Rupert Everett is 100 percent ready for death. “I wouldn’t mind it happening straight after this interview,” he says. He wouldn’t mind walking out of this restaurant with its black banquettes and white tablecloths into the steaming Soho afternoon and being knocked down by a London bus, he says. “Really. I’m serious. I love death. Everyone’s so worried about it, so afraid. But I always think that death sounds quite exciting. Especially when you think of everyone who has died.” Quick and painless is preferable. “Death by firing squad, for instance, looking them straight in the eye. Fabulous,” he leans back. “But without torture. I couldn’t do any torture beforehand.”
And then Everett does a back-pedal, which may be a disclaimer to soothe the easily offended, and says that, yes, he recognizes that the whole process of death isn’t very nice. “You know, chemo, radio. We all have friends going through that stuff and it is terrifying,” (although his friend Nicky Haslam, the designer, “adored chemotherapy”), and Covid-19 deaths are horrid. “I really didn’t like the idea of my poor 94-year-old mom dying alone in the hospital with everyone in masks.” And I have the sense of having arrived at the funfair and then having to backtrack the entire journey there on tiptoes.
This routine is repeated through the afternoon: outré quip, whispered disclaimer, like the terms and conditions at the end of a radio ad, a reverse ferret of pre-emptive apology. Worse, he starts mouthing, “No, no, we can’t talk about that!” about subjects such as the raging trans rows, or gay marriage, or prostitution, his dark eyes dropping to the tape recorder as if it is a spy. He’s even cautious talking about his character in a new Channel 4 series, Adult Material, in which he plays a sloppy small-time porno “villain”, who won Best Bottom in 1983 (and whom he “partly” based on his director friend Sean Mathias).
And then he comes out with it. “It’s difficult to have a conversation about anything in today’s New Puritanism,” he says. He feels like “the wrong type of queen”. He feels as if “the gay movement has been completely overshadowed by the trans movement”. He cites the three gay men stabbed in Forbury Gardens in Reading in the summer – “Nobody was up in arms about anything” – and Putin’s ban on gay marriage. “Nothing! We’ve completely lost our profile. That’s as far as I’m going,” he decides, because, “I just can’t get myself canceled at this time, at this stage. It’s not a good death. You’re part of the undead.” He’s quiet for a moment with his cappuccino.
“It’s difficult to have a conversation about anything in today’s New Puritanism,” Everett says. He feels as if “the gay movement has been completely overshadowed by the trans movement.”
A reminder: Everett was the devastating beauty of Eighties and Nineties cinema, the Matt Dillon of the English posh-boy brat pack, the star, among other things, of Another Country (1984), Dance with a Stranger (1985), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), An Ideal Husband (1999). He’s also a gifted memoirist (his third volume, To the End of the World, has just been published in England), director, journalist, documentary-maker and novelist (The Hairdressers of St Tropez, 1995). He’d just bowed out of the eighth performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway when the Covid curtain dropped, and he’s been working on two new projects since: a book about where we are now, called 20:20 Vision, and an auto-fictional film (roman reportage, as he calls it) called D Is for Dog about his time in Seventies Paris, hanging out with sex workers and transsexuals, dancing with Rudolf Nureyev in a haze of mirrors and poppers in the Le Sept Club, near Opéra.
For much of the Eighties he appears to have been draped on the vast sofas of dissolute aristocrats, drunk or on drugs, or both, or shoplifting with heiresses, or in the leather sweat of the Coleherne pub, center of the fairly newly legal London gay scene, or being stalked by convent school girls for autographs – “and Japanese girls. They love gay stories in Japan.” His first book describes shagging himself out of his upper-middle-class military background. Lovers included Sir Ian McKellen, Paula Yates and the French actress Béatrice Dalle, who gave him as a love gift a crucifix she’d stolen from a baby’s grave (he made her put it back). He was best friend (un ami nécessaire, as he puts it) to Madonna in the mid-Nineties, but she fired him after he wrote that she behaved like “an old, whiny barmaid”.
At 61, he’s still beautiful – and boyish: shirt collar sticking up, tracksuit bottoms that look like games kit, Vintage Classics edition of Swann’s Way. He radiates mischief. As a child he would steal a peek of his “Great-Granny M’s” bosom as he kissed her “bearded” face goodnight. He adores gossip. Today he is horrified and thrilled by Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife (“She must want attention”) and repeatedly quotes David Cameron’s words to her, “‘I’d just like to put you in a bush and give you one’ – hahaha!” He loves the idea of Samantha Cameron’s breakfast negroni – “Such a weird choice, so party” – and does an impression of her calling the butler: “‘Negroni please, Parker.’” The surprise is how gentle and patient he is; what truly disarming company. Deep down, I suspect, he gets far more out of others than we get out of him.
But where are we when even Rupert Everett – who once replied to a letter of criticism with a sellotaped tuft of his pubic hair – feels he has to rein himself in? He says he feels dropped into Edwardian times – but without the Whitechapel transvestites, opium dens and docks. We’ve been rounded on by a younger generation, he says, these New Puritans. “It’s like living with one’s great-grandparents – even my grandparents were more hip and easygoing than the younger generation today.” He searches for a historical parallel. But decides that even the Bright Young Things enjoyed the later war generation, with their buggering on and Blitz mentality and rationing. “This might be the first time that the older generation has felt that they have to tiptoe around the younger generation and turn everything off,” he says. And then the retreat: “I mean, there’s good stuff about it. You can’t reject wokeness, because everything it stands for is, essentially, great.”
He survives by “minding my p’s and q’s” and, as much as possible, ignoring “opinions” – “even my own”. In the past he thought being gay was about doing the opposite of the straight world and that not having children was part of his role as “a gay”. He was pelted for saying in 2012, “I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.” Today he says, “I thought we were rather blessed and that it would be amazing because in 1,000 years’ time we’d solve the population problem, when there were just two old lesbians and two old queens left and they’d croak, and the planet would go back to normal.”
He got into trouble – as well – for not championing gay marriage, but says it wasn’t gays getting married he’d objected to, but marriage itself – “Legislating human relationships? Hopeless.” He always hated that the women around him were made to feel like second-class citizens if they weren’t married. And everyone got divorced anyway. “I’d rather go to a funeral any day than a wedding.” Weddings are awful. Wedding guests are awful. “Wedding cakes are boring.” (Back-pedal: “If everyone really did stay with each other and made a business out of marriage, then maybe it’s fair enough.”)
In his experience, relationships are best when they are fluid. “And anything that stops it being fluid, even a good holiday, can ruin it because you start matching the tawdriness of next Monday to the fabulousness of the holiday in Tahiti, then you’re on a downhill slalom.”
And then he does a total 180 on all this and tells me, after a pause, “Actually, I wouldn’t mind getting married now.” What? “Yes. I’d marry my boyfriend. Although I would only have two or three people to my wedding.”
He’d have the ceremony – “I love ceremonies” – in his village church in Wiltshire. “I think that’d be sweet.” Judging by his fluency on the subject he’s thought this all through, although the outfits are a snag, because he’s not sure about matching suits. “So I don’t know what I’d wear.”
Would he be the one to propose? He suspects so. “I mean, I’m the one thinking about it.”
I ask if he’s discussed this at all with Henrique, the Brazilian accountant whom he’s been with for 11 years, and he looks aghast and says, “No, he doesn’t know.” And then he looks at my treacherous recorder and says no again. “Maybe we have to keep marriage as gray an area as possible.”
He swiftly moves on to lockdown and says he was lucky to have spent the first part in the Catskills in upstate New York, “with two friends and our dogs”, having exciting trips to the supermarket to look at “all the overgrown huge, gigantic vegetables that we’re going to have here after Brexit and our trade deal”.
Then he was back in Wiltshire, with his mother, an omnipresent figure in his books and conversation, a brusque come-along-darling major’s widow, who he claims was “very tough” but sounds to me very indulgent. He had baths and shared a bed with her on and off until he was 14 (“And we’d wiggle our toes, which I loved”) and he enlisted her to take him to a local dress shop “to buy nightdresses and negligees”.
He’s recounted many times how much he wanted to be a girl until he was about 15, and how he dressed up in his mother’s red tweed skirt and danced around their pink house singing The Sound of Music and pretending he was Julie Andrews’ daughter. But he also says that whenever his mother was told he was gay, she’d say, “I think you will find that’s wrong.” “And although they were really, really straight, they somehow ended up having a holiday home in Tangier. And Tangier at that point was full of vile English expat queens, who all knew about me and some of them didn’t like my mom and dad, so they’d taunt them saying things like, ‘He’s a big old fag.’ And my mom would say, ‘I think you’ll find that’s not true.’”
The first time his mother met one of his boyfriends was in Los Angeles in 1999, and it only came up as a subject with his late father twice. “First when I split up from one boyfriend and he said, ‘Is there nothing you can do to fix it up?’ which was really sweet. And then once when my mother said, ‘Well, there wasn’t any horseplay at your school, at Stonyhurst, was there, Tony?’ And he said [Everett switches into the major’s boom], ‘Of course there was!’ And she was absolutely freaked out.” When I ask if he was intrigued by this, Everett quips, “I didn’t want to know if there had been anal penetration of my father, no, Charlotte.”
Everett was sent to prep school to board at seven, and to Catholic Ampleforth at 13, and says he was unpopular, “an outsider” who found the cocky, brash, gamesy boys utterly unrelatable. “There’s always an elected type, from school onwards.” Right now, he feels an outsider again, of course. If he were 15 today, what does he think he would be like?
“Well, I’d probably be transitioning,” he says. “Because I wanted to be a girl. I really did. At school, I played all the girls’ parts and on the weekends my friend and I used to dress up in girls’ outfits and pretend to be sisters, and go out and watch the boys play rugby. And I must say, I definitely wanted to be a girl until I left school, really.”
After school he very much enjoyed “being a guy”, throwing himself into the gay scene full throttle. “When I came out of school it was in the wake of the sexual revolution, in the wake of gay legality, and everything was completely different. That’s one of the things people forget today. You can’t really apply today’s yardsticks to yesterday, because everything was different.”
But after some thought, he says, “Although I wonder, sometimes, now that everyone is thinking about transitioning very early on, if the fact that I have always felt so ‘outside’ has been due to that [not transitioning]. But I don’t know. I certainly didn’t want to be a girl after I grew up.” Even saying this, he thinks, might be controversial – “I don’t think I’m allowed to have a view” – and then sensing he’s being far too serious (for which read: dull), he adds, “Except, I think, as a career move. I might transition because it could be a way of reigniting my career, because in Hollywood now if you’re a middle-aged director of second-rate television you’re finished.”
If he were 15 today, what would he be like? “I’d probably be transitioning.... I definitely wanted to be a girl until I left school, really.”
Everett can’t help himself. Even though he knows this will get him into trouble he puts on a comic low voice of his trans self – “Hello, this is Trixie. Listen very carefully…” – and widens his eyes in mock horror at how mischievous he’s being.
“Actually, don’t. I really can’t be canceled because I need to earn some money. It’s all right for you: if you write something that upsets them you’ll be carried aloft on broad transsexual shoulders, knocking me out as a gay.”
He emits a massive sigh. Brexit, Boris, Trump, Covid: the whole world is leaving him feeling “rather blank. I think it’s something to do with age, or it’s oncoming something else, but I feel blank.” Later he calls it “numb”. He can’t bear the television news at the moment. He was glued to it at the beginning of lockdown, and would watch it with a Patrón and orange but was “legless by 6.30”. So he’s given up the news, but not the Patrón (“I became a lockdown lush”).
“I really can’t be canceled because I need to earn some money. It’s all right for you: if you write something that upsets them you’ll be carried aloft on broad transsexual shoulders.”
Netflix, “thousands of series of 25 episodes”, he finds overwhelming. He did inquire, however, about a role in Succession after a scene with the voice of a businessman on the telephone. “And I thought, God, that could be the role for me in the next series. I don’t think I got it, though.” He won’t binge-watch box sets. He does them one a night, even when he doesn’t have to, savoring the suspense.
He lives between Wiltshire and Bloomsbury with Henrique – whom he “rugger-tackled” after a four-year stalking campaign in the gym – and 18-month-old Pluto, a black labrador to whom he fears being an inconsistent parent. “I’m either all over him or absolutely furious. I took him for training at one point, and all the other dogs came out of Land Rovers with rather butch shooting-hunting-fishing types going, ‘Up, Dizzy! Oooop! Up! Pip!’ And I was going, ‘Darling, darling, will you be all right? Do you want a doggie bag?’”
Most days he’s up at dawn. He walks. He writes. He looks out of the window. He eats Shredded Wheat (“Cold milk, tons of sugar”). He reads The Times (paper edition) and Tortoise; he makes restaurant reservations (“I’ve spent half my life and money on restaurants”), writes, reads and walks some more, then has a tidy frenzy. “I can be quite obsessive. I wash the kitchen floor in the evening because I don’t like it to be dirty first thing in the morning. You have to be careful: you can be set off by anything in the morning.”
Somewhere close by in Wiltshire is his mother, who he says in his new book has “very sensibly decided to abandon her short-term memory for the loftier vistas of 1961, adores Donald Trump, and thinks Boris is doing jolly well”. Is this still the case? “Oh yes, she loves Boris. And so do a lot of people, it seems to me. You feel like you’re on a different planet because they say things like, ‘Yuh, yuh, bloody straightforward chap.’”
His own short-term memory he’s nervous about after all the drug-taking in his youth, and his book opens with him falling out with Joan Collins after he leaves her glittering at a restaurant table because he’s forgotten to turn up for dinner. “My brain is slightly shattered and it’s the only thing that I really like, apart from my eyesight. So I think all the drug-taking was a waste of time, looking back. I adored it at the time.” Did he worry he might be an addict? “I was too vain for addiction. I was hell-bent on making a career, so I couldn’t allow myself to get addicted. Also, I come from a very solid middle-class, military background, and that always kicked in. At the point where everyone was staying for the third day running at some house, I’d think, ‘I should be doing something.’ That saved me.”
Like the previous two – Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins and Vanished Years – his new book has some great lines, delivered almost audibly in his languid drawl, such as, “I met everyone and they all turned out to be the same person.” But it’s also wistful. Even his perving (he dubs it #HeToo) is half-hearted. For instance, he notices on the Eurostar “one of the most amazing bottoms I have seen in years”, which belongs to a French policeman. “Am I allowed to do this, I wonder, or am I being reductive, racist and sexist? … His trousers strain at the seams… and my seat can hardly contain me as I topple out time and again watching him striding up and down the aisle… But today is the first day of the end of the world – or at least that’s how it feels – and so I am more in tune with the slim gloomy tomes of Jean Rhys sitting on my lap.”
Despite his gags about death, he thinks intensely about friends who have died (and there are so many – in car crashes, of Aids, suicide, shot by farmers). His book is full of ghosts. One is his best friend Lychee, a Vietnamese trans woman, whom he hung out with in Paris and who was murdered. She is buried in Père Lachaise, near Oscar Wilde. “I feel like a ghost,” he says, “and I think, after a certain age, everywhere feels sort of haunted.
“It is goodbye to the old world,” he confirms. I ask if he’s feeling melancholic, but he denies it, saying how lucky he is, and how important it is to keep going despite the generalized modern malaise. He says it’s hard to keep up the fizz of his former life when things aren’t happening, when life “is just a loo flushing in the next room”.
As a young man he couldn’t switch off. His brain was ablaze. “And now I’m slightly more contemplative. I really like nature. I like trees. I know that sounds boring, but I just like quiet and silence and I’m amazed by that. I’ve turned a corner.”
Does he believe in God? “Belief is very Windows 2, don’t you think?” he retorts.
Late afternoon, we walk from Soho to his Georgian house in Bloomsbury. Soho is filling up with people removing jackets in the heat, loosening their ties and sitting at tables set up in the streets like Jubilee Day. Everett’s general conversation is dizzying: Arthur Rimbaud’s syphilis of the knee is a topic; a travel company you can ring up if you want to go around the world by ship; a Benjaminite in the Bible who threw his concubine to a crowd to save himself and allowed her to be raped to death.
Anecdotes tumble out: there’s one about a visit to a Florida sex shop. “Have you ever been in sex shops in America? I noticed this girl following me and I thought: ‘Oh Godddd.’ And then I went out of the porno section, and she said, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ And I shouted: ‘CAN’T YOU SEE I’M BUYING PORN?’ And then I went out and felt awful so I went back in and said, ‘Sorry, I will sign your thing,’ even though it was awkward with my arms full of Take It Like A Man: All Nine Inches and you’re trying to swing from one paradigm to another to do an autograph. But she didn’t really want it after that.”
A few days later he calls me in the morning when I am right on deadline, a deep-sounding bath running beside him, to say that yes, maybe he does feel a bit melancholic after all. “I didn’t want to admit it because I was being defensive,” he says. But being Rupert Everett, someone who thinks deeply about everything, this is how he explains his state of mind: “It’s just hard to adjust to the seriousness of now. We’ve slightly lost a sense of perspective. And humor, certainly. And my whole life is all about humor. So, what direction do you take a humorous life in right now?” Inevitably there’s a back-pedal: “But perhaps it’s a very exciting time to be alive. Or at least an exciting time to be undead.”
Adult Material premiered October 5 on Channel 4. All episodes will be available on All 4