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1996 - Premiere Magazine Interviews Rupert Graves.

Author: Staff Writer.
Publication: Premiere Magazine.

One of the milquetoast Brits who rose to prominence in the costume dramas of the '80s, Rupert Graves is now happy to just sit back and let it happen.

As far as he's concerned, Rupert Graves only has one problem. He was shaken awake at 8 am this morning by a very loud drill rattling up the road outside his Stoke Newington flat.
What's more, he had only got to bed four hours earlier. "I really need an espresso... no, no, a cappuccino," he moans helplessly, before asking the waiter for an espresso. "Don't you mean cappuccino?" I prompt, feeling like an over-protective mother taking her seven-year-old out for his first chocolate milkshake.

"Oh, yes, yes, a cappuccino," he says, theatrically rolling his eyes, before flashing a well-timed little-boy-lost look.
Ever since he starred as Tomato, the junior clown, in Weston-Super-Mare's travelling circus at the age of sixteen, Graves has been acting up for audiences.

Five years later, he walked untrained into his first movie, Merchant Ivory's A Room with a View, which led to a career in British costume dramas (Maurice, Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Handful of Dust). His c.v. of Laura Ashley film credits notwithstanding, Graves does not appear to take himself at all seriously. "I've really got nothing to say, so you'd better make it all up," he quips at the start of the interview.

Dressed by Oxfam - baggy gray trousers, black jacket and t-shirt, topped with a dyed-black, spiky crop of hair and a puffy, sleep-deprived face - Graves, slumped opposite me in a Berwick Street cafe, looks as down and out as the homeless Liverpudlian he plays in Scott Michell's The Innocent Sleep, which also stars Annabella Sciorra and Michael Gambon.

But despite resembling the poster child for out-of-work actors, Graves has actually just enjoyed one of his better years, after a two-year "break" following his role as the doomed son in Louis Malle's Damage. (Graves tells me the hiatus was because his mother was dying; the tabloids, cruelly hounding him, said he couldn't a job.) In the last year, Graves has played a transvestite murderer in the TV play Open Fire and the King's equerry in Nicholas Hytner's The Madness of King George.

Next up is Philip Goodhew's Intimate Relations, in which Graves plays a sailor having an affair with housewife Julie Walters in '50s Wales.

He has been active on stage, enjoying a West End run in Noel Coward's Design for Living. As we make our way to his dressing room at the Gielgud Theatre, where he proceeds to sprawl himself across the floor, sipping spinach soup before a Thursday matinee, it is clear that, despite his horizontal, laid-back appearance, Graves has his share of work worries. "I didn't enjoy working on The Innocent Sleep, to tell you the absolute truth. It was quite fraught because the script wasn't there and the director hadn't worked before. There were tensions, tensions. . . "

He is much happier talking about his appearance in Madness. "I loved Alan [Bennett]'s writing. It was also good working with Nick [Hytner]. But," he says, giving a disgruntled smile, "it was boring for me being on the set all the time. I had to be there even more than Nicholas Hytner.

In fact, it was fucking boring." Since drifting into movies, Graves has been involved in less successful projects than Madness. Damage - in which he plays a journalist who loses his fiancée (Juliette Binoche) to his MP father (Jeremy Irons) - was one such bete noire. "I liked Miranda [Richardson] and got on very well with Juliette. But the film was bit lame," he says. "The subject matter was slightly sadistic and unpleasant and, generally, it was a horrible atmosphere on set."

Unlike most actors, who would do anything to land there dream roles, Graves will not put himself out for any part: "I went for the Prince of Wales role in The Madness of King George, which went to Rupert Everett, so Nicholas said, 'Bollocks, you can play this other guy.'" "The other guy" was King George's new, acquiescing equerry - another wallpaper costume role for Graves.

So why doesn't Graves go guns blazing for roles? "If I was pushy, I wouldn't be doing acting for the right reasons. I admire grace; I don't like ambition if it's so naked."

Perhaps Graves' fatalistic attitude was ingrained in him during his boho West Country childhood, when his father spent more time making up fairy stories and taking him to the circus than scrutinising his school reports, which were so disastrous that Rupert was sent to an educational psychologist in his early teens.

By the time he left school at sixteen, Graves was set on being an actor. Fourteen years later, his ambitions haven't really crystallised into any sort of game plan. "If I make a plan, I don't stick to it," he grins. "I'm a drifter. A traveller." Graves plays on his image as the artless, unthreatening clown. On the set of Madness, he bounded up to me, joking, "Why don't you interview me instead of him [Everett]? I'm miles better looking."

Having had little education and not formal acting training, Graves admits he has played on his flirty charm when working alongside much more established talents like Judi Dench, Alec Guinness and Maggie Smith. "It never hurts to play the complete green idiot. When I first started rehearsing plays, I didn't have a clue what anyone was talking about. I was totally uneducated."

Graves may not have had the greatest movie success of the Brit-pack generation, but it's not something he's brooding over.

"If I have the money, I love, I adore doing nothing - I'm a lazy fucker." He's looking at a few scripts at the moment, but naturally has no concrete plans. "Still," he says, "the future's looking OK. It's kind of bubbling.

©1996 Premiere Magazine.