‘What red carpet sluts we’ve all become’
Thirty years on from Another Country, Rupert Everett talks about why he still feels jealous of his co-star Colin Firth
Rupert Everett is sitting in Little Italy restaurant in Soho, at what seems to be a regular table, when I join him for morning coffee and a trip back to 1984. Margaret Thatcher, after victory in the Falklands, was in her second term as Prime Minister, a young David Cameron was donning his tails daily at Eton, the old British class system was on its final march around the quad and Another Country arrived in the cinemas.
Thirty years have passed since Everett and Colin Firth co-starred as subversive schoolboys, dazzling with their youth and intensity. The film has dated little. The actors? “Is he more jowly than I am?” asks Everett, now 55, who has kept something of the dash of earlier years. Diplomatically I suggest Firth — still a friend of Everett’s — has moved more “visually” since those days.
Everett stops for a moment to absorb the compliment. “But,” he resumes, “Colin is much more successful. I am incredibly jealous of him.”
He’s waiting for another compliment. You seem to be having a renaissance, I offer, his stages roles as Oscar Wilde and Amadeus were raved about. “Not really,” says Rupert, eeyorishly.
Our conversation is refreshing for its slightly depressive perspective. It is not littered with “fantastic” or “wonderful”, the staple language of stars. He is intelligent, sceptical, a little vain, not bound up by political correctness and quite an acute observer of his own declining part in a changing world.
Another Country was his breakthrough role and one of the turning points in British theatre and cinema. Originally written for the stage by Julian Mitchell, it is set in a 1930s public school where the Gods — prefects in colourful waistcoats — ruled imperially and Bennett (Everett) and Judd (Firth), the former gay, the latter a budding communist, threatened old certainties.
“The Cold War was still going on and the notion of British spies was in everyone’s mind,” recalls Everett. “People were still trying to get their heads around why Burgess and Maclean had betrayed their country and there was the scandal around the Queen’s picture curator Anthony Blunt. Another Country was one of those things that was gold straight away. Sometimes you touch on something as it is going into a current — it just drives.”
It was the perfect part for him: fresh from Ampleforth, the Catholic Eton, and drama school, in his early twenties with the ready-set sneer of the upper classes and haughty good looks to match. And at the perfect time. The Conservatives were back.
“Being an upper-class actor was not so easy then because we were still in the wave of kitchen-sink drama,” says Everett, the son of an army officer. “Vanessa and Corin Redgrave had thought communism was going to come in to England through the theatre. That’s what showbusiness was like then. Now we are really into the capitalist system: what red carpet sluts we’ve all become,” he says, chuckling at himself and his own love of them.
Another Country was something of an upper-class “boyband experience” before they really existed, he thinks, with young men preening on the screen to grab the attention. But although Everett set himself up to be the Robbie Williams of the band, it was the quieter Firth who got the crown, with a steady rise from wet-shirted Darcy through the jumper-wearing love interest in Bridget Jones to winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech.
Everett’s career has been rather more erratic since Another Country. He lived out a wild 1990s in LA — his credits include a cheeseball romantic comedy with Julia Roberts and the villain Dr Claw in a film version of Inspector Gadget — not to mention is his credits for hedonism across the decade. “But now I couldn’t be arrested in a cameo in Hollywood,” he says.
His friendship with Madonna crashed when he likened her as an “old whiny barmaid” in his 2006 book Red Carpets and Other Bananas Skins and his own film project, on Oscar Wilde, has been a decade of not-quite-happening. “When I first did the script I sent it to [top Hollywood producer] Scott Rudin. He loved it but he wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman to play my part. And stupidly I said ‘no’. I should have just said yes and let it go because then I would have established myself more as a screenwriter but my ego didn’t let me. That was a mistake. Life is full of terrible mistakes.”
His charming hangdog style makes you wonder whether Everett is trying to find an alternative role to the old clichés, Hollywood carpet-hugger or back here the posh English actor, once itself an entrée into a particular world. His accent and manners remain, but his perception of himself?
“In the old system, when it was more detailed, I would be upper-middle-class but now I feel you are either a general toff or.…,” he hesitates to put a word to it. “We were more cautious because the aristocracy were on the top of it. Now the classes are more primary coloured — successful and unsuccessful class, money and no money, and the royals.”
Film success — perhaps because great doses of it have eluded him — is something he also regards with a certain cynicism. Though where he has surprised is with his literary talent. His 2012 memoir Vanished Years is sublime, melancholic and very funny. And although he plays it down both his Oscar Wilde and Amadeus were lauded.
His passions are aroused by the state of London at the moment, in particular the influx of foreign money turning it into a Monaco and driving areas such as Soho, where he used to live before moving to Bloomsbury, to be turned into a new Mayfair. “They want to build new tower blocks because the Chinese don’t like old houses as the feng shui is wonky.”
He proposes that London develops a two-tier system, like Switzerland, where successful foreigners are allocated properties they can buy to protect the residents — a harking-back to an older England. And it is not just the professional classes he cares for. He is an advocate for the prostitutes in Soho whom he got to know while filming a documentary for Channel 4 and believes they are being treated particularly badly as an impetus to get them out of Soho. It is not quite a cause one could ever see Colin Firth espousing. But then again Everett’s magnetism comes from his dancing closer to the dark side.
It is he who is hosting the anniversary screening of Another Country at the ICA at the end of this week. Firth can’t make it due to other filming commitments.