Rupert Graves Online.
2000 - Take A Boy Like Rupert.
Author: Paula Kerr.
Far from being one of the upper-class gents he portrays, Rupert Graves is proud of his seaside roots.
Rupert Graves is agitated: "I've just read in a gossip column that a socialite was spotted at the Globe Theatre 'quaffing champagne with pretty boy Rupert Graves'.
I've never met this woman. How would I? I'm not that class, I've never been part of that. Someone who looks like me has been given my name because of the films I get. It's annoying."
It's not the case of mistaken identity that riles him as much as the fact that, however he tries to escape it, Graves is forever compared to the well-bred types he plays, most notably Helena Bonham Carter's younger brother in A Room With A View and loyal equerry Greville in The Madness Of King George. His latest role, as feckless school teacher Patrick Standish in the BBC adaptation of Kingsley Amis's classic novel, Take A Girl Like You, does little to alter the typecasting with which he is associated.
In his defence, Graves, who grew up in a seaside town and has never so much as set foot in the doorway of a public school, admits: "I don't know how to play the game of being a popular actor, so I just carry on doing the things that I like. Or," he pauses, before adding refreshingly, "if I need money - I'll just do a job for money."
Graves has no problem saying these things because, as actors go, he's remarkably grounded. The same, however, can't be said of serial seducer Standish. This is a man who has no notion of what he wants from life, so parties for all he is worth. "He fears falling in love because he knows he will feel lost, lose his sense of strength, so he adopts a Don Juan complex - conquer, destroy and move on," says Graves. "That's how he keeps himself alive. He's neurotic. I know people like him exist, but I'm not like that. I like to think of myself as slightly higher up the spiritual food chain."
Take A Girl Like You is already a controversial production. Instead of the costume dramas that the BBC usually flags up as classics, this is a period piece from the middle of the last century.
Amis writes about a Fifties world where "good girls" still didn't, but where the liberating force of the Sixties is like a character waiting in the wings. Whether this brand of sexual tension will prove nostalgic or anachronistic to modern audiences only time will tell.
In any case, stripping off for a series of naked romps held no fears for 37-year-old Graves.
"I was naked in my first film and I've been naked pretty much ever since, so I'm used to it."
Graves is joined by a motley cast including Sienna Guillory, Hugh Bonneville, Emma Chambers and Leslie Phillips, who plays incorrigible rogue Lord Archie Edgerstone. "He was fantastic, amazing," says Graves. "I just sat back and watched a master at work. I thought, 'Man, I'm getting an acting lesson here.'" The remark isn't without irony, for Graves has never received any formal acting training. He considered drama school, but the thought of being part of an institution bothered him. "I don't like the idea of sitting in a class of people all doing the same thing.
I might also have been too proud to knuckle down. Maybe too scared, too. I think the acting world is big enough to accommodate those with and without formal acting lessons, though."
Born and raised in Weston-Super-Mare, Graves left school at 15 with an O-level in sociology. "I'd go to sleep in class because school was so boring. I didn't learn much. All I remember is bunking off lessons and setting fire to gas taps in the science labs," he says. "I had bad concentration.
I was careless and untidy, too. I'd lose things: my books, bag, my clothes even - I once lost my trousers. Growing up seemed to go on for a terribly long time."
A childhood stammer was corrected at the age of 14 by a local actress friend of the family who gave Graves speech classes: "I wondered if I could act and she encouraged me to buy a copy of The Stage." He joined a theatre group, sent his photo to a London agent and was accepted. "It was unbelievable," he says. "I'd found what I wanted to do. I remember when I was at nursery school I was an elf in a play. Even then I remember thinking it was exciting that I could be something else."
In his early days he adopted an anarchic style, shaving the sides of his head and dying the remaining Mohican a striking shade of cranberry. "My friends were punks but I wasn't cool enough to be a good punk, I was more of a punk ligger, hanging on their Chelsea boots," he explains.
If his music teacher father and housewife mother weren't already despairing of their wastrel son, worse was to come when the young Graves announced at 16 that he had a place on a Youth Training Scheme as Tomato the Clown in a travelling circus. "I lived in a caravan and travelled around the country. It wasn't like I ran off and did something mad, it was a YTS." A spell performing plays for children as a Butlins entertainer followed. "I was in the Billy Pickles gang in Skegness," he says, smiling broadly at the memory. Between jobs, he would take whatever acting work he could.
Aged 18, he moved to London after securing his first lead role in The Killing Of Mr Toad at the King's Head Theatre, Islington. The following year he made his West End debut in the Dennis Potter play Sufficient Carbohydrate, during which he was spotted by James Ivory, the director of the 1986 film A Room With A View. Parts at the National Theatre and with the RSC duly followed.
In 1991 Graves disappeared from stage and screen for almost two years. An article in a tabloid suggested he was washed up but the truth was his mother had been diagnosed terminally ill with bone cancer. She died two years later.
"If I ever meet that reporter, I'll smash their face in," he says, still smarting at the memory.
"I was so angry. Mum encouraged me to carry on acting, but my mind wasn't on it. I wasn't prepared to go to auditions - I just wanted to be left in peace to spend time with her. Her favourite book as a child was Longfellow's Hiawatha and I would read that to her, even when she was smacked out of her head on morphine.
You have just got to be there, to go through it, to let them know they are loved, to be a friend. You have to keep the dynamics of the relationship going and be as caring as you can.
"My dad was a musician," he adds, "so I suppose I get my arty-farty side from him, but he worked away a lot, so I was closest to Mum. My favourite memory is watching her sing in a brass band. She used to look happy doing that. And she'd make her own dresses. She was quite big and would make these huge tangerine gowns."
His father, now retired, and lorry driver brother still live in Weston-Super-Mare - his only sister moved to France - but home now for Graves is a north London flat, shared with girlfriend of 13 years Yvonne and their elderly greyhound, Roland.
Sitting opposite in combat trousers and linen shirt, he is fashionably unshaven. Foppish dark hair frames his brooding brown eyes and around his neck he is wearing a string of wooden rosary beads with the crucifix removed. "I found them on the pavement outside a church and assumed someone had thrown them there in anger. I thought that quite strange, so I kept them."
The most enchanting thing about Graves is that he's entirely unaffected. Like the rebellious teen he once was, he's still his own man and doesn't care what anyone else thinks. He cites his heroes as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. He would welcome a Hollywood role alongside them, but admits he doesn't spend enough time there.
He does, however, admit to making the occasional mini series. "I've just made one called Anthony And Cleopatra. It was a big epic and I made a lot of money. It went down well in America..." he says, the inference being that it would die a slow, tasteless death here.
He is currently starring with Michael Gambon in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the Comedy Theatre in the West End, and relishing every moment. "It's much easier to do different stuff on stage, to not be pigeonholed." Asked what he would really like to do, he doesn't hesitate. "Something true and good and not at all pretty. I'd really like to try and get away from all that."
©2000 Express Newspapers.