05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
ASK 6'4" RUPERT EVERETT ABOUT HIS stature, and he'll tell you a very tall tale. Growing up in Norfolk, England, he says, "my mom distorted my self-image by telling me I was really tall. I am now, but then I was really tiny. I was only 5'1" until I was 16." The 40-year-old Everett didn't reach his current altitude until he was 25, and the change took adjusting to. "I spent most of my 20s bent double, leaning like a giant redwood that has just been felled," he says with a laugh. "But now I'm standing up straighter." These days, Everett, a former model who came to prominence as Julia Roberts
's sidekick in 1997's My Best Friend's Wedding
, is hard to miss—or ignore. The gay actor's lanky frame and languid limbs inspire pan-gender palpitations. "His appeal is that he looks incredible in whatever he is wearing, and you know he would probably look equally as good without it," says Minnie Driver, 30, his costar in last year's An Ideal Husband
. "Rupert is a perfect example of a person who doesn't project sexuality, he projects sensuality." Friend Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett, who co-owns a Greenwich Village tea shop near the actor's digs, recalls seeing Everett on a StairMaster through the window of a neighborhood gym. "I was going to rap on the glass to say hi," he says, "but about 15 gay guys had their faces pressed to the window. I couldn't get near him." Everett, who last teamed with Madonna
in The Next Best Thing
, hates to talk about his looks, but he has definite ideas about what not to do. He wears a suit when he has to, but, he says, "I like Adidas track pants." And although he modeled for Yves Saint Laurent's Opium for Men until just last year, he insists, "Aftershave is one of the grossest things I've ever heard of." Still, he admits to being unsure at times. "I wish I were better looking," he says. "I think everyone does."