Rupert Graves Online.
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1997 - Actor Has Fun Being "Different".

Author: John Hartl.
Publication: The Seattle Times.

After years of typecasting, Rupert Graves is branching out.

Often typecast as the nice, bland English fellow in such E.M. Forster adaptations as James Ivory's "A Room With a View" and Charles Sturridge's "Where Angels Fear to Tread," Rupert Graves says he's now coming closer to his real off-screen self.

In such films as "Intimate Relations," which opened this weekend at the Metro Cinemas, and "Different for Girls," which is coming Friday to the Broadway Market, he's decidedly more of an extrovert.

The 34-year-old actor plays Julie Walters' neurotic lover in "Intimate Relations," which is based on an early-1950s British sex scandal. In "Different for Girls," he's cast as the rowdy best friend - and prospective lover - of a sexually ambiguous boy (Steven Mackintosh) who has a sex-change operation.

Does he feel he'd been typecast all those years?

"Yeah, I did," he said by phone from New York.

"I find it limiting. One of the joys of being an actor is that you can take a vacation in someone else's shoes. Before `Room With a View,' I'd just done small parts in something called `Good and Bad at Games,' and a bad version of `Jamaica Inn,' in which I get hit and fall off a stool.

"I didn't know anything about the business, and I'd just say `Yes, thank you' whenever I was offered something, and I liked working with James (Ivory). After I did `A Handful of Dust,' I did think maybe I should do something else. It's very easy to get pigeonholed after a first big hit like `Room With a View.' Casting directors can get so dumb about it."

Ivory's 1987 film of Forster's "Maurice," in which Graves played the aggressive young lover of the title character, did offer something different, but it didn't immediately lead to other kinds of roles.

For awhile, he could cut loose only on stage: "I did a really rockin' version of `The Importance of Being Earnest,' which worked all right."

"Different for Girls," in which he plays a punk-rock fan who tears through the streets on a motorcycle, should change all that.

To prepare for the role, Graves worked with a transsexual, Adele Anderson, who was a consultant on the picture. At the same time, he wanted to maintain the skeptical, bewildered viewpoint of his character, Paul, who doesn't recognize his schoolboy pal, Karl, when he sees her on the street as the newly female Kim.

"I wanted to use my ignorance, to use it as Paul's ignorance," he said. "The conviction with which transsexuals feel they have to change their gender, that's something I didn't understand before.

"I think it's a genuine difficulty for people to understand. It's a new thing, a strange thing, it's cosmetic, not natural. It's a surgical and chemical change, and it's difficult for people to comprehend why that is.

"It's based on a genuinely absolute conviction that you're in the wrong body. If you don't feel that, it's difficult to understand. I'm glad the film isn't just conventionally liberal about it. I'm glad it represents other views."

Paul's favorite punk songs become an important part of the story, as do Kim's costumes, which are the opposite of drag-queen flamboyant.

"I think the clothes have very much to do with transvestites celebrating femininity," he said. "Transsexuals are people who often blend in like your mother. A lot of Kim's dowdiness has to do with her wanting to blend in."

Paul and Kim are portrayed as two people who belong together even though they've lost touch over the years and one of them has changed genders.

"It's been a couple of years now since we made the film, but I do remember that we established quite a back story," said Graves. "They had drifted apart as friends, as you do, and just met up later.

"If they'd stayed together after school in the late 1970s, Kim/Karl wouldn't have been that interested in the punk thing, so the friendship might not have worked out at that time, anyway."

Graves, who has been involved in a relationship with the same woman for the past 10 years, said he "didn't really see it applying to my own life. I have a school friend I've known since I was 4, but I don't use much of my own experiences when I'm making films."

He started in show biz not through an acting academy but by joining a circus. A classroom cutup at age 15, he'd been asked to leave school in the resort town where he grew up.

"I got the circus job through the employment bureau and the government paid for it," he said. "They'd lost their clown or the clown had disappeared, and I became their clown for a year. I didn't really want to do it.

"I never liked clowns. I always found them tedious. It's a bit like acting sometimes: I don't mind inflicting it on people, I just don't want it inflicted on me. And it was such a grotty old circus. It was not about quality performances, it was about changing venues and making money."

After the circus, he did extra work and children's shows at a holiday camp.

"I was really bitten by the bug and did some London fringe shows. Then there was a tour of America with the Old Vic, `Macbeth' and `Candida' in the early 1980s."

The past two years have been the busiest of his career. In addition to the two movies opening this week, he'll been turning up in the "Masterpiece Theater" series, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (PBS shows it next month); in the film version of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," with Vanessa Redgrave (coming to theaters later this year); and "The Innocents Sleep," which has played New York theaters but is probably headed for videotape.

"It was done before all of these, and it's not terribly good," he said. "I have a small part in `Bent,' which Fox Searchlight is bringing out, and `The Revenger's Comedies' with Kristin Scott Thomas, which is based on the Alan Ayckbourn play, and there's an American film called `Buffalo Wings,' a small indie film, my first American picture."

On the London stage, he's hoping to do David Rabe's "Hurly Burly" as well as Albert Camus' "Caligula." He's also written "a little film, a 15-minute film I want to direct. It's low budget, and I'm doing it with friends.

I'll keep it small-scale and under control".

©1997 The Seattle Times.