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Rupert Everett's Red Carpets and other Banana Peels: The Autobiography (Little Brown, 2006; Warner, 2007) is a delicious performance that reads at times like pure Patrick Dennis. The well-born author cannot and does not claim to have had a difficult life; indeed, he has blotted most of the tears and hydrated most of the hangovers. He is engagingly hard on himself, if only marginally more rigorously than Algy in The Importance of Being Earnest. At the same time, it would be impossible to seem less disagreeable. Blessed with aristocratic good looks and the blasé air of a gay James Bond (a role that he played in Inspector Gadget), Mr Everett never suggests that his career hasn't been as easy as he makes it look on screen. The dry patches and the disasters have impeded him not a bit, as a glance at his IMDb page will show. He may have suffered the quota of pain and suffering, at least the one that well-off people have to shoulder, but, perhaps because he is British, and perhaps because he is gay, he declines to bore us. Red Carpets is a treat.
There is the sheer cheekiness of writing an autobiography in one's mid-forties. (It was evidently completed several years ago, only to sojourn, undoubtedly, in the limbo of Legal.) What there is in this book, instead of the advertised red carpets and banana peels, is an awful lot of fun. It would be interesting to know what, if any, documented sources support Mr Everett's story. This isn't to suggest that he has deliberately fabricated any anecdotes. No! But he does write with a fluidity that skips through gaps of time with an almost alarming nonchalance. How does he remember all of these details? It's one thing to remember escapades of naughty behavior (one of his pals wound up in jail in connection with a practical joke that they had played), but the book is studded with conversations and character assessments reaching back into the Sixties. He must have kept some sort of diary surely.
The only thing that Red Bananas is missing is an index. What fun it would have been to have an index along the lines of the famously insulting one that Julian Barnes concocted for his collection of Letters from London. It would make celebrity-sightings easier to recollect. The chances are that Mr Everett has had a good time with six of the first ten celebrities in the glamorous worlds of fashion and entertainment that you can think up. He has been everywhere - he spent over a year in Russia while it was still Soviet - and there can be few hopping clubs that he doesn't know about. One wonders where the energy comes from.
Did you know that Mr Everett was once in a rock band? It was not, ultimately, a success, but the actor has always led an active music life. He mastered the keyboard while still a childhood, and he played the violin well enough to fake it in a movie. (He wasn't faking, but the sound was dubbed.) I expect that he can do tremendously funny improvisations. Here is a passage from his chapter about the Catholic prep school that he attended:
In no time I was playing organ at communion on Sundays and benediction on Fridays. My favorite part was communion when everyone shuffled up to the altar to receive the sacrament and I had to play something quiet and moody. "Where is Love?" from Oliver was my favourite but show tunes raised some eyebrows from the more fundamentalist staff members. Mr Stevens finally drew the line one morning after I played an artful medley on the them of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as the sacrament was taken from the tabernacle.
See what I mean about Patrick Dennis? Mr Everett claims, on top of everything, to be a practicing Catholic. It is no surprise that he has played two Stuart monarchs. Because Red Carpets is a performance - an entertainment, really - it would be naive to suppose that Mr Everett's character is faithfully captured in its pages. There must be warts somewhere. From time to time, Mr Everett shows a more serious side. He writes scarily about the onset of the AIDS plague over twenty years ago. He mourns departed friends, such as Roddy McDowell and Gianni Versace. He is affectionate about his parents, both of whom have accepted his saucy way of life, and he's genuinely loving about his late Labrador, Mo, whom he appears to have taken everywhere with him. (Isn't that Mo in The Next Best Thing?) His own love life is suggested rather than shown. We see the early years of a long-standing relationship with an Ecuadorian of half-German extraction, but we don't see the bitter end; we're only told that the author eventually realized that he was living with "a bigamist."
If it is not exactly informative, Red Carpets is richly impressionistic about life in the movies. Mr Everett does not repeat himself; instead, he finds an aspect of making a particular movie and uses it to generalize. The following passage comes from his account of making Unconditional Love, a film that has only been released since the book was completed. It's not about Unconditional Love at all.
At weekends, I flew in private planes to different destinations in America to either receive an award or to give one. Giving an award is one of the most depressing pastimes known to man. You stand in the wings with another publicity starved celebrity in borrowed jewels. You breeze onto the set to one or other of your famous theme tunes. You josh together at the podium, ploughing through lame banter, looking glassy-eyed, like a somnambulist, as you try to keep up with the teleprompter.
"And the nominations are..." you sing.
"And the winner is...." tweets your companion.
Then you act surprised and thrilled as a third celebrity bounds to the podium and grabs the award as you stand gracefully back, smiling beatifically with gleaming bleached teeth while someone else thanks a God they wouldn't recognize if he came up to them at an audition and said, "I'll see you at the pearly gates." Then you all sweep off the stand and give interviews in the VIP area about vulnerability and becoming a better person (than everybody else), flogging your latest product in between the lies. Your PR stands beside you, listening to every word. They are the nannies of of the stars and wag their fingers if you go too far and say something you actually think. After a bit of this you are bundled into the limo and back to the discreet airfield to make that private connection to the movie set you are presently terrorising.
The job of maintaining a profile in Hollywood is much more draining and demanding than making a film, and it is done at a thousand and one award shows, premières and the magic red carpets that lead to them. If you know how to schmooze at a podium you will probably get picked up for a TV series. These endless backpatting ceremonies, and the publication and obsession with box office receipts, have stripped cinema of most of its remaining mystique.
In a similar manner, he uses his friendship with Sharon Stone - they made A Different Loyalty together a few years ago - as a springboard for the following insight:
Many of the girls from the old school end up at some point with a bruiser. Initially they love the feeling of protection and exclusivity. The intense power they have achieved at the studio has left them completely isolated, hard as nails and yet vulnerable as twigs, deliciously snappable. They cry out to be wrapped in love and taken home. The man in question is usually decent, simple, and well hung. His emotional plumbing is straightforward (for the time being), and he responds to this intense stellar fragility by erecting an electric fence around his goddess that they both adore, and for a time life is one long, first-act love montage. He feels ten feet tall. She feels cosy and petite. Sex is a constantly exploding volcano. But at a certain point the novelty wears off. She feels trapped behind the fence. Her girlfriends are vetoed; she can't bat an eyelid at a passing waiter, and she must flirt to keep her engine tuned. So suddenly, one day, without warning, the wind changes and her hard side comes out. He has never seen it before, although he has been warned. But nothing prepares him for the star's first big "turn." It is an earth-shattering hurricane and he reacts as only a wounded macho man can. The electric fence is hastily built up into a high-security jail, at which point the whole universe usually comes crashing down around them both.
Proust didn't put it better.
In the end, there is nothing premature about Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins: it is an autobiography of youth. The youthful part of Mr Everett's career "climaxed" with a flop, The Next Best Thing (2000). This movie was doomed by "artistic differences" on all fronts, most importantly between producer Tom Rosenberg and his leading man. Mr Rosenberg was not nearly as interested as Mr Everett in creating a pioneering movie about the "normalcy" of homosexuality, and it turned out to be difficult to find a director. By the time shooting started, the writing was on the wall. "Unusually, the opening sequence of the film was shot on the first day, and if I hadn't realised it before, I knew then and there that we were aboard a sinking ship." The film would end up costing Mr Everett most of the points that he'd accrued as the surprise hit of My Best Friend's Wedding, while at the same time outing the actor as gay in a way that prevented him from being considered for Brokeback Mountain (for which I don't think he would have been quite right). Even though the little sex in The Next Best Thing is exclusively heterosexual, common wisdom holds that audiences would be turned off by a gay actor playing a gay man in love - it wouldn't be acting because it was sincere. This dreadful double standard (which is probably not worth the bytes it's printed with) cut off Mr Everett's career at the knees at exactly the point beyond which he could not hope to revive a career as a young lead. He will continue to make movies, and perhaps he will make a mainstream gay love story some day (about his relationship with Martin, say). But his career will probably be an altogether different affair from the insouciant lark that it was. Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins tells a story that, notwithstanding its subject's continued good health, is what the Germans call vollbracht. (March 2007)
Copyright (c) 2007 Pourover Press