Dec 30, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Rupert Everett & Richard E. Grant Dish and Declaim

photo by Gary Leonard

As I mentioned last week, going through old copies of Back Stage West, the actor's trade I ran from 1993 to 2003, I stumbled across this rollicking chat between two very funny, prickly Brits. The concept of the Actors' Dialogue was to facilitate an Interview magazine-style conversation between two subjects. Sometimes they required prodding. Though I was on hand for this exchange, these two were quite capable of prodding each other, as you'll see. Enjoy!

Back Stage West 

January 12, 1995 

On Hustling, Hubris, and Improvisation

Actors’ Dialogue: Rupert Everett and Richard E. Grant


Two Brits who appear in Robert Altman's fashion world send-up Ready to Wear met poolside at the Westwood Marquis Hotel to dish and declaim.

Rupert Everett, who plays the scheming son of a designer, made his first splash in film and stage versions of Another Country, since appearing in The Comfort of Strangers, Inside Monkey Zetterland, and The Madness of King George. Richard E. Grant, who portrays a preening dress designer, made his film debut in Withnail and I and has since appeared in Mountains of the Moon, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, Henry and June, L.A. Story, and The Player.

Rupert Everett: Were you in Henry and June—the one about Anais Nin?

Richard E. Grant: I played Anais Nin's boring American husband, who had a huge penis, apparently.

Rupert: I must have walked out by the time you were on.

Richard: I’m not going to slag off your films—the few that you have made. You come from a very, very rich family, you're upper class.

Rupert: So are you!

Richard: And very well-bred.

Rupert: And you used to have a plantation of slaves in Swaziland.

Richard: You went to the Central School of Speech and Drama and got yourself kicked out. The legend was that you got your first job at the Glasgow Citizens Theater by doing an audition for Hamlet playing Ophelia in a pair of pajamas, which so overawed us—

Rupert: It was Nina in The Seagull.

Richard: And you've never looked back, have you?

Rupert: I've looked back several times.

Richard: Meanwhile, I was very studious. I went to university, I got my degree, I fulfilled my father's requisite that I get educated as well as informed about how to become an actor. You just tchotchked straight onto the London Stage and won every award for Another Country.

Rupert: And now you're doing good and I'm hanging on by my fingernails.

Richard: Exactly. That's what I just said.

Rupert: Everyone gets their moment.

Richard: And you had 15 seconds.

Rupert: In America, you get huge fame and huge money, and I want it. And in England you get no money and infamy.

Richard: That's right.

Rupert: I mean, God forbid you should be successful in any shape or form. That literally is hubris.

Richard: But I think when you fail, it's much more heartening; they like that. Then you can come back broken-winged. If you fail in America, it's like having leprosy: People run away from you, because it may be contagious.

Which is why you hear talk about Julia Roberts at the age of 24 making a comeback.

Rupert: When did she do that?

Richard: Oh, a couple of years ago, when she took a year off.

You weren't cast in Ready to Wear, as I was, having worked with Robert [Altman] on The Player. You live in Paris, and you said, "If I am not in the Altman film, I will never be able to wear a frock and walk down the Champs-Elysee with my head held in pride ever again." So you literally badgered and cajoled and bribed your way—short of the casting couch—into this movie, built up your part, and have been ruthless and relentless about it ever since.

Rupert: I'll be very fair. You're the best thing in the film.

Richard: You're only saying that to try and stop me talking about your slanderous, philanderous way of needling into the film.

Rupert: Yes; it's been very effective. An actor has to hustle, I’ve realized this year. If you don't hustle, forget it. Because this was a film, I was told, I couldn't be in; it was cast. It was so important to me. I had this flat in Paris, and I couldn't possibly go on living in Paris if I wasn't in this film. It would be the end of my career.

Richard: Such as it was.

Rupert: I started hustling my agency, which is a very embarrassing thing to do, because you have to call them up every half hour. Well, [my agent] got me the interview, but only after I rang him for a week and a half.

Richard: Well, obviously, that's what I should be doing.

Rupert: It's so embarrassing, though. Because then they get so bored that the only way to make you stop calling is to get you a job.

Richard: Or fire you.

Rupert: Or fire you. But that's more work. They can't fire you for making 20 phone calls.

On American Actors

Rupert: Los Angeles actors can't do anything but skateboarding, really.

Richard: Considering that so many actors turn into directors, and everybody knows everybody, to hear you denigrate the rest of this honored profession as little more than skateboarders is something that—please, do not assign to me, but entirely at the door of Mr. Rupert Everett.

Rupert: No, I don't think all actors can skateboard; I certainly can't. London is world famous for its theatre; Hollywood is not at the cutting edge of theatre, is it? It's a place where movies are made. You can't have everything.

Richard: That's very diplomatic.

On Working With Robert Altman

Richard: You're given a character idea of who you're supposed to be, and what the scenes will be. And you also know in advance in the script who your character knows, doesn't know, likes, doesn't like. Then you're put into a given situation, and then react, and you come up with your own dialogue, and it's then left to—

Rupert: Your stuff is excellent. Especially, "Pret-a-go-go-go." That's a fantastic line.

Richard: "What lava lamps were to the ’70s, you are to the '90s. Go-go-go, pret-a-go-go."

Rupert: Very good moment, that.

Richard: Thank you, Rupert. In The Player, Bob said, "If you want to improvise and do stuff..." It's a combination. The writer has to give you the set-up to do it, because otherwise it would be complete free form. But once the sort of coat hanger, if you like, of the scene is set up, then you are encouraged, and given the responsibility to dress it accordingly. In other projects, you have to stick to the dialogue, and if the dialogue's not wonderfully written, you are desperate to improvise, and jig it up a bit, but sometimes people get very precious and think that they've written something in stone which you can't change. Sometimes, that's less than productive.

Why don't you wear socks? Don't you have very sticky feet?

Rupert: I was just rushing.

Richard: Where are you going?

Rupert: Nowhere.

Richard: Right.

Rupert: Where are you going?

Richard: To have lunch with Steve Martin.

Rupert: What are you talking about with Steve Martin?

Richard: He wants me to do his play [Picasso at the Lapin Agile] in London.

Rupert: You're going to do a play in London?

Richard: Yeah. It’s an hour and a half long, and it is by Steve Martin, so... 

On Approaches to Acting

Richard: Everybody wants to work, everbody wants to act. However they do it is such an individual thing.

Rupert: Nobody pays the blindest bit of attention to anyone else anyway.

Richard: Well, you're the quintessence of the self-obsessed thespian.

Rupert: All thespians are self-obsessed.

Richard: You have to be, just to survive.

Rupert: An actor could be being mugged while on his porta-phone with his agent and not notice.

Richard: It's true, that.

Rupert: We have egos like dogs colons. Which is, as opposed to human colons that go wrapping around like that, a dog's colon is just like a little squeeze box harmonica that goes "phew." That's what an actor's ego is like: huge and simple. And all-engulfing. So it doesn't really matter if you're using the Wang Ho method or Kabuki theater; nobody's going to notice except you.

What I think is irritating about actors is that basically they're exactly like prostitutes.

Richard: That's a boring thing to say, though.

Rupert: It's true. They always go on about "actor's sensitivity." For sensitivity, read: egocentricity. It's ego-sensitivity. They just want people to fancy them, basically.

Richard: It's a chronic case of, "Watch me, Ma."

Rupert: You want to be fancied; you want to be attractive.

Richard: You want to be watched, acknowledged.

Rupert: Attractive.

Richard: Well, speak for yourself. You were born with all the chiseled cheekbones; I wasn't.

Rupert: You know what this is going to come across like?

Richard: What?

Rupert: Two Portuguese hairdresser's assistants in Lisbon yappering away about their dismal prospects! I am going to write us a cop series.

Richard: Yeah, but you won't cast me.

Rupert: Why? 

Richard: Because you're so treacherous. Lauren Bacall called you "the wickedest woman in Paris."

Rupert: I asked you to be in a play [The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore] with me this winter. It was like offering Al Pacino a job: It took four weeks for you to say no. Unbearable! 

Richard: I had a part, a lead, in a movie, very well paid, in Prague for two months. Your offer was 175 pounds a week to do a play in Glasgow. Now, tell me which one you would have chosen in my place? 

Rupert: That movie will go straight to video, I predict.

Richard: It has about as much residue as doing that play in Glasgow.

Rupert: Darling, that play in Glasgow's going to come to London, it'll be off-Broadway, it'll be a movie before you can say—

Richard: —In your wildest dreams. It's an unknown—and quite rightly so—Tennessee Williams play.

Rupert: That's not true. It's a very, very good play. And you would have been magisterial in it.

Richard: You wanted me in drag.

Rupert: Not drag; she-man.

Richard: Who did you end up casting for it?

Rupert: An actress called Georgina Hale.

Richard: Exactly! Thank you very much.


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