Eoin Butler's Q&A


Actor RUPERT EVERETT talks about Bob Dylan, the death notices and giggling when you’re not supposed to

I recently interviewed an actor about to play Dorian Gray onstage. Now I feel like I’m talking to the man himself.Oh really? How so?

Well, you’ve lived a decadent life but seem to have emerged unscathed.I’m not sure that I’ve lived all that excessive a life. I would say, no more excessive a lifestyle than a lot of people did when they were young.

Heroin? Male prostitution? Those aren’t extreme lifestyle choices?Yes, but Dorian Gray was responsible for murder and treachery. I’m not in that category, I hope.

In your current play, The Judas Kiss, who betrays whom?Lord Alfred Douglas betrays Oscar Wilde. The play is set the morning after Wilde’s libel case against the Marquess of Queensbury collapses. Wilde has the chance to escape and avoid prison. But his mother, Speranza, is an Irish freedom fighter. She tells him, if you run, I’ll never speak to you again.

If he had run, he might have written for another decade or two in exile?Yes, but he wouldn’t be the Oscar Wilde we know. The whole notion of Christ in Oscar Wilde – and I think Wilde is a very Christ-like character – would not have been achieved through flight.

As an actor, you once attended confession in character, did you not?Not quite. I was doing a film in Rome. There’s a district in the city where you can buy clerical vestments. I became friends with some queens who worked there and they kitted me out as a cardinal. So I tripped around a few local churches and took confession.

Sacrilege is a recurring theme in your memoirs. Tell us about the night Laurence Olivier died. You were onstage.Our leading lady, Maria Aitken, announced “The great Laurence Olivier died tonight.” She requested three minutes’ silence. One minute is all very well, But three is forever. We all knew we’d never work again if we laughed. Needless to say, I immediately got the giggles. I’m not sure why.

My cousin used to read the death notices on local radio in Mayo. He was taught to keep his finger hovering over the mute button at all times. Oh, I love the Irish death notices. I was filming on the island of Reunion, recently, and they had them there too. Marvellous listening. It’s precisely the same thing – you laugh because you know you mustn’t. Fortunately for me, when Larry died, the audience thought I was crying.

I know you’re fed up being asked about Madonna. What about working with Bob Dylan?I worked with him on a film called Hearts on Fire in 1987. He wasn’t in great shape. He didn’t have regular sleeping patterns, which made filming with him very, very complicated. But he was very sweet and quirky and funny.

Tell us about the scene in the limousine.Right, well, that scene was shot in a studio. There were men standing either side, shaking the limo and moving lamps past outside to simulate traffic. It took about four hours to shoot. He was very disjointed from reality. When we finished, he thought we’d arrived at the hotel. He stumbled out of the car like a little pixie and said, “Where’s the hotel, man?”

One of the funniest chapters in your new memoir concerns your doomed attempt to win the Hugh Grant role in Love Actually. Does it annoy you that straight actors can play gay characters but never vice versa?I think it’s great that Ewan McGregor or Colin Firth can play gay characters. But it should work the other way around. We live in a very, very weird culture. It’s very liberated. But in sport and showbusiness, there is still a great deal of phobia.

You once stated that coming out hurt your career. Do you ever wish you’d stayed in the closet?No. I lived a gay lifestyle. I went out to gay clubs. If you’re going to lie about yourself, you have to be very careful. You need a lot of nerve. You live on tenterhooks all the time.

Yet at the same time, some very well known actors, widely rumoured to be gay, marry and have families and spend most of their careers being mocked behind their backs?Well, at $20 million a picture, they probably don’t care. It’s the industry that mocks them. The media. I don’t think the public really care. The public just want to be entertained.

The Judas Kiss by David Hare is at the Gaiety, Dublin from October 15th to 20th. Rupert Everett’s new memoir Vanished Years is published by Little, Brown

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