Mr. Everett, You not only played the lead in your latest film, The Happy Prince, but directed it, too. Was it very difficult doing both at once?
I was the best director I ever had (he laughs). I was never particularly happy with my performance during the shoot because I kept having to jump back and forth between directing and acting. But during the editing process I was able to put the scenes together in such a way that I looked good. We actors like to complain about directors always using our weakest moments, but this time I was able to pick out the best ones myself.
You play Oscar Wilde in the final months of his life. Is there a spiritual kinship between the two of you?
There are parallels, of course: I am openly gay, and Wilde’s tragedy lay in his sexuality. If you’re gay, you still don’t really belong in Hollywood today. You’re an outsider who’s allowed to play the odd part but usually comes up against a brick wall.
You shot large parts of the movie in Bavaria. What was it like, working in Germany?
Absolutley fantastic! The boss of the Munich tourism office came up with the brilliant idea of showing me Upper Franconia. I discovered three crumbling castles there: Thurnau, Mitwitz and Schmölz. Perfect backdrops! They had millions of rooms, stood in for Paris and ghettos, and gave me dining halls and prisons – everything I needed, in fact. It was amazing fun, transforming Franconia into 19th-century France. They even silenced the church bells for me.
Seriously? They actually turned the church bells off for you?
We were staying at a guesthouse right next door to the church, and the bells rang every quarter of an hour. I was blazing mad and after the first night, begged the mayor to stop the bells. “But they’ve been ringing since 1498,” he protested. “Who cares!” (He laughs). What can I say? He turned them off at night. I am now on an equal footing with Lauren Bacall, the great actor who nearly left an English town because she couldn’t bear the bells. They were stopped for her, too.
Did having old friends like Colin Firth and Emily Watson on the set make your directorial debut easier?
Without them, I might have given up on the project! Ten years ago, when I wrote the script, they gave me scribbled notes saying they would play. Colin has meanwhile become a megastar, but I waved the note under his nose whenever we saw each other – even on the red carpet at the Oscars. As a man of honor, Colin naturally kept his word. And I was able to show off with my stars in front of potential sponsors.
Your career has been a roller-coaster ride. One of the high points was My Best Friend’s Wedding. But there were also lows. How do you cope with the ups and downs?
Film careers develop so fast today that it’s a wonder they even last more than two years. That uncertainty is the only downside to fame. To be always dancing on the edge of a volcano is okay when you’re 18, but it’s exhausting as an adult. In this game, you can’t be sure of anything, least of all at my age.
Would you like to be 25 again?
No, and I certainly wouldn’t swap places with a teenager, either. The pace of life is so crazy – so many changes that would once have taken 50 years now take place within just a few months!
In this game, you can’t be sure of anything, least of all at my age
Are you interested in history?
I most certainly am! My dog, Mo, and I have often been witness to historical events. We were in Berlin when the wall came down in 1989. Mo just looked bewildered, but I thought, “My God, this is history!” We saw the tanks outside the Kremlin in 1991 during the putsch against Gorbachev. And Mo and I were just a couple of streets away from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. My poor dog died shortly after – that was just too much modern history for him.
Do you plan to continue telling stories as a director?
I would like to, but I wonder whether at 58, I’m still in touch with the zeitgeist. I was in Berlin for the first time in 1976 and had the best time of my life. Millennials would have a heart attack if they knew what we got up to. Berlin was like New York in the 1970s – so free! I’m afraid that era had such a huge impact on me that I never really made it into the present.
These days, you act less like a diva and more like an elder statesman. Have you made your peace with the world?
Yes, I’m optimistic and I don’t understand why so many people are so dissatisfied. I think that on the whole, the world is developing for the better. It’s incredible what we have achieved in terms of human rights and progress in just 100 years compared with the millennia that went before. But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting to achieve more, of course.
If you had a time machine, where would you go?
To Marie Antoinette’s Versailles! I would love to know how the court worked, what they ate, what life was like. And I would also like to travel back in time to the World Wars I and II …
All of the men in my family fought in World War II. Until I was 10, I thought I’d been born in the war because no one ever talked about anything else. I would also like to visit Charlemagne, Henry VIII, Bach, Mozart and Marie-Thérèse – and Ancient Rome …
… but you would need an eternity to do all that!
No, each trip would be over in the blink of an eye. I would be back before I had finished this sentence.