Culture

In Defense of Rupert Everett

Culture

In Defense of Rupert Everett

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Nothing in “Community”, fiercely on-point as it is, has ever rung so true as an instance in the ‘bequeathal’ episode, when Donald Glover’s character is reduced to a cataonic state following an introduction to his childhood idol, Levar Burton. To come in contact with an ideal is to be disappointed by it (in Troy’s case, to disappoint it). A similar disappointment comes of following the career of someone you’ve respected since childhood, especially as that childhood recedes further into the distance and the career in question falls deeper into obscurity, with plenty of embarrassing missteps along the way. That is, unless your childhood idol is one of the three people who have been allowed to survive since the early ’90s (Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, or Tom Cruise). But somehow I doubt any of us were weaned on To Die For in the same way as we became endeared to, say, the films of Cary Elwes, or other presently extinct staples of late 20th century cinema.

Such has been my journey with the career of Rupert Everett, the actor possibly more responsible for gay visibility than any of his 80s and 90s counterparts, whose coming out in 1989 was a political act never which has really been given the credit it deserved. The star of multiple Wilde adaptations in the 90s, Everett’s portrayal of the once risky ‘gay best friend’ prototype in The Next Best Thing and My Best Friend’s Wedding set the template for a character that’s now common currency in film and TV, and his turn in 1984’s Another Country (adapted from the play in which he also starred) as the English prep-schooler-turned-Russian spy Guy Burgess seemed alone responsible for a new kind of frankness in the treatment of gay subject matter going into the late ’80s and ’90s.

All this, plus a kind of early sponsorship by Orson Welles right before he died, combined to create an unprecedented case of Everett: the out actor whose success remained undiminished for a time by his outness, and whose choice of roles reflected not only a part of his core identity, but a part of the culture hitherto ignored and for the most part unrepresented. Until at one point the world decided it wasn’t actually quite ready for all that. The exact chronology is unclear–Everett states that it was soon after his coming out, but the math doesn’t quite add up: he came out in 1989, before some of his most commercially successful roles to come in An Ideal HusbandThe Importance of Being Earnest, and My Best Friend’s Wedding–but indisputably there was a falling off, and a certain industrial homophobia may or may not be to blame.

Today, while Everett hasn’t exactly fallen into obscurity thanks to an active career in the theater (he was Henry Higgins in last year’s revival of Pygmalion in the West End, and plays Oscar Wilde in this year’s revival of The Judas Kiss) his foremost reputation, where the media is concerned, is as something of a shit-thrower, always being called out on some allegedly rude remark, usually involving calling someone or something homophobic. The most recent uproar is in the wake of a recent Sunday Timeswhere Everett, stating quite clearly that he was not reflecting the general homosexual position on such matter, said that gay parenting was simply not his bag. Although, in typical Everettian fashion, he didn’t say it quite so modestly. Instead, he agreed with his slightly homophobic mother on the subject:

“She thinks children need a father and a mother and I agree with her. I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads. Some people might not agree with that. Fine! That’s just my opinion. I’m not speaking on behalf of the gay community. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m part of any ‘community’. The only community I belong to is humanity and we’ve got too many children on the planet, so it’s good not to have more.”

Cries of ‘gay homophobe’ fill the air. GLAAD issues its customary statement. Shit fits insue.

Conveniently, nonsubscribers can’t access the original article without shelling out pounds, thanks to a paywall with the strength of ten men. Still I doubt that any kind of helpful subtext would be forthcoming. The problem is not that Everett has somehow advanced a homophobic agenda, but that he’s expressed an unpopular opinion, to the predictable shock of a public that can’t quite wrap its head around a kind of intelligent dissent from popular LGBT opinion without at once linking it to internalized homophobia. While Everett’s statement is rife with the possibility of misinterpretation, it is, for the most part, not that shocking, and more about personal preference than political mandate. He mentions that the earth is overpopulated, which would seem to suggest that his issue with gay parenting stems not from homophobic prejudice, but a basic observation about the planet’s growth (or lack thereof), more against children than anything else. But cries of ‘pedophobe’, of course, do not fill the air. There is in his remarks the assumption that the childbearing should be left to those for whom it is “natural”, which is indeed a nasty thought, but I somehow don’t think Everett was aiming at that, mainly because of something he said in a Guardian interview a few years back that fits in with his current frame of mind, while providing a more polite context for it:

“I’m a gay man who came from the last years of illegality. That focused my whole character. I think it focused everyone’s character in a way. You saw yourself as outside of the main structure. The whole thing of what happened afterwards – now, wanting to be . . . ” He waves a hand to indicate the heterosexual norm. “It’s not what I want.”

Or maybe it’s because I can’t think it. I’ve put far too much stock in my idea of Rupert Everett as a person who has to have suffered in order that other, lesser beings (Chris Colfer, Taylor Lautner) could succeed. And I still have hopes for a grand, luscious comeback, in the form of Sally Potter-style, Orlando-sized period epic that has perhaps yet to be written, and in which Everett can finally live up to what is often and patronizingly referred to as his “early promise” and become something other than an LGBT aggression aggregator.

But perhaps none of this will ever come to fruition, in which case gay culture doomed to use Rupert Everett as a sticking post for complaints about the homophobia that exists completely independently of him. My only desire is for it, in the midst of this, to acknowledge that without Everett’s early, pioneering presence in the field of gay visibility, some of these conversations which he is forever and hopelessly seen as being on the wrong side of might have been considerably slower to come to light.