RUPERT EVERETT on the pitfalls of life when your fame is on the wane

I could have been a real Hollywood giant again… then I stood Joan Collins up: Continuing his gloriously acerbic memoir, RUPERT EVERETT on the pitfalls – and pratfalls – of life when your fame is on the wane

Twenty years ago, Rupert Everett — now 61 — was a hot Hollywood star, after landing leading roles opposite Madonna and Julia Roberts. 

But then the phone stopped ringing, and even minor parts in the movies eluded him, as he reveals in this second extract from his caustic new memoir… 

Julie Andrews once bleakly remarked that while you may love showbusiness with all your heart — dedicate your life and soul to it — showbusiness will never love you back.

It waits for the moment you are down and it kicks you carefully in the teeth.

But this dismal forecast only goes halfway to describing the weird relationship we performers have with the strange profession that we never willingly relinquish.

Becoming a star is an addiction and a mirage, a pretty picture at first, but quickly stained by the thick hairspray of power and paranoia that slowly dulls our features, freezing them into our favourite ‘f*** me’ grimace and calcifying the central plumbing system so that, after a bit, the hot water starts gushing from the cold water taps and general disorientation sets in.

Good friends… then Rupert forgot his dinner date with Joan Collins. I’ve double-booked myself when I was supposed to be dining with Joan, her husband Percy and Christopher Biggins

With the first twinkle of stardom, we exist more on the silver screen than at home behind the kitchen sink.

For example, NEVER ask a movie star to say I love you. They just can’t. They have given it their all in close-up on a sound stage, dressed as an Apache.

And don’t say I love you to one of them either. They can’t cope. They will either reply ‘OK’ (Madonna) or ‘Thank you’ (Michael Douglas).

Once the fresh knickers of nubile fans start sailing through the letter box with the post; once you have felt the power of your (lack of) personality projected onto a screen, backcombed and backlit, your view of yourself and the world around you changes for ever.

It’s a hall of mirrors. Your eyes are suddenly the shadowed and glinting windows of a tortured soul. These eyes bore through the footlights into the very heart of the spectator — and once you have felt all that, there is no going back.

In the wonky mirror of everyone’s eyes, you believe it’s all you, all that depth — but actually you’re nothing much more than the undead waiting for another fix. (It’s true what they say: the camera steals the soul — none of us has any left by the end.)

Hopefully, you become a star, and time briefly falls away in the waves of endless adulation that even has your own mother treating you with caution. You are in equal measure omnipotent and a victim.

Everyone loves you, but they’re out to get you, too. Everyone wants a piece, but who cares — as far as you’re concerned it will last for ever. You’re totally immersed and will never escape.

Movies, movies, movies. You know it all, who is doing what, why it’s all happening and where. You’re in total control.

And then suddenly everything falls away. It’s a game of snakes and ladders, and you’re back to square one.

With the first twinkle of stardom, we exist more on the silver screen than at home behind the kitchen sink. For example, NEVER ask a movie star to say I love you. They just can’t. They have given it their all in close-up on a sound stage, dressed as an Apache. And don’t say I love you to one of them either. They can’t cope, writes Rupert Everett, pictured above

You may not notice at first. But then one day you discover that people actually laughed at that great dramatic performance you gave in X. They always thought you were mediocre, screechy, shallow. Cute maybe, but talentless and tricky.

And now? Oh no! You’re 25 or 35 or 45 and washed-up. The fabulous character you developed in the Eighties is suddenly a clunky old battleship in shoulder pads disappearing over the horizon.

So you widen your net to survive. Italian films. TV. Voice-overs. Supermarkets. Teaching. And of course, rehab.

Rehab is the downbeat in this syncopated rhythm, and why not? Your face in a mirror hoovering up a delicious line is the only one that reminds you of the misunderstood anti-hero you once were.

Now you reject everything that’s happening. But showbusiness is still your whole life even if you never see a film and you hate the theatre. This is the worst circle of the inferno. You are undead. The years shriek by.

You may grab onto a passing movie and briefly be catapulted to the top, like some cartoon fish that is suddenly caught in the jet of a fountain and shoots sky-high, but it’s a balancing trick that requires the whole universe to be in tune.

The tune changes and soon you’re back with the bottom-feeders moping around the pond floor. Before you know it (or have time to find a reliable surgeon), you’re 50. They say that sometimes ghosts don’t realise they’re dead and wander around screaming because no one is paying them any attention. Well, in showbusiness you may have been ‘dead’ five years before you finally twig.

You howl around the corridors of power while the elect march straight past you. Then one day you catch yourself in a mirror and there’s nothing looking back.

The new you, limping from the crash, held together by steel pins, a hacking cough developed from ten years of gasping with disappointment, will need to re-train those crushed limbs into new life, another start.

My dreams of a leading role are dashed on Tim Burton’s couch

In 2015, my new agent, Sue, tells me I’ve been offered a role in Tim Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Well, for some reason, I get it into my head that the character I’m being offered is called Mr Barron. 

How I could have known the name Mr Barron if no one had said it to me is anyone’s guess, but anyway I gloomily set about reading the script.

‘Trust me,’ I groan to my long-suffering boyfriend. ‘It’s going to be one line.’

Well, I can’t believe my eyes. Mr Barron is a rather good part. Actually, it’s a very good part. Next stop Hollywood.

So one evening in March, I arrive at Tim Burton’s office in Belsize Park [North London] and the door is opened by a legendary casting witch called Susie Figgis.

We sit down on a leather couch in a big empty studio where our bottoms make embarrassing sounds against the cushions, and she informs me that Tim is looking for the ‘real thing’ for this role ‘and that’s why we want you!’.

A little alarm bell tinkles and I wonder what about me is the real thing. In the script, Mr Barron is an alien. I suppose I am, too?

Tim Burton arrives, a bundle of raw energy.

‘Tim. Are you really offering me this part?’ I ask, incredulous.

‘Yes.’ He laughs.

‘I don’t have to audition?’

‘No, of course not.’

I am overwhelmed. I haven’t been offered a good part in at least five years. Not a really good part. I begin to talk about Mr Barron. I’m giddy with excitement. Tim seems to love everything I say. ‘That’s so true,’ he screams, pointing at Susie victoriously.

I continue smoothly: ‘I just felt reading the script that his character completely disappeared once they got to Blackpool.’

‘Exactly,’ gasps Tim.

‘Stop!’ shouts Susie, and we both look round. ‘You’re not playing Mr Barron,’ she cries, breathless. ‘Your part is the Ornithologist.’

Silence. Freeze-frame. They both look at me, smiling, eyes glittering. I can’t even remember the Ornithologist.

‘Samuel L. Jackson is playing Mr Barron,’ says Tim apologetically.

I slam into dinner-party overdrive. ‘Oh well, of course, yes. How silly of me. He’s absolutely marvellous. Golly. I’m sure the Ornithologist will be very exciting, too.’

‘Oh, yes,’ agrees Tim. ‘He’s absolutely perfect. He’s a typical English gentleman.’

‘Great. Well, let me have a read again.’ I funnel a sob into a burp and beat a retreat.

Back in bed that night with the script, my previous suspicions are confirmed. I have just one line — well, ten actually.

And so we hobble along on our Zimmer frames, rushing for the bus to the next audition. Either that or we succumb to that flickering existence of Dancing With The Stars and daytime soaps, flashing on and off like an old bulb.

And so we live more and more in the past. It’s 2010. I’m sitting with two young men in J Sheekey’s restaurant in the West End of London.

They’re from Paramount Pictures or 20th Century Fox, I can’t remember which.

What I can remember is that this is the last meeting I have at such an exalted level — actually feasting with the high priests of Hollywood — to discuss my possible involvement in a picture.

I’m at a comfortable corner table holding forth. The men, Andy and Loeg, lean in black suits, white shirts, thin ties and neon teeth, are producers. Thunderbirds are go.

Andy and Loeg are as unfathomable as Martians, downloading my every gesture, as we talk about the project — a family-viewing fairy story in which the villain is a giant.

I babble on while the men fix me with their Paul Newman eyes, pupils like pins, unwavering in their scrutiny, ready to play it back later in a satellite link-up with their superiors back at the studio.

I’m used to this by now, although I’ve already hoovered up a couple of dry martinis to conjure up a bit of sloshed sparkle — the dregs of my star quality.

But I’m strutting my stuff, acting butch and generally giving the impression of being a no-nonsense, take-charge kind of giant and things seem to be going pretty well. I grind to a halt in my pitch and they stare back — no helpful chirrup of encouragement — and there’s a moment of silence.

‘What you say is true,’ proclaims Loeg finally. ‘This picture will die without soul.’ (Translation: It’s so bad we’re going to need some good actors.)

‘There’s got to be a three-dimensional quality to all these characters. We need actors who know how to do that,’ he continues. (Take the money and don’t ask too many questions.) ‘Otherwise they’re just… ’

A long, important pause. ‘Giants?’ I say. I have a terrible habit of finishing everyone’s sentences, but I can’t stand silence. A shadow of impatience scuds across Loeg’s face.

‘What we need is a bit of rehearsal,’ I surge on regardless. ‘Will there be any time for rehearsal, Loeg?’

I’m intense now, a humble craftsman, Daniel Day-Lewis in fact. Simple. Direct. And deep. (The polar opposite to interior me right now, which is devious, superficial and bored.) It works.

‘Oh yeah. Sure. We’re gonna rehearse out there at Pinewood.’ He beams at me, reassured.

He’s about to say ‘You got the part’ when Johnno, the queen dee (new word incorporating maître d’ and queen bee) of the restaurant, a man camper even than me, sashays over with his little finger up at his mouth and baby eyes twinkling.

‘Houston, we got a problem,’ he hisses, bending towards me in a vaudevillian aside. Everyone looks up.

‘What?’ I snap. I cannot be put off my stride at this delicate stage. It would be fatal.

His eyes narrow slightly. ‘Well. Get this. Joan Collins is waiting for you at The Ivy. You stood her up. She’s FURIOUS!’

‘Oh no! I completely forgot,’ I moan, cancer cells replicating.

Rupert Everett is pictured above with Joan Collins and Hugh Grant. 

I’ve double-booked myself when I was supposed to be dining with Joan, her husband Percy and Christopher Biggins.

Always desperate to please, like a toothless old circus dog, I yap yes to everything and then forget all about it until it’s too late and I’m doing something else.

‘Joan Collins?’ Andy lights up. ‘Is she still around? Maybe we could get her in the movie.’

‘Maybe?’ barks Loeg. ‘She’s been circling the studio in a helicopter, ready to drop in, fully made-up, since the last episode of Dynasty.’

The Americans explode with mirth. Queen Dee watches with a delighted smile. He’s got the party going, and the Martians are coming out of their shell.

Then Johnno trills like an alarm clock: ‘They’re on the phone now. What do you want me to say?’

‘Can’t you just say I’m not here?’

‘No. Not really. They already know. I told them. I’ll tell them you’ll come after dinner.’

‘Let’s get them over here right now,’ says Loeg. ‘I’ll send my car.’ Johnno minces off.

I try to get the business side of things going again: ‘Yeah. As Loeg was saying. It’s important to get a dimensional feel to these characters. Otherwise they’re just… ’

‘Listen,’ beeps Andy. ‘We love you. We want you in the picture, but you know what? None of the giants are right for you.’

I am about to protest, but he ploughs right on. ‘What could be BRI-lliant — don’t you agree, Loeg — is the role of the hairdresser!’

I feign puzzled.

‘He has this cute little salon right high up in the branches. It’s really neat, all made out of leaves.’

I fix an excited glow onto my face as an image materialises with alarming clarity. On the edge of a vast sound stage, there’s a little set all made of leaves — leaf sink, leaf hairdryer, leaves through the windows with leaf curtains — and me in the middle, hipsters and a green quiff , backcombing an ogre. I nearly puke.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Johnno skimming back over the horizon.

‘You’re in deep s***,’ he says, swivelling to a halt. ‘They don’t want a car. I’ve got an idea. Why don’t I nip over with your credit card and pay their bill?’

Anything to get him away. I hand over my card.

I’m quite drunk now and longing to be at the other restaurant with Joan and Biggins and having a good chinwag about the old days instead of a***-licking my way up the beanstalk, when Johnno reappears.

‘They refused!’ he proclaims to the whole restaurant, waving my credit card over his head.

‘Oh my God. She must be really angry. What did they say?’

‘They said they could pay for their own dinner, thank you.’

Needless to say, I do not get the role of the giant, or any other role for that matter. And Joan and I don’t speak for years.

As actors, we are dragged in and out with the tide, back and forth to Hollywood, occasionally crashing in on the crest of a wave but mostly beached or swept out too deep, while trying to make it ashore for pilot season, clinging to a scrapbook of faded reviews.

I can feel the pull of the current right now, but this time I’m not going to exhaust myself trying to swim back. This time, I’ll go with the flow and see where the tide takes me. Maybe it comes back round. Maybe not.

Tonight I’ll record an audition on my iPhone. I’ve constructed a little set: a Turkish cushion, a stone wall, a shadowed light courtesy of my dad’s old desk lamp.

In the scene I play King Gallarhorn — a part in a gigantic series I’m up for. I haven’t got a clue what the story is, nor any idea who King Gallarhorn might be. I’ve only been sent two pages of dialogue.

But this could be the moment of truth. My agent tells me the series is going to be as big as Game Of Thrones. I could suddenly be the new witch on the block.

After about 30 attempts at the scene, I take a deep breath and press send. I imagine my audition twirling through cyberspace and into the virtual hell of the casting director’s inbox.

Needless to say, I never hear back.

Adapted by Corinna Honan from To The End Of The World: Travels With Oscar Wilde by Rupert Everett, published on October 8 by Little Brown at £20. 

© Rupert Everett 2020. To order a copy for £17 (offer valid to October 10; P&P free), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.

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