Rupert Graves Online.
Media Bank

1997 - Roles But No Butter.

Author: Sharon Waxman.
Publication: The Washington Post.

15th October 1997.

Actor Rupert Graves is very busy, but not rich.
Acting can be a wonderful career in England if eating isn't a big priority.
Just ask Rupert Graves.

The 34-year-old actor, with lead roles in no fewer than three movies and a television miniseries playing in the United States this fall, has had a steady work schedule for the past couple of years, including a recent stint in London's West End.

He's a successful actor. And it just barely pays the bills.
For the film Intimate Relations, in which Graves plays a lodger seduced by his middle-age landlady in a 1950s provincial town, he earned about $15,000. For Different for Girls, in which he plays a punk rocker attracted to an old schoolmate who has become a transsexual, he made a relative bundle--about $80,000. But that was more than two years ago. And in the play Hurlyburly, at London's Old Vic earlier this year, he was earning the princely sum of $300 a week.

That's less than the extras in bikinis and Rollerblades earn on "Baywatch."

Not that Graves is complaining. "You can make money in England," he says, making his way through a mound of granola in a Beverly Hills hotel breakfast room. "I just can't."

Much has been written about the demise and, more recently, the resurrection of British cinema. Critically acclaimed productions like last year's Breaking the Waves, Secrets and Lies and Trainspotting have helped re-establish the reputation (if not the commercial viability) of an industry devastated during the government cutbacks and economic recession of the 1980s and early '90s.
And thanks to a cash infusion from the new government lottery, there are plenty more movies this year, from Secrets director Mike Leigh's newest effort, Career Girls to the Victorian love story Mrs. Brown to the tongue-in-cheek male stripper comedy The Full Monty. But Graves is here to remind us that the scale of the British industry remains light-years away from Hollywood and its million-dollar salaries. the choice is not between big-budget and small independent films, as in America--it's from pretty small to very small.

Thus the end of a long dry spell for struggling British actors implies a continued willingness to struggle. "I'm not very good at building a career," says Graves, who admits to doing more lucrative voice-overs during lulls in his other work. "I choose primarily from what I like to read. And every time I've thought about coming here, I've had a good offer to do something in London."
Lucky him. For actors, the best part of the British cinematic resurrection has been the availability of interesting, offbeat roles. British producers do not bother making sci-fi special-effects vehicles for mass consumption, nor do they devote much energy to developing formulaic boy-meets-girl scripts--the stuff intended to bring in the box-office dollars in America.

No, instead Graves finds roles where he gets to kiss a lot of men (he's used to it, he insists) and, in Intimate Relations, which opened last month, played twisted love scenes with a character some 20 years--and at least 20 pounds--his senior. (Actress Julie Walters, 41, who played landlady Marjorie Beasley, wore padding and grannyish horn-rim glasses for the role.) Later this fall, he will appear with Vaness Redgrave in Mrs. Dalloway (which opens in November), playing a shell-shocked veteran in the 1920s and he's also in Masterpiece Theatre's four-part The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, playing the tenant's alcoholic, wife-abusing husband.

Quite a range. But perhaps the most engaging of Graves's recent string of characters is in Different for Girls, in which he plays Paul Prentice, a thirty-something ex-punk working as a courier in London, with no future, no plans and a lot of aimless energy. Prentice is shocked to meet former school friend Karl, played by Steven Mackintosh, and to discover that he/she is now Kim, a recent transsexual; he is even more shocked to find himself attracted to his painfully introverted friend. Graves gives a memorable performance infused with random, immature anger and confused desire.

That part wasn't so hard, he says. The love scenes, however, were a challenge, particularly one in which Mackintosh finally disrobes. "Nowadays, people are always saying how they get into doing the sex scenes, but I still find it really embarrassing," he says. "There you are, stark naked with 50 people around you...It's strange to kiss a stranger. But okay, like, when you have to really do it, all out. With your tongue." Pause. "All afternoon." Pause. "Naked." Well, you kind of see his point.

To make matters more difficult, Mackintosh wore a sort of prosthetic bathing suit to give him breasts and hips (which began to progressively melt with each take under the hot lights).
Today, Graves looks a bit like a toned-down Paul Prentice, wearing a loose lavender shirt (on loan for photo shoot) and an uncertain, sheepish expression under a mess of dark, spiky hair. When he smiles, his brown eyes can show the vulnerable charm of a 10-year-old being offered a sweet.

His real background is not that far from what Prentices' fictitious one might be. Raised--with some difficulty--by his lorry-driver father and schoolteacher mother in a remote south-western corner of England called Weston-Super-Mare, Graves flunked out of school at 15. Then he ran away and joined the circus, learning to be a clown ("I know," he groans, "it's a horrible cliché."), but dropping out after nine months. Then he joined a bad punk rock group in which he played a guitar and screamed angry, unintelligible things. That, too, did not last. After a stint working at a summer camp, Graves finally ended up in London, working odd jobs onstage, auditioning for acting roles and ultimately landing a part in Merchant-Ivory's A Room With a View.

That was more than a decad ago, and since then, Graves has found most of his work on the British stage, in productions like 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore, Les Enfants du Paradis and Torch Song Trilogy. His work in film has included roles in another Merchant-Ivory production, Maurice, as Jeremy Iron's son in Damage and in The Madness of King George.

The work has been steady, and Graves has earned a reputation for his solid, unaffected portrayals. But then there is the question of the monthly rent. Sitting in Beverly Hills, the issue inevitably rises: Is he hoping to tap the fat bankrolls of Hollywood studios? Graves slurps the last of his granola, gulps some coffee and looks around for a place to smoke.
"I'd like to," he says, "but for the moment, I can't really afford it."

©1997 The Washington Post.