Another thing Madonna and Everett have in common: the period from the mid-80s to the mid-90s was kind to neither, cinematically speaking. Each played only one memorable role-she as the scrappy ballplayer in Penny Marshall’s comedy A League of Their Own, he as the boorish lover in Mike Newell’s eerie Dance with a Stranger: She co-starred as Breathless Mahoney in Warren Beatty’s under-performing Dick Tracy and as a dirty-bird ingenue in Body of Evidence, the comically exploitative rip-off of Basic Instinct; he endured Cemetery Man, in which he played an addled gravedigger, and Dunston Checks In, in which he broke the cardinal rule of Hollywood: Never co-star with a monkey.
Then, around 1996, their fortunes began to turn. Madonna landed the role of a lifetime, as the Argentinean matriarch in Alan Parker’s Evita-a role, it is often said, that was a perfect fit for our very own pop-culture queen. And it was. Months later, Everett resurfaced as Julia Roberts’s droll gay confidant in My Best Friend’s Wedding, which grossed more than $298 million and proved once and for all that in order to play a homosexual character an actor doesn’t need to mince to get a laugh. Everett began receiving seven-figure offers, appearing in such literate, high-profile costume dramas as Shakespeare in Love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and An Ideal Husband, and generally serving as the film industry’s unofficial Ambassador of Gayness. “It’s frustrating in one way,” Everett says cheerfully. “But I suppose it’s my gimmick, isn’t it? You have to go with it, you know?”
Which brings us to The Next Best Thing, a romantic comedy about an unlucky-in-love single gal (Madonna) who, after an ill-advised night of carnality with her droll gay confidant (Everett), becomes pregnant and persuades him to raise the child with her, parents-style. Trouble ensues. The film, a departure for director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man), will inevitably draw comparisons to My Best Friend’s Wedding, and not without some justification. There’s the whole gay-confidant angle, and at one point the characters break into a cover version of “American Pie,” Don McLean’s famous 70s anthema scene suspiciously reminiscent of Everett and Julia Roberts’s sing-along of Dionne Warwick’s “1 Say a Little Prayer” in their gay-confidant movie. More to the point, viewers will draw comparisons to Madonna and Everett themselves, since her character is a yoga-lover with a young child, and his character is-well, his character is a charming, droll Englishman who happens to be gay but who doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to Paul Lynde.
“There are definite similarities between the characters and us,” Madonna says. Although originally written as a swimming instructor, her character, Abbie, was transformed into a yoga teacher because Madonna loves yoga and disliked the idea of spending hours in chlorine. At one point, Abbie looks into the mirror and pushes up her breasts. “Nineteen eighty-nine,” she says. Then, releasing the breasts to gravity, she says, “Nineteen ninety-nine.” “Humiliating,” Madonna says, actually blushing. “1 do that in real life, but 1 don’t want anyone watching me do it.”
“I don’t think the characters are exactly us,” says Everett, “but I think there’s-certainly from my perspective-a lot of myself accessed in it. Like in our friendship-the particular kind of banter we have.”
And therein lies a story. The film’s original script was written by (and remains officially credited to) Tom Ropelewski, but somehow the press began reporting that it had been written by Everett for Madonna. Ropelewski was understandably irritated. In fact, Everett, Madonna, and Everett’s writing partner, Mel Bordeaux, “personalized the script,” Madonna says. “The script fell into Rupert’s hands and then Rupert brought it to me.”
“In defense of the writer, it was a great story and very well written in a particular genre,” Everett says. “Originally, I really liked the story, but I thought the gay character was very stereotypical. He was flub by. Whenever they had a problem, they resolved it with a foodfest. He didn’t have a sex life. He was just a token queen, really.”
“And my character was the stereotypical fag hag,” Madonna says. “Pissed off at men.”
So, the stars say, they added the “American Pie” bit and a number of Rupertesque flourishes, as when he looks at Madonna and, spurning her interest, says, “You are the woman I’d most like to … be.” There is no sex scene in the film, and none was shot. It’s old-fashioned that way. And, by the sound of things, it’s really not autobiographical. Yes, they both confirm, they have at one time or another been, shall we say, entangled with members of the opposite sexual persuasion. Asked if they can actually conceive of conceiving together, Madonna and Rupert get a little edgy. “I’d have to be in a much more desperate state,”~ Madonna says, grinning.
”I’d have to be more desperate, too,”‘ says Everett.
“First of all, I don’t think Rupert is truly ready to have children.”
“For me and my particular issues with intimacy,”‘ Everett later says, “the wild night with a woman probably wouldn’t be happening with my best friend. It would have to be with someone a rung underneath that. Or maybe two.”