Film: Rupert Everett on his new Wilde biopic
Casually dressed in a white sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, an unshaven Rupert Everett is in the entrance lobby at the Glasgow Film Theatre thanking filmgoers for turning up on an unusually hot night in the city.
They have come to see a screening of The Happy Prince, his directorial debut and a labour of love in which Everett plays his fallen hero Oscar Wilde in a screenplay that he also wrote and tried to finance for a decade.
Apart from putting Wilde’s life on screen, the film is also Everett’s homage to a man with whom he shares so much. Both assumed the lives of heterosexuals, despite being gay, and are known for their wit and as bon-viveurs.
“Wilde was the patron saint of all outcasts,” Everett tells the sold-out audience. “There’s the wonderful Wilde and the mediocre Wilde. I was just determined to tell the story.
“The way he carved out his exile. He was not a victim. He carved out his own universe, his own constitution.
“The bon mot, which is most appropriate for my film, is that we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”
At certain points in his life Everett has also felt like an outcast in an industry that can be fickle and unforgiving. He reached his acting nadir playing opposite Madonna and Julia Roberts, but somehow lost the appetite for A-list status.
Approaching 60, his nomadic life has seen him set up home in France, Russia and the US. He also spent time as a G8 ambassador in Cambodia. He is now back in the home counties to care for his elderly mother, and promote his new movie about Wilde’s final years in exile in France and Italy.
His appearance in Glasgow meant a return to where his acting career began and he kept his audience spellbound as he explained how the film came to fruition; how he donned a fat suit and prosthetic teeth, and used wide camera lenses to depict a corpulent Wilde. His role has been acclaimed by critics.
The title The Happy Prince refers to a children’s story Wilde wrote to entertain his two sons and also regale youngsters in France in his tragic final year. One particularly poignant scene features Wilde on a train platform in Clapham when being transferred from prison, with bystanders jeering and spitting on him. This is in sharp contrast to flashback scenes of the writer taking curtain calls in packed West end theatres.
Everett is no stranger to the writing game himself with two critically acclaimed autobiographies lifting the lid on Hollywood, Broadway and beyond. Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, and Vanished Years outline a life of decadence and an acting career beginning at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre alongside his friends and fellow actors Colin Firth (Frothy to Everett) and Pierce Brosnan.
All three saw their careers break through the Hollywood stratosphere. However, for Everett there have been highs and lows including an ill-fated appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, in which he escaped from the studio during live filming.
In Vanished Years he hilariously sends up popular figures including Alan Sugar, writing that “he was a postmodern clown, tragic and angry and The Apprentice was this year’s Big Top. His delivery was sheer Sid James. They could have been twins.”
Vanished Years is poignantly about loss and coming to terms with the death of his father and the loss of close friends in the eighties from Aids. It is also peppered with humorous anecdotes from many years travelling in the company of A listers and artists from Andy Warhol to Lauren Bacall.
In his glory days Everett shared celluloid billing with Madonna and was a perfect foil to Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding. He also played David Blakely the lover of Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be hung for murder. His big screen breakthrough role was in Another Country with Firth in 1984.
He has returned time and time again to Wilde, famously giving readings in Paris’s Pere Lachaise, commemorating Wilde on birthdays and anniversaries. He has also been outspoken about gay rights and argues that a 2017 pardon for those convicted of homosexuality does not go far enough. Speaking recently on the Graham Norton television show, he said: “There should be an apology. My next publicity coup should be to chain myself to Downing Street.”
Everett has always cherished theatre and trod the boards at the Citz in the nineties in Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray. He told the audience at GFT: “I discovered Wilde in Glasgow in a production of A Picture of Dorian Gray directed by Philip Prowse and I thought I would write myself a cracking great role. When I came to London in 1975 it had only been legal to be gay for seven years.
“Funnily enough, I was at the Citizens today. It was the complete turning point in my life, arriving here, working with Philip and performing these amazing design-oriented plays. In a way my career went downhill from leaving it.”
Everett was nurturing the screenplay of The Happy Prince which intersperses Wilde’s art with his life, for almost 10 years before he brought it to the big screen. The action is captured in evocative sepia tones covering the time after Wilde is released from Reading Gaol after two years of hard labour.
Oscar winner Firth (The King’s Speech) plays Wilde’s friend Reggie and brought in the finance for the film, as did Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, In the Bedroom).
Over the years Everett struggled to get not only financial backing but creative input too. “All the directors turned me down. I thought F*** it, I’ll do it myself,” he said.
Much of the action is set in France and Italy as an ailing Wilde grapples with his past which keeps coming back to haunt him. Everett says: “I wanted to get across the feeling that love can get across the footlights.”
The final scenes show that Wilde’s close circle of friends made the distinction between love and lust. Indeed, his friend Robbie was interred with him in Pere Lachaise.
Everett confirmed to his audience that he is writing the third volume of his autobiography. His writing has been compared to that of fellow actor David Niven, Evelyn Waugh and Noel Coward.
He said: “I’m two thirds into it and hope to publish it next year. It will be a mixture of fact and fiction as I need to get an Oscar at the end of it.”
He also confirmed that Wilde’s grandchildren have seen the film and approved of it.
“It was very important to me that they liked it,” he said.