Rupert Graves Online.
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1997 - Rupert Graves Thrives On Breaking The Snob Barrier.

Author: Jim Beckerman.
Publication: Bergen Record Corporation.

Jolly good show, Rupert. Cheerio, Rupert. Dash it all, Rupert. All right: So Rupert is that kind of name, says actor Rupert Graves, who is appearing this month in two high-profile films: "Different for Girls," opening Friday, and "Intimate Relations," opening Sept. 19.

But Graves, who still bears traces of his West Country working-class accent, is quick to point out that his namesake isn't poet Rupert Brooke, or any of the other high-toned Ruperts that have given the name its la-di-da upper-class veneer.

In fact, he was named after a Welsh village brawler that his mother happened to like.

"I got invited to very posh parties," he says. "I would hear [clenched teeth], 'Where did you go to school? My brother said he went to school with you.' Thinking I had gone to Eton or Harrow. Acting is quite a snobby business in England. I kind of snuck in because of my first name."

In his 12-year film career, Graves has done his best to un-Rupert Rupert, by taking the kind of roles that no respectable Rupert would dream of playing.

In his very first film, "A Room With a View," in 1985, he appeared fully, frontally nude.

He followed that up in 1987 with "Maurice," where he played a randy gay gamekeeper who comes to the romantic rescue of a desperate stockbroker (James Wilby) in Edwardian England.

As for his three releases so far this year, none are likely to win him invitations to Mayfair.

In the fact-based drama "The Innocent Sleep," which opened in July, he's a homeless man who witnesses the death of Italian financier Roberto Calvi.

In the black comedy "Intimate Relations," also fact-based, he plays a naive drifter seduced into a deadly love affair.

In "Different for Girls," he plays a punk rocker in love with a transsexual.

Any one of these roles might be considered a risky career move -- but that's one thing Graves has never worried about.

"If you're always doing different things, and there's enough confusion about you anyway, than it doesn't make any difference," says Graves, a boyish 34, who has also been in such high-profile films as "Damage" (1992), "The Madness of King George" (1994), and "Where Angels Fear to Tread" (1992). He's due to return this fall in a film version of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway."

"I've never had a career plan," Graves says. "I've always been completely blown around like a leaf."

Not that Graves courts controversy, any more than he tries to avoid it.

It's sheer coincidence, he says, that "Different for Girls" and "Intimate Relations," being released within a week of each other in the United States, both deal with quirky sexual relationships.

"I think maybe there's a kind of tendency on the part of small independent British filmmakers to make films on that sort of subject," said Graves, who was in Manhattan this summer to promote both films. "Because they have more freedom, they like to stir up the water a bit."

The waters get turbulent indeed in "Different for Girls," directed by Richard Spence, a drama about a punk biker (Graves) whose rebel credentials are put to the test when he falls in love with his old schoolmate Karl (Steven Mackintosh), now a post-operative transsexual named Kim.

"I liked the central dilemma of somebody who assumes that they're totally heterosexual and 'normal' -- in quotes -- and gets a wake-up call," he says.

"Different for Girls" cuts across several London subcultures -- including the still-thriving punk scene (seminal punker Ian Dury has a cameo) and the denim-clad motorcycle couriers that Graves hung out with in order to research his role.

"It's a very particular thing in London," Graves says. "These messengers are kind of like pirates of the road, and they see themselves that way. They zoom in and out. The guys I hung out with had all broken their legs three or four times."

In the case of "Intimate Relations," written and directed by Philip Goodhew, a real-life Fifties English scandal served as the basis for a black comedy about an ex-sailor (Graves) whose affair with his very proper landlady (Julie Waters) leads to disaster.

"I liked the tone of the script, the peculiar Englishness that it addresses, which is about embarrassment," Graves says. "A lot of the tragedy of the story comes out of embarrassment, as does the comedy."

He also liked the setting: a sleepy English provincial town in the Fifties, still recovering from the devastating effects of World War II.

It is, in fact, not unlike Weston-super-Mare -- the seaside resort town in south-west England where Graves himself grew up several decades after "Intimate Relations" takes place.

"We'd got this manner of behaving in the provinces, we'd pretend there was nothing the matter, don't talk about it, don't acknowledge it," he says. "I grew up in a small provincial town, and I remember that manner in the Seventies. It's changing a lot now, but there are still echoes of it."

©1997 Bergen Record Corporation.