Twenty years ago, Rupert Everett — now aged 61 — was a hot movie star, after landing leading roles opposite Madonna and Julia Roberts.
But one day Hollywood simply stopped calling, he reveals in the first extract from his caustic new memoir — and his life changed dramatically....
Several years ago, the success of my last Hollywood incarnation was still a flickering ember on the horizon, not quite dead. I thought it could be blown back into a flame with a judicious move and a prevailing wind.
So I turned my attention to screenwriting, my dream being to create work for myself as an actor since no one else seemed to be very keen to do so.
Oscar Wilde in exile seemed to be the obvious choice. [After serving two years for gross indecency with his lover, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, Wilde sailed for France in 1897. He never returned to England.]
If the only role I was permitted to play in world cinema was the gay best friend — to Madonna in The Next Best Thing and to Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s wedding — then I’d take it all the way back to the prototype.
Rupert Everett is pictured above as Oscar Wilde in The Happy Prince. After a few more disastrous meetings, I realise that absolutely no one is interested in getting into the ‘Rupert Everett business’ as they say in the States. I leave without a single deal. But the film refuses to die, and somehow we manage to raise nine million euros
I wrote my script, The Happy Prince. The world’s best and toughest producer, Scott Rudin, loved it, thought it was brilliant.
I remember that day very well, the intensity of happiness, the congratulations I received from all the doubters in my camp. I was walking on air, making all sorts of plans, acceptance speeches in mirrors, dispensing largesse.
However, the next day Rudin said that he wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman to play Oscar, and here is where I made my greatest mistake. I should have said yes.
Hoffman, of course, would have been brilliant and my career as a screenwriter would have been established at the highest level. However, I declined. I’d written the script for myself and I still had grandiose plans.
Rudin relented: he agreed to let me act in the film as long as the director Roger Michell was involved. So far, so good. Roger then decided that he didn’t want to direct the film after all, so Rudin gave me a list of six directors he’d accept. I approached them all.
It took nearly two years to extract a negative response from each of them. Then Rudin backed out — the last ember of my Hollywood career by this stage having irretrievably crumbled to ash. I was just another old freak on the dust heap, joining Mr T, Robby Benson and Mark Lester in the ‘where are they now’ category.
Soon I had nothing left but my script. And that was when I decided to try to make the film myself. F*** them. F*** them and f*** them, I thought.
The year is 2010. Hollywood has zipped up behind me, the script of The Happy Prince has been rejected by all the usual suspects and I’m back in the theatre, aged 50 — not getting great reviews, bitter, desperate, with the atrophies of middle age setting in.
Rupert Everett is pictured above at the movie premiere with Colin Firth
At this point, David — a close friend with contacts in the German screen trade — tells me: ‘Listen. Your script is dead in the water [a muffled gasp from me] but I think I could sell it in Germany.’
He ends up making a deal with a camera-hire company from Berlin called Cine Plus who are ‘getting into making movies’.
Their head of production is a man called Jörg Schulze. On the phone, he has a rich voice — ‘I loved the script, yeah?’ — and says he can definitely find the money to make the film.
‘I don’t think it will be that easy,’ I caution. ‘I’ve been everywhere. You’re my last resort.’
‘Are you crazy? You’re Rupert Ewerett, yeah!’ Jörg speaks good English but is unable to pronounce the letter v, and confirms every sentence with ‘yeah’. There’s something touching about him. He has a child’s enthusiasm — a dangerous trait in a producer — and it veers towards fantasy.
His best friend and partner, Thorsten Ritter, is the head of production at the Bavaria studios in Munich (‘Bawaria, yeah’). On an October morning, I meet them in Berlin to go through the script of what could be the strangest, greatest German film ever made.
Jörg is large and dishevelled and Thorsten is small and neat, with sensible shoes. They remind me of the Two Ronnies.
This is my new dream team. The only snag is that neither of them has ever actually made a film. Today they’ve brought in a ‘script expert’ to solve some problems they have with the structure of my film. He’s a tall man with a gunmetal crop and red eyes framed by rimless spectacles.
‘Script Doctor Goebbels!’ my friend David whispers to me as we all sit down. It only takes five minutes in the presence of Germans for the English to reference the war. (This should have given me a hint.) Dr G thinks the script is ‘bvilliant’, but that it falls apart halfway through.
‘Oh really?’ I try to look reasonable. ‘In what way, exactly?’
He looks at me over his bifocals as if I’m a naughty student. ‘Ah sink zis Boosie ees nat so essential, ya?’
‘Non,’ I replied. ‘I mean ja. Very essential.’ I know the trick is to remain calm.
A sudden picture of my father seething about ‘bloody Jerry’ on a ferry packed with Germans in the Sixties flashes across my mind.
‘Well, many people would agree with you,’ I say, trying the expansive approach.
‘But of course my story is about Bosie and Oscar and the end of their relationship.’
We are all going to need a lot of patience.
A few months later, Jörg calls to say that I have to come to Germany for the Berlin International Film Festival.
‘We have a lot of interest. People are crazy about the script. We have a lot of meetings set up.’
Film festivals can be hellish affairs. The powerful flex while the powerless grovel, and the rest of us juggle our way up or down.
All this is played out in theatres and halls and hotel lobbies, at dinners and screenings, at breakfast meetings and focus groups.
The stars run by, draped in borrowed jewels, followed by flotillas of their ‘people’. The whole thing goes on year after year, and nothing ever changes except the faces get bigger (fillers) and the movies get smaller (budgets).
Rupert Everett is pictured above with Madonna. Film festivals can be hellish affairs. The powerful flex while the powerless grovel, and the rest of us juggle our way up or down
One thing not to do at a film festival is business. Nobody concentrates. Everyone is looking over their shoulder.
This is where I first meet Philipp, the man setting up all our meetings with distributors. He’s like an overgrown schoolboy with an unbroken voice, and glasses covered with fingerprints.
Before our first meeting with ‘the most important guy at [French TV channel] Canal Plus’, he pumps me up like a boxer’s manager in a B-movie.
‘This is a really important meeting, yeah? He already loves the script. It could be great.’
We squash around a greasy Formica table cluttered with squeezy bottles of ketchup and mustard. Our man from Canal Plus is late and Jörg breaks into a muck sweat.
Philipp makes frantic calls on three different phones. He pecks at one with nibbled fingers, firing off messages while his face observes another with a kind of perplexed horror, his eyes gigantic through the thick lenses of his spectacles.
It’s the mesmerising ritual of a showbusiness shaman summoning the spirit of Canal Plus into the room — and finally a tiny creature appears waving from the escalator. He is wearing a Doctor Who scarf.
Panting and apologising, he collapses at the table, uncoiling himself from the scarf, talking all the time — the plane, the luggage, the hotel — while a grumpy waitress dumps a cup of tea in front of him and we all fix sympathetic smiles on our faces.
He says straight away that he hadn’t had time to read the script but that it sounds exactly what they’re looking for. Jörg wipes his drenched face with a napkin.
I describe the film for the 15,000th time and he sounds pretty enthusiastic, so we arrange to meet soon in Paris and he winds himself back into his scarf and down the escalator.
We never hear another word.
After a few more disastrous meetings, I realise that absolutely no one is interested in getting into the ‘Rupert Everett business’ as they say in the States. I leave without a single deal.
But the film refuses to die, and somehow we manage to raise nine million euros.
Unfortunately, we need 14 million. We’re standing on the edge of a cliff. Money has been spent and it’s too late to stop. Equally it may be impossible to go on.
I’m on a train to Paris when I suddenly have a fabulous idea. If our budget is unachievable, why don’t I set the film now, in the present day? I’m serious! Why not the Normandy ferry, instead of tearing what’s left of our hair out trying to find a packet ship? A modern courtroom instead of the Old Bailey.
Euro Disney instead of Dieppe. Just imagine Oscar being chased by Minnie Mouse. Maybe that’s going a bit far but-you-know-what-I-mean. It could be fantastic.
Sitting on the Eurostar, as we plough through the frosty Kent marshes, I turn my attention to the amazing-looking black man who is sitting opposite me.
He’s decked out in Gucci and Prada, with bangles, rings and chains, diamond-studded shades on an exquisite shaved head.
Soon we’re chatting. He says he’s