'We are all allowed to have an opinion'

Rupert Everett is at the furthest end of a chaise longue in the corner of Theatre Royal Brighton’s Laurence Olivier room, coat on and a woolly hat pulled down over those expressive eyebrows.

It’s an image somewhat at odds with the Everett more commonly represented in the media, whose tendency for causing controversy wherever he goes suggests some sort of butterfly with a bomb-belt.

As it turns out, the two are closely related. While the actor finds everything to do with the press “terrifying” he also appears unable or unwilling to moderate what he says.

“What’s the point?” he shrugs. “How can you have a worthwhile conversation with anyone if you’re always going to be cautious and wary? We have to communicate and if I’m going to be secondguessing how you might react to something I say, it’s just… cancerous.” If he looks like a man awaiting execution, it’s with some basis.

Personally, Everett has never understood all the fuss.

He’s never been particularly nasty about anyone. True, he fell out with Madonna after describing her as a “whiny old barmaid” in his first memoir but in most cases he’s simply being honest, he says.

In his latest book, Vanished Years, he describes filmmaker Richard Curtis as being “to Blair’s Britain what Leni Riefenstahl was to Hitler’s Germany” and historian Simon Schama as “one of those peculiar, fey straights, a male lesbian”, none of which one can entirely disagree with.

He’s unrepentant too about a recent comment he made on gay marriage, which he described as “beyond tragic” and his statement that he “couldn’t think of anything worse” than having two gay dads. “I wasn’t talking as a divine edict. I have nothing against anyone doing anything. But I’m gay and I’m allowed to have an opinion.”

It irritates him that voicing an opinion seems to have become controversial in itself.

“I think we live in hysterical times. You know when one too many dogs are all in the same area and you feel this tension? That’s what we’re all like – on edge, ready to bite anyone.”

Everett is in Brighton to promote his latest play, Judas Kiss, in which he plays Oscar Wilde to Freddie Fox’s Bosie. Wilde has long held a fascination and performing in his plays has always been “a good match” for him. As a gay man, he describes Wilde as “a patron saint or Christ figure. A lot of the gay movement happened from his time onwards and he’s an interesting yardstick for where I am now and where he was then.”

He’s also trying to get a film biopic of Wilde’s life off the ground, Everett again playing the writer. “He was on the one hand brilliant and on the other a d***, and that’s what we’re all like in some shape or form. He was a big star who ended up on the skids and that’s a very romantic idea for me.”

Like his hero, Everett too has experienced more than a few peaks and troughs in his career. Now 53, he was only 21 when his role in Another Country took him to Hollywood, but after success with Dance With A Stranger, things went rather awry. It wasn’t until 1997, when he starred with Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, that he eventually resurfaced. But then he made the catastrophically unsuccessful The Next Best Thing with Madonna, which scuppered things all over again.

As he describes with typical dryness in Vanished Years, he thought he had another shot at fame with Mr Ambassador, a sitcom he had written and persuaded Derek Jacobi to appear in. But again, things did not go as hoped. Everett recalls Jacobi turning to him before they walked on set to film the pilot with the words: “Darling, would you think it so very awful if I say to you that I hope to f*** we don’t get picked up?”

So he’s not taking the early success of Judas Kiss too seriously. In fact, he’s decided the good reviews probably mean he’s doomed, “because then there’s nothing you can do to top it”. Neither will he admit to any hopes for the Wilde biopic. “If you start thinking that far ahead, it just makes you neurotic. I’m very attached to the part and I think I could play it really well. But the cycle for me is always up and down, so who knows what will happen.”

He’s had more consistent success in his writing but one suspects it doesn’t hold quite the same appeal for Everett as being a film star. When I ask if he wishes he’d come to writing earlier, he says, “I certainly wish this last batch of writing had happened a few years ago.

Then I could have married it to my last period of success in Hollywood and could have written something really good for film that might have been made then.”

What he does like about writing is having the time to consider what he’s saying, he says tellingly. “You can revise, you can back down if you want – you have time to think.”

There’s a weariness towards the vagaries of showbusiness apparent in the book. “Well, it’s rather like being married,”

he explains. “Once you’ve been in that world a while, you can’t simply love it. It turns you around like a spin dryer.”

Nonetheless, he enjoys things more now than he did when he was younger – one of the many unexpected perks of middle-age. Like Pete Townshend, Everett had always wanted to die before he got old… until he got old.

To his surprise, he’s enjoying his 50s. “I have more, rather than less, energy to work and I find work more rewarding in a way.”

He’s even experiencing a newfound freedom in relation to his appearance. The actor has never been coy in admitting to vanity, although he argues it’s more about reassurance than admiring oneself.

“But I never look in a mirror now,” he proclaims.

“Vanity was a huge insecurity.

I never looked at myself and went, ‘Phwoar!’ Vanity for me was always wanting to look better. Now I’ve settled down to the fact I’m going to go into goofy, eccentric middle-age.”

He pauses. “I might have a little facelift next year. It’s playing Wilde, you know. I’m getting a bit fat and jowly.”

It seems some things never really change.

*Judas Kiss is at Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday, November 5, to Saturday, November 10. For tickets, call 0844 871 7627 * Vanished Years is published by Little Brown, priced £20

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