Rupert Everett hates Hollywood.
The British actor, whose screen hits include Another Country, Shrek and My Best Friend's Wedding, says he's sick of the movie industry's hypocrisy and homophobia. He's even tired of celebrity - the whole glittering illusion deliciously evoked and eviscerated in his candid new autobiography Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins.
"Hollywood is a mirage," said Everett, 47, reclining in jeans and plaid shirt on the sofa of a London hotel suite. Movie stars are "blobs who don't say anything, aren't allowed to say anything. They are paid to shut up."
Fortunately, Everett can't help talking.
The book, for which he reportedly received a seven-figure advance, is a string of glittering anecdotes with edge, bonbons with a bitter centre.
Everett is a waspish observer of the celebrity A-list, from Madonna ("she oozed sex appeal") to Julia Roberts ("beautiful and tinged with madness") to Sharon Stone ("utterly unhinged"). The book is a sort of Rough Guide to late 20th-century highlife - and lowlife - that moves from London to Paris, New York, St. Tropez, L.A.'s Laurel Canyon and Miami's South Beach. There are walk-on parts for Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Bob Dylan, Donatella Versace and a host of other luminaries. Everett seems to know everyone, remember all and recount everything. Almost everything. Everett skates quickly over his brief stint as a London rent boy, although he cheerfully admits that he stalked the actor Ian McKellen.
The openly gay actor also discloses his handful of heterosexual affairs - with Paula Yates, wife of Bob Geldof, French actress Beatrice Dalle and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon. The book is a feast for gossip fans, and Everett is an articulate and charming raconteur with a knack for a memorable image. At one point, a swimming pool is described as "shaped like a Xanax." "I think what people will be really surprised about is the writing," said Antonia Hodgson, Everett's editor at British publisher Little, Brown. "It's not just another celebrity book. "He's not so much interested in spilling the beans about a particular celebrity, but about showing what celebrity does to those people."
Everett says he was inspired by The Moon's A Balloon, David Niven's literate, witty memoir of Hollywood's golden age. "I also loved the pre-war frenzy of Evelyn Waugh, that feeling of the end of the world coming," said Everett. "It seems to me that, especially through show business, everything is getting more and more feverish and faster and nastier and scarier. "Entertainment is becoming the great decoy - we are so entertained, it's almost impossible for us to think about anything else. The only thing that has continuity in the news is Jennifer Lopez's bottom."
The book is also the story of Everett's life-long flight from the conformity of an upper-class English upbringing that saw him sent away to a Catholic boarding school at the age of 7. He recounts his early career as a youthful rebel and party animal, friend of prostitutes, addicts, divas and thieves. He says he has always been drawn to "the freaks, the overdoses and the suicides."
He says being gay "certainly wasn't acceptable in any of the arenas that were on offer to me. So I think I had an instinct to escape into a world that I thought would be more friendly." Everett was disappointed to find showbiz "as middle-class and provincial" as the private school world he'd left behind. "My imagination of show business was this red plush netherworld of drunks and sex maniacs and killers and freaks," he said. "It's not. My world is, because I've doggedly tried to create that world. But it's not in general."
Everett has often complained of Hollywood's homophobia, arguing his sexuality has stopped him getting the leading-man roles offered to his countryman Hugh Grant.
But he's also highly self-critical. Everett emerges from the book as ruthless and driven, a bit of a monster who confesses he "lied about everything. My age. My name. My background." "I think the actor's geography, there's a hole in it somewhere," he said. "There's a hole in your identity, a black hole that you try and fill up with posturing."
For all his drive to be a star, Everett is ambivalent about success. The book recounts his highs - his breakthrough as an English schoolboy turned Soviet spy in Another Country, his Hollywood triumph as Julia Roberts' gay pal in My Best Friend's Wedding - and the many lows. These include the disastrous rock-'n-roll saga Hearts of Fire and The Next Best Thing, a limp comedy-drama co-starring Madonna.
At the height of his fame, after My Best Friend's Wedding, he is recognized on the street as "the gay guy from that movie." He yearns to be taken seriously as an actor, laments the superficiality of Hollywood, yet has reportedly resorted to Botox injections to maintain his lean, unlined good looks. It's working. The sculpted cheekbones are intact, the big, dark eyes as luminous as ever.
These days, he travels the world on behalf of the Global Fund against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and declares showbiz "not very relevant."
"To be honest, for me it's not the time for show business," he said - although he's got a play, a movie and "a couple of TV things" in the works.
"Life behind a velvet rope - I never enjoyed it. I like going out, going to bars, going to clubs, hanging out on the street. "I always thought an actor should be like a bodybuilder. His life should be like a muscle - it should be exercised and flexed and worked. Doing everything, experiencing as much as you can. "It was a conscious decision for me to exist like the people I really admired on-screen - the Marlon Brandos, the Montgomery Clifts, the James Deans.
"You felt they had experienced everything. Their eyes were shocked and dead and alive and glowing like coals at the same time. And I think that was through experience, using your life as a tool. That's the way I wanted to conduct myself."