Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Bright & Brassy: Legendary Actor-Author-Wit Stephen Fry Makes His Screen Directorial Debut with Bright Young Things

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Bright & Brassy: Legendary Actor-Author-Wit Stephen Fry Makes His Screen Directorial Debut with Bright Young Things

Article excerpt

If there is something Stephen Fry can't do well, we've yet to catch him at, it. On movie screens, he's played the definitive Oscar Wilde in 1997's Wilde and in 2000 portrayed an archetypal silly-ass Brit in Blackadder Back & Forth. He's also been the memorably clueless detective in Gosford Park and the bisexual aristo party host in Peter's Friends. On TV, Jeeves and Wooster made him a thinking man's buttoned-down sex symbol for fans on both sides of the Atlantic. And for the London stage, he rewrote the book for the musical Me and My Girl, the revival of which became a Tony-nominated hit in America in 1987 after triumphing in England. Add to that his penchant for starting in hit plays by such masters as Simon Gray and Alan Bennett, his written output--four novels and an autobiography--and his recordings of the U.K. versions of the Harry Potter audiobooks.

He's brilliant, he's out, and he's the person we'd most like to have on our team for any game requiring erudition and wit. Now he's directed his first film, Bright Young Things, the screen play of which he adapted from Evelyn Waugh's essential novel Vile Bodies, set among rich, beautiful, reckless types, gay and straight, at the tail end of the Jazz Age in the 1930s. Via telephone from London, Fry, discussed everything from his new film to his running battle with the Church of England over queer clergy.

What impact did Vile Bodies have on you when you first read it?

At 16, the people in it seemed so almost absurdly witty, clever, careless, and carefree; I thought these characters were role models. Doing the adaptation, of course, it was clear that Waugh was a pretty cruel puppet master with his characters. It's really a mix of comedy, satire, and drama that gets distinctly more bleak as it progresses.

These characters drink, drug, party, are obsessed with celebrity, and have their heads up their pretty asses, so they seem completely modern. We think we're the first era to indulge in celebrity worship, that we have a new breed of party animals who crash and bum. The "Gatsby generation" in America, the "Bright Young Things" in Britain, pioneered the youth culture and were the first generation seen as completely irresponsible by their parents and the first who sacrificed themselves in the eternal search for the next buzz. I considered bringing Waugh's characters into a New York or Los Angeles clubland sort of atmosphere, but the odd thing about doing something like that is that people would automatically say, "Who is that character supposed to be?" and that reduces the interest.

The movie has plenty of famous faces, like Dan Aykroyd, Peter O'Toole, Stockard Channing, and Richard E. Grant, but the biggest roles go to movie newcomers: Stephen Campbell Moore as the young writer hero and Fenella Woolgar as a vibrant, doomed party girl. Catching the spirit of the movie, we want to believe that you and the young cast indulged in all sorts of fantastic sexual hanky-panky.

[Laughs] They were all far too professional for that. It's a revelation to see just how good these young actors are. I was just speaking to Stephen less than an hour ago, and I'm going to see him this week in the new Alan Bennett play at the National Theater. He's headed for great things. And Fenella is extraordinary, isn't she?

The movie's queer characters include a flamboyant queen, Miles (played by Michael Sheen), who gets hounded out of the country after an affair with a race car driver, and Fenella Woolgar's character, who cracks up and winds up in a sanitarium. …

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