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The mad world of Rupert Everett

The 'retiring' actor is on the case of PBS' Sherlock Holmes and fuming about celebrity and commercialism.

October 16, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

New York — RUPERT EVERETT is fed up.

"I just am in despair about show business lately and the world in general," the British actor declared, morosely picking at a fruit plate on a recent fall morning. "We've all turned into greedy, envious, paranoid monsters in society, really."

Dressed indifferently in a thin plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves and blue-and-white striped cotton pants that at first glance looked like pajama bottoms, Everett on this day bore little similarity to the elegant aristocrats he's often cast to play. But as he gave a withering critique of popular culture, delivered in his trademark clipped tone, he sounded like an extension of his on-screen persona -- self-assured, incisive and brooding; a modern-day Byronic hero, chafing against the constraints of an industry he says has lost its way.

"I've kind of retired," said the famously outspoken 46-year-old actor, who says he plans to spend the next six months traveling the world, writing his memoirs. "I'm sickened by it."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 18, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Sherlock Holmes Journal -- An article in Sunday's Calendar section about Rupert Everett's performance in a new Sherlock Holmes TV movie misspelled the last name of the editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal. He is Nick Utechin, not Uchetin.

Well, he won't be disappearing from view quite yet. After making a name for himself with scene-stealing performances in such hits as "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Shakespeare in Love," Everett can be seen (or at least heard) in several new projects -- he had a recurring guest role on ABC's "Boston Legal" this fall and will be the voice of the Fox in "The Chronicles of Narnia" movie due out in December. He's also agreed to voice the Prince Charming character again in the third "Shrek" movie.

Then there's the business of promoting his latest leading role, which he was doing this day at a midtown hotel: He's playing Sherlock Holmes in a new "Masterpiece Theatre" movie that premieres next week. But he didn't seem eager to act the part of the enthusiastic star. At one point, he castigated officials at the BBC, which co-produced the new Holmes mystery, as "lazy and blind and dull" for repeatedly producing classics in lieu of riskier material.

But his real preoccupation lies with larger issues. Folding his 6-foot-4 frame on an overstuffed couch, his piercing brown eyes locked in an unflinching gaze, Everett ticked off the current wrongs in the world: the fixation on celebrity and commercialism; the short-lived outcries over catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina; Hollywood's furthering of a "wannabe society" obsessed with wealth.

"I think the movies and entertainment in general have been extremely corrosive to the structure of society ... with this culture of J. Lo and Tom Cruise, this culture of envy," he said. "All these movie studios and television companies are so corporate and anesthetized and fearful and chasing the tails of the public, who are chasing their tails, in turn. It's just a circle of nothing."

A melancholy Holmes

SUCH an attitude may not endear him to those who pay his wages, but Everett's discontent served him well in playing a moody and melancholy Holmes in this latest tale featuring the iconic 19th century sleuth, this one co-produced by Boston public television station WGBH. Written by Allan Cubitt -- whose television adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" aired in 2003 -- as a pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work, "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking" kicks off the new season of "Masterpiece Theatre" next Sunday.

After dabbling with contemporary material like Zadie Smith's "White Teeth," the venerable PBS program is returning to its roots in its 35th year by focusing on the adaptations of classic English literature for which it became known, producers said. This season includes a two-part drama about Elizabeth I and a six-part production of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House."

"Even in a very competitive market, when period drama is done with great care and drama and grace, it can prevail," said Rebecca Eaton, the program's executive producer.

Her belief in the genre has been bolstered by "Masterpiece Theatre's" three Emmy wins this year for "The Lost Prince," a drama about an epileptic English royal, and recent focus groups conducted by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. According to public television viewers around the country, "Masterpiece Theatre" remains one of the most popular shows and one of the main reasons top donors contribute money to the system, said Jacoba Atlas, co-chief of PBS programming. ("Antiques Roadshow" is the perennial top-rated PBS series.)

Producers hope the research will help persuade new corporate sponsors to replace Exxon Mobil, which stopped underwriting the show last winter after more than 30 years. (PBS has financed the show since then and plans to continue until other sponsors are found.)

Still, convincing new viewers that "Masterpiece Theatre" is more than a purveyor of fusty British dramas remains a challenge. The program averaged 3.8 million viewers last season, about 12% higher than PBS' average prime-time ratings but a drop-off of 18% from the year before.

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