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Stephen Fry on Red, White & Royal Blue 2, Prince William and Harry




Stephen Fry on Red, White & Royal Blue 2, Prince William and Harry

British actor Stephen Fry remembers being about ten years old in the late 1960s when he first saw a production of Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” on television.

He immediately checked out the ‘Complete Works of Oscar Wilde’ from the mobile library that visited his town in rural England.

“I went back and said, ‘Do you have anything else?’ And [the librarian] said, “Well, those are the complete works,” Fry says in the latest episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast. “I was searching the shelves and found this book: ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde.’ I thought: that’s really strange. I thought of trials as in trials and tribulations, maybe he had a very unhappy life. So I picked up the book and she stamped it for me, a little unsure whether I should read it. I didn’t understand why.”

Fry discovered that Wilde was charged and convicted of gross indecency because of his same-sex relationships. In 1895 he was sentenced to two years of hard labor. After his release he fled to France, where he died in misery and poverty.

“That’s how I grew up expecting life to be. There was simply no other option,” says Fry. “I somehow prepared myself to hide my identity and live a life where such things were not possible. Then my life, my growing up, miraculously coincided with a change of attitude.”

Now 66, Fry is one of the OGs on the fairly short list of gay actors who came out decades ago. His career spans theatre, television, radio and film. He is an actor, comedian, writer and director. In a full-circle moment, he not only played Wilde in “Wilde,” the 1997 British biographical romantic drama, but also earned a Golden Globe for his work. Fry’s most recent credits include Netflix’s series “The Sandman” and the streamer’s LGBTQ coming-of-age series “Heartstopper.” He played King James III in Prime Video’s queer rom-com, “Red, White & Royal Blue.”

His latest film is “Treasure,” a drama about a Holocaust survivor who travels back to his native Poland with his daughter (Lena Dunham) for the first time since the war in the 1990s.

I caught up with Fry via Zoom.

“Treasure” is heavy stuff, but you and Lena deliver the jokes.

Life is a balance between the humorous, the absurd, the ridiculous, the ridiculous, the surreal and the deeply tragic and the howlingly painful. And without the humor I sometimes say: “It’s like watching a movie where no one has a nose. You look at it and say, ‘Well, where is this strange world where people have no noses? I’ve never met people like that.” One of the things you want to do as an actor or a writer, or if I could do that as a painter or a sculptor, is to portray the truth exactly as you perceive it. And the strange thing about humans is that we use humor all the time, even in the darkest moments, both as a shield and as a sword. It’s one of the things I loved about the film because it reminded me of so many Jewish members of my own family and people I’d met, how important humor was.

You had family who died in Auschwitz. Was that talked about when you were younger?

No. The weird moment I had was when I was about twelve years old and I was rummaging through old furniture somewhere in the house. There was a great smell of camphor, the smell of mothballs and these strange furs, fox furs and things like that, and strange Austrian artefacts and collars from my grandfather with Germanic names on them. But then I found a photo with all these kids and other people in it. I ran to my mother and said, ‘Mommy, who are these people? Why do we have pictures of them?’ And she sat me down and said, “Well, these were your dad’s [family]… Your grandfather’s sister, my father’s sister, who would have been your aunt, and their children.” And I said, “Wow, they still live in Hungary?” Because I thought of my grandfathers as Hungarian and she said, ‘No, they all died.’ I said, “Well, how?” And she said the words she chose were, “Well, Hitler killed them.” So I literally had this idea in my head of the mustached man with a knife stabbing my family. I said why?” And then she tried to explain the story. She told me about the train journey and about the shower rooms and so on. I just found it very difficult.

Lena Dunham and Stephen Fry in ‘Treasure’.
Lukasz Bak

You played King James in ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’. I always say to younger people that it still amazes me that something like this can be made.

It’s amazing – shout out [director and co-writer] Matthew López, an extraordinary talent – ​​​​and that one day I would play Oscar Wilde in a film. That was an extraordinary idea. My little self would say, “No, this is fantasy. Fantasy is dangerous. It is hope that kills.” But part of me wants to fly back through time and just rest on the shoulder of my young, unhappy self and say, “It’s all going to be okay.” Do not worry.”

When you’re on a set of something like ‘Red, White & Royal Blue,’ do you think, ‘I’m making the most mainstream queer story. As mainstream as queer can be.”

Yes. There are sometimes reasons to doubt the feelings of the younger generation in some respects. And there’s that typical old farting behavior of mine. But I’m so impressed with their willingness and openness to play those roles, those two guys [Nicholas Galitzine and Taylor Zakhar Perez]. They were great at it. That’s the openness that I really appreciate, because I remember when Rupert Graves and James Wilby were in ‘Maurice’. They were brilliant in the EM Forster adaptation, but I remember the company looking down on them and saying, ‘But they’re both straight and they do that. That must be so embarrassing for them. How could they. Oh God! How would they prepare for that?”

Stephen Fry as King James III in “Red, White & Royal Blue.”

Will you play the king again in the sequel “Red, White & Royal Blue”?

Matthew has become a friend and he told me he does it. I hope he hasn’t let me down. We need the king. You must have the king.

Do you call your friend Prince William and say, ‘By the way, I play the king. I need advice.”

They had a great-great-grandfather, George V. And if you wanted to know what summed up the coincidental and appalling homophobia of Britain and probably most of Europe and America at that time, there was a member of the Duke of Westminster’s family who was arrested or was about to be arrested in a gay scandal and fled to France. And someone broke the news to the king, because the Duke of Westminster was a friend of the king, and said, “Oh, have you heard that that gentleman, what’s his name, has gone to France for that reason?” And the king’s words were, to say very coldly, “I thought such men shot themselves.” Isn’t this the coldest comment you’ve ever heard? And those were those boys, William and Harry’s great-great-grandfather. And believe me, they are very gay-friendly and charming. They are part of their generation. They grew up with it because of their father. Their father was good friends with John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, for example. He and his friend stayed with the king. And they were friends with both of them. They have absolutely no problems.

Do you think England could ever have a gay king or queen?

It has done that in the past. Many times.

Openly gay.

But openly? Ah! I don’t think that’s impossible. Not really. I think this would raise constitutional issues in terms of the heir. The only boring nonsense about kingship is that you should have an heir. Or as the terrible expression goes: an heir and a spare, which we know is a word Prince Harry has used to his advantage.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed. You can listen to the full conversation on “Just for Variety” above or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.