The Role of a Lifetime - Stephen Fry: The Man Behind Oscar Wilde

Article excerpt

Like Oscar Wilde himself, Stephen Fry is larger than life. Although he's less famous in America than life. Cambridge University classmate Emma Thompson, the 40-year-old Fry has spent more than a decade as one of British television's favorite comic actors. He regularly pops up in London's West End theater scene, in films (A Fish Called Wanda, I.Q., Peter's Friends), and on spoken-word audiotapes that showcase his scrumptious baritone voice.

Still, Fry has been busier as a writer than as a performer, penning countless articles and scripts, a memoir, and four novels. (His latest, Making history, is just out from Random House.)

It's no accident that Britons associate him with his famous predecessor. Like Wilde, Fry is gay. Like Wilde, he's physically imposing, although, at 6 feet 4 1/2 inches, Fry is a shade taller. Like Wilde, Fry has even served jail time. "I was sent to prison at the age of 17 for committing credit card fraud," Fry genially volunteers. "Afterward I pulled myself together, got a scholarship to Cambridge, and became slightly more normal."

In good times and bad, Fry has labored under one expectation. As he puts it, "It's been said for some time that I was, in that tiresome phrase, `born to be Wilde.'" Now, In an exclusive interview, he tells The Advocate how it felt to carry out his mission for queen and country.

You're one of Britain's best-known gay actors. Were you ever in the closet?

No. Luckily I was out to my parents when I was 17. With most actors, if they aren't out, it's nearly always because they're not out to their parents -- even through, of course, their parents almost certify know. It gets harder and harder for some people as time goes by.

From what we understand, you've always had a personal interest in Oscar Wide. Why?

Especially growing up as a gay teenager, one was in desperate need of a gay role model. Although Oscar's life turned out to be tragic, he was someone with whom I could fiercely and proudly identify. I read bits of Wilde from the age of 13 on.

Where were you when you were first reading Wilde?

I was at a very ancient boarding school called Uppingham. …