The importance of not being earnest
 
No point in whining if you're cast as Julia Roberts' gay friend when you just know you're a natural-born James Bond. That's show business, says Rupert Everett. Besides, there's this new Oscar Wilde...

Sally Vincent
Saturday August 24, 2002
The Guardian


The Wildean allusion is eluding me. It would seem that some Germans have despatched a pair of lederhosen in Rupert Everett's direction, fondly imagining they might be useful to him in launching his new film, The Importance Of Being Earnest. Somehow the garment has found its way to the small hotel in Soho where the indescribably beautiful Mr Everett rests his head when he's in town, and is now, even as we are about to speak, resplendent upon his arse and thighs. He is well pleased with his gift. "Aren't they cunning?" he says, prancing about the sitting room in his leathery thongs and stitchings while holding aloft his breakfast muesli. See the access detail, back and front! Cunning! Just the job for his projected sojourn up the Alps, for which adventure he has already decided to shave his head into a mohican and cause phoney tattoos to be emblazoned on the bald bits. He'll be walking about on his own with only the odd marmot to witness his glory but shaving one's head is awfully good for the follicles. You Vaseline your scalp at night, wrap it up in a plastic bag and it grows back better than ever.

The thing - well, one of the things - about Rupert Everett is that he must be the only man in the history of the world who doesn't look a bloody fool in lederhosen. I'm not entirely sure why this is. It's like the hat he was wearing the other day. The hottest day of the year, ants flying all over the place and he's got this sort of leather-trimmed tweed cap on back to front and, damn it all, he looked ethereally beautiful in it; supernaturally masculine, transcending his own self-sabotage. I nearly drowned in his eyes, came away all of a twitter, in love for the very last time... all of which merely demonstrates that if God has cast you in the role of romantic hero, no amount of silly hats and silly trousers will diminish your appeal.

There had been, I have to admit, an element of where-the-hell-have-you-been and what-do-you-think-you've-been-up-to in my initial approach. I last saw him 20 years ago when he won the London Critics' Award for Most Promising Newcomer in Julian Mitchell's Another Country, when he outclassed the entire cast, including Kenneth Branagh. Then I remember the film version (excellent, excellent), swiftly followed by Dance With A Stranger (ditto, ditto), and then he seemed to disappear, leaving me with a sense of personal betrayal. This has since been exacerbated by a vague awareness that he has sold his likeness to an ad campaign for some tawdry French aftershave and what might easily be his thespian soul to Hollywood, where he seems to have been spectacularly complicit in the trendy process of elevating its most valuable female properties (Madonna, Julia Roberts, Kathy Bates) to the higher echelons of fag-haggery. In fact, I got quite snotty about it.

Effusive praise for The Importance... had scarcely left my lips before I tore into his other new release, Unconditional Love. Huh! What a crock. He gives his usual impeccable performance, of course, but come on! Are we supposed to believe, I said, that this all-American frowst with a passion for a warbling syrup-vendor in a spangled suit didn't know her idol was gay? I mean, it wasn't a period piece, was it? He takes the kicks with the ha'pence, engages my ratty countenance with his dark brown doe-eyes (oooooh!) and very slowly and sadly says, "They... haven't... got... a... clue." America, he says, does not only consist of the two coasts I am probably familiar with. It has an extremely large bit in the middle, teeming with the sort of housebound, middle-aged housewives as seen in Unconditional Love who are innocent to the point of agoraphobia. They haven't the faintest idea that the performers who so inflame their redundant sexual longings are probably gay. They probably don't know he is, either, even though he's played the number one gay best friend to the stars since My Best Friend's Wedding grossed its unseemly billions and launched the whole Will-&-Grace, gay man/straight woman soulmate syndrome. Not that he cares. So far as he is concerned, 42 years of self-doubt and self-absorption have led him, far from seamlessly, to this moment on this sofa where he can say with absolute certainty that this thing we call "Identity" is a snare and a delusion.

"Identity," he says, crossing his legs guru-style, "is what we think about other people." Then, by way of explanation, he assumes a tone of twangy petulance: "I like you. I don't like you. So that's who I am, so there." We feel obliged to judge each other in order to assert and reassert ourselves. We say, "Oh, you'll never change," or, "Oh, you've changed," with the same implication of criticism. It isn't love we long for, it is the ability to accept ourselves and other people who aren't exactly like

 
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