Interview: Rupert Everett on His New Film, ‘The Happy Prince’

Everett talks getting into character and why playing Wilde in David Hare's play, The Judas Kiss, served as a great audition piece.

“For me, it was important to try and find the look of the character, really, before anything else. I felt that once I got that, everything else came with it.” – Rupert Everett

Rupert Everett‘s 10-year journey to get his passion project, The Happy Prince, onto the screen was well worth the wait. The film tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s last years and Everett, who writes, directs and stars, is excellent. And it’s clear that he definitely has a talent as a director. The film, which also stars Colin Firth and Emily Watson, is currently in theaters.

In the interview, Everett discusses the film, getting into character and why playing Wilde in David Hare’s play, The Judas Kiss, served as a great audition piece. And don’t miss his story about the director who ate a sandwich while he was auditioning for Hamlet!

You’re mostly unrecognizable in the film.

Rupert Everett: Thank you.

Putting on all that make-up and the fat suit, how much did that help you? Did it immediately get into Oscar Wilde as an actor?

Rupert Everett: Well, I guess there’s two schools: the outside in and the inside out. I suppose I’m very much, in one sense, that old-fashioned school. For me, it was important to try and find the look of the character, really, before anything else. I felt that once I got that, everything else came with it.

It was very much, for me, to do with finding the silhouette of the character, the kind of elephantine largeness of him. The way he walked and also the shape of his face. I had these fillers inside my mouth to make my face a bit rounder. And this thin, lanky hair, so I shaved my head and had thin wigs that you could see through. That was really it, for the makeup side of it. I wore a corset over my fat suit to pull myself up, and then, I was more or less there.

I always knew I wanted him to have a Charlie Chaplin-esque kind of quality to him, like a rundown local weirdo side to him. I made all the costumes very broken down, with cigarette stubs out on them and things like that. So, it could be a good contrast to him as a star. In one sense, I think it’s like the opposite to A Star is Born, it’s A Star is Dead. That’s what got me into the character, really.

Plus, I wrote it for myself. That was one of the things that was really wonderful in a way, to be able to tailor write for yourself, for your own attributes and avoid things you don’t know how to do in acting, and push the things that you do know how to do.

How did you like directing yourself? I know if I directed myself, I’d be like, “Oh, you guys are fabulous. I need to do it another 20 times.”

Rupert Everett: If I’d been in a very expensive film, where there was a lot of time for thinking things over and like in the old days, that might’ve happened, but there was just no time. We had to just keep the whole thing moving. We were so packed with scenes that we would never get the chance to do again if we missed out on the day. Really, it was just, there was never a question of even thinking about acting.

That, I must say, I think that’s the great thing that’s happened in the modern world of cinema and TV, in our country, anyway. Everything happens very quickly. If you go on soap operas nowadays, in the morning you’re murdering something or someone, in the afternoon you’re getting married. The next day, you turn gay, and the next afternoon, you’re straight. So, you have to make snap decisions. I think that’s very good for acting, not to have to worry too much or think too hard.

Also, I really got a chance to help myself in the edit, because one of the things… I think acting, the most important thing about acting is pace, really. If you pace yourself too slow, you bore the audience. If you pace yourself too fast, they can’t keep up. The right pace is, I think, one of the first things that attaches you to the spectator.

My pace, because I was always in such a hurry to finish the film and get on to the next scene, sometimes I’d come into a room so fast that it ruined my character. In the edit, I had to unpick some of that and pull my pace back. I really helped my performance, directing myself, in that sense. I enjoyed it very much.

Do you see yourself doing it again?

Rupert Everett: I would love to. I’m quite old, so, I’m being-

You’re not old!

Rupert Everett: Well, I am. It’s a young person’s game, definitely. The whole business of it is so complex and tiring and difficult for a non-virtual person like myself. But, I’ve written another script and I’m trying to get it together, and I’ll see what happens.

This took almost 10 years, a little over 10 years to get made? How do you keep that drive going for so long? I know I couldn’t.

Rupert Everett: I couldn’t either. Traditionally, I was a complete flake. I don’t know really what happened. At a certain point, after I’d been going for four or five years and still nothing had happened… something always came up that stopped me.

And then after about five years, I had the idea of doing David Hare’s play, The Judas Kiss, as a kind of audition speech or as a demo tape almost. That worked quite well and that reignited the whole thing. But then there was another four years after that too. It just never came that easily.

At a certain point after that, I thought, “God, if I don’t make it, who am I? I’m nobody. It’s been 10 years, between 15 and 16.” If I’d just sat there and nothing had happened, I thought, I couldn’t face myself. I was absolutely desperate, really, by the end to put it together.

I was going to ask you about that. I think that was a brilliant idea, to do the play. How did you think to do that?

Rupert Everett: Desperation. Yeah, desperation.

Obviously, it turned out perfectly.

Rupert Everett: It was one of the things I did that was really clever.

Speaking of that, you have a wonderful career in theater. Is there a role that you haven’t done yet, or a show that you would love to do?

Rupert Everett: I’m going into a Chekhov period. I’d like to do Uncle Vanya, the play by Chekhov. I’d like to do some Shakespeare. I would like to do a young King Lear at some point.

I’m going to do a season of plays in a couple of years’ time. Not my own plays, but my own season. I want to reprise two productions I’ve already done, and do them slightly differently. I’m gonna do Amadeus again and The Picture of Dorian Gray a second time. But yes, I definitely wanna keep going in everything.

Did the shows that you did of Oscar Wilde, did that also help inform your performance?

Rupert Everett: Hugely. I think playing Wilde in theater, first of all, made me very familiar with how the dialogue goes and how the words are. Playing him, then, more in the cinema made me aware of how effective the dialogue is, cinematically, especially when it’s kind of underplayed. All of them helped me in the writing of the film, because I was very familiar with his way of speaking.

How did you create who he was?

Rupert Everett: I just had a Shirley MacLaine-like idea about him. I always had this notion of him, and I suppose I always felt it, even watching any of the other films, because I just felt there was another interpretation around that’s more like he was. Just from looking at the drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec of him, lanky-haired, weighty, drunk, roomy-eyed, drunken… Seeing Max Beerbohm’s drawings of him.

I just always had a very clear picture of him as this kind of vagabond, almost clown character. Tragic and comic at the same time. A kind of tinker, Irish beggar, in a way.

What has been your worst or most embarrassing audition?

Rupert Everett: Oh God, so many. I remember, once I was auditioning for a theater company, and the director was having his lunch while I was doing Hamlet. I obviously did it so badly. I remember I was doing a speech from Hamlet and I looked up at him, and he’d frozen in horror, mid-bite of this sandwich. I thought, so rude to be eating a sandwich, but then to freeze in the middle of the sandwich? That was only one of my worst auditions.

This has been a long journey for you. Is there going to be a letdown or mourning period after this whole process is over? Or is it going to be a joy that it’s done?

Rupert Everett: I think it depends if I get anything out of it. What I’m hoping is to at least recharge my acting career, maybe get some good jobs, which I haven’t had for a while. That would be amazing. And obviously, it would be more amazing still if I could get to direct my film.

On the other hand, if nothing happened at all, then I think it would be a cold turkey of quite gargantuan proportions. You never know with show business. Anything could happen.

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