Hello darlings, I'm back

Rupert Everett has been an actor, a model, a pop star, a victim of his own fame. Now he's written a novel about hairdressers. By Michael Arditti

Actor, novelist, pop star, model... anyone trying to guess Rupert Everett's profession by counting plum stones would end up very confused. The actor who sprang to fame as everyone's favourite public schoolboy in Another Country, followed by memorable screen performances in Duet for One, Dance with a Stranger and The Comfort of Strangers, and a definitive stage performance as Nicky Lancaster in Nol Coward's The Vortex, became, in the late Eighties, a victim of his own celebrity. Prematurely written off as a name fit merely for mini-series and gossip columns, he is now back with leading roles in two major films, The Madness of King George and Prt--Porter, and his controversial second novel, The Hairdressers of St Tropez.

A Renaissance man with a Regency raffishness, he is one of the new breed of multi-faceted actors such as "painters" Tony Curtis and Michael Grandage and "writers" Simon Callow and Anthony Sher. He is disarmingly frank about his motivation. "I suppose it's because acting's not a full-time job. After a certain point in my particular, rather humdrum, position in the food chain, there simply isn't enough meat to sustain me for 24 hours a day, 12 months a year. I also thought that probably my only possibility in the cinema would be to find material for myself. So I wrote my first novel, fully intending to turn it into a screenplay, which I'm now halfway through."

He wrote that first novel, Hello Darling Are You Working?, at a time when he felt "bricked in emotionally", particularly by his profession. "When you say `I love you' into someone's eyes on screen, in a sense you're destroying the next `I love you' experience because it becomes a sense memory. I feel there's much more emotion for me in my writing than in my life. There are only three emotions that I can feel for myself now: anger, fear and panic, especially anger."

Described by one critic as "like Nancy Mitford on ecstasy", Hello Darling was a brittle, camp and charming comedy about a young actor, Rhys Waveral, who bears a noticeable resemblance to Everett himself. "I very much wanted to write a sort of What's Up Doc? alternative screwball story, with larger- than-life characters, about my teens in London and becoming an actor and everything." Rhys is also a part-time hustler, a profession of which he has had first-hand experience. "Although the hustling episodes in the book weren't mine, I did get my first offer outside Gloucester Road station when I was 16. And I was very pleased with the money!"

Despite sharing a central character, the transsexual Peach Delight, the humour of The Hairdressers of St Tropez is less screwball and more gallows. Shifting between the late Eighties and an apocalyptic future, it marries the threats of Aids, the National Front and ecological disaster to a Firbankian tale of rivalry beneath the dryers, sexual excess and substance abuse. The genesis of the book lay in characters whom he knew when he had a house in St Tropez and in the stories he invented around them to tell to an 80-year-old friend, whose own end was as grizzly as any in the book. "He disappeared and was found nine months later behind a tree, where he had been eaten by foxes."

Aids looms large in the novel, and Everett has already been savaged in the gay press for his irreverent treatment of the subject. He angrily rebuts his critics: "In the book, I didn't want to deal with the horror of Aids, because that's understood when you see the word written down. It didn't need to have a paragraph saying, `Isn't that shocking? Isn't that macabre?' I wanted to look at it in a different way."

He sees the Aids crisis as part of a wider breakdown. "I really think that it's the beginning of our bodies not tolerating the atmosphere that we live in. We're ruining the planet." In St Tropez, he was very aware of what he describes as "the slow fade to urbanity". "You'd go away for a month and be driving back from Toulon airport and find that a new roundabout had been built.

"Every year you'd come out in different rashes from the new algae in the sea. That, in the end, encouraged me to leave the area. It was too depressing to watch at close quarters how we're ruining the earth."

He originally moved to France out of a deep disillusion with the state of Britain and, in particular, its theatre. But beneath his graphically expressed contempt ("The British theatre sucks") lies a heartfelt attempt to analyse the problems inherent in the medium. "I don't think theatre works in this age of television, where you can see even bad actors being natural. It's so difficult now even to offer a cup of tea in a way that's both real and audible to the audience at the back of the upper circle. Theatre is film in long-shot. It is only meaningful to regular theatre- goers. Otherwise there's no connection with the way people see acting on TV."

He attempted to remedy this in his performance in The Vortex. "I tried to reinvent my acting... to make all that stagey dialogue real." His Nicky Lancaster was an extraordinary portrait of drug-debilitation and neurosis; but it drew complaints of inaudibility from that same upper circle. Everett believes that the problem lay elsewhere; it was not so much that they could not hear, but that they could only hear what they wanted to.

"My criticism of the West End audience is that they only want to hear a lot of perfectly modulated sounds."

So he has pursued his stage career at the Glasgow Citizens, "a theatre whose politics I very much admire", most recently as Flora Goforth (treading in the heels of Tallulah Bankhead and Elizabeth Taylor) in Tennessee Williams's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More. The unusual casting, an attempt to draw parallels with Aids ("We played it basically as a queen with dementia who thought he was a famous old actress on the side of a mountain"), was highly acclaimed; and Everett is keen to take it elsewhere. "But only if I could play to people who are under 25, who buy records or go to movies... not 50-year-old stockbrokers whom I wouldn't use my saliva to spit on if they were on fire in the street."

He aimed more directly at the youth market in the mid-1980s with an ill- fated attempt to launch himself as a pop-singer. "I made three records. The last one was the `Hooray Rap'. It was the time of the Summer of Love, raves and house music and my manager, Simon Napier Bell, said I should make a record based on The Vortex. So I used lines from the play over my own music; and I sang the story of a junkie who could not stop taking drugs. It should have taken off... it could have if I'd been stronger; but I was so terrorised by the reaction to everything I did that I became as pathetic as everyone thought I was. That was when I went to live in France.

Eight years on, he would like to return to England but is prevented by the quarantine laws for his dog. "Even if I smuggled it in, I'd be denounced by some do-gooding neighbour. Nothing better illustrates our insular mentality than this obsession with rabies."

In the meantime, he continues a globetrotting existence, hoping for a part in Bertolucci's new film in Italy and planning a trip to Hollywood to research his new novel. For the days when he wrote simply to provide himself with material are gone; his ambitions are now far larger. "I think we're living in a fascinating time; there's so much extraordinary stuff happening. All I want is to improve as a writer so that, one day, I may be a really good witness."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'