I missed Rupert Everett’s autobiography (Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins) when it first came out, so I’ve only just read the paperback. And I have to say that it is one of the best showbiz memoirs of recent times: funny, sad, poignant, honest and beautifully-written.
I have no idea what Everett is really like, only that he’s been in more bad films than even Hugh Grant. And unlike Grant, he doesn’t have the advantage of light Richard Curtis comedies (Notting Hill, Four Weddings, etc.) to even the score. The only film that most people remember is My Best Friend’s Wedding, his biggest-ever (and perhaps only) blockbuster, where he played Julia Roberts’ gay pal.
At the time the film was made, Hollywood was unsure how to portray gays, so the script had little use for his character. But at test screenings, audiences responded ecstatically to him and the studio actually reshot the end to include that now famous phone conversation between Everett and Roberts.
No skeletons: Everett (right) says the secret of Madonna’s success is her self-discipline.
As he reveals in the book, the success of the gay character led to a flood of offers where he was required to play variations of the role. He only accepted T he Next Best Thing with Madonna, a clunker that effectively ended his Hollywood career (and hers, for that matter).
But his transference of his real life gayness to the screen meant that he was no longer offered many hetero roles by the studios. Sharon Stone wanted him for Basic Instinct II, but Hollywood thought he was too gay (lucky Everett; the film was a dud) and all the straight characters began going to Hugh Grant instead.
Now, writes Everett, even the gay roles have dried up. The success of Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica, two films with gay characters, has meant that while the studios are eager to make pink love stories, they want straight men to play gay. Brad Pitt has asked his agent to find him a gay part (oddly enough, there is no record of Tom Cruise putting in a similar request). And the general rule is that while “gay actors were good for comedic gay roles, straight guys were better as the serious queers”. So, how long before Tom Hanks kisses Russell Crowe on the mouth in some action adventure?
As Everett writes: “The hairdryer has been grabbed from my hands. Now, Tom will present it to Russell in a fireman’s outfit on the edge of some burning skyscraper at the emotional clinch before the final abseil to freedom.”
He’s probably right. Even in such gay sitcoms as Will and Grace, Will is played by a straight guy. The gay actors only get to do the hand-waving, Barbra Streisand-worshipping routines.
It all sounds quite distant to us in India. We are at the stage that Hollywood was in the 1950s and the 1960s, when the gay actors (Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, etc.) all pretended to be straight for public consumption even though the film community knew them as queens. And famous gay directors (George Cukor, John Schlesinger, etc.) rarely talked about their homosexuality.
There’s no shortage of gay directors in Bollywood, but few will come out and admit it to the media. I am less sure about gay actors. In the 1980s, I was friends with an entertaining and enterprising gay-journo called Ashok Row Kavi who took the line that nearly all movie stars (he only exempted Amitabh Bachchan) were gay and that Mumbai’s gay community knew them well.
Most of this was nonsense. Did India’s greatest star of the 1950s and the 1960s really pay people to tie him up and beat him? Was the 1970s star called “The Phenomenon” really a drag queen? Was a rising star son really having it off with his brother-in-law? There was never any independent verification of Ashok’s stories.
But the gay stories refuse to go away. Years ago, just after Abdul Kalam had become President, I interviewed Shobhaa De on TV. She argued that Bollywood was going more and more gay, pointed to that famous Filmfare awards function where Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan did a gay routine to promote Kal Ho Naa Ho, and argued that homosexuality in India extended to public life and went all the way to the top (not difficult to guess who she meant).
The star who has been haunted by gay rumours the most is Shah Rukh Khan. I asked him about them in an interview six years ago and he was completely unfazed. He had nothing against gay people, he said, but he was straight (asked later by outraged film journos how he had allowed me to put such rude questions to him on TV, he was as unfazed but wittier: “Who knows? Perhaps if I had said yes, Vir Sanghvi would have asked me out for a drink”).
Since then, Shah Rukh has turned the gay innuendos into a running joke (“I have two kids and you can’t get your wife pregnant from heavy petting”) and they don’t seem to worry him in the slightest. Other stars are as cool about gay questions. Hrithik Roshan has said that he’s comfortable being a gay icon. Sharmila Tagore once told me that Saif was pursued by gays at his English boarding school and when I asked him about it, he laughed and said, “Thanks, mummy, for giving away all the family secrets”, and confirmed the stories, secure in his own heterosexuality.
But, of course, we must have our own Rupert Everetts. And, in time, they’ll come out of the closet. Till then, I’ll treasure this gem from Everett’s book. Mistaken at an airport for Hugh Grant, he is patient with a drunken fan till the fellow asks him about the famous incident with a hooker.
“What happened, mate?” the guy asks the man he thinks is Hugh Grant.
“I have a very small willy,” responds Everett, straight-faced on Grant’s behalf.
Does he know something?
(Write to Vir at firstname.lastname@example.org)