Everett pulls red carpet out from under the bizAs awards season builds to the climactic Oscar ceremonies Feb. 25, the air is growing thick with effusive accolades, extravagant acceptances and prolonged applause. As if to prick the balloon, enter Rupert Everett.
"Giving an award is one of the most depressing pastimes known to man," Everett sighs knowingly in his new memoir, "Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins," published by Warner Books. "You stand in the wings with another publicity-starved celebrity in borrowed jewels. You breeze onto the set to one or other of your famous theme tunes."
Presenting an award is itself a form of performance art, and so he continues: "You act surprised and thrilled as a third celebrity bounds to the podium and grabs the award as you stand gracefully back, smiling beatifically with gleaming bleached teeth while someone else thanks a God they wouldn't recognize if he came up to them at an audition and said, 'I'll see you at the pearly gates.' Then you all sweep off stage and give interviews in the VIP area about vulnerability and becoming a better person (than anyone else), flogging your latest product in between the lies."
Suffice to say, Everett hardly ever lets sentimentality cloud his recollections of an actor's vagabond life that took him from a cozy home in the English countryside to an experimental theater troupe in Glasgow to London's West End. His film career has had its share of highs, from such early successes as "Another Country" and "Dance With a Stranger" to supporting roles in costume pictures like "The Madness of King George" to a career resurgence as Julia Roberts' gay pal in "My Best Friend's Wedding." And it's had its share of flops — he dismisses Walt Disney Pictures' "Inspector Gadget," in which he based his performance as evil scientist Dr. Claw on Gore Vidal of all people, as a "$100 million mess."
For Everett belongs to the long tradition of English raconteurs like David Niven who are more interested in spinning a good anecdote than in puffing up their own contributions to the history of cinema. Fascinated with the politics of a movie set, he doesn't bow down before auteur directors but confides that the true powers are "the mafia of grumpy makeup ladies and hairdressers who ruled the set with a rod of iron from the makeup trailer" and the "uniformly huge" teamsters.
Although he professes fascination with such legendary figures as Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, Everett's memoir takes long detours from Hollywood to visit Paris' demimonde and Miami's South Beach. His account of a millennial New Year's Eve party thrown by Donatella Versace reads like Proust on meth as dueling cliques surrounding Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow face off against interloper Jennifer Lopez. Even while admitting to a long-ago falling out with Everett, fellow actor and writer Simon Callow called the book "a superb and unexpectedly inspiring achievement" in the pages of Britain's Guardian.
But even though Everett eschews the sort of showbiz sentimentality that blossoms during awards seasons, he also acknowledges the un-expected power that movies can have. He spares no detail recounting the slow-motion train wreck that was "The Next Best Thing," in which he co-starred with Madonna; laughing off the withering reviews, he says the movie "blew my new career out of the water and turned my pubic hair white overnight." But three years later, he finds himself in a bar in Cambodia, where the movie is playing to a rapt audience. "Now our film was shocking and avant-garde, winking at me across the smoky room," he marvels. "Who knew that a chance moment in a bar at Phnom Penh would be one of the high points of my career?"