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Rupert Everett's Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins: The Autobiography [25 April, 2007]

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By Rupert Everett; Grand Central Publishing; 416 pages

Rupert Everett was born in 1959—at 48 years, he’s surely too young to write a memoir.  But he’s done exactly that, with a book titled Red Carpets and Other Banana Skin: The Autobiography.  He seems sick of Hollywood and its insistence that gay actors should only play what he calls NPBs (non-practicing buggers).  Even if some of his angst is a writer’s posing, it’s nevertheless true that it’s easier for a straight actor to play a gay man than the reverse.

Everett’s role as Julia Roberts’s gay confidant in My Best Friend’s Wedding brought him widespread fame but also sealed his fate.  He writes about being typecast and his unsuccessful attempt to make an innovative film about gay parenting which, according to him, was twisted by producers into a giant cliché.  It ended up as the flop titled The Next Best Thing.

Red Carpets is a typical behind-the-scenes Hollywood book filled with these and other more gossipy details, which are fun to read.  It’s also a self-consciously literary, often portentous memoir that seems to want to be a novel, and it’s sometimes difficult to pin down where and when events might have occurred.  Despite such flaws, the book is an interesting commentary on the cult of celebrity.

It begins with an account of Everett’s idyllic childhood in the English countryside.  We follow the young Everett to London and drama school, and in his travels across the globe for work in films like The Far Pavillions.  In India, he vividly describes the effect of walking among crowds of bodies, and the vast disparity between the haves and have-nots (but also mixes up Hindi and Hindus -- the former is a language, the latter are people, some of whom speak said language).  Rupert Everett is both carouser and detached observer –immersed in on-set ribaldry while keeping an eye on the world around him.  In Moscow, the guard changes from Gorbachev to Yelstin while on location for Quiet Flows the Don; nothing changes for the old women in the freezing cold selling all their possessions.

Among the more intriguing aspects of Rupert Everett that he’s not just an out gay actor; he’s out as a gay man who has intense affairs with women, Susan Sarandon among them.  He writes unapologetically about such unconventional attachments to varied people, attachments which seem composed of equal parts kindness and betrayal on all sides as he forges complex kinship networks across continents.  And then there are the animals, especially the late Mo, who crops up in photographs and text as a remarkably self-possessed canine companion.

The best parts of Red Carpets are on the advent of celebrity culture in the ’90s.  Everett evokes the changes that came to Miami with Gianni Versace, whose particular brand of glamour reflected the cultural change in the city and in fashion.  As he tells it, the changes came with place names, “No more Surfcomber, South Seas or Coral Reef.  The new Miami Beach was christened with more ‘powerful’ names like Continuum, Portofino, Murano, The Icon.”  Now, to be a celebrity was to become a logo—and even the names of people, like JLo or Paris Hilton, reflect the transition from an ’80s sweat-soaked iconicity to the cool brand-naming of celebrity today.

Ultimately, Rupert Everett’s ire at Hollywood may well stem from the fact that he couldn’t achieve that transition and become a household name—much of which may have to do with Hollywood’s latent discomfort with out queer actors.  But there’s enough in Red Carpets to indicate that even years of carousing haven’t dulled Everett’s ability to laugh at the trappings of celebrity—or at himself.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 25 April, 2007

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