Rupert Everett on facelifts, Caitlyn Jenner and Madonna
Rupert Everett discusses transgender politics, facelifts, Madonna and throws an almighty tantrum for Camilla Long.
Should Rupert Everett have a facelift? It is a question he and I ponder as we sit in the back room of a starkly lit trattoria in Brooklyn. Once the most beautiful actor on the planet, Everett is now 57 and flumped like a clapped out calfskin tote under the unforgiving lights. He is hardly the taut and angry sex doll he was, as a model for Opium and best friend to Madonna (1997-2006).
He took so many drugs running around Paris, Hollywood and Miami, he is worried he might wake up with “dementia” from any facelift now. Coke is “terrible” for the brain, he sighs, and so are poppers, “my desert island drug of choice”.
So on one hand he is delighted to have found a doctor famous for doing facelifts on patients in a semi-conscious “twilight”, but on the other, “Can you imaahgine,” he coos, eyes widening (a bit), “watching your own face being peeled off?” So many things could go wrong, but at least he could make a “very good” documentary if he woke up “a flubster with two little raisins peering out”. He could stretch it out into a series “on and on, having it redone”. He gives a great whumph of laughter, adding he couldn’t actually have a facelift, as “you can’t stretch thin skin”. He’d end up looking like “something out of Tomb Raider”, so he’s not going to “go for the knife and gun it on coke the night before” as promised. He is such a tease – it is like trying to nail a blancmange to paper.
For example: I am in New York to speak to him about his appearance on the BBC’s third series of The Musketeers, or, as he calls them, the “Musky Queers”, but I am so swept away by his facelift fantasies and filthy gossip, I forget all my questions. We get as far as wondering which Musketeer we’d “go for” as we roll around in a limo. Everett would go for d’Artagnan, but, he reassures me, “there is a musketeer for every taste”.
He later tells me he might never have said yes to the Musky Queers if
he hadn’t been offered the job during a deep depression. He was trying to get a film about Oscar Wilde off the ground, but it had “eaten me up”.
He was whisked off to Prague, where he was delighted to discover that, far from a “crap job”, he could prance around cornfields in a silk outfit and heels, as Paris’s most evil aristocrat, the Marquis de Feron.
For a compulsive voyeur such as Everett, “the set becomes one’s own private Miss Marple episode”. There is a ton of “fabulous gossip” and he can hang out with an unlimited number of hairdressers. He can be “quite shy and retiring” these days, but he is never lonely on set.
Wait – shy? I’m not sure the man who once said [British journalist] Alastair Campbell had a nose made for “cunnilingus” could ever be described as shy, but it is true that, at 57, the star of My Best Friend’s Wedding is entering his cloistered, dowager-duchess phase. He is, as he puts it, “turning into his mother”; he even plans to move back in with her in Norfolk, where he will embrace a solitary life, as well as “blobdom”.
His hair is “okay”, but the rest of his body is “falling to bits – my lungs are falling to bits”, he moans.
Storming up and down the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music,where today he is playing
Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss, he can “feel every capillary tensing. I scream the place down and I sometimes get a funny pain in the back of my head. I think it’s probably that fatal blood vessel.” Of course, he would luhve to die during a performance. He spends loads of time thinking about death – “Oh, lots, I love death”– but in recent years he claims to have scaled back his self-destructive behaviour. He lives two minutes from his Brazilian boyfriend, a sensible sounding accountant called Henrique, whom Rupert “rugger tackled” after a four-year stalking campaign in the gym. He has even stopped fiddling with his face – or at least he says he hasn’t put anything into it since Madonna’s dermatologist, Fredric Brandt, hanged himself in Miami. “I loved Dr Brandt,” he says.
He rarely throws tantrums these days. He’s more likely to fire off “drunken emails”. But God, please don’t tell me he’s got boring? Au contraire, as he might say. When our conversation finally gets going, whoosh! Suddenly the sulphuric daggers come out and he heartily slags off everyone from Madonna to
Jenner, he says, has made a terrible mistake undergoing transition. “Poor darling,” he sighs, sipping a coffee.
She had “no clue” what being a transsexual involves. “When she discovered everyone was either a drug addict or a prostitute, she was absolutely horrified.” Besides: “I don’t think she’s a woman. She’s a crossdressing man.”
Rupert, of course, used to be transgender himself. From the age of six to 14, he dressed exclusively as a girl (specifically Mary Poppins’s daughter). “I really wanted to be a girl,” he says now. “Thank God the world of now wasn’t then, because I’d be on hormones and I’d be a woman. After I was 15 I never wanted to be a woman again.” He finds parents who
“get medical” scary . “It’s nice to be allowed to express yourself, but the hormone thing, very young, is a big step. I think a lot of children have an ambivalence when they’re very young to what sex they are or what they feel about everyone. And there should be a way of embracing it.”
As a boy at boarding school, he played only one male role the entire time he was there. By the time he arrived in London, he was a screaming, theatrical monster – swanning around in what his father, a retired major, called “that bloody sari”, he’d throw fit after fit. In what ultimately became known as “the pubic hair scandal”, he once chopped off a chunk of his thatch and sent it to a couple in Northwood who had dared to send him a critical letter. He flounced out of plays, wound up his co-stars, took limos to go just three doors down the road. He was “unruly” and “intransigent”, snobbish and self-absorbed, basically awful. He hated anyone who wasn’t fabulous, famous or gay.
Part of the problem, he claims, was Aids. He spent most of his life in a “total panic” that he had caught it, especially after flicking on the television and seeing a former lover being described as one of the first men in the country with the killer disease. It was 1983, only a few weeks before he started filming Another Country, the movie that would make him famous. But already Everett had gone “insane”.
Ever the narcissist, he fantasised the disease would happen to him on
All big stars are energy eaters. They just look at you and schlloooop, you end up as a kind of crumpled loo roll.”
camera. He’d be recording a close-up and someone would spot a lesion. “So then the whole kind of personality grows up, out of your fear at your predicament.” Being an incorrigible “sex maniac” didn’t help, either. By the age of 16 he had gone straight from college to being a “leather queen” at the heart of London’s gay scene. He cannot remember how many people he’s slept with, although “slept”, he says sharply, is hardly the right word. “A lot of my sex was vertical rather than horizontal.”
After a test was brought out, he could finally screen himself non-stop and his fear of the illness began to subside. He now says it was a
“shame” Aids made him such a “catastrophe”. By 1997, he had
“burnt so many bridges”, he was lucky to get famous again, amplifying what started out as a three-line part into a huge success in My Best
Friend’s Wedding. He went on a victory lap of Hollywood following its rapturous reception, only to fall headlong into a second towering act of self-sabotage – deciding to become best friends with Madonna.
Everett’s deranged friendship with the Material Girl was one of the great moments in the millennial celebosphere. It was made all the more delicious when he finally decided to stick it to “Satan” in print. But as Madonna’s “ami nécessaire”, escorting her to parties, he had a fatal flaw: he wanted to be the centre of attention as much as she did. It was stupendously toxic. “I was at my Hollywood peak and I was everywhere.” Random people actually tried to save him, suddenly jumping up from behind velvet ropes and saying, “‘Rupert, Rupert, come here, don’t work with Madonna! She’s going to kill you,’” he says. “Because what happens with all big stars, is that they are energy eaters. They just look at you and”– he mimes his face disappearing – “schlloooop, you end up as a kind of crumpled loo roll.”
One of the more worrying symptoms of his possession was a desire to act in a film alongside her – in 2000 he appeared in the worst film of his career ( A Crowded Field), a drama in which he played a gay man who impregnates a yoga teacher played by Madonna. It was called
The Next Best Thing and it was a miracle their friendship survived – he somehow managed to hang on until he published his first memoir in 2006.
He made the mistake of thinking Madonna had much more of a sense of humour about herself than she actually did, deciding to read her the book in person, even though he had written she looked like “a Picasso” and behaved like an “old, whiny barmaid” when stressed.
“I thought what I said about her was very charming and generous,” he says now. But as he read her the passages, even he could tell “the iron fist beneath the velvet muff was about to come out. She wrote me a text saying she was furious and we never really talked again.”
He has some sympathy for her other victims, including her son, Rocco, who recently refused to return to his mother in the States so he could stay in London with his father, Guy
Ritchie. All of them ended up in court, each with their own lawyers.
“Can you imagine living on tour, with a governess, in endless hotels, and air conditioning, presidential suites, fruit bowls, Champagne buckets and some roadie brings your trunk in,” he sighs. “And your governess is some hideous old hack being paid £50,000 a week just to…” He pauses. “Emotionally abuse you?” “Kind of,” he nods. “And you’re longing to be a normal kid?” Rocco’s life is not without its “challenges”.
It is only when he later asks if I managed to include a “healthy Madonna section” in the piece that I realise how much he must hate her. At one point in the 1980s, he thought he had been “sent to kill her” after listening to Justify My Love and thinking he’d heard hidden Satanic
messages. “I went cold all over. Being brought up a Catholic, and in a monastery, I used to have visions of Our Lady as a child. I thought: I’m meant to kill Madonna,” he giggles, “because she was the antiChrist.” Hmm. Sometimes you really can be too Catholic.
He considered blaming the collapse of his career on “Satan”, but now he is entering his “cosy old queen” phase, even he admits his success “was sucked out of me by my own fault. If I’d worked harder and been cleverer. I was still a child at 45.”
By the time he lost Madonna, he had failed not only in Hollywood, but also in television, with an ill-fated series in America called Mr Ambassador, in which he tried to play a British ambassador opposite Derek Jacobi, who, even as they filmed the pilot, whispered the words: “I hope to f*** we don’t get picked up.” So he came back to London and reinvented himself as a chronicler of fame and misfortune, publishing two brilliant memoirs, in which he revealed that he managed affairs with both Paula Yates and Sir Ian McKellan, as well as the French actress Béatrice Dalle. At one point Dalle thought she was pregnant, but it wasn’t to be.
“She and I often talk about what would have happened if we’d both had this child,” he says now. “And I would have loved to have had that child, actually. God, it probably would have been in rehab by now.”
Everett’s books provide a unique window into a vanishing world of sex and celebrity, where he would go straight from an all-night rave at a gay club to, for example, Joan Collins’s fifth wedding, “eyes like saucers”. He pours terrible scorn on others, but he reserves just as much disgust for himself. His body is “all bones”, stooped, Gollumish, “quite scary”. Between the ages of 48 and 52 he was in the deepest grips of his sexual mania, terrified “I’d be one of those 70-yearolds in a tie-dye T-shirt taking ecstasy at a rave”. He is funny about his “hairdresser mindset”, but it is never quite clear whether he is the shrieking celebrity desperate for publicity or the bystander drinking in the tantrums.
Either way, he still carefully surrounds himself with people who adore and worship him and won’t answer back. Chief among them is his mother. Sara Everett is 82; she is a brisk, rumpty-tumpty major’s widow. As a child she spoilt him completely – perhaps a better explanation for his behaviour than Aids ever will be. She ignored his impertinent questions (“What’s a quim, Mummy?”) and gave him her own clothes. He would force her to go to a local dress shop “to buy nightdresses and negligées” for him.
Later I watch him lovingly layer on the make-up in his dressing room. He has spent “months” constructing his look for Wilde. He has a flowing wig and a specially made fat suit complete with a cloth penis and testicles. He squeezes into the folds of the fat suit, smooches on a wig and sweeps out to give a spectacular performance to an audience of ageing toy-dog owners and Woody Allen lookalikes – who are so thrilled to see him, they break into applause when he first rushes onto the stage.
I assume the show can’t have gone better; wrong! Afterwards the mood in the dressing room is thunder. Everett (seminaked) is having a hand-flappy, screeching, continental hissy fit.
“No matches!” he thunders. Someone has forgotten a prop. “My whole performance is about my cigarettes!” he moans, wheeling around in his Y-fronts. The actor playing Bosie “didn’t even notice – he could have brought them on. He’s so self-important!” Plus the audience were “horrible”, the “worst audience ever”, barely raising a titter at the many wonderful moments in David Hare’s play. “Silent bitches! I should have taken a shit on stage!” Whereupon everyone starts attacking each other. The director (small rose in lapel) savages the producer for failing to turn off his “f****** phone”. It’s like feeding time at the poodle farm.
Even when Glenn Close sweeps in – Everett is like a homing device, able to attract any A-lister within a hundred paces – he does not calm down. By this stage he is complaining in more than one language: “Mon performance était complètement rien!” Close says she loved it. “It was a tour de force.” None of this has an effect on Everett. He sits down and does a fat lip. It is extraordinary – I have never met anyone who is both Bosie and Wilde. Ultimately he is persuaded to go to the party in the foyer, which he had threatened to boycott. Whereupon he’s back to his old self, giggling about sex and Andy Warhol, who, according to his assistant, “bloated to death”, while I titter and wonder if he will also blame this tantrum on Aids.
I would have loved to have had that child, actually. God, it probably would have been in rehab by now.”
Film roles, from left: Rupert Everett in Another Country (1984) with Colin Firth; with Julia Roberts in My Best friend’s Wedding (1997); and alongside Dame Judi Dench in The Importance of Being Earnest (2002). Opposite page: Rupert and his mother Sara.