BlackBook’s List Of The Best And Brightest Stars Of 2013

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The New Regime 2013

Whether in front of the camera, or up to the mic, or behind the bar, the stars collected in our sixth annual declaration of the best brightest talents in film, music, television, art, and nightlife are all ready for their close-ups. Pay attention to these faces, because you’ll be seeing them often.

The New International: ALICIA VIKANDER

In the recent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Sweden-born Alicia Vikander plays Kitty, the virtuous, if naïve, counterpart to the immoral titular character played by Keira Knightley. Kitty is one of the few characters in the film to break out of the claustrophobic stage setting employed by director Joe Wright that ensnares the other Russian aristocrats. Not that being on stage has ever daunted the 24-year-old. “My mother’s an actress, and when we didn’t have a babysitter, I would come with her to the theater,” she explains. Already an award-winning actor in her home country, Vikander became an international star after appearing in the Danish film A Royal Affair earlier this year, playing the adulterous Queen of Denmark, Caroline Matilda. Although Anna Karenina was her first English-language film, she’s eager to continue to work on international projects. To that end, she shot alongside Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore this past summer. “It’s a very big adventure film,” she says of the project, helmed by Russian director Sergei Bodrov. And although Vikander is returning home to Sweden, she hopes to make her way back to the States soon. “The industry is so small in Scandinavia,” she explains. But for Vikander it’s not the size of the industry that counts. “I just want to continue to work with people—actors and directors—I admire.” —Tyler Coates

Photo Alisa Connan
Styling Angie Smith
Makeup Emma White Turle @ Red Represents
Hair Alex Price @ Frank Agency

The New
 Leading Man: NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been a hair’s breadth from becoming a household name for longer than seems justifiable. He starred in two Fox series that didn’t catch—as a 400-year-old homicide detective in New Amsterdam, which had an eight-episode run, and as the lead in the cult favorite sci-fi pilot, Virtuality, which was co-written by Ronald Moore (Battlestar Galactica) and directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights)—but with his front-and-center role as the incestuous, gold-plated Jaime Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones, he’s finally beginning to take his rightful place in the spotlight. In the fantastic 2011 Norwegian film Headhunters, he played a revenge-seeking CEO who put his nemesis through a world of shit, literally. (Mark Wahlberg is planning a stateside remake of the film, and Nikolaj jokes about how busy the actor/producer is, saying, “He does catering on Game of Thrones.”) When asked about his lead role opposite Jessica Chastain in the upcoming Guillermo del Toro-produced supernatural thriller Mama, he instantly sings the first line of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “I can’t watch movies like that,” he says. “They freak me out.” In an appealing confession for someone so tall (6’ 2”) and square-jawed, he says, “The idea of ghosts scares the shit out of me,” adding that he even had trouble watching the rough cut of the film. “I had to turn the sound off.” In 2013 he’ll appear alongside Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko as a battle-hardened weapons expert in the big-budget sci-fi epic, Oblivion, and opposite Juliette Binoche in A Thousand Times Goodnight. When prodded for hints about season three of Game of Thrones, which premieres in March, he’s appropriately tight-lipped. He also admits to not reading the books until after he gets the scripts. “I don’t want to get attached to anything too specific with the character because they make changes for the show,” he says. “I don’t want to start questioning their decisions. After all, they got us this far.” —Adam Brent Houghtaling

Photo Aaron Richter
Styling Christopher Campbell
Grooming Tayler Treadwell
Location Acme Studios, Brooklyn

The New Sound of Young America: HAIM

“We grew up on TLC, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Backstreet Boys, and ’N Sync,” says guitarist and vocalist Danielle Haim of the ’90s R&B influence in the sister act’s sound. “We still listen to Top 40 radio most of the time, but through our parents we listened to classic rock and Motown and funk.” All those sounds blend together in the celebratory pop of HAIM. Danielle, 22, has the highest profile in the band, having toured with Julian Casablancas and Jenny Lewis, but along with multi-instrumentalist Alana, 20, and bassist Este, 24, the trio—who recently added drummer Dash Hutton to the band—have years of live experience after playing in family band Rockenhaim with their parents when they were young; “Alana was four,” says Danielle. “We always thought we would end up working together on something more serious. We just didn’t know how to get there.” They went the great-artists-steal route while learning the songwriting process, taking their favorite songs and refashioning them as their own. They soon began playing live and building a loyal following in their native Los Angeles. But recording proved to be a difficult process. “Every year we would go into the studio and try to make a record and it always sounded… not good,” says Danielle, but each instance was an education. After “fucking around on three songs for six months” the Forever EP finally appeared this past February, and their fortunes have sharply improved ever since. They recently signed to Columbia Records and are now under a little more pressure to turn out a full-length album, which Danielle vaguely suggests they’ll be ready to release in the early half of 2013. —ABH

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Christopher Campbell
Makeup Sandra Ganzer @ Jed Root
Hair Candice Birns for candicebirns.com using Orbie Haircare
Location Siren Studios, Los Angeles

The New Hollywood Believer: NATE PARKER

“I think I’m an activist before I’m an artist,” says actor Nate Parker, whose favorite roles exhibit a strong social perspective. “I love the arts, but I think a platform is no good if you can’t use it to better your fellow man.” With electrifying supporting roles in Spike Lee’s coming-of-age drama Red Hook Summer and Nicholas Jarecki’s Wall Street thriller Arbitrage, the 33-year-old Virginia native claims he tries to make it “extremely difficult not to cast” him. But Parker didn’t always have Hollywood ambitions. Having received a degree in computer science from the University of Oklahoma, it was only after accompanying a friend to an audition in Dallas that he was inspired to begin acting. At the audition, Parker was approached by a manager who asked him to read a monologue and, after watching him perform, insisted that he move out to Los Angeles immediately to pursue an acting career. “I try to live my life completely without fear,” says Parker who, without hesitation, uprooted his life—moving to Los Angeles within four days. As a “firm believer in process,” before auditioning for his longtime hero, Denzel Washington, Parker wrote a 100-page biography of the character he was in contention for after hearing a tip about the elder statesman’s own methods. He impressed the Oscar-winning actor/director, landing a role in his film, The Great Debaters. “These journeys we go on as actors, in many ways, are a call to tap into our own experiences,” says Parker. And perhaps it’s his competitive background as an athlete, or the fact that he left home at the age of fourteen and endured the life experiences of someone much his senior, but Parker’s work ethic and confidence are unquestionably setting him ahead of the young Hollywood pack. —Hillary Weston

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Natalie Toren
Grooming Kristen Shaw @ Jed Root

The New Thespian: LILY RABE

“I’ve always wanted to perform,” says Lily Rabe, channeling the plucky sensibility of her childhood self. “I remember going by the Broadway Dance Center and seeing the dancers in the window. The teacher said I was too young to train there—I was still wearing diapers. My mother told me that within two weeks I had potty-trained myself and was like, ‘Alright, let’s go!’” While adamant against acting as a young girl, she came around to the craft in high school. It’s no surprise given her fortitude—and her pedigree (her parents are playwright David Rabe and the late actor Jill Clayburgh)—that she’s become a respected performer by the age of 30. “I was so determined to do it differently from my parents,” she explains. “I wanted to forge my own path.” After attending Northwestern University, Rabe returned to her native New York and landed a role in a Broadway revival of Steel Magnolias in 2004. Highly praised performances followed, most notably as Portia in The Merchant of Venice opposite Al Pacino’s Shylock, for which she earned a Tony nomination. After two more starring turns on stage, Rabe headed to L.A. to play poltergeist Nora Montgomery on American Horror Story. She returns to the psychosexual drama for its second season—American Horror Story: Asylum—as Sister Mary Eunice, and this time around goes head-to-head against recent Emmy winner Jessica Lange. “It’s the best kind of challenge, and I’m having an incredible time,” she gushes, while keeping mum about this season’s shocks and terrors. Both American Horror Story and her starring role in The First, an upcoming biopic about silent film legend Mary Pickford, will keep her on the west coast for a few more months, but she’s already planning a trip back east. “I’ll return to New York soon,” she says. “I get itchy when I’m not doing a play.” —TC

Photo Emilie Elizabeth
Styling Marissa Joye Peden
Makeup Joanna Schlip @ Cloutier Remix
Hair Danny Rishoff @ Tracey Mattingly
Photo Assistant Adrian Espinosa
Location The Jesus Wall, Los Angeles

The New Short Seller: JIM GAVIN

“All the stories in the collection were rejected everywhere until I sent one to The New Yorker, unsolicited, and they took it,” says author Jim Gavin of the pieces that make up his first short story collection, Middle Men, which is being published this coming February by Simon & Schuster. From his home in Culver City, Gavin writes about a side of Los Angeles that is often overlooked in favor of the city’s more glamorous reputation. His stories are sun-bleached and overflowing with bloviating salesmen and well-meaning people with dried-up checking accounts. “They’re all stories I wanted to tell for a long time, I just didn’t know how,” he says. “They’re very autobiographical.” The titular two-part story, “Middle Men,” comes straight from his own experience as a plumbing supplies salesman. “That’s what people want to read about,” he quips, “industrial plumbing in southern California.” “I think writing fiction in Los Angeles is fun,” he says. “There’s a healthy remove from the New York literary world and there’s a great fiction scene flourishing here in the shadows of Hollywood.” For a time, he worked on the sports desk at The Orange County Register—“It gave me a thick skin, but it burnt me out. I lived like a vampire.”—and recently finished an MFA at Boston University, but he credits a handful of adult education classes at UCLA as being a turning point in his life. “That’s when I started to get serious [about the work],” he says. Following the sale of the collection, he’s moved on to his first novel, which has also been sold to Simon & Schuster—but don’t expect to see it any time soon. “It’s a fun, grueling, terrible process,” he says. “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can sort of see the horizon.” —ABH

Photo Emilie Elizabeth

The New Double Threat: SAINT LOU LOU

“We’re floating.” These are the first words Miranda Kilby (the brunette one) says after we establish a trans-oceanic connection with her and her sister, Elektra. And the twins, both 21, should be floating. The universal adoration the duo has received for their first single, “Maybe You,” is nothing less than amazing; the song is a hypnotic re-imagining of ABBA’s melancholy side as run through a chillwave filter (listen at soundcloud.com/saintloulou). They certainly didn’t expect it to spread like wildfire over the internet as it has (it’s since been released as a single via Kitsuné Records). “It was crazy. It was a rough demo that took off and then got mastered and became the single,” says Miranda. “Overnight it became this big thing.” Born in Australia, but raised primarily in Sweden with holiday jaunts back down under, the girls grew up in a musical environment, but were initially more interested in becoming academics. “I think Saint Lou Lou chose us,” says Elektra. “Time chose us. It does feel like destiny.” They’re still getting to know themselves as songwriters while they carefully gather material for more singles and, eventually, an album. When asked about what they’re working on for the future, they say people will be surprised. “Some of the songs are more up- tempo,” Miranda says. Elektra quickly leaps in to add, “When we say up-tempo, it’s still down-tempo.” As the interview wraps, Miranda asks, “So are you going to use the crazy twins angle? The sultry twins angle?” A question she quickly follows with the sweetest of threats: “I don’t like that. If you do, we’ll come and knock on your door one day. You can be sure.”—ABH

Photo Alisa Connan
Styling Angie Smith
Makeup Emma White Turle @ Red Represents
Hair Alex Price @ Frank Agency
Photo Assistant Jack Lawson
Stylist’s Assistant Danielle Whiteman

The New Innovator: CHADWICK BELL

“I was a little awkward. I’d paint all the time, all night even, then go to school the next day with the paintings,” says 30-year-old womenswear designer Chadwick Bell of his teenage years in Southern California. Bell was drawn to art at a young age, but ultimately gravitated toward fashion, getting his start in retail at Dolce & Gabbana while studying design and media arts at UCLA. After graduation, he and Vanessa Webster, a childhood friend-turned-business partner, set their sights on the Big Apple. “I was visiting Vanessa while she interned in New York during our sophomore year of college, and it sort of sealed the deal that this is where we needed to be,” he says. “New York just felt right,” he adds. “I’m just a little too high strung for California.” Bell found his first muse in Webster, who in turn likes to say that she discovered his talent. “There’s a mutual push between us,” says the designer. “Nobody can get me to do things the way she does.” Chadwick Bell—the brand—made its debut at New York Fashion Week in fall 2008. The collection stemmed from one of his many fantasies about “the Chadwick Bell woman,” someone who is always “worldly, modern, chic.” That season he found inspiration from a 1940s Robert Capa photo of American socialite Slim Keith holding a shotgun while bird hunting with Ernest Hemingway. For spring 2013, Bell places his muse in the American Southwest (“New Mexico, to be exact”), envisioning her on a “personal crusade for clarity.” While focusing on minimalism, illusion, and austerity, the collection, entitled “Nirvana,” features clean lines and a neutral color palette with splashes of green and yellow. And then it’s on to next season’s designs. “All we can do is recreate and reinvent,” he says. “I plan to be doing this forever.” —Ryma Chikhoune

Photo Alexander Wagner
Photo Assistant Ken Morton

The New Auteur: ZAL BATMANGLIJ

Zal Batmanglij’s hauntingly seductive first feature, Sound of My Voice, opened this past year to critical praise, establishing him as one of the most innovative voices in a new wave of American independent cinema. “I’m excited to make movies that feel real even in the most fantastical situations,” says the 31-year-old director. After studying anthropology at Georgetown University, Batmanglij attended AFI’s graduate school for directing—and what better course of inquiry for a filmmaker whose debut walked the line between in-depth ethnographic study and psychological thriller? Sound of My Voice, co-written with the film’s star Brit Marling, tells the story of a couple who infiltrates a cult in order to expose its leader who claims to have time-traveled from the future. “A story is a disguise that allows you to bypass people’s defenses and enter the innermost chambers of their hearts,” Batmanglij says. Following their success with Sound of My Voice, Batmanglij and Marling collaborated again for his upcoming directorial feature, The East, a drama about a young woman who goes undercover to join an anarchist collective—starring Marling, Ellen Page, and Alexander Skarsgård. “So much of what Brit and I have to do as writers is to go live,” says Batmanglij, who actually stayed in an anarchist collective with Marling prior to making the film— understanding the importance of “living something authentic” in order to come back and tell an original story. Inspired by directors from Krzysztof Kieslowski to Alan J. Pakula, it’s evident that Batmanglij has a zeal for creating stories that stem from the anxieties of the modern age as shown through a lens that exposes the mysticism lurking just beneath the surface. “I feel tremendously lucky to be a filmmaker in this decade,” reveals Batmanglij, “but it’s also daunting because nobody knows what the fuck is going on. We live in a strange, strange time.” —HW

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Natalie Toren
Grooming Kristen Shaw @ Jed Root

The New Multi-Talent: DOMHNALL GLEESON

“I hate having my picture taken,” says actor Domhnall (pronounced “tonal”) Gleeson during our photo shoot. It’s a surprising confession considering the infectious energy he brings to the set as he poses and pratfalls for the camera. One of a family of acting Gleesons—he’s the son of character actor Brendan Gleeson, and his brother, Brian Gleeson, is also an actor—Domhnall seems to have his fingers in every aspect of the business. His resume is already flush with choice roles in films like the final two Harry Potter installments (as the scarred, elder Weasley, Bill), 2010’s Never Let Me Go and True Grit, and the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina, but that’s just the beginning. He earned a Tony nomination in 2006 for his part in the Broadway play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, co-wrote and starred in sketches for the six-part Irish comedy show, Your Bad Self, and wrote and directed two short films—2009’s What Will Survive of Us, which he refers to as “the anal sex one,” and Noreen, which stars his father and brother as incompetent police officers. Writing, acting, directing—is there anything the 29-year-old Dubliner can’t do? “I haven’t done any interpretative dance yet,” he says with a long sigh. But he has gotten a haircut. When asked about what happened to his trademark long ginger locks, he laughs and says, “Really…I’d done as much with my hair as I possibly could.” Coming up, he’ll play the romantic lead opposite Rachel McAdams in About Time, and he’s learning to play guitar for the rock comedy Frank, for which he’ll go head-to-head with Michael Fassbender. And it turns out he’s camera-shy when filming as well, admitting that being in front of the camera is nerve- wracking. “What’s so terrifying—and exciting—is that it remains forever.” —ABH

Photo Aaron Richter
Styling Christopher Campbell
Grooming Tayler Treadwell
Location Acme Studios, Brooklyn

The New King of Cocktails: JOAQUIN SIMÓ

“I love this window,” Joaquín Simó says, gesturing to a large half-moon aperture facing a soggy Avenue B in New York’s East Village. After five-and-a-half years making cocktails in the inky shadows of venerated spirits den Death & Co., and earning the title of America’s Best Bartender at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail industry gathering, the academic-turned- bartender is seated comfortably in his recently-opened bar, Pouring Ribbons. “The devil is in the details,” he says, referring not only to novel cocktail ingredients like his house-made corn milk, but also to remembering customers’ names and their favorite drinks. Simó, a Cuban-Ecuadorian-American, learned hospitality from a priest at his first job, making coffee in a Miami church office. He picked up the art of bartending—shooting the shit, cutting people off—from a couple of Irish guys in Boston. And he perfected the trade of making cocktails— balancing ingredients, the art of the elegant pour— with guidance from modern legends like Phil Ward and Brian Miller (both formerly of Death & Co. and now at Mayahuel and Lani Kai, respectively). Now Simó makes a Southside that would put the 21 Club to shame and blasphemously stirs up a killer Negroni without a drop of Campari (he prefers Luxardo Bitters). On any given night Pouring Ribbons is busy with a mixture of recognizable barkeeps, chefs, and cocktail aficionados. It’s a bar owner’s dream. “I knew New York was going to make or break me. It is the best city in the country to be completely anonymous, or the city where you can find the biggest, brightest stage.” —Leslie Pariseau

Photo Eric Medsker
Photo Assistant Anthony Tafuro
Location Pouring Ribbons, NYC

The New Pride of Manchester: JOSEPHINE

“When I was a kid I used to listen to a lot of indie rock,” says 29-year-old singer-songwriter Josephine Oniyama. “A lot of Oasis and Nirvana, and my mom used to play a lot of highlife music like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adé. And as I’ve gone along I’ve begun to enjoy the American Songbook and American folk like Woody Guthrie and Odessa.” Her addictive debut album, Portrait, is reflective of the many influences that informed it. She also feels a deep connection to her home city of Manchester, which has produced some of the greatest U.K. bands including The Smiths, The Stone Roses, and the aforementioned Oasis. “I’ve always felt connected to the history here,” she says. Portrait was written and recorded over a long length of time, and the album’s final material was finished a full 18 months before it finally saw release in October. In terms of songwriting, she says, “I’m a years kind of person,” explaining that the germ of a song—a riff, a verse, a chorus—can sit for 12 months or more before it takes another step forward. “When it comes to finishing songs off, I’m terrible,” she says. “It’s a great help to have people like my producer to help carry it along.” She co-wrote three tracks on Portrait with British singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt—including the sweeping album opener, “We Were Trespassers,” and the fragile finale, “House of Mirrors.” Now with a bona fide critical success to her name, she’s been hitting the road with The Noisettes and Rodrigo y Gabriella, and in the new year you’ll find her playing a string of U.K. dates with Paloma Faith. —ABH

Photo Alisa Connan
Styling Angie Smith
Makeup Emma White Turle @ Red Represents
Hair Alex Price @ Frank Agency
Photo Assistant Jack Lawson
Stylist’s Assistant Danielle Whiteman

The New Prince of California Cuisine: ARI TAYMOR

Alma is the most exciting restaurant in Los Angeles right now and it sits in the most unlikely of locations: next to Las Palmas, a hostess club on South Broadway in Downtown, and across the street from the United Artists Theatre, a long-empty movie palace. The restaurant opened in June, and Ari Taymor, its 26-year-old chef, is already one of the most intriguing culinary names in the country. His cooking is a compelling version of California cuisine that balances reverence for farmer’s market produce with the avant-garde aesthetic and complex textures of Nordic culinary heavyweight René Redzepi, chef at Copenhagen’s lauded Noma. In Taymor you can chalk up another motivating victory for Alice Water’s inspirational Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. It was a meal at the influential locavore restaurant nearly six years ago that led him to pick up a chef ’s knife. He sharpened his skills at Bar Tartine and Flour + Water in San Francisco, but when it came to stepping out on his own, he headed for Los Angeles. “I wanted to seclude myself from the influence of the Bay Area,” he says. “It’s too hard to shut yourself out from it and develop your own style.” He needn’t worry. His style is already distinct, but Alma is very much a work in progress. The kitchen may make squid-ink ice cream—a black orb of which sat on top a dish of dry-aged steak tartare—with a $4,000 Pacojet, but diners still sit in the faux snakeskin booths selected by the previous tenants. The contrast between exacting food and disheveled surroundings is charming, but Taymor can’t wait to make changes. “Having lights that don’t look like they came from a brothel in Katmandu, and not having a countertop made of Formica, those things are important to me, but not more important than being able to cook and plate food.” —Willy Blackmoore

Photo Emilie Elizabeth
Photo Assistant Adrian Espinosa

The New Solo Show: DIGITS

“I just can’t stop releasing music,” says Alt Altman, the 27-year-old, Berlin-based, Toronto-bred mastermind behind moody synth-pop act Digits. There’s ample evidence to back up that statement. In 2012 alone he released the Death and Desire mixtape, the seven-song album Where Do You Belong, a serialized story album called City of the Dead, and his next EP, Only Affection, is already complete and ready to be released early in the new year. He started Digits, which grew out of his old band Europe In Colour, in 2009 with the release of his first album, Hold It Close, and the new project quickly became his focus. When asked about how it felt when The Guardian compared his mixtape Death and Desire to Human League’s unimpeachable synth-pop classic Dare earlier this year, he still sounds shocked and excited: “It was the craziest experience,” he says. “My jaw was on the floor and I even thought, ‘This is a bit much.’ Everything really took off after that… more press, more shows, everything’s been different.” When quizzed about the R&B influence that runs through much of his recent music, it becomes clear that Altman is approaching the genre sideways. While his contemporaries like the xx, How to Dress Well, and Nite Jewel pull from ’70s classics and ’90s Top 40, Altman’s soul influence comes from hip-hop and house music. “Frankie Knuckles’ work with Jamie Principle has always been a touchstone for me,” he says, “and I’m also a huge Prince fan.” Live, Digits is truly a solo show. “I’ve never played a Digits show with anyone else on the stage,” Altman says, “My drums are generated by a laptop, but I play two synthesizers live and also use a looping pedal for various synth lines and backing vocals.” It’s important to him that his fans see more than a guy standing at a computer. “I’ve been to a lot of electronic shows where it felt like nothing was happening live. So I prefer to make my shows as live an experience as possible.” — ABH

Photo Norman Wong

The New Soft-Rock Renegades: DIANA

When speaking with Joseph Shabason (saxophone and synths) and Kieran Adams (drums, samples, and synths), founders and songwriters for Toronto-based four-piece Diana, words like “substance” and “texture” tend to crop up a lot. “Joseph and I met at jazz school, which is also where we met [bassist and guitarist] Paul [Mathews],” says Adams, “but by the time we graduated, neither of us was enamored with the idea of a career as a jazz musician. At some point Joseph got a keyboard and a Pro Tools setup and we started writing pop songs, but I don’t think we figured out how to really do it until we started writing for [our first] album.” Their music is soft, fuzzy, and smart, and much of their inspiration comes from ’80s touchstones like Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring, Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair, Roxy Music’s Avalon, and Bryan Ferry’s Boys and Girls. “I think music from that era has a combination of intelligence and pop sensibility,” says Adams, “and there’s a progressiveness in the sonic aesthetic of those albums. It’s all well played and carefully delivered.” When singer and guitarist Carmen Elle came into the process, the Diana sound gelled instantly. “I think I saw her perform when she was 16 and I was 23,” laughs Adams, “and we knew she was a perfect fit for the material we were writing.” Shaboson adds, “We would give a picture of what we wanted for a song and she would run with it. The recording of the vocals was actually hilariously quick.” Listeners can find some of the band’s work on their Soundcloud page, Forest Family Records has released their first 12-inch single, “Born Again,” and they expect their full-length to see the light of day this spring. They’re also planning a big tour in the new year that will take them through the U.S. and parts of Canada. —ABH

Photo Vanessa Heins

The New Lord of Light: DEV HARLAN

“No matter what the medium, good design is timeless, and if something has good design qualities, it will hold up outside the medium,” says Dev Harlan, a New York-based light artist whose work is a coolly modern juxtaposition of video mapping and sculpture—the projections throwing patterns of ephemeral color and light over his fractal, pyramid-based objects. “I consider video projection mapping a medium in the same category as sculpting, painting, or drawing. It’s an expressive medium, but not the be-all end-all of the work.” Harlan was homeschooled, so it’s no surprise that he became a self-taught artist. He worked in commercial design for five years, but his interest began to drift as he became more involved in experimental films and paper-craft models, all of which led to his unique work blending sculpture and light. Though he primarily works with video mapping technology, he’s also worked with L.E.D. lighting and says, “I consider myself an artist who works with light rather than an artist who works with video.” Harlan’s goal is to get as close as possible to the experience that his sculptures are glowing and says, “The projectors are a necessary evil.” He’s done commissioned work for fashion label Y-3 (at 2012’s New York Fashion Week) and the launch event for Target’s Jason Wu fall 2012 line, but it was a video of his 2011 work “Parmenides I”—a room-sized fractal orb awash in video mapping projections—that has increased his exposure more than anything else. Concerning the future, Harlan says, “It’s totally intuitive. I’m not entirely sure myself.” —ABH

Photo Alexander Wagner
Photo Assistant Ken Morton

The New Wild Card: SCOOT MCNAIRY

To call Scoot McNairy an overnight success would be selling the multifaceted actor short. For the past decade, the 32-year-old Texas native has been steadily building momentum—working everywhere from independent film, to the stage, to behind the camera, producing such features as the award-winning In Search of a Midnight Kiss (in which he also starred). But lately, McNairy has been busy working with some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors and garnering attention from critics and audiences alike. With roles in Ben Affleck’s political thriller, Argo, and Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, McNairy holds his own in two of the year’s most lauded films, showing off his well-honed acting chops and ability to disappear into his characters. “It’s hard to tackle two roles at once,” admits McNairy. “I invest so much in the character. I consume myself 100 percent in their daily thoughts.” After moving to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas, to become a cinematographer, McNairy began taking acting classes for fun. He admits he was never particular about which aspect of the film world he wanted to be in. “I just knew that I wanted to work on movies,” he says. McNairy will continue his streak of challenging films with Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave and Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, both of which are slated to open in the new year. “It’s been a great experience working with these directors; the creativity that they allow you to bring as an individual is something I wasn’t expecting,” says McNairy, who not only plans to continue taking on interesting roles, but looks to pursue directional ambitions of his own in the future. —HW

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Christopher Campbell

Makeup Sandra Ganzer @ Jed Root
Hair Candice Birns for candicebirns.com using Orbie Haircare
Location Siren Studios, Los Angeles

Edith Zimmerman on the Making of The Hairpin

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As part of our 2012 New Regime, we spoke to Edith Zimmerman, a prolific writer and editor for the likes of New York, GQ, Esquire, and others. Her big project the for the past year has been (with Jane Marie) helming The Hairpin, a popular website for women that treats all the usual lady subjects with edgy wit and knowing grace. But like its sibling/parent site The Awl (officiated by legendary duo Choire Sicha and Alex Balk), The Hairpin defies easy genre pigeonholing. Here’s a lot of shop talk, how-to website wrangling, and yeah, that Captain America story.

How did The Hairpin get started? Did you contact Alex and Choire and propose the idea?
It was the other way around. It was the best thing in the world. They were spinning out the sister site, and they were given a chunk of money to do that, and they came to me, which was cool

Do you have a sense of why they chose you in particular?
I had written a column for them for a couple of years. Really, really not regularly, it was totally sporadic. I think there were maybe 4 or 5 installations. And then I was writing at the time for New York magazine’s entertainment blog, Vulture. I was kind of surprised that they were interested because the things I was doing for Vulture had nothing to do with (at least in my mind) writing much longer stuff that I would have to be doing. They sort of took a leap of faith I think. It was a sort of sensibility they knew from the stuff that I had written for The Awl and the ability to just do the daily grind.

When you were at New York, did you write just for Vulture or for the magazine too?
I wrote one thing for the magazine, and it was so excruciating that by the time it was published, it was like "Okay! Now I’ve written for the magazine!"

Why was it excruciating?
I felt like such an asshole because it was this concept I had pitched at a Vulture meeting, and then one the editors (because we would have crossover meetings where some stuff would be magazine, some stuff web) who is really sweet and really nice to me, was like "Oh, Edith that’s a great idea! Maybe you could do it for the magazine! How about we do it like this! And maybe we could reformat it like this!" And I was like "That’s brilliant!" And so he had this whole idea, and then he flushed it out, and was like "How about we arrange it like this?" And I was like "Great! Great!" So I wrote it, and then they had to edit it. So basically it was like a thing I hadn’t even written, and they did a million drafts of it. I mean, I know that’s how it works, but I was like "Ach!"

Always painful the first time that happens.
Yeah, but it worked out well, and I was really proud of it.

You mentioned the stuff you were doing on Vulture and on your own blog was shorter than what you thought you’d end up doing at The Hairpin. Those shorter things seem to be kind of more your deal though — short humor pieces, small jokes, and the like.
I really do like to do short I guess. A lot of the time things I write have started out much longer. So I invented this amazing process of editing myself!

Tell me more!
Um, no. Most things I usually just delete quickly. Anything good there, I try to keep it.

Very good instincts. So what was the very first meeting like with Choire and Alex?
I didn’t meet with them until the whole thing was set in stone. It was mostly [former Awl publisher] David Cho I was dealing with. I was friends with Alex from before, and I was email friends with Choire. And then it got started, and then finally I did have a sit-down with Alex about the site, because I was freaking out because this all happened to incredibly fast. I was just afraid of embarrassing myself. I was like "What do I do? How do I do this? Oh my God!" And they gave me few pointers, but for the most part they didn’t give me any help, which at first was incredibly scary, but now I’m really grateful for that. Because if I had been waiting for everyone’s approval on everything, I would have never have become confident in my ability to put it together.

So there’s not a whole lot of oversight from the mothership at this point?
No, there really never was. I mean, there totally was if I did something horrible. I was always bugging Choire about which pictures were legal to use and stupid shit like that. But the idea is that I would do whatever I wanted, and if it worked it worked, and if it didn’t …

Let’s get the lady website comparisons out of the way. Lots of people mention The Hairpin versus Jezebel or Jane in terms of readership. But I was actually more interested in how you perceive the audience in terms of the commenter population as opposed to the readership at large. How would you compare Hairpin commenters to Jezebel commenters, for instance?
Hmm. I don’t read Jezebel — and there’s a reason for that, I don’t want it to come off sounding like "Oh, I don’t own a TV" or "I couldn’t be bothered to read Jezebel." I love that site, I think it’s fantastic. It’s totally part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. But it has to do with one of the two pieces of advice that Alex gave me when we had that sit-down before the site started. One: "Be as weird as you can, just so it stands out. Because who needs a new website?" Two: "Stop reading all-women’s sites, just so whatever you do isn’t even obliquely referenced or influenced by things you read elsewhere." So I just don’t read any of them at all, which is a very easy way to answer your question. I mean I’ve totally been on those sites, and I know what they’re like.

But there’s a difference between going to a site occasionally and assuming that as part of your job.
Yeah, so I actually really couldn’t answer you honestly about the commenters and how they’re different because I just don’t read them anymore.

How do you feel about your own commenter population on The Hairpin? What do you think of those people?
They are so incredibly funny and smart and thoughtful. It’s awesome, it’s so cool, and it’s incredibly gratifying and intimidating. I was always too intimidated to comment very much on The Awl, and I have to remind myself that it’s I’m the editor and they can’t make fun of me too hard on my comment book. Like I go back and check to see how many thumbs-ups my own comments get, and they almost never get any because they’re not very funny.

Do you find that awareness affecting what you’re writing or particularly commenting about? Like being concerned about the reception it gets from that particular audience?
Totally. It’s difficult because you have to remember that the 40 extremely vocal people speak for about 1% of the people that are actually reading and responsible for your site succeeding or not. But yeah, I pretty obsessively check the comments to see if people like me.

That’s good. It always makes me suspicious when someone responsible for site content says, "Nah, I don’t read the comments." It’s not even elitist neccessarily, it’s just willfully ignorant.
The comments also are just so funny. They’re a delight to read. Although, it’s officially gotten to the point where I just can’t read all of the comments anymore because some posts will get 300 in a fairly quick stretch, and every so often I feel like they get away from themselves.

So the chief danger in this line of work is getting burned out from the grind.
Yeah, it got pretty grim. Relatively grim. Jesus Christ!

You can say "grim," it’s okay.
It was tricky, because it was such an adrenaline rush and so exciting at the beginning, because it was like this could be the worst and it could be really professionally embarrassing for me if this just sucks. For the first few months it was like really, really long days but not because I felt I had to, but just because there was no other option. That was the only way to do it. I was just compelled to do that. And there was just not very much sleep, and there were a couple spots where I was feeling really tired. And it was just coming out in my writing, I could hear it, and I was annoying myself. I didn’t like anything, which is a drag when you’re supposed to be writing 10-15 things a day and making people interested in things that you find interesting, and I just didn’t give a shit about anything, and I was tired.

How many items were you doing a day at Vulture?
At Vulture, I was writing about between 10 and 20 little posts a day. So it would be like a YouTube clip with a title and one-liner. Totally doable. But then I was trying to write longer stuff for The Hairpin.

And it’s all you — it’s not just the faceless blogger and the news cycle bullshit.
And editing other people’s stuff. So I got kind of burned out, but now everything is perfect because Jane and I both do it. That was life-changing. I have to remember what other things I do — I finished at 3 and I have no idea what else to do with myself.

Well, now you administrate, you supervise.
I go to the gym, I have hobbies and stuff. I have no idea.

Was this the kind of job or path you saw yourself on when you were interning at Esquire?
Oh God, I have no idea. No. The answer is no.

You completely had no idea back then?
No, I mean sort of. I had no idea about anything when I started as an intern because I just saw myself in some cool office at a desk, my hands sorta of just "da da da da" typing and being a writer somehow. Although, I figured out that working at magazines doesn’t mean you’re a writer. And I had no idea — I still don’t know what I want to write about. So, yeah, Esquire lead to actual jobs at magazines, which lead to website writing, which is what I decided is what I liked much better, which lead to — I mean, each year is a different thing I didn’t even imagine existed.

How many things are you writing on the website, as opposed to editing other people’s work?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I guess I write about 10 posts a day, but some of them are really, really short. I’m writing a lot less than I used to, because I got really tired of not having anything to say. And I would rather say nothing than that. And I like editing. I edit in the mornings and in the evenings, and then during work hours I’m usually just writing or looking for things to find.

Do you have time to work on other things outside of The Hairpin?
I’m having trouble balancing freelance writing, which I want to do more of because I got kind of a taste of it and was like "Oh yeah, not everything is all mine! People read stuff!" I did a little freelancing for Elle and Glamour, and I have a piece that’s theoretically coming out in Maxim later, and I’m working on a piece for The New York Times Magazine, if I don’t totally fuck it up and have them kill it, and it’s going to be pretty long. I’m doing that.

What’s been your favorite sponsored post on The Awl so far?
Skinny Cow! Skinny Cow beat me at my own game. They were like, "We want to do a sponsored post. Give us some ideas." We were doing a bra awareness thing; they wanted two boob-related posts, and they thought that, because we have this one woman who writes about the 17th century — they said, "We like this. What about she writes about the history of bras in the 17th century." And I was like, "That’s amazing." And she just knocked it out of the park, and it was one of our biggest stories, and they had their little branding in the corner, so they looked awesome. And they did another one where they just wanted her to gather images of bras in art. So it was just this huge gallery of cool art. It was so good, it just came together, and it was their idea, so I had nothing to do with it.

The Awl sites have done sponsored posts really well in terms of making the appeasement to the advertiser while doing something fun.
Yeah, it’s really a cool way to advertise I think. Because — well, really I have to say this, but — if I were a reader and I saw Skinny Cow did these things, I’d think that they were cool and really straightforward. I would buy your product, because someone on your team came here and thought that we were a good fit, and I appreciate it.

So who do you like on Tumblr these days?
There’s a blog called Awl Commentators, which is like holding a mirror up to a mirror. They just find funny things. They create weird little layers of inside jokes from the two-site zone. It made me feel really cool when I found it. I was like "Oh my God, there’s these people talking about talking about it!" Because they do stuff with Hairpin comments sometimes too. I always follow The Daily What. He’s a friend of mine, or an acquaintance of mine. I always say that aloud. I realize I want to brag about knowing him. Bobby Finger is hilarious. I like Best Roof Talk Ever. Erie Basin has the prettiest vintage jewelry. Yo Is This Racist is very good, very hilarious.

How do you find new talent or new writers that you really like?
They just write in. It’s amazing and they’re hilarious and it’s great. Or where I’m friends with people, and I think they’re really talented and cool and I bug them about what would be the right fir or them. Like, I knew that Jolie Kerr was obsessed with cleaning and had funny things to recommend. And she loves cooking and stuff. And I’m not trying to take credit for her cleaning column, but I think if you go back into the emails that we were exchanging six months ago, it would be like, "Jolie, oh my god, you should write a cleaning column." And she was like, "Oh my god, I want to write a cleaning column!" [Update: Wait, no, it happened because of Tyler Coates, and I wasn’t actually involved at all!] I don’t really solicit as much as I know people who are talented, and I want to smush them into the right fit.

Why does a submission get rejected from The Hairpin?
It would be something that was way too navel-gazey — you know, "Let me tell you about the time I spilled coffee on myself in front of a hot guy." Or, "I found my childhood diary, can I transcribe it for you?"

Any big plans for the site?
Yes and no. We want to get bigger. It’s basically where I wanted it to be now. So the next step is to come up with a cool new concept and try to get there, which I don’t know what it is yet. I don’t know what the next level is, because I don’t think we’re going to increase posting rate, we just want more features, maybe higher quality stuff and also maybe …

Slideshows?
Yeah, no. More sponsored giant things. And we want to do programs where we have a topic, and you get a lot of people to write about it, and then run it all as a package — instead of "here’s my one story about this," we’ll get 10 stories about that for a week.

How did you feel about the Observer’s "Meet the Mollys" piece awhile back, where you were mentioned?
Oh, it was so stupid. I mean, it was really funny and it’s flattering to have anyone thinking about you and typing your name anywhere at all. But that was straight up the stupidest thing. I mean it was funny, which is fine …  It was an article about three women with the same name and how that was sort of interesting, and then to demonstrate that it was like a cool premise, they took another woman with a different name and just said that she was one of them. And not only that, Choire had already written about it, except just about Mollys.

I found that whole thing very puzzling.
And they didn’t even ask me to comment. They had all the Mollys though. So then I wrote immediately to Daniel D’Addario, the dude who wrote it, and I was like, "Oh really, the Molliest of Mollys doesn’t get asked to comment on your stupid article." And he was like, "Fair point, do you have anything to say?" And I was like, "No."

Makes sense. Anything else you want to address?
Did you want to talk about the Chris Evans thing?

Not really. Did you?
No.

 

EDITH LIKES: The Brooklyn Inn, NYC

The New Legacy: Zoe Kazan

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In 2001, Zoe Kazan enrolled in her first semester at Yale. One week later, the Twin Towers were attacked and the granddaughter of the late filmmaker Elia Kazan first encountered the baggage that comes with being part of a legacy. “A reporter called me and said she wanted to talk about the freshman experience right after 9/11,” says the 26-year-old actress, sighing into her cup of black coffee. “But when we met, she immediately started asking me questions about my grandpa.” Although she has been familiar with Hollywood from birth—her parents, Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, are both screenwriters—acting has never been about privilege for Kazan, whose first major film role called for her to disrobe in front of Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road. “In our house, if you wanted to act, it meant you wanted to work,” she says. “It didn’t mean you wanted to get your hair done for a living.”

As for the craft itself, Kazan explains its draw. “Finding ways to deflect your pain?” she says. “I get that. I live in an escapist world. There isn’t a whole lot of time where I get to sit around being Zoe, and I think there’s a reason for that.”

But being Zoe doesn’t seem all that bad. The actress appeared in five films this year—among them, Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, starring Zac Efron and Claire Danes, Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee alongside Robin Wright and as Meryl Streep’s daughter in the Nancy Meyers’ comedy It’s Complicated—and currently lives in the sleepy Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens with her boyfriend, actor Paul Dano. “My taste in men isn’t exactly beefcake Americana,” she says, adding Steve Martin and Philip Seymour Hoffman to her list of celebrity crushes. She and Dano met on the off-Broadway, Ethan Hawke-directed play Things We Want, and recently filmed Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff together, but Kazan says, “If he did something else, I would love him just the same.”

Having grown up on the periphery of Hollywood, did you approach it, at the beginning of your acting career, with any baggage? It meant something more when I used to say I wanted to make a movie. I think that my parents expected me to take it more seriously. If I said I wanted to be a writer, it meant something specific, not some amorphous thing. Wanting to be an actor meant I wanted to work—as an actor—not get my hair done for a living. In terms of what I bring to the table, it’s different than someone who didn’t grow up in the business. It’s not like I’m jaded, per se, but I think that I have a more realistic view about what fame is, how I feel when people praise me in reviews, and how I react when a blog says something mean about me. I’m much less likely to pay very much mind to that kind of stuff, because the goal of the culture doesn’t seem to be anything except entropy: “Lets burn out a star!”

I wouldn’t think that growing up around your grandfather, Elia Kazan, would prepare you for the pitfalls of young Hollywood today. For one thing, I’m not interested in going out and living a young Hollywood lifestyle. The other part of that is, especially after watching what he went through with the whole brouhaha with his honorary Oscar, I feel like that was a real lesson to me, in terms of people building you up and tearing you down. People want to have an opinion about public figures. It seems very clear to me that there is a price to fame, which, might be foreign to somebody whose parents are dentists in the Midwest.

I also think it’s interesting, too, when young actors are congratulated for not turning into Lindsay Lohan. The fact that anyone would devolve into that of personality is absurd in the first place, but the fact that people are praised for not becoming that way is also equally preposterous. I guess it depends on what your goal is as an actor. If you want to be really famous for nothing, and be photographed places, I think that that’s a very different goal than wanting to have enough power to be able to do your work.

But that’s also a part of the business, being seen walking down red carpets. You’re right. I do have to attend openings, get dressed up and not look like a complete slob, but I guess I don’t think of that aspect as being a compromise to my work. It’s an obligation. Plus, I don’t mind getting dressed up and having my picture taken.

I read somewhere that your parents told you to steer clear of dating actors. How did that work out for you? [Laughs.] They say it’s easiest to meet people at work. My experience hasn’t been that much different. I feel like I’ve kept a pretty good balance of friends from the outside of work and friends that I’ve made at work. There are a handful of my friends—Caitlin Fitzgerald, who’s also in It’s Complicated with me, Carey Mulligan, who I did The Seagull with and Peter Dinklage, who I did a play with—they’re like my sisters and my brothers. In terms of dating actors, you know, the stereotype of an actor is a terrible thing: they’re maniacal and obsessed with their looks. But most actors I know aren’t really like that. And I know that I would love my boyfriend now [Paul Dano] just the same if he did something else. But it’s lovely to be able to come home and be like, I had a really tough time with this scene.

You began acting on stage, which is where you met Paul, no? It was a complete fluke that I started in theatre and so it’s sort of funny to me that I’m perceived as a theatre actress, because that was never the plan. But I love the theatre, playing someone every night for months on end, and it playing differently each time. I love being in front of an audience and having that visceral experience. Their breath! Are they cold, or hot, or are they drunk because it’s a Saturday night, or bored because it’s a matinee and it’s raining outside? But in film, I love that you’re not responsible for moving a story forward. It’s just you and the scene. That’s an intoxicating feeling.

Have you had, up until now, a role that has spoken to you more than others? Maureen in Revolutionary Road was very far away from who I am as a person. But every girl knows what it’s like to be with a guy you know is bad good news but you move forward with it anyways. There’s a sort of self-loathing there, and the enjoyment of the affair. I played Masha in The Seagull this fall—she’s so angry, and abuses drugs to escape—I’ve never had a substance abuse problem, but I understand the psychology behind finding ways to deflect your pain. I get that. I live in an escapist world. I get to go to work and pretend that I’m somebody else. There isn’t a whole lot of time where I get to sit around being Zoe, and I think there’s a reason for that.

Can I ask you a question? What’s up with the Nia Vardalos movie, I Hate Valentine’s Day? Oh, man.

I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen it, either.

It seems out of place. Everybody has a movie that they might look back on and not be as happy with. I did that after Revolutionary Road. Basically, I went from that movie into nine months of theater. So when I got out of that nine months, I did The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Me And Orson Welles, I Hate Valentine’s Day, and The Exploding Girl

Sorry to cut you off, but I searched “exploding girl” on YouTube to watch the trailer… thanks very much for that. Ah, that’s terrible! But I’m really proud of that one. Anyway, I really shouldn’t have done that Nia Vardalos movie, not because of how it turned out, but because I needed a break.

It must be really nice to get to that point, when you can be a little more discerning about the projects you choose. My parents said something to me, which I probably should have listened to a little bit more. They said, “If you ever need help financially, we’ll give it to you because we don’t want you to take something really bad just to have money.” I wouldn’t have done that anyway, but I do think there is a great luxury in not having to take a bad movie. I’m just getting there, and it feels great.

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Top photo: Kazan wears dress by D&G. Ring by D. Roach. Bottom photo: Dress by Oscar De La Renta. Shoes by Gucci. Photography by Billy Kidd. Styling by Wilson Mathews III. Hair by Sarah Potempa @ The Wall Group. Makeup by Talia Shobrook @ The Wall Group.

Joshua Ferris Discusses His New Novel, ‘The Unnamed’

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A man starts to walk. He walks and walks and walks. He can’t stop. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold or if it’s hot, or if he has some place to be. He walks for miles, for hours, for days, until he doesn’t. And then he tries to call his wife before he collapses from exhaustion, on the street, in a graveyard, at a stranger’s doorstep, in the slums of Newark. This condition is the emotionally taxing subject of Joshua Ferris’ second novel, The Unnamed, the follow-up to his bestselling, often-hilarious debut about office life, Then We Came To The End. Readers should be prepared: compelling and gripping, The Unnamed is not a light read. “The condition is unremitting, utterly destructive of [the protagonist] Tim’s life,” Ferris says over a decaf Americano at Brooklyn’s Café Grumpy. “My objective is, first and foremost, that there is something at stake, something very, very serious at stake.”

Ferris, 35, sold the book’s rights to super-producer Scott Rudin when he’d written just 120 pages. “I didn’t know how it was going to end and they didn’t know, either,” he says of the deal. “It was a leap of faith on everybody’s part.” Ferris had almost abandoned the book, before realizing that it just needed a bit of restructuring. “I began with Tim having the disease for the first time,” he says. “Narratively, it was a misstep. I thought it was just a failed novel. But then, when I had four or five months of distance from it, I was in a taxi in Detroit and I pictured Tim walking around that wasteland. I just knew that I needed to start in the middle. It was the key.”

Despite the New York literary scene’s love of Schadenfreude, Ferris is impressively unconcerned about how his sophomore effort will be received. “I hope that I have a readership that understands the book, but I don’t worry about my readership,” he says. “I want to please myself. And I have pleased myself.” Ferris has already begun work on his third novel, despite having an infant son at home. “I don’t procrastinate,” he says. “It sounds like great discipline, but I have more fun writing than when I’m doing anything else. Really it’s just selfish.”

I found reading this book really… Depressing?

Sort of! Brutal. He’s so trapped. It’s hard not to feel empathy for him, almost an unpleasant amount. How empathetic with him were you? I feel an enormous amount of empathy for him. I hope that the reader feels empathy for him. But I don’t think he’s helpless. And I think that’s what is redemptive about his condition. His condition is unremitting, utterly destructive of his life, but it has one redeeming feature—it allows him to return home one final time. To get a little bit more theoretical, one thing I was thinking of when I was writing this was the very famous quote from Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus that ends with him saying, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” I’m not sure that Tim’s happy, but he carries his rock up the hill with a certain determined resignation and attempts as best he can to live a heroic life. So while it’s bleak and unrelenting, I believe that there is something that is redemptive to be found there. It might not suffice. I believe that for quite a few readers it may end up simply defeating them, the book’s unrelentingness may defeat them. And that’s ok. With all due respect to readers, if they give up on a book for its unrelenting quality I think that that’s much more satisfying for a writer than finishing a book and not being moved at all. My objective is first and foremost that there is something at stake, something very, very serious at stake.

Did you intend for Tim’s condition to be allegorical? I think that there are a lot of things that you could say about what his condition is and is not. It certainly lends itself to a lot of interpretation and debate. But I certainly don’t have those answers. It was not my intention to be willfully obscure about the open meaning of the condition, but the early readers have thrown out possibilities and they’ve run the gambit from being highly entertaining to being profoundly thoughtful. Is it fun for you to hear what people make of it? That’s fun. I mean I’ve nearly been sort of strong-armed against the wall to give an answer, but I can’t do that because I just simply don’t have an answer. It would be like asking, to take an analogy from the art world, to ask Jasper Jones, “What does the target meaning? What does the flag mean?” You know, it is a painting, but it’s also a symbol. What’s it a symbol of? Perhaps he has an answer, but perhaps he doesn’t. But it’s not really up to me. And I think that’s another reason why, what is perhaps sad about the book is alleviated because you have the possibility to get creative about what it ultimately means.

Are you anxious about how this book will be received given how successful Then We Came To The End was? I hope that I have a readership that understands the book, but I don’t worry about my readership. Again, with all due respect to readers, I have those readers that I have always had for my entire writing life, and those readers are the ones that I want to please. But I first and foremost want to please myself, and I’ve pleased myself just merely by finishing the book. So ultimately, the book has to do the work as a public artifact, as a released item out in the world, it has to worry about that. you know?

That’s so non-neurotic of you! Well, I’m extremely neurotic about the writing itself, but the selling and the buying of the book, the judging of the book, the book’s place in the world is really not up to me. I did the best I could, and if I could go back I would actually revise the book to include some things that have come to me since I finished. I would change some things, but ultimately I feel like I’ve put my best foot forward, and now a lot of the things that make for the public life of the book are completely out of my control. So to worry about them is only to sort of generate a lot of internal turmoil.

That doesn’t stop most of us. I would probably be worried at some point in time, but I think I have a fairly good handle on it.

Where did the idea, of this man who can’t stop walking, come from? I wish I could tell you. I’ve tried to reconstruct it and I have no memory of it. I remember telling a friend of mine about it, another novelist, and he was excited about the idea because he saw the potential, but I cannot reconstruct the flash of insight that came to me one day and I will never be able to remember. It’s essentially a one word premise, he walks and he can’t stop walking. And it seemed to my friend as rich as it seemed to me. I didn’t know at the time whether or not to pursue it, but I started writing and it felt right.

I read in a previous interview that when you started writing this you walked away from it for a long time because you started in the wrong place. What was the wrong place? I started the book with him having the disease for the first time, so the reader and him discover the condition simultaneously, and narratively it was just a misstep.

Because it’s not really about him discovering what’s wrong. And it’s not really about the walking. You’ve probably noticed, but there’s not a lot of narrated scenes in which you watch him take step after step. A lot of the walking has actually been cut. It would have grown awfully old and long in the tooth if I had narrated every walking scene. I had just not known that intuitively, and needed to find that out through the writing. I probably spent four or five months going in the totally wrong direction. And then I put it down. I couldn’t figure that out immediately, I thought it was just a failed novel. And then I had another four or five months distance from it. And all of a sudden I was in a taxi in Detroit, and I pictured him walking around the wasteland of these parts of Detroit. For some reason I knew that it should start after him having suffered this thing two or three times. So he’s got two or three periods of his life in which this has already happened to him. I came back from Detroit and I just knew that I needed to start in the middle, basically. I still needed to figure out many things, but it was the key to a new beginning and ultimately writing the ending.

You sold the film rights to this book about a year and a half ago? Was it finished? It wasn’t done, no. They must have seen about 120 pages or something like that. I mean I was pleased, but I still didn’t know that they were making a wise move. I didn’t know how it was going to end and they didn’t know how it was going to end either. It was a leap of faith on everybody’s part.

You’re in the middle of writing your third book? I wouldn’t call it the middle. I wish I could call it the middle. I would say that the ship has almost left the port and it still has a lot of ocean. A lot of exploration. This will be a longer book in the making. It will take a little longer.

Will you ever write a book in the first person? Yeah, I hope every book to be different, and I hope to take all the approaches that are available to a writer. I hope to never feel repetitive. And that will require me to use all of the various techniques at a writer’s disposal. The first person is a very daunting one, because—this is to get into a little bit of criticism—what’s happened is that the first person narrator has become so traditionally unreliable, and it’s been done so very, very well that any writer with any serious intent has to try to figure to what extent they want to tackle the question of reliability. And that’s a very daunting thing to consider. So I think that the first person doesn’t necessarily have to be about reliability, but they almost sort of go hand in hand. When you have a first person narrator, and it’s saying “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’m telling the truth,” the first thing you think of is that he’s lying, and I think you really have to—they go hand in hand.

You’re on an 8-hour work schedule everyday. Do you ever procrastinate, or are you good about not doing that? I don’t procrastinate willingly. I procrastinate when I’m forced to by my family or by some other external cause, but, no, I don’t procrastinate.

So if you go into your room and sit at your desk, and no one calls you, you will work all day? Yeah, and I’ll avoid email for that purpose.

You’re like superman. Well I just like it. I mean it sounds like great discipline, but I’m having more fun than when I’m doing anything else. So it sounds a little oppressive, but really it’s just selfish.

When you do procrastinate, do you feel bad about it? Yeah, if I have not been at the desk for a while I will start to feel withdrawals.

That’s like, I don’t exercise, but I have this fantasy that if I exercised enough there would come a day that not exercising would make me feel really gross. Well that’s actually a really interesting analogy because if you do exercise a lot—I run every other day—your physical and mental constitution starts to change. And you start to start of jones for an exercise, for a run or whatever it may be, because you are not facing the world with the same equanimity that you once did. And that is the same case with writing, because it is a purely mental exercise, but it is calming and restorative. Don’t get me wrong it’s still very, very hard for me. And I still have the same difficulties that every writer has, the same self doubt and the same insecurities. But it’s ultimately where I love to be the most and when I’m doing it, even if it’s a sort of shitty day and nothing will come of it, I know that something will come out of the lack of success of that day. And that is an enormously comforting feeling because I’m being productive, I’m being creative and suddenly I do face the world with a different disposition.

Photo by Billy Kidd, Grooming by Jillian Haluska

The New Lyricist: Speech Debelle

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“I’mbackingmymum’scarintothedriveway. Hangononesecond. Youcoolyeah?” Speech Debelle delivers even the most humdrum information with singsong musicality and bounce. She’s a natural. “I rap how I speak,” says the 26-year-old hip-hopper, whose debut album, Speech Therapy, won Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize this year, beating out odds-on favorites La Roux and Bat For Lashes. “In my 10 years of rapping, it took me about nine of those to even consider the way I sound. It was never something I thought about. I just rapped.”

Debelle’s natural flow, like poet Louise Glück gone light-speed, jibes with her confessional lyrics, which, for the most part, skip the bling and the boys. (“You don’t have to worry about me, I’m doing music now/ It’s the truth/ It’s from my heart/ I hope it makes you proud.”) “I’ve always written confessional raps,” Debelle says. “When I write songs, I’m talking to myself. YouknowwhatImean?” It’s these self-reflective, internal struggles, which involve integrity and dignity, that make Debelle’s rhymes more relatable than most.

American audiences will get the chance to hear Debelle in action this January, when the London native finally tours stateside after a series of visa problems forced her to postpone the trip. She’ll release her sophomore follow-up, The Art of Speech, next year. “I spent my first album talking about myself,” she says. “Now I’m looking at what’s out there, and trying to find myself in it all, like anyone else.”

Debelle wears jumpsuit by Bernard Chandran. Photo by Ren Rox. Styling by Ella Eror. Hair Hiroshi Matsushita using Bumble & Bumble. Makeup Ken Nakano using M.A.C. Cosmetics.

The New British Invasion: the xx

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Quiet and unassuming, the xx sit in a corner booth at Manhattan’s Tribeca Grand Hotel. Lead singer Romy Croft orders sliders and a Coke. Keyboardist Baria Qureshi orders sliders and a Coke. Bassist Oliver Sim orders sliders and a Coke. Digital percussionist Jamie Smith orders sliders and a Coke. It’s a routine that fits with the band’s aesthetic: simplicity and taste. Those are the key ingredients to the xx’s Pitchfork-lauded, bass-heavy, dreamy R&B sound, which would make the perfect high school slow-dance jam, if it were only slightly less hip.

The four 20-year-old bandmates are soft-spoken, well-mannered kids from southwest London who met at the city’s Elliott School. They dress exclusively in black. All of them. But the musical influences on their debut album are considerably more disparate, with nods to Aaliyah, Joy Division and Depeche Mode, even if their aesthetic is full-on Morrissey, all pale faces and hanks of dark hair covering their eyes. Morrissey’s bandmate in the Smiths, Johnny Marr, is also a hero of theirs. “He came up to me after a concert,” Croft says happily. “And he complimented me on my guitar playing. It was crazy.”

Photo by Billy Kidd. Styling by Bryan Levandowski. Hair Charlie Taylor. Markup Laren Whitworth using YSL Beauté.

The New Party Starter: J. Cole

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When North Carolina native J. Cole packed his bags, moved to New York and enrolled at St. John’s University, he had a specific four-year plan: to land a record deal. With no intention of actually securing a diploma—“School is for lot of people,” he says, “but not me”—Cole got on his grind, trying to produce, rap and network his way into the music industry. But almost two years after graduating, J. (born Jermaine) still wasn’t any closer to realizing his dreams. Instead, he slogged through his day job as a newspaper telemarketer for $10 an hour.

But then Cole’s music caught the ear of one Mr. Shawn Carter. Three weeks later, the 24-year-old rapper became the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. He has since released a mix-tape and recorded a verse on “A Star is Born,” a track from Hova’s recent album, The Blueprint 3. “One day, I want to have the biggest album of the year. I’ll let some kid I believe in get on a verse and change their life,” Cole says, paying it forward in his head. But despite his powerful backing, Cole understands that his success is up to him. “Jay is not the type of guy that’s going to take you from level 1 to level 10,” he says. “You’ve got to work all the way to level 8 and then he’ll take you from level 8 to level 10. He’s given me a great opportunity, but it’s up to me to fulfill my own destiny. If I succeed or fail, it won’t be because of Jay-Z. It’ll be based on what I did.”

Listening to your mixtape The Warm Up, it sounds like you feel entitled to success. Is that because you’re talented or have you just worked hard enough for it? It’s a little bit of both. I always felt like I was good enough but I realized once I got to a certain age that the talent wasn’t enough. You can’t just be the best basketball player in the world and not have work ethic or drive and it’s the same thing with rap. It’s like, okay, you’re really good but what are you doing with it? Are you really trying? So The Warm Up is from the standpoint of me sending all these guys my beats and songs and not getting hit back. I felt like nobody was even listening; I was doing it for years, trying to get my foot in the door. As a matter of fact, ninety five percent of The Warm Up was done when I didn’t have a deal. I didn’t know for sure that the deal was coming, I was just going off a feeling like — This is my year, I’mma be signed this year. It was that type of attitude, like “I deserve this shit, I’mma show ya’ll.”

You moved to New York to pursue your rap career and used college as a medium to get there. Is that your version of the benefit of school? I don’t want to minimize the importance of college. If somebody’s going to be a dentist or a pharmacist or something like that, great, school is for you. School is for a lot of people but I was a smart kid and school was never really hard, so for me it was just the next phase. It was something I knew I was going to do, but it wasn’t like, man I’ve got to graduate, I’ve got to come out of here with this degree so I can get this 9-5. There was no career plan involved with my college experience.

At the time, did New York seem like your only route to landing a record deal? Looking back, I understand that anything is possible and if I’d just known what to do from home, I could’ve done it there. But when I moved, I was clueless; I didn’t know anything about the game. Now I have a clear perspective on how you get these guy’s attention and I could’ve stayed home and put out the most incredible music within my city and state because the music speaks for itself. I could’ve found a way to promote myself and I feel like they would’ve come knocking but at the time I didn’t see it like that. It just thought, I’ve got to get out of here, because ain’t nobody checking for me.

When someone like Jay-Z signs you and gives you a verse on the biggest album on the year, some people might say that you’re being handed your success. Are you prepared to deal with that mentality? I’m prepared for it because I feel like once they actually listen and hear my story and hear the talent they’re going to realize it wasn’t a “give me” situation, it was earned and it was deserved. Not to mention that I’m not content with that — that feature was great and I’m grateful for it but my career plans are so much greater than what that verse is. One day I want to have the biggest album of the year and let some kid who I believe in get on a verse and change their life. That’s where my thoughts are, it’s not on “man, I hope people don’t think this is a hand out,” because I know it’s not a handout, I know it’s earned and deserved and I think that’s going to come through in the music.

Do you think your success will be equally based on your own effort and Jay-Z’s help? I think it’s more about my work. Jay-Z is at a position in his life and his career where he doesn’t have to do anything but push a button. Jay is not the type of guy that’s going to take you from level 1 to level 10. You’ve got to work all the way to level 8 and then he’ll take you from level 8 to level 10. If you use him too early, he’ll probably take you from level 1 to level 5 but I don’t want to use that card too early. Even though I’m on his album, he’s not out there everyday screaming my name with his arm around my shoulder, promoting me heavy. He’s giving me a great opportunity, but it’s up to me to fulfill my own destiny. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I succeed or fail, it won’t be because of Jay-Z, it’ll be based on what I did.

Jay had no intentions of making Roc Nation a rap label but when he heard you, he obviously changed his mind. Does that put on any added pressure to do well? I get the pressure question a lot but I didn’t really understand it until lately. I didn’t dwell on but then I started realizing that there is a positive pressure — I just don’t want to let these guys down. My manager Mark Pitts was Biggie’s manager but he’s been out of the rap game for so long because he’s been turned off. Now he’s working with me and he’s got high hopes, so it’s like I almost brought him back into the rap world. Same thing with Jay and my team – they’ve got high hopes for me, they believe in me and my team is so strong that I feel like a first pick in the draft. With that said, I can either be like Kwame Brown or I can be Lebron James. The difference is that they’re both talented but Kwame Brown couldn’t handle the pressure of being that first round pick and Lebron said, “I’m going to show you why I’m the number one pick.” I want to have that attitude.

Has recording the new album been challenging at all? I came into the album process with a stack of potential songs to weed through and see which ones were actually going to make it. They’re all incredible and the new songs I’m doing are incredible also, so it’s a little scary because it’s getting to the point where I’m on such a streak that before I know it, I may have too much great material to choose from. Seriously — I don’t know if any of this sounds too crazy or overconfident but I’m just almost impressed with myself. I’ve already got all this material and I feel like I’m only getting better and doing better music.

You’ve resided in the North for a few years now, but does being a Southern rapper add a different dynamic to your career? Definitely. Ten years from now I want to be on the top five list — I really want to be number one. So ten years from now when some kids form North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia are having these “greatest of all time,” conversations, they’ll be like “Yeah! We got one.” Right now I guess the only people we’ve really got on that list are Andre 3000 and some kids out there have Lil Wayne on their list, so I just want to add to the cause. Add to the respect of southern rappers and change the direction a little bit. I think that when I come out, there’s going to be a lot of kids down there that’s not going to be afraid to be more lyrical and more creative.

Southern rappers are fans of ‘colorful’ names, especially the ever popular “Lil” prefix but your alias is derived from your full name Jermaine Cole. Why so simple? It just seems so gimmicky now. I’m not saying that everybody has to use their real name, because my rap name used to be “Therapist,” for a long time and even when I was 13, “Blazer,” was my rap name. But it just felt like too much of a persona now. I don’t want to be called “Therapist,” — what the fuck is that? I wanted to be something that really reflected me, so that it’s more relatable to everyday people.

Rappers do take on a persona to put an interesting spin on their music. Are you comfortable going that route or will you try to keep focused on reality? A lot of rappers just find new ways to say the same shit and there’s nothing wrong with that, just like a lot of directors somehow continue to make the same movie. If you watch Fresh Prince, you know Will Smith’s character and you know that every episode, one of a few things are going to happen — he’s going to fuck up somehow, or there’s going to be some girl he has a crush on etc. It’s the same few stories recycled in a new way, that’s kind of how rap is, and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not because your story is your story. I’m not going to be just a struggle rapper my whole career but my first album, of course, is going to touch on that because it’s just a lot about my life. I’m getting really personal, so it’s not just The Warm Up topic anymore, it’s family issues and a lot of deep shit that I’m not sure if I even really want to put out there.

It’s easy to hear that you’re a serious lyricist, but will that translate well to commercial success on the album? I don’t worry about making pop songs. It’s about the lyrical side — which I possess — then translating that to a mainstream audience without compromising your integrity. It’s just about finding that balance, which think is very possible. I think I’m onto something with this album.

J. COLE’S TOP-FIVE PARTY SONGS TO RING IN THE NEW YEAR 1 2Pac’s “I Get Around.” 2 Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s.” 3 Pastor Troy’s “Vice Versa.” 4 Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me).” 5 Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive.”

Photo by Randall Slavin. Grooming Will The Barber. Production Sara Pine @ Creative 24.

The New Starving Artist: Aaron Bobrow

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Motor oil. A plastic tarp. Self tanning lotion. These are just a few of the materials artist Aaron Bobrow uses to invest his clean, graphic paintings with deeper meanings. “My work has a lot to do with transportation,” he says to explain the motor oil. “Industrialized society runs on oil. Gasoline, too, but oil is the real lubricant.”

The tarp served as the deteriorating canvas for “BALCO,” a nod to the crooked company that supplied professional baseball player Barry Bonds with steroids. And the self tanner? Well, Bobrow applied it to a monochromatic painting to look like cell phone service bars, his attempt to link vanity with radiation.

The 23-year-old Parsons graduate, who was born in San Francisco, lives in Manhattan and works in Brooklyn, churning out paintings at a frenetic pace. “I’m interested in making the work as fast as possible. Not in terms of the speed with which I make the paintings, but in terms of the feeling of them.” But life in Manhattan sometimes gets in the way. “New York is a hard place to get shit done,” he says. “Try going to get a piece of plywood with no car, and then lifting it up a fi ve-story walk-up. It’s important to work outside of your bedroom, so I go to Brooklyn and empty out all the unnecessary stuff that confuses my brain.”

Although the term “starving artist” has become more literal due to the economic downturn, Bobrow isn’t all that worried. “I’m not selling as well as I’d like to be,” he says, “But older friends of mine are doing better than ever. A gallerist told me that nobody is buying the work of relatively unknown young artists. In my opinion, that person was just a bad gallerist.”

Photo by Billy Kidd, Hair by Charlie Taylor, Grooming by Lauren Whitworth using YSL Beaute. .

The New Will-They-Won’t-They: Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs

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“Ninety percent of everything on television sucks and 10 percent has never been better,” says the endearingly snarky comedian Joel McHale. And with his feetplanted firmly on both sides of the quality divide, he’d know best. The quip-spewer skewers the 90 percent as host of E!’s reality TV mockfest The Soup, a gig he’s held for five years and has no plans to give up. “There’s never going to be a lack of material,” he says. “Not as long as Bret Michaels does another show.” He balances out the primetime offal by playing the leading man on a 10-percent production, NBC’s uproarious Community.

Joining McHale on the ensemble sitcom is Gillian Jacobs, who matches him jibe for knowing jibe as the Diane to McHale’s Sam, a committed and equal partner in flirt. The actress brings a unique, appealing edge to the part—what she describes as “a strange combination of vulnerability and protective exterior”—that has McHale’s character, and audiences, hooked. Jacobs, who has played her share of drug-addled bad girls and damsels in distress in fringe films such as Choke and The Box, has got a comedic gold standard, an amalgam of Claudette Colbert and Lucille Ball, that sums up what makes Community so damn good. “It’s dry, smart and cerebral,” she says. “But also really silly.”

BlackBook: So I know a little bit about your background but why don’t tell me a little about yourself. Joel McHale: Why don’t you tell me what you looked up on Wikipedia!

Do you know why you’re here? I have no idea.

It’s all about who we think in Hollywood could be online predators, and you’re number the number one candidate. That I would be a predator?

Yeah, we think you’d be a great online predator! Like a pedophile?

No, not just it’s not just pedophiles but about people that creep on the internet. I wish I had time to creep on the internet. You mean like stalking young women or…?

Chatting, chatting young women. I’ve never been in a chat room in my life.

What, are you faxing these women? I stalk the MSNBC website or the BBC website…

Oh, that’s so erudite. Look at you! Okay, what it’s actually on is called The New Regime and it’s about new emerging talent. The New Emerging Predators.

So let’s talk about Community and being on a TV show with lines. Tell me about the big difference between doing The Soup and doing Community. Well, the budget is definitely different and there’s free food, a lot of which is terrific. It’s night and day. The Soup is one camera and a curtain.

And a couple people laughing it up! We get about 60 or 70 people in there but we never mic them and we never show them because the studio is not rated for an audience, no joke. But it really is fun for me because it helps me gauge how the jokes are landing. And the reason why I did The Soup, which started five years ago when Gillian was 17, was, I was here for about three and half years doing commercials, wanting to get into those audition rooms for the bigger roles and it is really difficult to get in them. And I thought that if I did The Soup it would do for me what it did for Greg Kinnear. Here we are now, five years after that and I’ve done some pilots that never really went anywhere, but this one is so incredibly well written and directed. It’s like shooting a movie every week. It’s like a dream come true. It’ll all fall apart, I’ll get struck by lightening.

How do you define the sensibility of the NBC shows, like Community and The Office and Parks and Recreation? What I compare Community to is Cheers or Mash. It’s a bunch of people who chose to be somewhere but they don’t necessarily want to be there. They’re all on different paths and they’re all crossing in different weird ways and they’re all there for reasons that are introduced in the pilot. Some people didn’t do well in high school, other people are finally going back to school and getting their education, and then my character is the only one that’s kind of different, kind of out there. He never got a degree and lied about it. But they’re this group of people that didn’t want to be together but ended up really liking each other.

Is there something about the writing that’s unique? Well, I know that the writing is the best writing I’ve ever worked with. [Show creator] Dan Harmon’s a genius. He created this show years back called Heat Vision and Jack which was the most famous unpicked up pilot ever. It starred Jack Black. He wrote that and it was with Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Ron Silver. I just trust him implicitly with everything and he has the vision and the passion and as far as the acting and the characters, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a finer group of people.

How is it working with Chevy Chase? He is an icon and a legend. I can quote back Fletch or Caddyshack. It’s part of my lexicon. So I go, “I feel like a hundred dollars.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s you…you said that…on camera years ago and it was recorded and I watched it many times.” It’s crazy. Then you’ve got Ken Jeong from The Hangover

Is he really a doctor? That’s what people say Twelve years he was a doctor.

What other projects do you have your fingers in? My main goal is to be good in what I think is a high quality comedy, to be good in that and focus on that. And I’m still doing The Soup and that’s an easy hang now because we’ve been doing it for so long. There will be no lack of material ever. That’s my main goal, making sure this is great and that I do my job well. As far as movies go, there’s always talk. I don’t have anything on the books or anything but my main goal is to make Community good.

As someone who has done The Soup for five years, what’s your assessment of where we’re going with this? If you were to tell me like five years ago that two of the most popular shows on TV were going to be an amateur singing contest and an amateur dance contest and that Jerry Springer was no longer really going to have any relevance, I couldn’t have imagined that. Well, the world would have to move on from Springer at some point. He’s still on but it’s now a parody of itself. I think the fracturing of television will continue to just explode. I think that reality TV will always be there because it’s the cheapest form of television to make and people will watch it. There are some really good reality TV shows like Dirty Jobs or Bizarre Foods or Deadliest Catch but we’ve always said on The Soup that 90% of everything on television sucks, 90% of all art sucks, and 10% couldn’t be better. Things like Mad Men or Battlestar Galactica or Lost are of the highest quality TV has ever been. And some of the comedies on television, I think are the best being made now. I think Flight of the Concords and South Park are amazing. There needs to be this huge ball of crap for the 10% to be great. I think there are very few original thinkers that are good enough business people to convert their work into something that people see. Most else is just junk. On The Soup we point how crazy some of these shows are. I mean Tyra is going to have a colonic on her show today.

What would you say is the bottom of that 90% in terms of reality programming? There is some highly engaging crap. Look at Flava Flav’s run over the past fours years. That was crazy. It’s watchable television. It’s like a car wreck. If it’s on one side of the highway it still slows down traffic on the other side. You look at it because it’s different and it’s fascinating to watch this thing fall apart. You want to watch a building explode. If someone is going to fill a building with dynamite you want to watch. So, those are the sorts of things, while highly engaging are ultimately bad.

It feels like with all the great comedies on TV and Judd Apatow, comedy has really been revitalized. But when was it stale?

The mid 90s was pretty tough American comedy wise. That’s when Friends was in its heyday and comedy has never been more popular. That’s also when Larry Sander’s show was on. I think it’s like when people say, “Now that grunge music is dead, music sucks.” Comedy always reinvents itself, there are always creative people out there making it. I’m not saying Friends was the best show on television. And there are great, hilarious movies being made right now, obviously, as evidence by the great, hilarious movies being made. But I think they were also there in the mid 90s.

But do you think something about the sensibility has changed? It’s more cinematic than ever. Romantic comedies were always shot as movies and without laugh tracks and they’re some of the most wildly popular things made. So I think television has never been more cinematic as far as comedies are concerned.

It also seems like they are embracing being a little more cerebral. Not that the ratings would reflect it. You look at something like 30 Rock and it doesn’t rate just as well as you’d think it should.

“I hate Two and Half Men,” just say it. Well, Two and Half Men is the number one comedy in the country. Meaning… I don’t know why that is. When Monty Python was in it’s heyday, Benny Hill was still way more popular. Comedy is such a taste thing. Comedy like 30 Rock and The Office you have to pay attention to. That’s why reality TV is so popular because you don’t have to be fully engaged to appreciate it.

Do you think that network TV is doing riskier things then it used to? The competition is so fierce so they are willing to go further. It’s not that it’s dirty or risque, it’s just that they’re doing things that are more out there. And I think that NBC does that more than anyone else next to HBO. If you look up the lineup of shows on Thursday night, it’s not in any way a traditional line up.

BlackBook: What was your first big role? Gillian Jacobs: In third grade they did a ballet version of The Steadfast Toy Solider and I had the only acting part in it and I basically had to pretend to be asleep for most of it, on this bed that was just a hard piece of foam. That was my first experience and then I did that and went to Julliard and did a lot of theater there and when I graduated I started doing movies.

What was one of your favorite pieces you did a Julliard? One of my favorite pieces was actually a little hint as to where my career was going to go. I was playing a cracked out street prostitute in a piece called In a Radio We’d All be Kings. I did this play and I thought it was so crazy and I’m never going to get a chance to do this again, this is so far from who I am. Then I played like three roles that were identical.

What do you think it is about you that keeps bringing you that part? I think it’s because I was so excited about it. I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off. I think people started to see me in that way, in that role. I think it’s also because I wasn’t afraid of a part like that where you have to do all of these difficult things. I just wasn’t afraid of it—I learned how to snort fake heroin and stuff.

When you’re doing the “lady of the night” role, what do you think you do wrong and what do you do right? I don’t know what I did right other than having this strange combination of vulnerability and a really tough protected exterior. These girls have a lot of defense mechanisms. These girls don’t go through every day of their lives sobbing. They’re just trying to get though, but they inevitably have a moment where they break down. So I think that combination is really important. I also read an acting book that literally described what it was like to be on heroin. So I think I just followed that! They were like “first you feel like you are flooded with warts and then it feels like cotton balls are in your toes,” and what not. So I was like, “Ok I got it!” Then you just have to figure out who that character is specifically. You can’t just play a stripper or a prostitute. You have to figure out why that person is where they are and how they ended up there. At a certain point I was like why do people think I can do this? What is it about them? It’ s a really fun challenge thought so I’m happy to have that part.

Tell me about the show and how you’re enjoying it. Well it’s great because I hadn’t had a chance to do a lot of comedy before this. When I read the script I thought it was one of the smartest, funniest scripts. I literally laughed out loud. I love those other NBC comedies like The Office and 30 Rock, so I was really excited to be part of that night.

What do you like about those shows? It’s my sense of humor. It’s sly, smart, but also very cerebral mixed with slapstick humor. Dan Harmon who created our show writes some of the most complex sentences I’ve ever had to speak—really smart writing –but then we’ll do like Chevy falling over in a chair.

What’s it like working with Chevy? He’s great. I feel like he’s my dad. He’s got three daughters around my age. He’s hilarious and you just don’t know what the hell is going to come out of his mouth. You can’t even believe the people he knows, and he’s just a master of physical comedy.

And working with Joel? I mean, you’ve seen what he’s like. Terrible, horrible. No I loved him on The Soup before I knew him on the show. He’s so funny and down to earth. He’s like that sickening combination of a well-adjusted jock. 6’4”, married, two kids. It’s like it’s too much for one person, but he’s actually that good. He played football in college. Everything just comes naturally to Joel McHale. Which is great for our show.

What would you say is the biggest challenge of working in TV? It never ends. When you work on a movie you usually have an end-date in sight, but with TV you show up the next week and have a new episode. You’ve always working. You have to be quicker about your decision-making. There’s not as much room to be self-critical because you just have to keep going. The hours and the pace of it are the hardest thing about it.

How has it been, doing comedy? I just try to say the line correctly. I just try to remember all the clauses in the line that Dan Harmon writes. I don’t know what I’m doing. So I just try to say the lines well. I guess really good comedy comes from some sort of truthful place. You’ve got to play to the circumstances of the character. I think just feeling confident and getting through the line and hitting your mark. Don’t be too self-conscious. One thing I really like about Tina Fey on 30 Rock and my character on the show is that they start from a really rational place, but sometimes where their logic takes them gets out of control. I love that the characters are all really strong, smart women who also really silly and absurd at the same time.

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Jacobs wears dress by Grai. Shoes by Aldo. McHale wears shirt, tuxedo and bowtie by Dolce & Gabbana. Shoes by Esquivel. Photography by Randall Slavin. Styling by Jewels. Hair for Jacobs by John D @ The Magnet Agency. Makeup for Jacobs by Kara Yoshimoto Bua using Chanel. Grooming for Mchale Lauren Kay Cohen using Lancôme Men. Production by Sara Pine @ Creative 24.