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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

About The Casting
First on board for The Importance of Being Earnest was An Ideal Husband alum Rupert Everett, who plays the wily Algernon ‘Algy' Moncrieff, Jack Worthing's partner-in-crime. "He's a debonair character whose primary aim is to have a good time, preferably at someone else's expense," Everett says of his character.

"Rupert was the natural choice for the part," says Thompson, "He'd always wanted to play Algernon." Parker was eager to collaborate with Everett again: "It was terrific to be re-united with the Rupert Everett after such a great experience on An Ideal Husband. He is quite an exceptional talent."

As for Colin Firth, Thompson observes, "He was our first choice for Jack, and he accepted immediately."

Firth says he was intrigued by the role of the sly, dry Jack. "Jack is arguably the least witty and the most earnest," he explains. "I find that new possibilities keep popping up with him. Is he anxious and stiff or is he rather laid-back and debonair? The answer is that there's probably a bit of a progression through all those things."

The film marks the first time (besides being in separate scenes in Shakespeare in Love) Firth and Everett have worked together since their appearance in the landmark British movie Another Country, released in 1984. "It really was very exciting to see Colin and Rupert working on and off screen together," says Parker. "There's a real rapport there, and their history through Another Country has stood them in good stead. I think the two characters in the story instinctively have that."

Firth claims that it was the material that drew him to the project, not the costume, or the setting. "You can't get better writing," he says. "If you're talking about light comedy, Wilde is the pinnacle of English wit."

"The original play is brilliant," he continues. "I know it's a great cliché when people say, ‘Oh, actually, it's very subversive,' but it is. When you scratch the surface it's very cheeky and wicked, and the sheer quality of it means it's possible to endlessly reinvent it. It's structured perfectly as a piece of theater, but Oliver's been extremely audacious in opening it up. I've been amazed at how much freedom there is within it."

The language also struck a chord with Dame Judi Dench, who played Lady Bracknell in a 1982 production at the National Theatre and, in her younger days, Cecily Cardew. "It's a perfectly written piece," she says, "and the language is simply wonderful. You don't really hear such exquisitely constructed sentences anymore, unless you go to Wilde."

Dench was the last to join the shoot, and Parker agrees that she performed spectacularly well under the circumstances. "It must have been very difficult for her," he says, "Coming in during the last two or three weeks of the shoot, you have to hit the ground running – Lady Bracknell doesn't just enter a scene and stroll through. She is the most formidable and imposing character of the film, but Judi's so easy with it, she's astonishing."

Dench mirrors Parker's enthusiasm. "I've known Oliver for an extremely long time," she reveals, "really, since he was quite a small boy – and so I wa

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