Once he was Hollywood's poster boy, partying with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol. Now Rupert Everett's standing in Tinseltown is 'zero', he tells Kevin Maher. So where did it all go wrong for the British actor? Well, the candid memoir didn't help - or the claim that Sharon Stone was insane.
Rupert Everett doesn't want to complain. He really doesn't.
"I'm not whingeing," he begins, setting out his rhetorical stall. "And in one sense I have nothing to complain about. But every performer wants more. They want more than having to elbow their way up to the middle. Or in my case, just above the middle!"
Everett, preternaturally youthful looking, yet 52 this year, is in a reflective mood. He has had a hot-and-cold career as an openly gay movie actor whose successes include the award-winning Another Country in 1984 right through to My Best Friend's Wedding, An Ideal Husband and the Shrek franchise, and an attendant career as a rapier wit, novelist and bon vivant that has been equally conspicuous.
"Life is looking backwards from a roller coaster," he says, beginning one of many thoughtful pronouncements over a long afternoon of cafe conversation, during which he drinks tea, sips water, toys with soggy scrambled eggs on toast, and assures me that he's off to the gym (one of his five visits a week) the minute our entente is over. "It's impossible to tell, at the time, what the high points are. You just watch everything recede into the distance."
For although Everett is reprising an immaculately reviewed stage turn as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, has released another St Trinian's movie (in which he chews scenery in drag as the school headmistress Camilla Fritton), has starred opposite Emily Blunt as a sinister mobster in Wild Target,and is busying himself behind the camera with a biographical film on the last days of Oscar Wilde, he finds himself perennially looking backwards and asking himself the big questions about the story so far. It doesn't help that he has also completed a recording of the BBC flagship TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, in which he was forced to root through his own lineage to discover abandoned grandparents and to trace the ripples of familial tensions and contradictions in his life.
Of course, his default setting is one of arch Wildean witticisms and epigrammatical put-downs. Thus he is proud to admit that the BBC show didn't affect his emotional life in the slightest. "I had my big breakdown years ago, and I was certainly not going to do it on camera," he says with a delicious deadpan drawl. Instead, he describes his career with a certain inscrutable logic that traces the hiccups and the spills that have seen him arrive here today as someone who, despite the track record, claims: "I have zero standing in Hollywood right now. In fact, if it's possible, I have negative standing!"
One might suspect that the publication of his fantastically indiscreet 2006 memoir, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, contributed to his alleged unpopularity in Tinseltown (in the book he breaks the cardinal Hollywood rule of "Think it, don't say it" by revealing that Julia Roberts smelt vaguely of sweat, Sharon Stone was insane and Madonna had no manners), but he dismisses this as nonsense. "People in Hollywood don't have time to read books. They all have 20 scripts a week to read, so books, and especially my book, are the last things on their minds."
No, he says, the Everett story is more complex than that. He points to his boom years by way of illustration. In the mid-1980s he was the toast of the town. A reckless and recalcitrant student from a respected military family who burnt through at least three top-grade private schools (including Ampleforth College in Yorkshire), he found a welcome defence in acting, and - after some wild years in late-Seventies London - eventually burst into the public consciousness as a gay public schoolboy in Another Country.
From the start, he was an incandescent performer, lighting up the film as the fast-talking, lantern-jawed aesthete opposite a gloomy Colin Firth as his socially conscientious best friend.
An instant poster boy, Everett was snapped with Bianca Jagger at Andy Warhol parties and was the name on the lips of casting agents on both sides of the Atlantic. When he turned in another commanding performance the following year, as the doomed lover of Miranda Richardson's Ruth Ellis in Dance With a Stranger, his future seemed assured.
Not so, he explains, revealing how his prima donna behaviour on the Stranger set, combined with industry homophobia, scuppered his career just as it began. "Plus I think I became a bit of an egomaniac," he says. "But most actors are egomaniacs in their 20s. You give them a lot of success early on and that's what they become."
More importantly, he says, the US reacted badly to some of his more sordid biographical tales. "I'd been in England and France, and talked about all sorts of things, and no one batted an eyelid," he says. "But I didn't realise that America was this very clean place."
Feeling the industry's cold shoulder, he moved to Paris, wrote two novels and began a brief and ignominious pop career. "I went into the charts at 117, and came out at 115. In the long run it was funny, but at the time it was disastrous." He tasted a second surge of fame, beginning with his scene-stealing role as the adorable George Downes in My Best Friend's Wedding, but that run has also stalled, he claims. Casting agents "just didn't know what to do with me", he says.
Everett says he is not bitter and is happy to be still working. He is proud of where he is now, "and sometimes when I walk around my flat in London I think, 'God, my work made this flat,' and I feel lucky to have kept going." Yet you sense his frustration in witnessing the continuing successes of straight peers such as Firth and Hugh Grant ("Colin Firth is a lovely man, and I love him, what else is there to say?").
But I wonder, is there not more than that? His book, for example, beneath the sparkling bon mots, is full of painful stories of separation and loss that begin, touchingly, with the six-year-old Rupert, a self-confessed mummy's boy, being dropped off and essentially abandoned in 1965 at Farleigh Boarding School in Hampshire. Everything after that is a repetition of the same, and often describes Everett - through rejection of others, or perhaps even self-sabotaging his greater goals - protecting himself from repeated pain.
He ponders this for a moment and concedes: "Well, I think something does calcify within you when you're sent away to school at six years old. But then, everything leaves a footprint. Your mind is an empty expanse of beach at first, and little by little everyone tramples over it. And that's called life."
There's a momentary pause, a sense of a full stop perhaps, and then it's full speed ahead, on to pet peeves and guilty pleasures. The latter includes drinking wine while cooking alone. The peeves include constant accusations of cosmetic surgery. Although Everett has admitted having had Botox treatment, he says his face has not seen a surgeon's knife. "There's almost no point in denying it any more, because everyone says I've had it anyway. But it's not exactly making me seem more glamorous. I'm not ready for the broomstick for another 10 years, thanks very much."
He talks some more, about his upcoming Britcom Hysteria, about his work on the long-gestating Wilde movie and about how the recent death of his father failed to dramatically change his worldview ("It just made me think, 'Who's going to look after me when my turn comes? Some dresser from the play that I have my major heart attack during?'"). He ends with a promise to cut down on his drinking, and expresses a fear that he has been too negative and, well, complaining throughout our conversation.
"You know there's a danger that you can become very grumpy in this business, because it's a pretty vile thing to be in," he says. "But, in general, I'm more of a laugh now than I used to be. And when I look back, I can see that, in some ways, I've always been very lucky. I get good opportunities at the last minute. And let's hope that's not going to change any day soon."
Wild Target is available on DVD. Pygmalion runs until September 3 at the Garrick Theatre in London's West End.
The Everett file
BORN May 29, 1959, Norfolk, England
SCHOOLING Farleigh School, Hampshire; Ampleforth College, Yorkshire; Central School of Speech and Drama, London
FAMILY Father Major Anthony Michael Everett, mother Sara, older brother Simon Anthony Everett
FIRST JOB Playing Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in an Ampleforth production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. That led, apparently, to the immortal coaching lines from the school drama teacher: "We need to see the fairy in you! Show them you're a queen!"
BIGGEST INTERVIEW GAFFE Saying that Michael Jackson's death meant that he wouldn't have to disappoint anyone with poor concerts at London's O2 Arena. "The paper printed it as 'Why Jacko Had to Die!' Which was very irresponsible. I got death threats from that. Imagine if I'd been killed because of that?"
GREATEST FAMILY SECRET "My great-great-great-great-great, great-great-grandmother was this big s*** in the 17th century who was the mistress of Charles II and who had three children by him, and those are my ancestors."
WORST PERSONALITY TRAIT "I was so insecure about my looks that when I went to Colombia to shoot this really great movie, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, I wore a body stocking with fake muscles, fake bum and fake calves. I'd sit there in 110-degree heat in between takes. I couldn't move a muscle without breaking into a full body sweat."
BIGGEST FEAR Getting old. "I don't want to be old. I don't fear dying itself, but it's the road to dying that's scary."
CAN'T STAND Modern English politics. "I've given up thinking about England, especially that we now have a three-trillion pound debt!"
BEST FRIEND In addition to his role as Julia Roberts's sidekick in My Best Friend's Wedding, Everett played Madonna's best friend in The Next Best Thing (1999). He also sang backup on her cover of American Pie, which is on the film's soundtrack.