Charming, witty, elegant, and some might say, a tad of a cynic, British actor Rupert Everett opened up in a recent interview about what it felt like to be a young gay man in the early 80s — before there was a test to diagnose HIV.
“To be honest, that whole period, I was living in basic terror for my life,” Everett admitted to The Guardian. “I’d had a very promiscuous sex life from the moment I arrived in London. I’d thrown myself into the gay world, coming from this convent background, and then AIDS began and there was no way of finding out if you carried the virus until 1985, the HIV test.”
“So my whole world, lots of people that I’d been with, were dying. And dying in a most terrifying way,” he continues. “Everybody was terrorized by the disease. Even people who loved you, your family, you’d notice them taking your plate and washing it separately. That was my whole world — of every 60 seconds, 30 were in sheer panic. Especially being in front of a camera; I lived in fear of a cameraman saying: ‘What’s that on your face, Rupert?’”
Everett recalls a particular day in the early 1980s when, while sitting in a hotel room with actor Amy Irving, an ex-boyfriend of his appeared on the television. He was on a daytime talk show revealing that he had the mysterious new “gay cancer.” With still no test available at that time, Everett was convinced he was next to die. “I was always wondering where I would go to hide. [I was] getting quite famous on the one hand, and on the other, preparing to disappear completely.”
When the first diagnostic test for HIV was developed in 1985, he was finally able to learn his status. Fortunately for Everett, he had not acquired the virus.
“Well, all generations have their cross to bear. All of them seem insurmountable, and unfair,” he says of how the realities and perceptions around HIV and AIDS have greatly improved over the decades.
Everett also confessed that he has some regrets about coming out so young because it closed down avenues for him at the time. And he wonders if things have really changed all that much. “It’s as much to do with the people who own theaters as it is to do with the executives who run Hollywood. If you look at the conglomerates who own theater chains in America, they’re incredibly rightwing. Nutty.”
And please don’t bring up that terrible movie he made with that pop star (of course referring to the mega-bomb that was 2000’s The Next Best Thing, co-starring Madonna). On this topic, Everett only says, “I don’t want to go much into The Next Best Thing, because I know exactly where you’re going to lead to next.” One can only assume he means he wants to avoid discussion of his relationship with the Material Girl — as their friendship ended shortly after the disasterous collaboration.
Everett finally begins to show a bit of that aforementioned cynicism, albeit with humour and eloquence. “In the end, the reality is, you’re rushing for the bus aged 78 to go for an audition at the National Theatre, and then bursting a blood vessel,” as he hypothetically imagines the end of his career, or life.
“I’ve been in a couple of plays where one of the actors was just too old, couldn’t remember it by the dress rehearsal, had to be taken out, let go,” says Everett. “It’s so heartbreaking, but also beautiful, dignified, when you see it close-up, the marvelous trouperness. There’s a line in the Happy Prince: ‘There’s no mystery so great as suffering.’”