20 years

Web posted on:
Monday, May 10, 1999 3:50:17 PM EST

From Willow Bay
NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly Correspondent

This falls out better than I could devise.
-- William Shakespeare, Oberon, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Act III, Scene 2.

(CNN) -- What a difference a friend makes. Or in the case of British actor Rupert Everett, an invitation to "My Best Friend's Wedding."

At the moment, Everett might be forgiven for believing he's living in a little springtime dream of his own. He plays Oberon to Michelle Pfeiffer's Titania in Michael Hoffman's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the latest screen adaptation of Shakespeare's great romantic fantasy. And as it opens, Everett's lined up to appear in three more films: "An Ideal Husband" with Cate Blanchett; "Inspector Gadget" with Matthew Broderick; and "The Next Best Thing" with Madonna.

For years, Everett's career has hardly looked so good. He's been dogged by roles and films that his character Oberon might say showed a certain "imprecision" in his choices of work.

Everett -- who turns 40 on May 29 -- has starred in a slew of forgettable films. "Another Country" (1984) wasn't one of them. Neither was "Dance With a Stranger" (1985). Neither, for that matter, were "Prêt-à-Porter" (1994) or "The Madness of King George" (1994).

But then, there were "A Shocking Accident" (1982), "The Bloody Chamber" (1983), "Hearts of Fire" (1987), "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" (1987), "And Quietly Flows the Don" (1992), never mind some stunning stage work in the London West End revival of Noel Coward's "The Vortex."

Everett even did a stint as a pop singer and novelist before being caught in the glare of Hollywood leading light Julia Roberts.

'A little kind of tragic thing'

In one of those great hindsight twists, Everett now notes that he initially shied away from co-starring in the 1997 "My Best Friend's Wedding." He was turned off by what he perceived as his role's lack of substance. In the film, Everett plays George, gay friend and boss to Roberts' character. He masquerades as her boyfriend to help her win back the love of her life (played by Dermot Mulroney).

"The weirdest thing about it is it seemed like such a bad opportunity at the beginning," says Everett. "Because on the paper it wasn't really a role. It was just a little kind of tragic thing, really."

When "My Best Friend's Wedding" was screened before a test audience, Everett was such a hit as Roberts' bitingly, charmingly hilarious boss that the test audience demanded more. So the movie was re-shot to expand Everett's role.

"Playing a gay character and being gay was my gimmick of 1997. And it gave me my little window of opportunity through which I'm jumping with alacrity," says Everett.

Landing on his feet

For an actor who specializes in sardonic, witty roles, this newfound success of a four-film run is delicious. After all, he's had to wait almost 15 years for it.

"I would really like to be able to just have a shot. I don't mind failing, by the way, but I'd like to present myself in the cinema in the way that I feel I could be my best," says the actor.

But although he says he's adjusting to life in Los Angeles, he insists he still doesn't feel like a Hollywood star.

"Well, you can't be a Hollywood movie star with one tiny little role in a movie. You have to have a body of work -- successful work, I guess," says Everett.

Building the body of work: No regrets

Despite those many bad moments on the resumé, Everett is no stranger to fame. He had his first taste of the limelight with "Another Country" -- in the role based on British spy Guy Burgess, a character he first created on stage. His work in director Mike Newell's highly stylized "Dance With a Stranger" opposite Miranda Richardson gave him another solid mid-'80s turn.

But his career flagged again with "Hearts of Fire" and showed few signs of a real revival until Robert Altman's "Prêt-à-Porter" and Nicholas Hytner's "The Madness of King George."

Those films, followed by his catty turn in "My Best Friend's Wedding" and his work as Christopher Marlowe in last year's Academy-storming "Shakespeare in Love" have provided just the reversal of Hollywood fortune Everett might have dreamed of.

He is what he is

If nothing else, Everett's career has been marked by a notable honesty about his homosexuality. And he says he doesn't regret any of his candor or bravado, saying he wanted to control what was written about him and counteract any potential dirt-digging with an infallible openness.

"I think talking about things is ... it struck me as a good idea at the time because I really wanted to get famous and successful," he says. "I wanted anything that was said about me to be said by myself. And I thought getting stuff out in the open ... at least I wouldn't have the National Enquirer coming down my neck just as I was reaching Tom Hanks-hood."

Born in England in 1959, Everett was raised in an upper-class family and educated at a Benedictine monastery. By age 14, he knew he wanted to be an actor. He dropped out of school when he was 15, moved to London and enrolled in drama school, which proved to be tamer than he'd expected.

"I thought drama school would somehow be a kind of netherworld where everyone was hysterical and drunk and crying and laughing. And in fact, really it was just as middle-class as being middle-class was. So in a sense I was disappointed by drama school. I didn't last the course either."

He was kicked out after two years because, he says, he was a show-off. More of that Everett candor: "I was always trying to wind everyone up. I was a pain for everybody."

Showing off pays off

His attitude may have been a problem at school, but Everett didn't have any difficulty landing acting jobs. Having worked for a time with the Citizens Theatre of Glasgow, he auditioned for and won the pivotal role in the stage version of writer Julian Mitchell's "Another Country."

"Then, suddenly, it (the play) was on the West End of London, which is like Broadway. And I became, at the age of 21, kind of a theater star," he recalls.

Mitchell's screenplay and diretor Marek Kanievska's filming of "Another Country" proved to be Everett's gateway to the big screen. But after the next year's "Dance With a Stranger," his film work sputtered. He moved to Europe and found other ways to satisfy himself creatively and support himself financially.

He tried getting behind the mike, becoming a pop singer to support his ego, he says. He wrote two novels. There was the campy "Hello Darling, Are You Working?" and "The Hair Dressers of San Tropez." He describes the former as a "kind of alternative trash," but the book did quite well.

From the Bard to Madonna

After more than two decades in the business, Everett is finally getting a taste of real stardom. Back with the Bard in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he's seen not only with Pfeiffer but also with "Ally McBeal" actress Calista Flockhart and actor Kevin Kline -- in this updating by Hoffman, they're all cavorting in the Tuscan countryside.

Shakespeare's "fairy king" Oberon is nobody's limp wrist. But Everett still sees gay characters in his future. In "The Next Best Thing" with Madonna, he does another take on the gay-straight friendship he perfected with Roberts in "My Best Friend's Wedding." Madonna's character is straight, his is gay. They try to form a family unit outside traditional society.

"The type of acting or the type of film that I think I could be best in isn't quite written at the moment," Everett says. "Not that it's anyone's fault, it's just not there. And you know I'd like to be in modern versions of those films that Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant made -- things like that."

Still hungry

For all the sudden noise around his career, Everett says he wants more success. But he says waiting until near-middle age was worth it, because he now has an appreciation for it, something the brash and cocky young actor of 1984 lacked.

"The great thing about having success, you know, in the autumn years as opposed to the spring years or late summer years is that you learn to respect what you can do," he says.

"That's all one has. What one can do. And rather than sitting around wasting your time not doing it, I'd rather try and do it."

Test audiences have profound effect on movies
September 28, 1998
Rupert Everett in 'Wedding:' Here comes the star
June 24, 1997

Official 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' site
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