Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by Rupert Everett

Madonna, the old whiny barmaid
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The Independent Culture

The back inside flap of a dustjacket usually contains a brief note listing the author's accomplishments, ending with a statement of where he or she lives. We are offered no such indication of where Rupert Everett now resides. At the end of this lush, profoundly reflective, and thoroughly satisfying autobiography, he is in Miami Beach when Hurricane Wilma arrives. Wandering into Flamingo Park, a haunt for homosexuals, he finds it deserted. In the old days, a tropical storm would have been an excuse for them to go cruising, but not any more. The gay street life of Miami Beach has disappeared: "Suddenly, and with total clarity, I knew it was time to leave."

Wherever Everett now resides, I fancy he won't remain there for long, since he seems a perpetual nomad, drifting from one city and one momentary bubble of experience to another, the only constant framework being his somewhat tenuous, though financially sustaining, career as a screen actor. Whether it be his episodes in Hollywood (where he would sometimes sneak into the derelict penthouse apartment that once belonged to Montgomery Clift and gaze across the city), or St Tropez (until he upset the locals by penning a roman-à-clef about them), or Paris (where he hung out with transsexuals, drug addicts, and other creatures of the night), or Miami (where he flitted between the world of fleapit hotels and the court of Versace), he casts a vinegary eye over the proceedings. The dominant tone of this book is elegiac: many of the chapters in its second half end with someone dying or otherwise disappearing from Everett's life. His most abiding relationship to date has been with his beloved black Labrador, Mo.

His Hollywood career breakthrough came with the part of the gay confidant to Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. He sold a couple of screenplay ideas (one for a gay James Bond), but subsequently his most high-profile Hollywood role has been as the villain in Inspector Gadget. As a gay actor, he knows the prospects are limited to period and character roles. He wonders whether he will ever play a serious straight leading role. Indeed, even a serious queer role seems a remote possibility. When Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica hit the screens last winter, he remembers one newspaper writing that "while gay actors were good for comedic gay roles, straight guys were better as the serious queers".

Everett is more philosophical than rueful about his slender body of work as an actor. Indeed, he recognises that "the job of maintaining a profile in Hollywood is much more draining and demanding than making a film, and it is done at a thousand and one award shows, premieres and the magic red carpets that lead to them." He also encapsulates in a sentence the cycle of compromise which makes it impossible to resist the most demeaning of Hollywood job offers: "Slowly but surely, what was once something that you would never do, first becomes the thing you're using to get something else, and then suddenly it's what you are doing. Next week." There is also a wonderful chapter, both rife with self-mockery and intensely moving, about the celebrity Third World charity circuit.

He is notably perceptive about divas. His pen-portraits of Madonna, Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone are among the best things that have ever been written about those stars. When he meets Madonna in the early 1980s he notes that "when she fixed you with her regard, there was a tenderness and warmth that made your skin bump, but when she looked away, it was like sunbathing on a cold day and suddenly a cloud comes." A decade and a half later, when he was preparing to make The Next Best Thing with her, he observes that "everything about Madonna had changed, and what hadn't had been carefully wrapped in psychological clingfilm and locked inside an interior fridge. Sometimes, in moments of stress, Madonna had power cuts and the old whiny barmaid came screaming out of the defrosting cold room."

Given the amount his publishers are said to have paid for this book, you'd think the budget might have run to an index. Also, I suspect that Everett dictated his memories into a tape recorder and couldn't be bothered to proof-read the typeset pages himself, for how else can one explain such misspellings as "Milton Burrell" (for the comedian Milton Berle) or "Dan Tanner's" (for the Los Angeles restaurant Dan Tana's)? But these are mere cavils. Everett has written a splendid book, a monument to a series of demi-mondes and fleeting bittersweet moments. Definitely several cuts above the conventional showbusiness memoir, laced with quirky insights and dazzling phrases, it reads like a lurid dream, recalled in deliciously acute detail - in short, a heady triumph of observation and reverie.