Interview: Rupert Everett

Interview: Rupert Everett

As he takes to the stage in A Voyage Round My Father, we talk to the original rebel about what drives him…

There’s something about A Voyage Round My Father, John Mortimer’s autobiographical tale that focuses on his complicated relationship with his father, that is as touching and relevant today as it was when the Rumpole of the Bailey creator wrote it 60 years ago.

Over the years since it was first written as a play for radio, it has been made into a stage play and a film for TV, and has featured Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Derek Jacobi in the role of the father, a formidable barrister who has gone blind and is trying to navigate the world along with his attitudes towards his son.

It’s now the turn of Rupert Everett to step into those shoes in a new play directed by Sir Richard Eyre, which comes to Richmond Theatre in October, having started in Bath and goes on to tour Cambridge, Cardiff, Malvern, Chichester, and Nottingham.

“We were amazed by just how fresh John’s writing still sounds,” says Rupert. “The play takes place in a garden and reminds me of a summer in childhood you remember, where it is warm, idyllic, but maybe didn’t exist. It is Chekhovian, funny, nostalgic, with maybe a bit of Dad’s Army in it too.

“It’s a great role to play. The father is quite harsh on his son. The son wants to be in showbusiness but his father wants him to stay in law. It is a challenging relationship. And the father is angry at going blind but he is of that generation where he is determined to enjoy life so he is steadfastly upbeat.”

He’s looking forward to coming to Richmond Theatre, having previously performed there in The Judas Kiss as Oscar Wilde, which went on to West End success. “It’s a wonderful theatre to work in and hopefully it will be part of the show’s journey to West End triumph. If it goes well in Richmond, it is normally a good sign…”

So did Rupert take any inspiration from those who have played the character before? “It’s very exciting to do a part that has a provenance about it and to work in the shadow of these three actors. I can imagine Olivier-isms and Guinness-isms, which we can try in rehearsals to see if they work, but you have to bring your own fresh perspective to it.”

I meet with Rupert in a Central London café. His beard is grey but there’s no mistaking him. Tall, still very striking, and with a steely gaze, he found fame in films such as Another Country, and Dance with a Stranger, and ultimately Hollywood stardom with My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts.

Like the son in A Voyage Round My Father, Rupert didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps for a career. Rupert’s father was Major Anthony Michael Everett, a veteran of the Burma campaign, who later became a businessman.

Rupert says he was ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ and his life has been a rebellion against his conservative and colonial background. He dropped out of boarding school to become an actor.

Rupert says: “I loved movies and going to the theatre. It seemed to be a kind of paradise and an escape from one’s own life.” However, he was soon disillusioned. “Showzbiz offers to people the idea of escape but it’s not. It is quite like being in the military and requires discipline. I found that hard to accept once I was in. I expected it to be quite bohemian… sex and drug-taking, but it is an industry, it’s an institution. It was rigid. You couldn’t miss a rehearsal or be ill.” He says it is less so now but still requires discipline.

The original party boy, Rupert admits he could have worked harder when he was younger, and not just as an actor… “In everything, really. I could have done all the things I did much later much earlier if I’d been more interested in working and not just having a laugh. Looking back, I was too frivolous.”

Rupert has always been candid, and his not-so-private life has been as much in the press as his career. In his TV interview with Piers Morgan, he talked about his relationships, including his affair with Paula Yates, as well as his promiscuous life as the Aids epidemic took its toll on friends and lovers.

Rupert revealed he was gay in the 1980s, and several of Rupert’s roles have seen him play gay characters. But he believes that an actor’s sexuality shouldn’t be relevant in terms of the roles they are cast in. “It is nonsense to say you can only play a straight character if you’re straight or a gay character if you are gay, a Jewish part if you’re Jewish. Acting is about appropriation. Full stop.”

As well as acting, he has written several novels, and a couple of memoirs. He is currently writing a series of short stories based on ideas he pitched for movies but weren’t made. He says of writing: “It is an alien process. If you are an actor, you are working in a group, you are sparring off each other, you are told what to do and you get a reaction. Writing is a totally different discipline. It can be lonely.”

He says he is always busy doing something. His main focus now is the play. And he’s looking forward to touring. “It goes back to the essentials of acting and there was something rather exciting about a group of actors rolling into town.”

There are some initial nerves when stepping onto stage, he says, but this is a good thing, as is moving on to new venues on a tour. “You get used to one theatre and you can then get thrown by new spaces, but that is good as it keeps you alive on stage.”

The actor, 64, lives in the West Country, near Bath, a handy commute for when the show plays the city’s Theatre Royal. He says he’s not sure what’s next – a West End transfer for the play, he hopes.

Ambitions, he has a few – he’d have liked to have done some Shakespeare on stage, and he reels off a list of characters he wishes he had played including Richard II, Macbeth or Falstaff.

I ask Rupert if he stays fit and healthy now. He looks around for the sugar on the table to go in his tea. He finds none. “Does no one take sugar anymore?” he asks a passing waiter. “I do stay fit and healthy. But not in a mad crazy way.”

While he wishes he had worked harder, his ambition is, “to survive, for the most part.” He pauses. “Health wise, career wise, life wise. Just to keep on going.”

A Voyage Round My Father comes to Richmond Theatre 10-14 October. Book tickets here.