Star’s dramatic weight gain for movie
Best known to Australian audiences as George in My Best Friend's Wedding, actor, writer and raconteur Rupert Everett has pushed himself in his new project.
Taking the reins behind the camera as a first-time director, Everett has brought to screen his 10-years-in-the-making passion project, a biopic of Oscar Wilde called The Happy Prince.
Everett has had many brushes with Wilde before, having starred in two film adaptations of his works - The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband - and played the writer onstage.
In making this movie of Oscar Wilde in the last years of his life, Everett had to not only oversee everything, but had to undergo a dramatic physical transformation as well.
To promote the release of The Happy Prince in Australia, Everett chatted to news.com.au about why Oscar Wilde is important to him, why it took so long to make the movie and how he gained the weight to play Oscar.
Tell me about your connection with Oscar Wilde and his work, you've been in productions of his works before, played him before, why does he speak to you so deeply?
He really primarily resonates with me because to me he is a Christ figure. He is the first out homosexual in modern history. That's to say, he was a famous man, he went to prison for being gay, which really wasn't a thing that even existed before he gave it a face.
And when he came out of prison, you could see him more or less as a semi-homeless person tramping around the boulevards of Paris, but he was still famous.
Everyone could look at him and point at him and say that is a homosexual man, and that was the first time really that a face had been given to my sexuality. From then on, the road to gay liberation started, so for me he's the Christ or the patron saint figure.
You've played Oscar before, on stage in The Judas Kiss in 2012. In the years that have passed since then, did anything in your view about playing Oscar Wilde change?
No, funnily enough, he's one of those characters, right at the beginning, when I really read about him in the wonderful biography by Richard Ellmann, I felt that I knew him and my opinion of him never really changed. The more I found out about him, the more my own feeling about him was confirmed. I feel like he's someone I know very well.
You look very different here, did you find work with prosthetics?
I didn't work with any prosthetics. That was me, all that blobby fat was me.
Was that a really permissive diet you gave yourself in the lead-up?
I was drinking a lot at the time to try and get in the part. That's my story.
Was it absinthe?
Not absinthe. Beer. I went into a major beer phase which I don't recommend because you turn into a hot cross bun pretty quick. And I drank a lot of beer during the making of the film.
Was your project always going to be a story about him rather than an adaptation of one of his works?
Yes. I really wanted it to be about him and about me. I feel as it's about us, him and I and the whole movement in a way. It's a very personal film for me. It's the story of our struggle, the struggle of being a minority, of being homosexual in an aggressively heterosexual world.
Why the end of his life, rather than the drama of the trial and his imprisonment?
Partly because the other films - there are three other films about him - all deal mostly with before he went to prison and leading up to the trial.
Obviously when you're making a film, you want to try and get some virgin territory. And for me, also, it was the idea, the picture of Wilde in France at the turn of the century. To me, it's just a very romantic, wonderful, potent, fertile time and image and I love it.
How long did it take you from the beginning to end on this project, and what was the biggest challenge in mounting it, in convincing people that this is a movie that needed to be made?
It took me a long time - it took me 10 years to make. Nobody believed in me at all and it's really hard.
We live in a world where the image of people is so strong and if people don't have that idea about you, there's nothing you can do to prove to them that you can do something. And I felt very much a victim of that.
It was an uphill struggle, it was like a sperm trying to hit an egg - it was as hard work as that. And it's a difficult world of proving yourself to an elite, elected group of people, it's tough.
You're a proven writer, was it the directing they had reservations about?
I have never been, there's an elected side of our business and there's an unelected side, and I've never been in the elected side and when you're not in it, you're always on the other side of the desk, trying to curry favour with people who are quite often no cleverer than you are but they have position and it's very difficult.
I found mounting the film and getting money was really an uphill struggle.
If at some point during the process you had to give up the directing reins, would this still have felt like a personal film to you?
I wanted to give up the directing reins, I didn't want to direct myself at the beginning. I offered it to many different directors and none of them wanted to do it. I spent so many years trying to chase directors to try and get my script into agencies, get it to people who guard the directors.
And it took such a long time just to get the answer "no" from about six or seven people. It took about three years and I thought, "f**k it, I'm just not going to take part in the whole game anymore, I'm going to do it myself".
How did you find working with yourself as a director? Did you give yourself notes?
I loved working with me! That was the thing I enjoyed most about the whole thing, I really thought that I could help myself, especially in the edits. I made my performance a lot better in the edits. So I would love to work with me again.
Why did you choose to have a fairly nonlinear structure?
I suppose because I wanted to the whole thing to be a portrait of dying and I think the brain dying, when it starts crumbling, it's rather like a cliff and bits of it fall off and they release memories like bubbles.
I notice this with people I've been close to who have been dying, suddenly you're in a room with them but they're somewhere else, they're seeing something else and they're talking about something that happened 30 or 40 years ago or 10 years ago and they come back and then they go away again.
So I wanted to create that feeling in my story.
When you were writing Oscar's dialogue, did you feel any pressure given his literary legacy?
In one sense, you've got quite a lot on your side when you're trying to create someone like Oscar. You've got tons of plays to access and you've got tons of letters to access. I've been in lots of those plays myself so I know how they sound.
So in one sense it was a great opportunity for me and easier than creating something completely new. So I did write the dialogue myself but it was a kind of homage to dialogue you could see in his plays.
What do you hope this movie will add to people's understanding of Oscar Wilde?
I think what's remarkable about him, during his exile, is he wasn't a victim at all.
We live in an age that worships victimhood. In fact, you don't really exist unless you can say you're a victim of something, and he was from an era that was before that. He was actually before Freud, so it was before people were constantly asking themselves how they were feeling.
The thing that's amazing about him is he, despite the disaster of his scandal, created a new constitution for himself, on the street corner, he replaced the lords and the princes and the stars with petty criminals and rent boys and flower sellers and he continued as usual.
He told the same stories, he held forth on the street corners in the same way he held forth in the Café Royal. And that for me is the heroism of Oscar Wilde.
The Happy Prince is in select cinemas now.
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