Rupert Everett is one of a kind: openly gay, ferociously critical of Hollywood and sharp-witted as they come. No wonder he was cast as the slimy Prince Charming in Shrek 2. In this candid interview, Everett talks openly about why he was never allowed to become the next big thing following My Best Friend’s Wedding.
Question: You’re an old hand at these animated films
Everett: I feel like an old hand. I thought you meant a these junkets. At that I feel like a real old hand.
Question: What is it that attracts you to animated films, apart from these characters?
Everett: Well there’s for an actor, a good business to start with. They’re a tiny piece of work to do and if you’re thinking about keeping your profile going, so for that reason they’re good things to do. Another reason that’s great about them, for me, is that I love cartoons. I think in terms of cinema, when I die, the things that I will always remember is, you know, going to the theatre when you’re a little kid in the 60s and those curtains that were always orange. They’d lift from underneath and the thing came out from behind the curtain is those Disney films with the book and the hand opening the book. I mean, I can still really access that feeling. You know, being in that huge open, dark space, seeing that book opening and hearing that melodious voice going [whispering] “Once upon a time…” THAT, that was when it was really IT for me and once it was after that you’d become like a hooker that has been on a street corner for too long. It’s like nothing really gets to you [laughter] in the same like, 100% way. When you think about that, like when you star to see those early cartoons.
Question: Why do you think you’re usually or often cast as the villain?
Everett: Because I’m English [laughter]
Question: What did you think of how Prince Charming looked?
Everett: Well, I didn’t think that he looked like me that much but then–
Question: but pretty handsome?
Everett: …he was nice [laughter]. Laurie [his assistant] said he looked like me.
Question: He’s really egotistical. None of that is [presumably] coming from you? How much of that is coming from you?
Everett: I had to build up a lot of ego. [Laughter] Yeah, he’s got a twist. He reminds me, really, I don’t know if you know of an actor called Terry Thomas. He was an old English character actor, he was kind of vocally my role model while I was doing it. You know, that guy who’s very brash up until the moment that someone frightens him and then he turns into a whiney, bratty, spoiled child. So Terry Thomas was my role model, although the character doesn’t look like Terry Thomas at all.
Question: How difficult is it when you’re not working with other actors? I mean you’re there in the sound booth alone.
Everett: It’s very modern. It totally virtual, it’s like being a computer freak. Its like, you’re on your own. You just read your lines and that’s it. And that’s nice, actually. You know, it’s a different thing. There’s no interaction between actors coming into it so I just figure that while I’m doing it: “This is it, this is modern, this is virtual. This is what the future is.” I mean you’re doing everything on your own and you don’t even hear remembering Oh yeah! Someone read the other lines to you but it’s not the real person co-star.
Question: Weren’t you a bit sad that you didn’t get the chance to work with Jennifer Saunders, from Ab Fab?
Everett: Um, yeah. I would’ve loved to work with her.
Question: Have you met since?
Everett: I went to the same drama school as her and I don’t know her very well but I’d see her around every once in a while.
Question: Did you see the first Shrek before getting the offer and if so what did you think of it?
Everett: I loved the first Shrek. It’s changed, the whole nature of the cinema, that when I went, as a kid, you saw people on the screen that you identified WITH. Now you see people on screen whose life you want to have, so it’s a very different feeling when you go to see one now, because it’s made live-action into a kind of empty void more or less. Then you get the cartoons and suddenly cartoons, the characters, have much more dimension, much more humanity and they reflect many more of the dilemmas that we have going on in our lives at the moment whereas the actual live-action movies are just selling us success. So, the characters really have any…they’re all totally surreal in live action, whereas these ones cartoons, which are surreal, are much more realistic emotionally…they have inner struggle… They reflect ideas in things, you know? The thing in Shrek about ugliness and beauty and they actually do reflect things that are central to what’s going on in the culture.
Question: Do you see yourself as a character actor or how do you project yourself?
Everett: Well, I’m 45 year old now, so I’m not really a juvenile lead but yeah, I suppose I could consider myself a character actor.
Question: You broke out with a lot of hype after “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” What’s your perspective on that now, looking back?
Everett: That it was an opportunity that I had. It was great. It got me a lot of jobs for a while and for the most part it has been a journey. I think an actor’s life, is very up and down most of the time and you can’t really afford to spend much time reflecting on why its up or why its down or what’s happening…everybody has a cross to bear in their career and some people’s crosses are easier to bear than others. Basically, it’s very up and down so I feel that it was a great opportunity. I was never allowed to go on to the next step.
Question: You weren’t allowed why was that?
Everett: Because, I think in a trophy business, you can maybe be black but you can’t, definitely not yet, be gay.
Question: What would the “next step” be?
Everett: The next step would be to play a major leading straight role in a movie.
Question: You talked about playing James Bond you’d like to play a gay James Bond?
Everett: No, I’d like to play James Bond straight.
Question: They’re still casting for that, you know? You seriously have no desire to pursue it?
Everett: The Bond fans would burn down MGM if the studios got a gay actor to play James Bond. [laughter]
Question: So that was a misunderstood/ false rumour that you wanted to develop an alternative James Bond project?
Everett: No, it wasn’t. That never happened.
Question: What happened to “To Kill a King?” which you shot in the UK set in England circa 1645?
Everett: It’s not a very good movie I don’t think it will be coming out in the States.
Question: Why is that?
Everett: It’s boring.
Question: How was it playing Charles I?
Everett: Charles I was the best part of the movie and I’m not just saying that, because it was everybody said so. [laughter]
Question: Didn’t you shoot the execution scene at the actual location of Charles I’s execution?
Everett: We shot the execution scene at the historic location on the same day that he was beheaded.
Question: How creepy was that?
Everett: It was very weird, actually because I’m not really a method actor, you know. I’m not one of those people who get all ! [feigns an overly dramatic expression] Sharon Stone, for example, she says like we were play these real life characters and she says to me;” has yours entered you yet?” [laughter] And I say, “What?!!!” [more laughter] And so, I wasn’t planning on or didn’t think I was going to be “entered” by Charles I. BUT, on the day of my character’s execution you could see all these pictures of where he was executed the whole trip was the same. I had to come down the staircase, like he did, walk through this big room which he built and then go down onto the scaffold and I’ll tell you…IT WAS REALLY TERRIFYING. It was the weirdest felling and the only time that I’ve ever felt like that in acting. You’d keep thinking about what execution is such a weird process. I mean getting your head around it. When you have to put your head on the block and somebody’s going to chop it off. I was very, very weird. Great, but the film’s not very good, so I don’t think its going to come out in America anyway.
Question: Getting back to what we were talking about earlier…
Everett: NO! [joking]
Question: Dealing with the fact that the first Shrek had inverted human expectations, how attracted were you, as a gay man, to the idea that you’d be playing Prince Charming the quintessence of…pompousness
Everett: I don’t think you should think of yourself as a gay man playing Prince Charming you’re an actor playing Prince Charming. The interesting thing about Prince Charming in this film is that he’s NOT Prince Charming. He’s a snake. So the thing that’s interesting to an actor is, really, the fun you can have playing a character that is stereotypically one thing and then you’re going to discover that there’s another facet to him. That gives you a lot of opportunities as an actor. In terms of being “a gay man” playing Prince Charming, the only reflection that you could possibly have about that would be that it’s not really worth commenting on.
Question: But don’t you think that Prince Charming is a closet case? A little too close to his mum…he would never really want Fiona
Everett: He would never REALLY want her? Well let’s hope, if you say nice things about me to everyone and all the focus people, I’ll prove it in the third one Shrek 3. [laughter]
Question: Well what kinds of stuff are you working on now?
Everett: It’s called “A Different Loyalty,” I did that and “Stage Beauty” which is in the Tribeca Film Festival next week and a French film which will be shown at Cannes and another film with Emily Watson called “A Walk Through the Woods.”
Question: So what do you think of the idea of method acting that it’s just not necessary to you?
Everett: Everyone does what they have to do to get “turned on.” Some people will…I think its great, the method is. I think it works brilliantly for American actors, for example, because but then that’s also because the business here is so much more…If you’re an English actor, for example, half the time you’re going to be doing T.V. cop shows for a bit, then half the time you’re going to be doing T.V. adaptations of Jane Austen books [laughter] and then half the time you’re going to be doing the odd, spy type film but you’re not going to be using the same tool that you use in American acting. I don’t even think method is necessary in American acting now because all you need here is money, really to be an actor, in a way. Now acting’s all about success, in America, but when I was a kid, back when the method was really at it’s strongest, when American cinema was a very detailed reflection of American life. You know, Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” is a reflection, it’s a portrait of an American life. Mission: Impossible 2 is nothing about anything. [laughter] It’s about someone having a lot of money that we want to have as well. It’s a different world they’re talking about, so the method is great for that kind of acting which is really particular and detailed. Scorsese still uses it, not many others its completely unnecessary now.
Question: Which other actors do you really respect or would like to work with?
Everett: All of them! Particularly the ones with the money. [laughter] Keeping going as an actor, and I know this can sound boring depending on how you look at it, but it’s a tough job to keep going. The music business, the movie business they’re very tough businesses to keep going in and they’re mindfucks as well on a major scale. I feel admiration for anyone who keeps it up.
Question: Why do you keep it up? Why do you keep going?
Everett: Well that’s what I do.
Question: Do you get disillusioned, cynical, do you want to chuck it all in ever?
Everett: I get Furious! Furious! You could end up a basket case easily because you spend I have a bike and I bicycle around a lot and I find myself just arguing not just with myself with studio heads, business managers, people about work it can make you angry.
Question: So how do you make progress?
Everett: Because that’s only one side. The other side is not that important anyway and mostly you just have to hope for an opportunity and hope to be able to do everything as wall as you can when the time comes.
Question: You want to write or direct or explore any other aspect of the craft? What about your memoirs, your own take on the whole thing?
Everett: No, there’s nothing interesting in that.
Question: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing?
Everett: I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d do.
Question: Well, what did you want to be when you were a child? What did you want to become when you grew up?
Everett: I wanted to be an actor always.
Question: I was fascinated that you said that you still go out to the movies because a lot people, mainly actors people would recognize, stay at home.
Everett: No, I don’t go to the movies that often. There aren’t that many movies in theatres that turn me on.
Question: What originally made you decide to become an actor?
Everett: Originally it was actually seeing movies when you’d go to the theatre in the old days. When you were in the cinema when you were a kid that was, to me, the first thing. Like going to see those big spaces with those curtains that were kind of orange that lifted from underneath. Then the film sort of came up from behind the curtains. I don’t know if you have that same memory but that, for me, was like…it was the experience, the ritual of the whole thing.
Question: Well what was the last movie that got you excited?
Everett: “Talk to Her” by Pedro Almodóvar, I liked a lot. You know, I like lots of movies still. In Miami, the only movie that’s ever on is “Selena” and “Star Wars II.” [laughter] I really enjoyed Selena. There’s such a good moment in “Selena” where Selena’s going into the Beverly Centre to buy an outfit and no one knows who she is and this snotty, white trash woman says; “Oh you can’t afford that” and Selena goes “Okay.” Then some Latino dude is delivering a package and goes “Oh! It’s Selena!” And then he goes down and the camera follows him down to the hall in the back of the Beverly Centre and to every Latino person he says “Selena is in the house!” and they’re all going crazy and then there’s this rampage and they’re all running through the Beverly Centre. All the white folks think its a terror attack but all of the Latinos are running up to the shop where this BITCH is refusing to sell the dress to Selena and its really a good Hollywood moment! [laughter] Chris Pryor.