When Rupert Everett dies, he won't have a funeral.
He has given this serious thought.
"I'll go on the bonfire," he says. "That's what I'd like."
At the risk of spoiling his cheerful plan, I feel obliged to point out that it's against the law to put corpses on bonfires.
"Yes, but it shouldn't be," says the actor, irritably squeezing lemon into his tea. "I'm sure someone can put me on there, if I've just died normally. I wanted to put my dad on the bonfire. But nobody else wanted to, so we didn't."
It feels awfully strange to be sitting in a restaurant with Rupert Everett, who has been my heartthrob for decades, talking about his death.
When it actually happens, I will feel even odder – assuming I outlive him. I may not. He's only 53 and, from a close-up look at his face, I'd guess that parts of him are getting younger all the time.
There was a time when Rupert Everett was 25 and I was 11. Another Country, the great movie which brought his angular beauty and astonishing charisma to national attention, was the first 15-rated film I ever saw underage. Its heartbreaking images of gay love, physical punishment, treachery and exile were deeply formative for me and deeply awkward for my father in the next seat.
The Comfort of Strangers, in which Rupert Everett and his late friend Natasha Richardson played a couple on a mysterious adventure in Europe, was the first film I ever saw on a date. The Vortex, Noël Coward's tale of sex and drugs among English toffs, in which Rupert Everett played the coke-addicted juvenile lead that Coward himself took in the original production, was the first stage play for which I ever bought tickets with my own money.
I've been in love with him for a long, long time. And now here we are, in a fashionable London haunt, drinking tea, talking about death.
The second volume of his memoirs, Vanished Years, is full of death. His father; Natasha Richardson; many friends in the Aids holocaust of the 1980s. As their different titles suggest, his first volume, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, is gossipy and light; the second is reflective, poignant and wistful. On its pages, Rupert Everett slips in and out of worlds like a character from Evelyn Waugh: witty, transient, tragic, glamorous, elusive and brilliant. A Hollywood actor isn't supposed to be this clever, nor write this well.
He claims that it is not meant to be sad.
"I love death! I adore it!" he insists, waving happily at the maître d'. (When Rupert was doing The Judas Kiss, at the theatre next door, he ate here every evening at 5.30pm.) "I've got to that age, I'm over the yard arm. I love funerals. Good hymns, nice church, funny-looking people pottering down the aisle. I hate parties and I never go to people's houses, but I love funerals."
He is glad, then, that he didn't throw his father on the bonfire, much though he hopes someone can overcome the legalities to arrange that for himself.
"No, I loved his funeral. It was the opening of my funeral season. It was a real moment for me. So many of my friends came – and I really loved my father during it, which I hadn't always during his life. And since then… you'll think I'm getting Shirley MacLaineish, but you can have good relations with dead people. Whether it's the memory cells throwing them up occasionally or whether it's a parallel universe, relationships go on."
Along with Rupert's new-found love of death, he's fallen out of love with sex.
One of the great anecdotes in the book is set in Berlin; it begins – and if you can find a better opening two lines for an anecdote, I'll give you £100 – "On my way home, I pop into one of my favourite bars for a drink. Unbeknown to me, it is Nude Sunday."
I won't tell you how the story continues, but please don't imagine that his trousers stay on. This is part of the novelistic, magic-realism of his character in the memoir: it feels like he's got a favourite bar in every city in the world, a secret passageway to a constant international playground; he can make a hangout for homosexual hook-ups sound like Narnia. Somewhere in the world, you feel, it is always Nude Sunday.
I am disappointed to hear that Clothed Monday has dawned at Rupert's house.
"That was all years ago," he says. "It's not how I'd approach a city now. Sex has passed me by. It's over! I've spent most of my adult life, since the age of 10, thinking almost exclusively about sex, and getting it, or recovering from it. But it's all smoke and mirrors to me now."
He is not celibate; in fact, he's happily settled with a long-term boyfriend. "Sex isn't really over. I'm just not motivated by it any more, and I used to be motivated by it purely. I think that happens to a man; it's part of a midlife crisis. But it's been quite nice, in a way, because I do lots of other things instead. Since it stopped, that major driving force, I've felt much calmer."
One of the things he's been doing instead is giving the performance of his life in The Judas Kiss. This is David Hare's play about the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, set in two acts on either side of Wilde's imprisonment.
Next week is the Olivier Awards, for which Rupert Everett has been nominated. Although he is up against Mark Rylance, whose performance as Olivia in Twelfth Night is so inspired that he turns one of the dullest characters in Shakespeare into someone you can't bear to watch leave the stage, it will be a travesty if Everett doesn't win.
Twenty-eight years after Another Country, I sat watching this actor tell, once again, a heartbreaking story of gay love, physical punishment, treachery and exile – but this time he was old, fat, grey (thanks to make-up and costume, I'm sure he'd like me to clarify), and hollow with defeat. Not so erotic this time, admittedly. But it is an incredible incarnation: he just becomes Oscar Wilde, in the first act offering a camp and melodramatic performance of tragedy, in the second act living a real one.
The current run has finished, but it will surely rise again. When I ask Rupert what it feels like to have given the performance of his life, he says: "It feels like I'll probably still be doing it in 20 years' time in Scarborough – 'Oh God, she's wheeling out her Wilde again' – and it'll be the only thing I can do."
He knows, though. He knows this is a wondrous phase of his professional life, and a part he was born to play. Stephen Fry brought his towering intelligence and wit to Oscar Wilde, but Everett brings both of those along with his own bruised glamour and a jolt of bitter darkness as though he's possessed. Is he possessed? Is this "relations with dead people"?
"I do have a really strong notion of Wilde," he says. "I see him very clearly. He was blinded by success, blinded by stardom, and never understood, ever in his life, that he was vile to his wife – but I think his flaws are touching and great. I love him for his faults and his snobbery."
In the play, Bosie says that Wilde is a coward for not being honest in court about his homosexuality, arguing that future generations in a more liberated time (so that is us, now, in the audience) will despise him for it.
"That's not much of an issue to me," says Rupert Everett. "Everybody denies themselves, before the cock crows three times. It's another thing that's tragic and lovely about Wilde, for me. It was amazing doing the play on the night of the parliamentary act about gay marriage. There was this extraordinary feeling, doing a play about a character who lost everything for being gay, and seeing where it had come to, that night."
Have we really come so far, though? The play imagines a time when no public figure will deny his sexuality. In 2013, Rupert Everett is still the only man I can think of who came out of the closet while playing romantic leads. In Hollywood, everyone wears make-up and nobody's gay.
"We live in a very weird world," he admits. "On the one hand it's very liberal, on the other very conservative. It's like a jet stream, blowing up and down in the most civilised places on earth. Depressing, yes, and yet here I am, acting as Oscar Wilde in a play about three queens with a lot of nude boys on stage, with a normal theatre-going crowd not judging it in a shocked way at all. Straight couples, families… there's no brick wall of bigotry. A few years ago, that would have been unlikely."
Sexual liberation, Rupert thinks, has lately been the business of heterosexuals.
"They've become like homosexuals!" he points out. "They cruise for sex, they have random sex; that's a huge shift even from the 60s, which people called liberated, but it was done in a very connected way. Now the straights have become cruisers, and the homosexuals are all getting married and having kids."
He says this very good-naturedly; he claims to lose his temper only with friends ("I have huge arguments, sometimes two-year fatwas that take forever to unwind") and over his work.
He agrees with Hare's Wilde, who tells Bosie that changing England is low on his list of priorities.
"It's very low on mine. Although I do hate the way London is changing into a sort of Monégasque tax haven, full of Chinese oligarchs' manicurists. We've let London slip through our fingers and we're like the Raj Indians, servicing and arse-licking the über-rich. On the other hand, as an entertainer, that's fine…"
He preferred London, and all the big cities of the world, when they were "rough and ready… or just rougher. I don't like wedding-cake Paris, or sand-blasted New York, or anywhere that's become a pedestrianised shopping centre with no character."
He likes a melting pot of class and type; that's what drew him to the old gay bars, and indeed to the Masses and Lourdes trips that he talks about in the book. He seems terribly Catholic, in the sense of Protestantism being a rather polite religion where you're wearing a hat and eating a wafer, while Catholicism invites you to imbibe Christ's body and its priests wash the feet of the homeless.
There is a yearning to his voice, both in the book and in our conversation, when he talks of inner-city churches, yet he also tells me: "I am not a Catholic. I was brought up a Catholic, but I think Catholicism is an abomination of the Christian message."
Neither, once we're on a negative kick, is he very impressed with the personalities of the Coalition. He agrees that they resemble "the gods" in Another Country, the waistcoated prefects who rule a tiny world.
"They play into the hands of Ukip, because there's so little difference between them, but they're constantly bickering anyway. The worst one is poor old… I've forgotten his name now. Clegg? What a pinko. I'm most a fan of Ed Miliband, if any politicians, but they're all a doomed race. If any one of them was a real protagonist, it wouldn't work at all."
Another irritant is virtual communication. "We're turning into blobs," he complains. "You see it in the street, people bumping into each other because we're losing our sensory skills, our depth-charge sounding mechanisms. I tried tweeting twice, but it was useless. I was trying to say something about Paul McCartney, but I spelt it wrong."
Nevertheless, Rupert claims that he is not much annoyed by anything. He is too full of a renewed enthusiasm for his work, now that he's over sex.
"The notion of working thrills me for itself now, whereas before I was thrilled by the glorification of me, however I could get it. It was all down to sex."
With sex off the agenda as a motivating force, he has suddenly noticed everyone else in the room. "I am much more connected to the audience – and to the fact that they've paid. That never used to cross my mind. I can't understand it about myself, how I managed to fail to notice certain blindingly obvious facts, like that someone's paid 50 quid to go to the theatre."
His mind newly on these sensible, sober and seriously professional things, Rupert tells me he does not even worry about his looks.
As Oscar Wilde, he gets a good laugh with the line: "My appearance is that of a pederast Anglican bishop who has been locked all night in a distillery." With the wig off, he claims not to think about that sort of thing at all.
"I don't concentrate on it much any more. I have more time to concentrate on work, which I was never able to do before. Once you decide to concentrate on a project, an idea, you can ride it through rapids."
Thing is, though, I don't believe him. I don't believe that the renewed passion for his work is anything to do with ceasing to care about sex, or about what he looks like. I don't think it's anything to do with getting old. I think it's because he's been doing brilliant things, and been celebrated for them, and he had forgotten what that felt like.
Rupert Everett has not been taken seriously for years. He's done daft Hollywood movies, mostly bad ones. He fell out with Madonna, his former friend, which was all anyone ever talked about when his name came up. He signed up, inexplicably, for Celebrity Apprentice, then ran away in a big tabloid storm and said rude things about Piers Morgan.
He was the first to invite others to see him as trivial. He was teasy and self-deprecating, waspish and gossipy, obligingly bitchy about celebrities when he was being interviewed. He was terribly witty about failure. He allowed himself to be camp, funny, washed-up Rupert.
But here he is now: author of a darker, cleverer volume of memoirs that was praised by critics in hardback and is coming out in paperback on the eve of the Olivier Awards, where he is nominated for a performance of unforgettable skill and subtlety.
That, I think, is why work is exciting him. I don't believe for a moment that a man who wore skimpy little T-shirts to interview academics in a documentary about Byron could ever stop caring what he looks like; I think he just doesn't want to talk about it publicly.
He knows how funny he could be about ageing. But he doesn't want to be Joan Rivers. That was just his schtick while he wasn't being Laurence Olivier.
Now he wants to talk about the Nazi occupation of Paris, and his love of trees. Not that he needs to, to convince me that he's a serious man; I know he is.
I do believe that he feels old. "In the last few years," he says, "I've had the experience a tree has: one day it's full of leaves, then the wind blows and there's only one left. That happened to me in the last two years: a major ageing. Physically. Physically, I feel a big change has happened. If you want to be maudlin about it, it's part of dying."
But I also think he is playing up the dying and the thinking, and playing down the sex and Botox, because he is loving being taken seriously for the first time in decades and he doesn't want it to stop.
I don't think he's really at peace. I don't think he wants or needs to be; he's only 53. I don't think it's all about trees, reading and responsibility.
I don't think he's done with sex, or vanity, or Catholicism. They're in him like veins. When he imagines what happens after his death, he imagines a dangerous, complicated conflagration.
Vanished Yearsby Rupert Everett is published at £8.99. To order a copy for £7.19, with free UK p&p, click on the link or call 0330 333 6846This article was written by Victoria Coren, for The Observer on Sunday 21st April 2013 08.30 Europe/London
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