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1988 - Rupert Graves' Loose Habits.

Author: Jim Servin.
Publication: GQ Magazine.


Though he cavorted nude in A Room With a View, Graves loves clothes--the baggier, the better.As the witty and bombastic Freddy Honeychurch in A Room With a View, Rupert Graves mocked the pipe-smoking, gray-wool-suited English gentleman by wearing the very article.

He bullied the minister's niece, popped tennis balls wildly over a net and waltzed his sister into hallway furniture.

Yet his clothing never strayed too far from good taste. Among other things, A Room With a View paid homage to Edwardian gentlemen's finery, and its sartorial wild card was Freddy Honeychurch's cricket jacket, a buzz of black, brown and yellow stripes.

Rupert Graves was the perfect person to wear that part. With mischievous brown eyes counterpointing the classic good looks of a British gentleman, Graves presents a series of contradictions. He embodies the friction between Cockney and Etonian, and his own sartorial loyalties lie somewhere between worsted wool and cashmere. He hails from humble origins but was discovered by Merchant Ivory Productions, an independent film company known for plucking actors from the gentle classes.

On a train bound for London, Graves amiably explains that Weston-Super-Mare, where he grew up the middle child of three, "was a gaudy, trashy seaside town on the Western Channel." At 15, Graves says, he was out of school, on public dole and without prospects. "The only thing someone in my position could do was work for a shoe factory or a helicopter factory, and I didn't want that." Fortunately for him, a clown with England's Delta traveling circus quit abruptly and the circus ran a help wanted notice at the local job center.

Graves interviewed for the position, desperate for work. "I was so scared that I had to make three trips before I finally got up the courage," he says. "There was this strange group of people in caravans. They had me learn a few routines and finally said, 'If you can make it tonight, you can join us.'"

If the circus proved to be Graves's trial-by-fire initiation into show business, it also helped him land an agent. A few appearances on British television followed, and then came Graves's big break, the part of Freddy Honeychurch.

The success of A Room With a View led to choice roles in stage productions of Amadeus (he played young Wolfgang), Killing Mr. Toad, The Importance of Being Earnest, Candida and 'Tis a [sic] Pity She's a Whore, as well as a pivotal part in the film of E.M. Forster's Maurice, Graves's second for Merchant Ivory.

As Alec Scudder, Graves lent the under-gamekeeper character a down-to-earth sensibility. In turn, Graves sported stylish work clothes; dark woolen sweaters, hunting trousers, high boots and a cap to squelch the hair that in A Room With a View flew about his head like antennae.

Although he returned to Savile Row-style costuming in last fall's A Handful of Dust, Charles Sturridge's adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel, Graves once again played the underdog. "I felt it was necessary to rescue the poor fellow from the caricature readers of the book might expect," he says of Waugh's social-climbing philanderer, John Beaver. " I didn't really like him, but I had to make him at the very least a human being."

Graves readily admits that he may own one too many mortal fashion errors, but clearly his eye for film work couldn't be more impeccable. Tongue half-way in cheek, he says, "I don't think any actor should have to do trash until he's over 40."

Fortunately for 25-year-old Graves, his visceral elegance is in demand. GQ's Jim Servin rode the Inter-City 125 train with Graves to Learn more about this young Puck's personal and professional wardrobes.
How important are costumes to an actor's understanding of a character?

Clothes are important, absolutely. You can play a character and know it's not right because the pair of shoes you're wearing don't at all make sense. Acting is like putting on a new suit. Denholm Elliot [also in A Room With a View] told me that "it's like taking a picture for Mum and Dad," and for that picture, sometimes you get a costume which you wouldn't think the character you created would wear, which causes a problem.

In Candida, I played a poet named Marchbanks and wore a white linen suit with a proper bow tie. It fit so well, had such a wonderful feel to it, that I'm certain it enhanced the performance.

In A Room With a View, that striped jacket was almost slapstick.
Freddy was a catalyst. He was there to mock it all, and that's why the jacket worked so well. That's also why I had my hair that way. James Ivory wanted to do it. In most films, Edwardians are shown with their hair slicked back, but, of course, not everyone back then wore it like that. I have very strong hair; it's dead straight, and the stylists on the set would have to give it a push.

I've since had it permed for Maurice, and it changed my style drastically. For a while, I was buying all these Fred Perry T-shirts. But the perm is growing out now, and I've come to my senses a bit.

One film critic called the nude bathing scene in A Room With a View "a brave attempt at innocence." She said, "It really can't feel natural to the actors when the camera is running." Did you think of your body in that scene as another costume?

No. I was naked. I enjoyed it. At first it was a bit personal, but people would be very kind to you and not look you in the eye when they'd tell you where to go, and run away and stay away because you were naked. The first few hours of filming, the set was closed, but after that I felt so free--we all did. The people started wandering around, and we weren't even thinking about it. It was sort of like nature, or camp.

In both Merchant Ivory films you portray athletic characters. Had you played cricket or tennis before you made either film? Do you work out?
I must have tried tennis about three times in my life and cricket perhaps never. There were a lot of people helping with that scene [in Maurice]. If you notice, all my shots are taken very close. They'd throw the ball very near so I'd be sure to hit it. I used to play rugby, though. I was very good at it when I was younger, which is surprising. I was the most delicate little bloom.

It's a dangerous game, but it's good, actually. You've got to be scared to play it. You just think about yourself, about that ball, and you think about your face.

I did join a fitness club for about a year or so, but I let my membership lapse. I'm not fond of it--changing rooms and the smell of socks, everyone howling and going about showing off. Although exercise in front of a mirror lets you see your muscles working, developing. That's quite nice, I suppose.

What clothes suit your personal style?
I get most of my favorite clothes from jumble sales. I have a very nice proper white evening suit which fits perfectly. It has a nicely shaped jacket, lovely lapels. I didn't wear it to the premiere of A Room With a View, though.

For that, I got this 1950s tux, but it was vastly too big. It fit like a dress.
I have very nice Egyptian clothes that I bought while I was there, mostly waistcoats. They're wide, they've got white linen in the back, high collars, broad straps and loads and loads of buttons, straight down.

My favorite hat is this big green thing with a very wide brim and feathers on the side. It's called a godfather. It's quite well made. I wear it with this suit, a dog-tooth suit, I bought recently at Robot, a very smart London shop. It's got small black-and-white checks--very English. And, on the inside collar, "LOVE CONQUERS ALL" in bright red stitching. I discovered this two months after I bought it.

I like quite loose clothes, baggyish. I like very smart things, well cut. I think they still look good when they're sort of crumpled a bit, a bit worn in.
What is it about baggy clothes that you like? More freedom of movement?
Absolutely. If you wear tight clothes, you've got to move like sort of a duke or an earl, with infinite grace. In baggier clothes, your knee can tremble and nobody will notice.

And shirts?
I like a full cut, of course. Linen or cotton are quite nice, and I do have a few favorite shirts from Paul Smith and Workers for Freedom. I don't like nylon shirts, or striped shirts for that matter. They drive me batty.

In general, a shirt with a long collar gooks good with a tie. And also it looks nice with a suit if its collar is
pressed properly.

So you like the ironed as well as the slightly rumpled look?
It all depends. Of course, I won't do a normal day's running around in a proper suit, but when I wear one, I really want to look smart. I make sure the suit and shirt are pressed. I usually buy things which are too big--not just baggy in fit but big.
Is this intentional or a mistake? Do you overestimate your size?
No. it's because I like the look of it. I like being dwarfed by my clothes. Then I can sort of burst out of them when I have to, and I can also retreat into them when I need to.
I like things that sort of flutter around you after you walk. You can sort of swan in and out of a room at great speed. It takes about half an hour for your jacket to get in after you, which I think causes a stunning effect at a good party.

What's you tie collection like?
My favorite is this Pierre Cardin green tie with white spots on it. It's silk. I used to buy a lot of very old ties, 1930s ties, very strange. I once had one with a hand-painted bird on it, but that flew away somewhere. I haven't seen it since--it was probably left behind in some hotel.

Are some of your clothes simply functional?
I don't like practical clothes so much; I think they're rather boring. Clothes say so much about a person, don't they? Sometimes you can contrive a good pose with a conventional outfit. Like, a sort of Eastern European 1940s thing--baggy collars, workman's shoes and all--can look quite cool on a person with a short haircut. That's all very chic. I used to wear those sorts of things, but I got a bit bored with it.

What do you wear when you travel?
I always dress up very smart when I travel. I don't know why.
Is this practical?
No, of course not. You tend to sweat on airplanes under the weight of big shirts and waistcoats and jackets and things. But I think it's such an adventure to travel that I dress like I'm embarking on one.

I've bought a few things abroad, but I regret some of the purchased I've mad. Once I get out of the country, I usually start thinking. This is a bit foolish.
Like an American who buys a bowler to wear in New York.
It would be making a statement, wouldn't it? I had a huge pair of trousers with a drop crotch down to my knees, almost. I bought them in Italy, but I don't think they were particularly Italian. I think they were probably more Hindu.

So you got rid of them when you came back?
Yeah, they just looked so ridiculous. The rest of what I had didn't got with them. If I had green spiky hair, they'd be all right, I think.

Is there anything you'd never wear?
I'm such a fashion victim that if something came into style, I'd probably end up wearing it sooner or later.
Even a mint green tuxedo?
I might put it on a shelf for a couple of years. [laughs] No, I don't like small collars an small ties, tight-fitting things. I just think they look rather mean. Prissy and precise without being elegant.

They'd stick to you at a party.
Absolutely. And I'd immediately leave it with the speed of light.
Your thoughts on safari suits.
They've got so many awful connotations--those nylon safari suits people used to wear. Their little buckles. My uncles use to always wear them. Huge, pointed lapels that almost reached outside their shoulders. Horrible. I've been hit with more safari-suit lapels than I've had hot dinners.

They used to flap across me, around the cheek. Just the effect of having my uncles hit me with their lapels when they breezed toward me left emotional scars. I don't think I could ever forgive those safari suits.
Do you have enough clothes to wear when you're not feeling foppish?
Yes. I'm quite the conformist, really......

©1988 GQ Magazine.


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