Rupert Everett may be the most rakish actor alive. He snarls with anti-macho beauty, languid, hunched and hawk-like. Amongst his coterie of ancestors, Lord Byron’s high-low hedonism and Noel Coward’s smoke-and-silk elegance shoulder the sedan chair of Oscar Wilde, whom Everett has played several times and will play again this year. To paraphrase Jim Morrison, Wilde’s cemetery neighbour at Père Lachaise, Everett is a cerebral erection, all sensation sucked up into the skull: vital, melancholy, elegiac, savage, perspicacious, cinema as chaste fantasy, life as impossible depravity.
Fed Catholicism from an early age “like a foie gras goose”, Everett ran away from the Benedictine monks at public school Ampleforth aged 16 to work as a prostitute to fund his acting ambitions. Dismissed from drama school for insubordination, he soon dazzled aged 21 in Another Country as a gay public schoolboy opposite a young Colin Firth. Then, after playing enigmatic tourists in literary adaptations (Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers; Gabriel García Márquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold), he hit superstardom in My Best Friend’s Wedding, a film he steals as effortlessly as his character George upstages Cameron Diaz’s wedding rehearsal lunch. It is a glorious performance, puckish, joy-drenched and radiant with charisma. (He has since said he loathes heterosexual weddings and found Julia Roberts “as skittish as a racehorse”.)
Shakespeare and Wilde dominate his CV since (An Ideal Husband, king-of-the-fairies Oberon in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, The Importance Of Being Earnest), but he has been criminally underused as a leading man, possibly because of his role in Madonna’s critically detested The Next Best Thing, possibly because he is openly gay (he once sold an idea to a studio for a homosexual James Bond). It is cinema’s loss, as he has flourished at the vanguard of TV (Black Mirror) and theatre (as an aging, Olivier-nominated Oscar Wilde in Sir David Hare’s The Judas Kiss).