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1997 - Rupert Graves Is One Of The Busiest Thespians Around.

Author: Luaine Lee.
Publication: Knight Rider, Tribune News Service.

Los Angeles - Though he doesn't pack an entourage, work out with the buffed or sign multi-picture deals, one of the busiest actors around is Brit Rupert Graves.
He's starring in the hilariously dark "Intimate Relations", the cross-dressing drama, "Different for Girls", and in "Masterpiece Theatre's'' next epic, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall'' (premiering on PBS Oct. 19).

Graves, who comes from the small, resort town of Weston-super-Mare, found acting a refuge.

He was a troubled truant who was "asked'' to leave school at 15. "I started off quite well at school, then slipped downgrade. I think it was good old-fashioned ennui and boredom,'' he says, leaning elbows on the large, walnut table in a hotel meeting room.

A cutup in class, he thought he was funny. "But they thought I was troublesome. Nobody laughed, only me. I also didn't show up much,'' he says, his white T-shirt and worn Levi's making him look like a delivery boy who got lost in this fancy hotel.

Then the circus came to town. And unlike the proverbial lad who runs away to join the big top, Graves was given the job as a clown through the local job center.
It's a good thing. Because the teen with too much talent and not enough incentive was on his way down and out.

"My town was a very small little town. There's a lot of drugs in it because it's a resort and for over half the year it's closed down. The English don't want to go in winter because they're going to get the monsoon on their heads. There's no industry there. A lot of drugs went into the town and lot of people I was hanging around with got into that. I was beginning to get into it. I wasn't desperately hooked on it, but I was experimenting. The danger of taking drugs in a town like that is you just stay there ...''

With no acting experience, he shambled through a series of odd jobs: pasting soles on shoes in a factory, washing up in a fish-and-chip shop, hawking soap door-to-door and working as an extra and a walk-on.
He performed in children's theater for 14 months at a holiday camp and eventually landed a few theater roles.
His first line in a movie - a Merchant-Ivory film at that - "Does anybody fancy a bath?'' had to be said in front of actors like Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day Lewis. The film was "Room with a View'' and Graves was mortified.

"It was curiously old-fashioned and I didn't know how to say it. If you look at the film now, I'm bright red in it from sheer embarrassment. Then I turn my back to the camera so you can't see my red embarrassment.''

Graves, who co-starred in "The Madness of King George,'' "Damage'' and "A Handful of Dust,'' says his childhood was "OK,'' adding, `but I don't think I suited being a child. I kept thinking I'd like to be an old man when I was a child. I thought I'd be happier when I was older. And the older I get, the happier I feel.''

Maturity helps. "The ability to not mind when you're messing up is so liberating when you're older. I don't also take very well to being told what to do. I have a slight authority problem. I am so perverse anyone says `Do this' I'll do the opposite.''

He underwent some therapy when he was a boy. "Since then I did it once and found it a deeply offensive experience,'' he says, "and not very illuminating. I've thought and written things and don't think I'm ignorant of myself.''

In a relationship for 10 years with his girlfriend who has a history degree, Graves travels in wide circles, not limiting himself to show-biz buddies.

Why does he like to act? "It's bound to be as with all actors, probably rooted in some neurosis somewhere,'' he grins. "The furthest I go down that avenue is to acknowledge that it's neurotic and not dwell too long on it ...''

Surprisingly self-aware at 34, Graves is not your typical actor. Someone who resolutely rejected academia, he speaks brilliantly when he decides it's safe.
His father's a musician, his mother used to place French exchange students. She died four years ago.

"That's quite a big thing,'' he looks down, shaking his head, "because you stop; you become somebody else. You become more your own person, I think, in a way when you start to lose your parents. It freed me up a bit. Me and my mum had a few differences when I was older. She had quite a long death and I took a lot of time off and went down and nursed her and we solved an awful lot - untangled a huge lot of webs which I had from my growing-up times. I felt sad and grieved but it was good clearing up a lot of things.''

©1997 Knight Rider, Tribune News Service.