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1997 - Graves Moulds Himself Into A Variety Of Characters.

Author: Stephanie Sheb.
Publication: University Wire.

26th September 1997.

LOS ANGELES -- "Blah blah blah, what I really care about is the acting. It's not about being a star."
Yeah right.But when Rupert Graves, an accomplished film, theater and television actor from England, says it, you believe it.
For Graves, who stars in "Intimate Relations" (which opened last week) and "Different for Girls" earlier this summer, it's not about being a leading man; it's all about the character.

"I like things that take me away from myself," Graves says. "If I do stuff which is more like myself, my natural embarrassment comes out. I can transcend it by putting somebody else's shoes on."

And the very different roles in his two films definitely validate this statement. Currently, Graves is Harold Guppy in "Intimate Relations, " for which he won the Best Actor Award in the 1996 Montreal Film Festival. Graves' well-meaning character stumbles into a nice family in a small provincial town only to be seduced, manipulated and eventually driven to murder by his landlady (Julie Walters).

Graves actually researched his real-life counterpart in preparation for the film. He focused on the different institutions in Guppy's life. Guppy was institutionalized for behavioral problems at the age of 10. He then went straight to the navy, another type of institution.

"As soon as he goes out into the wide world he has his own desires and other people's desires and doesn't know how to operate," Graves explains. "Also, he's looking for a family, looking for a mother figure because he had been rejected, which made him ripe for plucking."

"Intimate Relations" takes the bit of fact, fiction and flair to turn a shocking murder into an off-beat comedy. In choosing projects, Graves likes to diverge from the normal.

"I like films which put a spanner on what is considered the normal way of working, whether it's sexual or behavioral," Graves says.

Earlier this summer, Graves was in another film about a relationship that also differs from the norm. "Different for Girls" is a love story between Graves' character Paul Prentice and Kim Foyle (Steven Mackintosh), a woman who used to be a man.

"Society doesn't give you a modus operandi for dealing with that, " Graves says. " (Prentice) does on a very personal level have to understand, debate with himself... Am I a freak for falling in love with, you know? ...Getting over that. I like that dilemma."
In addition to dealing with the complexities of his relationship, Prentice also becomes aware of others' attitudes toward Kim.

"He does stand up for him and he puts himself actually on the line for him. He will not let people treat him as a piece of shit or a laughing stock. He actually allows Kim to be herself," Graves says. "I think it would offend his morality if he didn't."

The film looks at all angles of Prentice's dilemma, attempting to treat the situation in an open and honest way.

"Homophobia in the world is massive," Graves says. "(Prentice) says, 'I'm confused. Part of it repels me that you've cut your dick off.' I think he's quite honest about that, which is refreshing. He doesn't put a liberal understanding mantle on as a pretense."

While Graves never had any homophobia directed at himself for taking on this role, a newspaper did once call Graves a gay actor, which he is not.

"I don't have any problems with the actual instants of having to do a love scene with a man," Graves says. "That doesn't bother me I just like things which do not challenge, but deal with or describe how they feel with what society expects them to be like."

Graves has never been traditional, even in his day jobs. Instead of waiting tables as a precursor to acting, Graves was a clown in the circus.

"It was a very small English circus with very little money and it was the traditional travelling circus," Graves explains. "I did slap wire, which is like high wire, but lower and more wobbly so it's harder to stay on.

"I think I went into the circus with the eye on performance and that' s what I wanted to do eventually," Graves continues.

When Graves finally landed his first film role it was in the Merchant Ivory film "A Room with a View" as Freddie Honeychurch, Helena Bonham Carter' s younger brother.

"James Ivory, the director, is not the most decipherous. He gives very small notes. You have to learn his body language ... I didn't feel neurotic or anything, but I did think that I did a bad job," Graves says. "I went up to him afterwards saying, 'I'm really sorry that I fucked your film up.' But he said, 'No, it's okay. You're all right.'"

Graves' next film is an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway, " with Vanessa Redgrave. Good-looking and talented Graves could easily become the United States' latest hot import, but you won't find him in any big blow-em-up action films anytime soon.

"I've never really had the time to come here or the will to turn down interesting projects at home," Graves admits. "If things do happen and there's a script that I like, you know... It's just that I'm not a very good planner. I'm not very good at building a career."

©1997 University Wire.