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The ''Best'' Man: Rupert Everett

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While other Hollywood leading men have been busy this summer evading killer dinosaurs, protecting a villain-besieged Gotham City, or single-handedly ensuring the safety of a stuffed bunny, My Best Friend’s Wedding costar Rupert Everett has quietly pulled off the movie coup of the season: He’s proved charismatic enough to steal a film from under Julia Roberts’ nose and charming enough that she’ll still talk to him.

With his giddily showy performance as George Downes, Roberts’ straight-talking (but not straight) boss who becomes her partner in scheme by posing as her fiance, Everett, 38, has won the hearts of mainstream audiences, who are eagerly scanning Wedding‘s closing credits, asking ”Who was that gay guy?” Already, TriStar, elated over the film’s $50 million take so far, is talking about three projects for the actor, including a spy caper (think gay James Bond) and a Wedding follow-up tailored to him and Roberts. And that suits the actor just fine. ”I’m hungry for success,” he says. ”That’s been my main agenda throughout my career.”

If so, he’s had a strange way of pursuing it. Everett’s 15 years in acting have been marked by smart, sophisticated, and for the most part, little films in which his characters have been serious if not sinister. He was a shadowy boarding-school student in 1984’s Another Country, a murderess’ lover in 1985’s Dance With a Stranger, and a vacationer stalked by Christopher Walken in 1991’s The Comfort of Strangers.

”Rupert always struck me as not my kind of actor,” admits Wedding director P.J. Hogan. ”He was always the kind of desiccated upper-class intellectual that’s invariably murdered in the last act.” Nor did Everett’s unusual status as an openly gay working actor sway the director. According to Carla Hacken, Everett’s then agent at International Creative Management and now a production executive at Fox, when she suggested Everett for the role of George, ”[Hogan] almost implied — and this is a term that agents hate — that Rupert was too on the money.”

”She said, ‘Are you familiar with Rupert Everett?”’ Hogan remembers. ”And I said, ‘Yes, I’ve seen a lot of his films and that makes me absolutely certain he’s not right for this.’ She said, ‘Well, you’re wrong, and I think you’re saying that because he’s really gay!’ And she hung up the phone in my ear.”

Furious at the notion that he ”didn’t want to cast Rupert Everett because I’m prejudiced,” Hogan then ”couldn’t get him out of my mind.” When Everett was offered another film, Hogan ”listened to a strange, seemingly irresponsible little voice” in his head and offered him the role without an audition. ”That was really lucky,” says Everett. ”I’ve lost a lot of work through being a bad read.”

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