There seems to be, for the most part, two kinds of British actor. One is the kind that was raised Working Class and clawed their way up despite the challenges of having gone to a school that was missing a wall and half the floor or what have you. The other kind has at least one title somewhere in their family and at least two middle names. It is interesting to me that the first person we’re covering for this column who acknowledges having survived the early part of his career by working as a sex worker is of the second category, one Rupert James Hector Everett, grandson of a Vice Admiral whose own uncle had received the Victoria Cross, grandson of a woman descended from two different noble families—one English and one German.
It initially looked like his career would be not dissimilar from various of the men he costarred with in Another Country—if not West End costar Kenneth Branagh, certainly movie costars Colin Firth and Cary Elwes. In 1989, however, he came out as gay, a decision he believes may well have hurt his career. I can’t say he was wrong. He didn’t do the Repressed Englishman as well as Firth does—well, who does? But he certainly wasn’t going to get the Dreamy Englishman roles Elwes was getting in those days, because those roles seldom go to someone openly gay. Ask Rock Hudson’s secretary.
It’s a shame, really, because he’s a talented actor. I’ll confess there are a lot of his movies that I haven’t seen, and some of the ones I have weren’t great. But Everett was never the weak link. (Possibly he is in that Madonna movie, The Next Best Thing, but I haven’t seen that movie and suspect there are a lot of weak links in it.) He seems, I’ll confess, a bit arrogant and catty based on his IMDb quotes, but you probably shouldn’t judge a person’s personality by those. And anyway there’s so much about his movies—he’s played three kings of England (well, two and a prince regent), the king of the fairies, a prince of Stormhold. A Wilde fop and Oscar Wilde himself. Christopher Marlowe and a fox celebrating Christmas.
And in several cases, it’s a bit “well, the movie is better than you have heard.” Not even necessarily “remember,” because a lot of people haven’t seen them. As it happens, I am an outspoken fan of his two late ’90s dives into Shakespeare, both the literary and the biographical. He is a great Oberon. He really is. The production as a whole is better than I think people realize, and indeed I’m not sure most people even remember that there was a late ’90s Dream starring Everett (and Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christian Bale, and Stanley Tucci, and David Strathairn, and . . . ) at all. And he’s just the right dose of wry assistance as Christopher Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love.
Honestly, I would imagine there’s a little arrogance involved in being cast to play two of your own royal ancestors. (He, like quite a lot of England, is descended from an illegitimate child of Charles II. And I know without looking it up that it’s an illegitimate child, as Charles had no legitimate ones.) Which is probably why he’s a monarchist. It turns out he’s opposed to same-sex marriage because he’s also opposed to opposite-sex marriage, and I don’t think I need to explain why he’s such a fighter for the rights of sex workers.
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