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Saturday, June 17, 2000

My best friend's movie

When a gorgeous actor dates a gorgeous actress, he's only following the laws of physics. But when a gorgeous actor is an actress's best friend, he becomes unique.

Rupert Everett has staked out an entirely new position by doing just that. It was he who saved Julia Roberts from a series of flops by playing her sizzling sidekick in "My Best Friend's Wedding," and who showcased to full advantage the class/vampish talents of Julianne Moore in "An Ideal Husband." In real life he's best friends with Madonna and the word is, he advised her to buy that house in London.

Now the pair have made a movie together in which they play best friends that, for all intents and purposes, could be themselves: Everett as the mature, supportive buddy and Madonna as the woman who wants it all, right now, this minute.

"The Next Best Thing" is about a single, successful woman (Madonna) who, after a string of unsuccessful romances, settles for the "next best thing" and starts a family with her gay friend (Everett). For a couple of years the three are happy, but then she meets "Mr. Right" and decides that the next best thing isn't good enough. The best friend and wonder dad is suddenly the unwanted intruder. He sues, she retaliates. But in the end, friendship comes through -- sort of.

Everett kicked off the press conference in Tokyo last week by first displaying his staunch camaraderie with his costar: "Madonna is sorry she can't make it but at the moment she's very pregnant with her second baby. This is a movie that's important to both of us so I'll be speaking for her as well," then adding, "I don't normally do press conferences. I'm a shy person."

Coming from the soft-spoken and modest Everett, the press was ready to take his word for it, and be duly grateful.

But then, of course, everyone remembered this was the actor who sang "Say a Little Prayer for You" in a lobster restaurant ("My Best Friend's Wedding"), a delicately handsome man who knows how to be funny at his own expense. When exactly did he decide to change track and do comedy?

"At the beginning of my career I tended to be in movies about depressed and moody people," said Everett. "When you're young, it's good to be moody but when you're older it doesn't work anymore. So I started doing character roles and found that I enjoyed them enormously."

For "The Next Best Thing," Everett was involved right from the beginning, in many different facets of the production, from the screenplay to the soundtrack. In fact it was Everett who suggested the inclusion of "American Pie," simply because he loved music from the '70s that defined his adolescence.

"I wanted the movie to have a '70s feeling to it. My favorite movie is 'Shampoo' and I wanted to re-create some of that ambience."

For Everett, "American Pie" was a suitable millennium song, the lyrics so tragic and airy at the same time. (It was written to commemorate the plane crash of Buddy Holly.) "I love the line, 'If I had my chance I would have made the people dance.' It was something I would want to hear from Madonna, if I were a fan, and I am."

Speaking of which, Madonna's famous ego is reportedly a nightmare to work with. Was that true in your case?

"Everyone in cinema is self-centered and self-obsessed. Everyone is a diva. And she's a big one. But so am I. So we were on an equal footing.

"It's always a dangerous thing to work with friends," he added. "But I think Madonna and I actually became closer. We had a few spats; we certainly inhabited our roles.

"But on the whole the collaboration was a very good one, and since we deliberately tried to make the characters as close to ourselves as possible, there's a kind of voyeuristic delight in seeing the movie."

The other delight, as far as many viewers are concerned, is to see Everett as the Caring, Sharing Dream Dad who sincerely loves his son. Does this have anything to do with his own childhood?

Everett chuckled and said: "I come from a very cold, English background where one simply did not play with fathers. But Malcolm [the actor who plays his son] and I became very close. In Hollywood kids are very often forced into cinema without really knowing what's going on. This particular world is not very good for a child; it's so decadent. I felt bad for him."

There was a momentary flash of anger when the questions harped excessively on homosexuality ("I find questions like 'are you gay?' very boring"), and emphasized that the latent, dramatic revival of his career has very little to do with being a gay man playing gay roles.

"I'm 41 now and I hope that with age I've become wiser and more balanced. These things become more important as one grows older, especially in the cinema industry."

Perhaps this desire is projected into the character he plays for the movie. "There's no doubt that he's a good man -- for want of a better term, a real man. And I liked that."

No arguments there.

"The Next Best Thing" opens today at Shibuya Tokyu Theater and others.

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