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Rupert Everett: 'I'd have done anything to be a Hollywood star'

He lit up the screen in the 80s – but things did not go as planned. As he takes on Chekhov, Everett speaks about stardom, midlife crises and penis padding

Rupert Everett at the Theatre Royal, Bath.
 ‘I feel thrilled not to be young’ … Rupert Everett at the Theatre Royal, Bath. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Rupert Everett is directing his first play and a few unfortunate incidents have occurred before opening night. It is David Hare’s new version of Uncle Vanya, in which Everett also stars, and all did not go as planned in its first preview. “In a fight scene I elbowed the leading actor, John Light [who plays Dr Astrov],” says Everett. “He really hurt his eye and had to go to hospital. He came back and then, leaning around the stage with his one eye, he fell off it and really hurt his leg.”
The play’s opening has been pushed back a week, until Light is back on his feet, but if this production returns Chekhov’s 1898 play to the farce that Everett says it was written to be, and not a straightforwardly bleak tale of midlife ennui and angst, then the mishap has an edge of black humour, too.
Talk about breaking a leg, I say. Yes, says Everett, and describes the strain of the unexpected on stage. “I’m in a state of collapse.”
Perhaps because he is an actor accustomed to playing arch, unflappable types, he does not look as if he is in a state of collapse. He appears equanimous and elegant, sitting in a back room of the Theatre Royal Bath, bearing the mildly aristocratic air of a gentleman farmer. Aged 60, he lives in the West Country these days, having moved in with his 85-year-old mother a few ago, together with his partner of 10 years. “I now like trees and birds. And cows. I love cows..”
It wasn’t always so. In the late 70s he ran away from private school, the shires and his military family’s Catholicism to make his name in acclaimed films such as Another Country and Dance With a Stranger. He also spent years doing drugs, clubs and parties, looking incandescently beautiful alongside Hollywood types.

Life now is a far cry from all that. The ferocious beauty has mellowed into a gentler, crinklier handsomeness. He has a modesty that may reflect the lessons learned from the extreme gyrations of his career – from A-list stardom to the much-documented wilderness years.
When I ask him about directing a play for the first time, he says it has been challenging “for a flake” but , at this age, he feels lucky to be challenged. While directing is new, the stage isn’t. He learned his trade at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Three years before the film of Another Country, he starred in the play. Where is he more at home? “Because one is continually questioning oneself and what one is doing, you’re never really at home. You’re always starting at zero. I love being involved with theatre and film and with stories in general. I find each of them very challenging. Everything is a potential train crash, but that’s the nature of our business.”

Acclaim … Rupert Everett and Colin Firth in 1984 breakthrough film Another Country.
 Incandescent … Everett and Colin Firth in 1984 breakthrough film Another Country. Photograph: Ronald Grant

Vanya, the character Everett plays, is 47 and in the grip of midlife crisis. The play grapples with the loss of youth alongside the complications of love. Does ageing bother Everett? “No, I feel thrilled not to be young. I’m older, but I haven’t got any maladies yet.”
And when you look in the mirror? “I don’t look in the mirror. Not much. I’ve spent a long time looking in the mirror … I had that gay shame when I was young. I wanted to be better looking all the time. I was always striving to look right.”
Some of it was because of his size. He grew 12 inches when he was 15. His limbs are still rangy though he swears he has shrunk a couple of inches from his once 6ft 6in(-ish) frame. Back then, he had a 19in waist and was rake-thin. “That’s why I never felt good-looking. Immediately after I started working, I found these two queens who made padding. I had a padded bum, padded legs, padded shoulders.”
Things have got better as he has aged. “I learned how to be more interesting as an actor. I learned how to write a bit. I feel very lucky that so many things came along.”
He is right about the writing. His two autobiographies showcased a genuine talent, though writing is not an easy option, he says. “An actor is a group animal and a writer is a solitary animal. For a group person to isolate themselves and have just themselves to feed off is very complicated. Sometimes it goes well, but mostly it’s a process of endless reworking and getting it wrong.”

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