Actor Rupert Everett wasn’t necessarily born to be Wilde, but he sure grew into the role.
It took 10 years for the openly gay, U.K.-born actor to bring his passion project about Oscar Wilde’s final years, The Happy Prince, to the screen.
Also making his writing and directing debut, Everett utterly loses himself while playing the witty gay icon, who is released from prison after serving a two-year sentence for homosexual acts, aka “gross indecency.” Spit on by those who once hailed him as a delightful genius, Wilde moves to Paris and spirals into self-destruction through absinthe, cocaine, rent boys, and a catastrophic rekindling of his relationship with petulant lover Sir Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan), despite attempts at intervention from caring friends Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth, with whom Everett starred in the 2002 film of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest).
Sitting down with NewNowNext, Everett—tall, handsome, and charming—shared some wild (sorry not sorry!) deets.
Was there an upside to the 10 years it took to make this? Certainly, you literally grew into Oscar physically and performance-wise.
I agree, totally. It became part of me, and not only did I grow into Oscar, I grew into being able to make the film. I learned and got so much stronger in that time. All those challenges and anxiety, because it was quite painful at points, it all paid off. For me now, the most important thing in life is tenacity. If you want to achieve anything, if you’re tenacious something happens.
Are you pissed about some of the unwise decisions Oscar made after prison, like getting back with Bosie?
No, I love him for all of them because he was such an idiot, as well as being a genius, and that’s the thing that is most appealing about him. At a certain point, he gets everything wrong, through vanity and celebrity blindness, and that’s why the story is interesting to tell now in this age of celebrity. He was partly responsible for this notion of fame for fame’s sake.
You’ve played Oscar on stage previously and acted in movie adaptations of his plays, like 1999’s An Ideal Husband. What is the one thing you feel you have most in common with him?
I don’t know I feel I have anything in common with him, particularly. I have an awful lot of affection for him, and he’s an inspiration, but I don’t think we’re very similar. He’s a thousand times cleverer than I am, and a hundred times more stupid. In some way, he had his focus fixated on the gutter from quite an early age and elbowed his way towards doom.
Was there some knowing irony in casting Tom Wilkinson as the priest who offers comfort to the dying Oscar? He played Bosie’s father, who set in motion the ruin and jailing of Oscar, in the 1997 Wilde biopic with Stephen Fry.
No, there wasn’t. I wanted him to be the priest because I had such fun working with him in The Importance of Being Earnest. I hadn’t thought about him being the Lord of Queensbury as well, but some people did appreciate that.
Has this experience stoked a thirst to direct more movies?
Definitely. I would love to keep working with myself in a way and be in my own films. I loved it.
What will you do if The Happy Prince wins an Academy Award?
Retire! [Laughs] End on a high note, get out while the getting’s good! But what I’d really like is for young LGBTQs to come to see it, because our historical context is terribly important and gives us a strength, and if you don’t know about it you can feel groundless in a way. The trouble with the virtual world is history has gone out the window, and that’s a really dangerous thing.
The Happy Prince opens on October 10.