From treading the boards of London's West End to riding on the glamour of Hollywood, Rupert Everett's insightful but somewhat unfocused autobiography not only illuminates much about the worlds of both theatre and film, but also paints a portrait of a life that has certainly been lived to the fullest.
Through the highs and lows, we follow Rupert on his journey as an actor and as a type of psuedo-party boy as he has spent most of the last twenty years hobnobbing with the rich and famous. The journey starts when young Rupert views the biggest pair of curtains in the world when as a child his mother takes him to the cinema to see Mary Poppins.
Not only does Rupert fall in love with Julie Andrews, but also realizes that something changed, "a giant and deranged ego has been born." We also get a vivid description of first day at Farleigh House, an upper-class boarding school where as a soft and vulnerable child he endured the "bullying and beatings." This was also where got his first major role as an actor, playing Titania, Queen of the Fairies.
Drama school in London is also synonymous with his first glimmerings of gay life when he stumbles upon a leather bar in Earls Court, with its "smoky haze of construction workers, cowboys, and other clanking, squeaking leather-clad men." This is followed by a three-month sojourn in Paris where at a nightclub he stumbles into Yves Saint Laurent, sitting with Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol and Catherine Deneuve, "polished and beautiful and in the peak of their form, lighting the club with their worship."
One of the most illuminating facets of this autobiography is that Rupert seems to be equally at home on the stage as on the screen, and whilst most people know him from mainstream Hollywood fair such My Best Friend's Wedding and the failed Next Best Thing, he's actually been acting on the stage since the early eighties, where he got his start in Glaswegian regional theatre.
The actor also talks a lot about gay life in his early years, and talks richly about his boyfriends. But he also talks about the affairs he had with the actresses Beatrice Dalle - who he briefly thought was pregnant with his child - Susan Sarandon and the startlingly attractive Paula Yates, whom he still obviously holds a candle for, "she had a fragility and she could break if you squeezed her too hard."
When he's not getting stoned on his arrival in India to shoot the mini-series the Far Pavilions, or worrying about AIDS with his friend Ian Charleston - who later died of the disease - Rupert is more than happy to hold a mirror up the facile celebrity world and the image of stardom which he sees as feeding frenzies of self-interest, where "you were who you new and who you knew could change your life and wash you up anywhere."
And whilst Everett doesn't exactly dish the famous, he's certainly giving us a compelling insight into what makes these people tick from Madonna to Julia Roberts and then onto the madness of Sharon Stone. This memoir is indeed chatty and irreverent, and there's lots of name dropping, which is to be expected, but what one doesn't anticipate are the quiter chapters where we see a vulnerable and sensitive man, who is shattered when he has to put his pet dog to sleep and is often hurt when he doesn't get the role he wants - or because he's gay, he's automatically branded as incapable of being a leading man.
Everett indeed looks back on a career that has contained both highs and lows, from his early successes, in Another Country and Dance With a Stranger, and the hard times in the late 80's where he can't even pay his mortgage and has to take on roles in clunkers like Hearts of Fire, and a Russian movie, where his credibility ends up being shredded and "his character sucked up in the tornado, ripped apart and scattered."
My one criticism of this book is that the Everett seems to short change his far reaching talent as he seems more concerned with detailing his failed movies than his successes, which over the years have been many; he mentions An Ideal Husband but only in passing and doesn't even talk about Separate Lies - perhaps the best of his most recent films. And tonally, his style is often a little too florid for the type of story he's trying to tell.
Yet overall, what we have in Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins is a portrait of a witty, quite droll and astute rebel who is also a bit of a hedonist - he loves to drink and smoke dope - and is an avid observer of those, who over the years, have orbited the world around him, both the famous and the ordinary. In the end, we get a picture of a fascinating, complex and very intelligent and aware man who still seems to be on the endless quest to "be someone more than one." Mike Leonard January 07.