Stunning New Hotel Alert: Chapter Roma

 

 

In keeping with Rome’s general glacial pace of change (even in a globalized world, don’t really expect to eat anything but Italian food there), the city’s adaptation to the contemporary boutique hotel culture has been, well…slow.

Still, we were genuinely excited by the arrival in 2018 of the elegantly cool Elizabeth Unique Hotel nearby to the Tridente. And this spring has just seen the opening of the gorgeous new Chapter Roma, (a member of Design Hotels), located in the historic Regola district – a quick zip to the glorious flower market at Campo dei Fiori.

Fitted into a late 19th Century Neo-Classical building, it is the veritable aesthetic antithesis of Elizabeth Unique’s minimalist understatement. Indeed, Chapter Roma is dark, enigmatic, and palpably sensual, its dramatically brick-walled, vaulted-ceilinged interior accented with copper, brass and raw steel elements (courtesy of Tristan Du Plessis of South Africa’s Studio A), giving it the sort of industrial-chic intensity you might expect to find in Hamburg or Rotterdam.

 

 

And in a city of cramped accommodation, the generously proportioned rooms feature refined but muted orange and green color schemes, with cascading pendant lamps, dramatic drapery and handsome parquet flooring. Some also boast brick walls – and most offer captivatingly intimate views of the surrounding historic architecture.

Downstairs, the seductive, moodily-lit bar is dotted with plush couches and provocative illustrations. For summer people watching, it also opens onto the cobblestoned Via di S. Maria de’ Calderari. And who doesn’t love a good Roma street scene with their Negroni?

Sitting as it is just across the Tiber from the hip nightlife of Trastevere, it’s surely the ideal hotel for nocturnal sorts. Though the area’s plentiful art galleries make for no small amount of daytime cultural diversion. Either way, we very much expect this to be our new go-to hotel in the Eternal City.

 

BlackBook Interview: Kim Petras on Madonna, Paris Hilton’s Closet & Being Really, Really Prolific

 

A decade after transitioning, 2018 would be a pivotally explosive year for Kim Petras, the budding pop star, model, and all around fierce person who now calls Los Angeles her home. She tore up the stage at the Billboard Hot 100 Fest, strutted gloriously around New York Fashion Week, toured with Troye Sivan, and released a series of musical gems including the massive hit “Heart to Break,” which topped 16 million streams. Not enough? She also dropped the critically-acclaimed Halloween-themed mixtape Turn Off The Light Vol. 1.

Petras was also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for breaking barriers as Outstanding Music Artist alongside Janelle Monáe, Years & Years, and Christine & The Queens.

But 2019 finds her on a new mission: releasing singles at a lightning pace, which has netted the considerable likes of “Broken,” “Got My Number,” “Blow it All,” “Sweet Spot,” “Do Me,” and her most recent, “Personal Hell.” In the midst of a 20 date North American and European tour that takes her into September – we sat her down for a chat about it all.

 

You’re an independent artist. With this, you really have more control over your music and you’re using this power to release new tracks and projects on your own terms. What led to this strategy of releasing a new song each week? It reminds me of how Justin Bieber released his Journals album on a “Music Monday” basis before turning them into a compilation album. Is that the same idea here?

Kind of – yes! We wrote about 40-something songs for this new era. I was like “Okay, I want to start putting them out now and getting them done on the go.” We wanted to give ourselves the challenge of keeping up with it and finishing each of these songs in not a lot of time – having a song ready to go every week. That’s how it came about, really. Last era, I released a track a month, so it was also fun to pick the speed up. I never want to repeat myself, so it’s keeping things interesting. I like that my fans are looking forward to a new song every week – it keeps me going. It’s like a new episode of a TV show coming out every week.

You have hinted that upcoming songs are going to be a true representation of you, rather than the “club version” of you. Does that go for the music and the lyrics both?

I feel like I’m a different person every single day, but I think all it’s 100% me. For this particular era, I wanted it to feel like you’re hanging out with me when you listen. I’m kinda inviting you into my life – and into my problems, too. I feel like my fans are my friends and I want them to know what I’m going through, I want them to know that everyone gets sad sometimes. I want them to relate and put the songs on when they go through the same things. I want to make the soundtrack to their lives, not just their parties…even though I do think I’ve put out four party bops already this era: “Blow It All,” “Sweet Spot,” “Got My Number,” and “Do Me.” I feel like I’ve gotten more confident on this record to talk about the not-so-glamorous moments. I just now feel comfortable to kinda share that.

Can you confirm there will be an album? If so, how many songs can we expect, and how many are yet unheard?

There will be a project – I can say that. There are going to be plenty of songs on it, but if I give any of it away there’d be no surprise, it wouldn’t be fun, and life would suck. But there’s going to be a project, and this has all been leading up to something, so there’s no need to panic. I see you Twitter stans! I love you and I’ve got you. (N.B. – As this interview went to press, it was announced that eight of her singles would be gathered, along with four as yet unheard, for a collection titled Clarity, released this June 27th.)

 

 

How do you feel about Madonna doing the same thing at the same time? Was there any competition there?

I loved it! I’m so here for her. That we started the exact same week doing that was iconic. She’s my favorite pop star of all time. No competition at all. She’s the queen.

With New Music Fridays and CDs being borderline obsolete, the music industry is becoming a revolving door of new songs. How do you think this is going to change how artists release music going forward?

I think this is the new wave. This is the way to do it, especially for me as a new artist breaking into the industry. I think it’s an amazing way to keep yourself out there, rather than taking a year off. For me personally, I just think that if the song is a hit, it’ll do well. It doesn’t really matter what the strategy behind it is. In the streaming era, it’s important to constantly drop new music, I don’t think you can take time off anymore as an artist.

With so many songs out, your fans are waiting for visuals to accompany them. Are there videos in the works? Can you give an idea of what they will look like?

There are things in the works, but I can’t share anything just yet. There is going to be a music video – or maybe multiple ones, who knows? There are going to be visuals for sure, but I’m really happy with the lyric videos and visualizers that I have now. I think they’re really cool and cohesive, and for me, as an OCD artist, they’re really visually pleasing.

 

 

You’re about to embark on your first headlining tour, the Broken Tour, which quickly sold out in the US and Europe. What can we expect to see?

Well, this is my first, official headlining tour. It’s the first time that I get to make the stage what I want it to be, that I get the visuals I want, that I get to make the setlist what I want it to be and get to use the whole stage. So, it’s going to be exactly how I want it to be, which is amazing. When you’re playing in clubs, which I’ve done for years and years, you’re using whatever’s there and you take whatever you can get. I don’t think anybody expected the tour to sell out as quickly as it did. It kinda surprised all of us, so it was pretty amazing, and it felt really great. I’ve very thankful and feel very blessed.

I believe that manifestation is real, so let’s speak something into the universe and make it happen. Who would your dream collaboration be with?

Right now…Post Malone! I’m a huge fan and think he’s an amazing writer. I love his sound and listen to him a lot – he’s incredible.

Last question, and possibly our most hard hitting: If you had to pick one closet to shop out of for the rest of your life: Paris Hilton or David Bowie?

Paris Hilton all day! I’ve been in her closet, it’s amazing. She has the best closet out there…definitely.

 

Image by Thom Kerr

BlackBook Interview: Ingrid Chavez on Her Stunning New Album ‘Memories of Flying’ and Paying Poignant Tribute to Prince

 

 

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, there seemed to be an inordinate number of up-and-comers whom the press were labeling “Prince protege.” It wasn’t really much of a surprise – after all, who wouldn’t want that title? But one in particular, Ingrid Chavez, arrived on the scene in a most arresting manner, a young Hispanic girl from New Mexico, of absolutely breathtaking beauty – and, like her mentor, also remarkably adept at shrouding herself in mystery. Which only heightened her allure.

She and His Purpleness recorded a poetry album together in 1988, which was temporarily shelved. But 1990 saw her pop up playing the love interest in his beloved film Graffiti Bridge, while “Justify My Love,” the slinky-sensual song she co-wrote with Lenny Kravitz for Madonna, shot straight up the charts.

Her debut album, titled May 19, 1992, soon followed, curiously actually released in fall of 1991; and an adoring public swooned to such irresistible singles as “Elephant Box” and Prince’s “Heaven Must be Near.”

 

 

During that time she also met the romantic British post-punk crooner David Sylvian (formerly of the band Japan), and thy were wed in 1992. The enigmatic couple moved to a farm in New Hampshire, had two children, and Ingrid for all intents and purposed dropped out of music. They separated in 2004, and, returning to music, Chavez’ 2010 album A Flutter and Some Words simply did not get the attention it deserved.

Now she’s back for real. And new album Memories of Flying sees her at her most visceral and self-assured. From the sultry, opening/title track, with its chilling observation, “The lines between Heaven and Hell are a blur,” to the cosseting beauty of the affectively sanguine “Light Rays,” to the haunted, enigmatic synth-funk of “Driving to the End of a Dream,” to the hopeful “Let the Healing Begin,” with its striking harmonies, lush atmospherics and lyrical proclamations like, “I’ve been broken / But I’m still open,” it’s a work of remarkable emotional complexity, and equally accomplished musically. She is without a doubt at the height of her creative powers.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Chavez about this new chapter of her life, and how she came to write a moving tribute to Prince, “You Gave Me Wings,” which is a particular highlight of the album.

 

 

You won accolades for your debut, and seemed ready for certain stardom. What made you decide to disappear from music for nearly a decade?

When I set out on my path as an artist and musician at 19, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find myself caught up in the whirlwind of Prince’s world. As exciting and life changing as it was, it was overwhelming. The excitement quickly waned, as my record on Paisley Park was not getting the attention it deserved from the label. The movie, Graffiti Bridge, was getting a bad rap, and then there was the very public feud between Lenny Kravitz and me over credit for “Justify My Love.” I was getting a bad taste in my mouth about the business of music. On a European publicity tour for the movie, I interviewed with a German magazine in Paris; the journalist asked who I would most love to work with in the future, and I said David Sylvian.

Then you actually met him.

That interview set a course in action that would find me working with David within a few months and eventually married to him. I made a decision then and there to put all of my creative energy into making a family with David and living vicariously through his music. That was enough for me for about eight years, but as the girls got a little older, I started to miss that part of myself that I had set aside.

How much did working with Prince shape you as an artist and a person?

I always incorporated spoken word into my music, even before meeting Prince; but for me it was not something I had considered a focus stylistically. When he put me in Studio B at Paisley Park soon after meeting him, I recorded “Cross The Line” – that was his introduction to me as an artist. That first recording became the piece that was played during intermission on the Lovesexy tour. He was the first person to really encourage me to use more spoken word in my music. He asked me if I would like to make a poetry album, and because of that collaboration between the two of us, I am known for that style.

 

 

What are you wanting or needing to say with Memories of Flying?

Memories of Flying is the newest chapter in my life. By now, my life is measured out in songs and albums, and this is a record about healing and trying to hold people up. Every record I’ve ever released has elements of light and darkness, joy and sadness. Ingmar Bergman asked the question, “Isn’t art always to a certain extent therapy for the artist?” I write to communicate, and to heal myself and the listener.

What is the significance of the title? Are you trying use music as a way of soaring to some higher place? Spiritually? Creatively?

It comes from the idea that when you are weighted down by the world and feel heavy, it is a temporary state. If you can remember what it felt like to fly, to be weightless and easy, it can give you strength and courage to push through the hard times.

There is a noticeable signature to your sound. What did you try to differently on this record, sonically and aesthetically?

I don’t overwork my vocals. I record myself. There is a rawness and an intimacy that I am able to capture by being alone. The recordings can be messy and a nightmare for someone mixing my vocals. What is lost in quality I hope is made up for in the capturing of a moment. This album, in particular, was a bit more of a challenge because I worked with five different co-writers/producers. I had to have faith that my voice and words would be the thread to pull it all together and make it a cohesive collection of songs.

 

 

When you’re writing the words, is it more as a poet than a lyricist? 

I write as a lyricist, but I don’t see a big difference.

On the title track, there is the line, “You smoke to think straight / And drink to stay numb” – is that a confession of sorts?

This song was to and about a friend. Songs are like letters to me. I talk to people I care about through my songs.

When you proclaim, “You deserve all the love in the world” are you addressing yourself?

I am proclaiming it to myself and to everyone who needs to hear that. Again, this is a song that I wrote to a friend who was coming out of a bad relationship that had left them broken inside, and I wanted them to see themselves through my eyes. We are all a little broken inside and sometimes that is all we can see of ourselves; but if someone loves you and you can see yourself in their eyes, it is healing.

“You Gave Me Wings” – is it about Prince?

Yes it is. An artist named Ganga out of Denmark had sent me a track to write to that I had been sitting on for a few weeks, so I decided to take it for a drive. It was April 21, 2016. I stopped at a cafe to grab a coffee for the drive when a friend of mine called to ask if I had heard about Prince; she thought it might be a hoax but within seconds both of our phones started blowing up with calls. I knew it was true; he was gone.

 

 

And you reacted to his death by writing this song?

I did what I do, I just started driving with no destination, until the words came. I was listening to Ganga’s track, and through tears, the words came. They speak of our winter together, me writing the poetry record and him writing Lovesexy.

“Let the Healing Begin” and “Spread Your Wings” seem to suggest a desire to move on from trying or difficult times. Did you find the writing and recording of this album particularly cathartic?

“Let The Healing Begin” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I wrote this song driving from Jacksonville, Florida to Orlando, at a heavy time for me. There are two songs on this album that refer to me as a child; this one and “Calling Out The Thunder.” I am always attracted to music that has a little heaviness to it; it forces me to dive a bit deeper. I always say it’s the sad songs that I love the most and although there is often a tinge of sadness to my music, there is always that redemption, that light at the end of the tunnel.

You can hear that on both tracks.

“Spread Your Wings,” again, is a letter to a friend. Writing a song is like summing up all the swirling of emotions, finding words and melodies to make sense of it all. Yes, writing and recording this album was cathartic, it sums up the past four years of my life, a closed chapter, and now the book of my life is ready for a new one.

The musical landscape has changed radically from when you first came on the scene. What do you hope to get from making music at this time in your life?

I would never want to go back. I am comfortable here in this new geography where I am able to navigate my own way through it. I was never good at playing the game. I have managed to stay true to who I am no matter the climate. And I feel blessed to have gotten the big label experience of the early ’90s – what a ride.

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Chef Roy Choi on His Provocative New Show ‘Broken Bread’

 

 

Roy Choi is nervous. He’s about to launch his first ever television show, Broken Bread, on KCET and Tastemade…and he doesn’t know how it will be received.

“Are people going to get on that bandwagon of like, Who is he to cover these topics?,” Choi wonders aloud. “What’s his resume? Does he have the right to talk about these social issues? Or are people going to really care? I’m really curious to see.”

First off, if you’ve been hiding under a culinary rock, Mr. Choi‘s resume is definitely not the problem. It’s grown exponentially since he first drove onto the scene in 2008 as owner of Kogi, the L.A.-based Korean taco truck that, arguably, launched a whole new era of food truck culture. Since then, he’s opened several other immobile restaurants: A-Frame, Chego, Locol, and (the former) Pot Cafe and Commissary at the Line Hotel, all in Los Angeles. Just last month his new restaurant Best Friend opened to critical acclaim in the new Park MGM in Las Vegas, coinciding with Lady Gaga’s residence there (how’s that for catching the zeitgeist?).

 

 

Indeed, the stars are most certainly shining upon him, as well as beside him, as he has successfully taken his rightful place on the Strip’s glittering celeb chef row. Television, naturally, had to follow.

But, speaking to the other side of Choi’s CV – as an activist and regular volunteer for local non-profits – this will not be your average celeb-chef show. More Parts Unknown than Top Chef, there will be no hard-won competitions, no battles over how to ingeniously incorporate cilantro into a dish or masterfully serve a hungry crowd from a food truck (all of which Choi has done, by the way). Broken Bread is just Choi, chef, entrepreneur, activist, moving through the streets of his city, exploring issues that are meaningful to him, and putting a well-deserved spotlight on people making a real impact in their communities.  

“We don’t glorify people on the ground doing this really, really hard work,” says Choi, “I wanted to really explore that and what motivates them. How do they get up every day when there is no camera and nobody is paying attention except for the people they take care of? To put that on mainstream television and not have it sanitized, and be able to be myself and speak to the world about it –  I couldn’t turn that down.”

 

 

In Broken Bread’s premiere episode, Choi speaks to Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, and Mar Diego who runs Dough Girl pizza shop in Van Nuys. Vega hires teens struggling to get off the streets and has spent her own resources to put up several of her young employees in an apartment, so they have a safe place to live.

“We really made a point to get the kids’ voices on there too,” says Choi of talking with Diego. “These kids are struggling, but they’re just kids. You’re letting them basically live on the streets and get addicted to these opioids. We wanted to show that if you do care about people, if you do care and love and want to be a part of it, that it can be done. Even with no resources and no backing and no media spotlight, Mar is out there every single day doing it.”

Choi is no stranger to this kind of advocacy. In fact, he’s been giving a voice – and jobs – to the voiceless for a long time. Despite rising to culinary fame, he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground. It really started with Kogi.

“I wouldn’t be able to be the same person before Kogi that I am now,” he says. “I was thrown into that environment where I had to face thousands of people on the street every night, and this energy and this love that was being transferred definitely changed me. That’s how I live my life now. I never look at it like ‘I’m The One.’ I just try to contribute how I can. Maybe I can’t be a Mar, but I can be a guy with a TV show that can [shine a light on] Mar.”

 

 

When KCET and Tastemade approached Choi with a skeleton of an idea for Broken Bread – putting a spotlight on social issues through the lens of food – it felt like the right fit, Choi says. Not only because of his commitment to giving back, but because restaurants, and specifically the kitchen, seem to be a natural springboard for second chances. The food industry has long been a place for those without hope, or for the just plain rebellious, to find a home.

“It’s probably one of the purest places as far as not discriminating or judging people,” Choi explains of working in a kitchen. “It’s like a martial arts dojo. It’s based on what you put in. A lot of us are rebellious, and a lot of us are like ‘fuck you’ to the world; but cooking is cool because for the most hard-headed of us it gives us a goal to accomplish everyday. There are a hundred pounds of onions that have to be peeled, and you can’t run away from it, you can’t shortcut it. You have to face it head-on, and that becomes like a metaphor for coping with life in many ways. The kitchen is great therapy for that.”

In true Choi fashion, Broken Bread covers a wide spectrum of topics near and dear to him, from food deserts and rehabilitation to pot politics. In another episode, Choi talks to the connoisseur of weed himself, Cheech Marin, about the origins of L.A.’s marijuana culture and how, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just growing on trees back in the day.

He enthuses, “To hear it from Cheech about how it really was, and what they had to do to get high…you know, that was fun.”

Find out what else Broken Bread has in store on May 15, when it premieres on KCET and Tastemade, and will be available for streaming.

 

New Book ‘Red Lipstick’ Gorgeously Traces the History of Beauty’s Most Indispensable Item

Illustration for the French beauty brand Payot, 1951. © 2018 René Gruau: www.gruaucollection.com

 

Author and journalist Rachel Felder has long had a love affair with red lipstick. And her latest book is evidence of her devotion to, and fascination with that classic, perfect pout.

She reveals, “I’ve been wearing red lipstick every single day for decades, and writing about makeup for many years as well. I felt the subject would resonate deeply with many women, perhaps for different reasons, because of those intense associations.”

Luxuriously wrapped in a matte gold-toned cover, Red Lipstick (released April 9, via Harper Collins) is filled with show-stopping imagery. Packed with a museum’s worth of fine art, including both Man Ray’s photograph of Red Badge of Courage and Chagall’s Les Amoreux. Lush, rarely seen vintage magazine ads from beauty biggies Guerlain and Elizabeth Arden mingle with a gorgeous array of illustrations and paintings by renowned artists including Francesco Clemente, Alex Katz, Maira Kalman, Bill Donovan, Edgar Degas and Wayne Thiebaud.

A promotional photograph of Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s. She’s wearing a fur stole that was typical of the period and, of course, red lipstick. Everett Collection. 

With fascinating insights into the uses and cultural history of lipstick, Felder makes an astute case for the “one item most women can’t live without.”

“Every woman has a relationship with red lipstick,” she insists. “For some, it’s associated with a relative – like, say, the aunt who always wore it, perfectly applied. Others think about it for special occasions, whether they’re nights out in black tie or important meetings at the office. And then there are those who say ‘I can’t wear red lipstick,’ which I believe simply isn’t true: everyone can wear red lipstick, it’s just about finding the right one.”

Power and beauty factor heavily into Felder’s exploration, as she excavates the origins and history of red lipstick. Illuminating its association with movie stars, aristocracy, sex appeal, illicit sexuality, rebellion, glamour and fame, she never loses sight of the woman herself.

Bil Donovan, Dotty Girl (watercolor and ink), 2007 © Bil Donovan / Illustration Division.

 

She enthuses, “Women love red lipstick because it’s simultaneously polished and bold, and both classic and cutting-edge modern. I love it for those reasons and also because, after wearing only red lipstick for so many years, it makes me ‘myself.’  It’s the ultimate finishing touch to face the outside world, and makes you look made up even if it’s the only beauty item on your face.”

Granted unprecedented access to experts and the archives of revered brands like Chanel and Dior, there’s lots of juicy tidbits within the pages of Red Lipstick. Little known fun facts, quotes and anecdotes, and a striking 100 plus images. Felder’s expert curation – which we’ve come to expect from the Insider London and Insider Brooklyn writer – make her musings even richer. She also spotlights a fascinating array of women who’ve worn red lipstick through the ages: think, suffragettes (yes, even those early feminists wore it), monarchs, flappers, geishas, Hollywood sirens, rockstars, working women during World War II, politicians…we could go on.

It’s an irresistible little (in size not stature) book, a must-have for any fashionista or fan of beauty’s cultural history. As Ms. Felder puts it, “When I wear red lipstick I feel stronger, more confident, and ultimately, more beautiful. It makes me feel like I can conquer anything the day brings my way.”

Catwoman represents a different type of powerful woman: one that uses sensuality as one of her weapons. Here, Michelle Pfeiffer plays the part in Batman Returns (1992). © Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection. 

BlackBook Interview: ‘Russian Doll’ Star Charlie Barnett on Facing Down Demons, the Brilliance of Natasha Lyonne, and Having to Die Over and Over Again

 

Of all the binge-worthy shows coming out on Netflix these days, Russian Doll has risen quickly to the top of everyone’s list. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, the series takes us on a wild ride with Nadia (played by Lyonne), who finds herself stuck in some kind of tripped out universe glitch. She keeps dying and coming back to life in a (rather posh) bathroom at her 36th birthday party.

Though this premise has been explored a few times before, it’s evident very early on in Russian Dolls that this is an existential journey that’s entirely new. Nadia is a video game coder (for starters) with bombshell red hair, struggling with addiction, depression, and commitment. But it’s Alan – the inimitable Charlie Barnett (he will also be starring in Tales of the City with Ellen Page) – who throws a wrench into the entire story. He too is stuck in a death loop. Nadia first meets him during episode three in an elevator – in which of course they plummet to their death – but not before he tells her that he’s not worried: he dies all the time.

Amidst all the buzz, we managed to grab some time with Barnett – who is alive and well in Los Angeles – to chat about life after death, so to speak, as well as the bachelorette party that changed his life, judging his own work, procrastination, and how he brought a new dimension to an incredibly complex character.

 

 

You met Natasha Lyonne at a bachelorette party, right?

Yeah, it was actually for Samira Wiley, who plays Poussey Washington on Orange Is the New Black and Moira on The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s one of my best friends; we went to Juilliard together. She was getting married to Lauren Morelli, who was also a creator and writer for OITNB, and now is off doing her own thing. She wanted me to have her bachelorette party; and I’m not sure why she decided that, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

Are you good at throwing parties?

Maybe I am! Because at this point I’ve now thrown a couple of baby showers, as well as bachelorette parties. Like, I guess I got word around town in my friend group that I can do it up.
There were some fails on that vacation. We had a really incredible time, and I can’t go into the details of the strip club, because I know the ladies would be a little upset with me about that. But, um…I took them to an island at one point. I feel like I kind of Fyre Island-ed all the women of OITNB. I rented this island in Miami that was supposed to be a private, beautiful island, super secluded. It turned out this island was covered with trash. It started pouring when we got there.

This sounds a lot like Fyre Fest!

It is! These beautiful talented women were in linens, and beautiful boat hats. We had a couple other friends – one from Wyoming, who is a legitimate cowboy, and Brock Harris who’s from Oklahoma. They were mountain men kind of guys. They built a fort for the ladies, built a fire for them, and we had a campout until the rain passed; it was just beautiful and we had a great time.

And you bonded with Natasha…?

We had a really nice dinner the last day that we were there; and we got to talking about life and our journeys, and through it we really kind of connected. She’s such a fucking powerful and brilliant human being. A woman who’s endured addiction and battled all kinds of fucking shit from this industry and really has risen to find her own voice and put it out there. But to also find a different and new platform to do it in. That goes for Leslye [Headland] and Amy [Poehler] too.
I was so drawn into who Natasha is and the creative beast that she gifts us all with. I was committed from the day she called me. She didn’t talk about the project that much at the party. She called me a little bit later, and I was 100% on board from the get.

It’s an amazing show. When I first started watching it I thought this is a lot like Groundhog Day, but then it takes this magical turn that you’re not expecting. Like you were saying, Lyonne has this really distinct voice – as do the other writers on the show – and it’s not just a woman telling her story. She transcends genres and styles and builds this world, a sort of sci-fi mystical experience.

And even the technical side, to give credit to all the writers – all of them are women, and it’s great that they created this great thing that so many people are resonating with. But [maybe] it doesn’t make a difference that they’re women.
I think what I’m trying to say is technically, being a 28-minute [episode] and then it being a story that flips back and forth and starts in the middle, where a character doesn’t even get introduced until like four episodes in, and it’s still so impactful to the situation and the environment. All of that included is technically new, different, challenging, risky, and they achieved it a-hundred-fold.

 

 

You came in at episode three, and you filmed a lot of those repetitive scenes all at once; even though as viewers, we saw them throughout the entire show. How did you tackle that, or compartmentalize ‘what am I feeling at this point?’

It was really challenging of course, but for me, as much as I have to admit I’m a procrastinator, because anyone from my class will read this and be like, come on Charlie. But I really really, really love breaking down the work and just picking a piece apart and not just from a character’s standpoint, but from a world: the timing, the technical side, the emotional side and background side. I think the biggest thing was just about playing Alan. My world just started to relate and reflect in a certain way; it had some results that I can’t even understand yet. From watching it, there were things I was surprised by. We [as actors] didn’t even know what the surrounding scenes were going to be.
Also, having people like our script coordinator [Melissa Yap-Stewart], who also works on OITNB, she is like an unsung god of this project, because she’s the one who held those memories. This happens, and this beat goes there, and this has to be lost and the flowers are aged this much at this point. All that stuff was her brain, and she did an incredible job. It’s a lot of work and a lot of attention and a lot of people being passionate about the details.

Were they explaining it from a bigger picture, like here’s what’s going on with Alan right now; or were they like, Here’s the script for today and we’re just going to tackle it one bit at a time?

You know, it’s hard to say because my position as an actor and not as a creative is always going to be different. I only got the script when I went to film the first episode – meaning episode three. That elevator scene is like the first thing I filmed. So for me it was a lot more fly by the seat of your pants.
I think everyone’s fascinated by how they built this and I think the genius really comes from their ability to be malleable. That’s the takeaway. Here are these women who knew each other very well, and they’ve all worked together, which has definitely gotta be a point. They were willing to bring challenges and problems to the table, question them and adapt. And they adapted a lot.

What were some of Alan’s traits that you were drawn to when you read the script?

It’s almost like a double-edged sword. I related to so much about him, but I was also terrified of him. I was terrified of living in some of those things – and those are the things I probably related to most.
A lot of the emotional turmoil that he goes through, the interior emotional turmoil, is something I related to wholeheartedly; and that’s something that Natasha and I related off of in that first conversation at that bachelorette party. I’ve had struggles with depression and addiction and suicide and it’s not uncommon for artists – but I’ve also learned later in life that it’s not uncommon for anybody.
So when I started reading the piece, a lot of those things were what made me beam in excitement, in fear – it was a mix – in joy, in a sense of duty and respect. I really feel like, especially being African American too, and gay, I want people to be able to face their demons. I think we as a people can open that conversation more and maybe even save a couple people’s lives. That really drew me in from my own personal experience and the desire to change the conversation.

Doesn’t seem like Alan procrastinates that much.

No! That man is on his shit. I did take that away from him. I have a calendar now. This is how old school I am – I have a dry erase calendar that I put up once a month and write everything in and make it all color coordinated. 

So it’s really interesting what you were saying about facing your demons. Alan has to overcome so much to beat this loop he’s stuck in, he had to look at some of the parts of himself that he didn’t really want to see. I think any human being would relate: in order to progress you have to get introspective and really dig in. Do you feel like Alan overcame?

I think Alan had this belief in the end, it’s not necessarily about changing yourself, it’s about challenging yourself and through these challenges you can change. I hate to have to break it down like that, but I think words and the way you think about how you react or how you act can change the way you can do it.
I think he did, at the end of it, it’s so hard because the end leaves us all in this kind of ‘where are they?’ Do they go on? Are they still stuck? Does it really matter? I almost think the change comes more from a release, him realizing that he can’t control; and that even beyond not controlling, there’s enough people around him in this world that if he’s honest and open with, he can get the help to give him the ladders in life.

 

He doesn’t need to contain himself or hide himself.

Yeah. I was talking to my partner the other day, and we were getting really deep about this, and the idea of what you want to be, what you want to be reflected as, and what you are. I’m still learning in this life, and I don’t know if I’m right in this idea; but it made me realize we all have what we think we identify as, what we want to be. But we ultimately have no control over that! You’re always a reflection of the people around you and your actions, and how you portray yourself. What you wear even, as fickle as that. You’re not in control… you kind of create it and it is received and then reflected back on to you.
You have to at some point let go of those requirements and then you have the freedom to just be you. That’s kind of where Alan got to, where he’s like I don’t have to be this thing for my mother or for Beatrice or even for Nadia. I’m allowed to live and not question myself, my actions, my past, and still push myself…but allow it to evolve without those kind of opinions.

Stop judging yourself in a sense.

Yeah.

Have you watched the whole season?

I haven’t!
Is it hard to watch your own work?
No not at all. Well, I say that so flippantly. I guess I have to admit, it’s not that I have a problem watching myself or judging myself. It’s really that it’s like you experience it as one thing. It’s one story in your mind and then you watch it and it becomes something completely different. And you lose a part of that aspect, you lose a part of that story.
I like to watch things in my house, on my couch, alone. That is my one rule, I don’t like watching it with other people. Other people telling me shit. The first time I’m going to be judging it hardcore. The second time I might actually enjoy it. The third time I’m might get lost in the story. It takes a build.

Would you say you’re a harsh critic of yourself?

Oh, of myself? 150 billion per cent. I’ve only watched up to episode six and I’ve been hard on myself. I’m like come on, why you doing that? What the fuck is that shit? You should’ve followed through on that emotion! But there are so many parts where I get to sit back and I’m like really surprised by myself and really proud and happy. It was an emotional beast, and anyone in my family and any one of my friends will tell you: they’ve seen me that broken, they’ve seen me that crushed. They’ve seen me that sad, and it’s such a weird thing to be like I’m an actor, but I’m really utilizing my own life and my own experience and my own emotions to tap into those. So how much of that do I get to give myself credit for?

You have had the ultimate experience to be this person even if you’re not exactly like him. Do you feel like you were able to evolve the character and contribute ideas as far as where things should go?

I think, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I brought a lot to it, even in their eyes, that they didn’t see. It was just because of the work I put into it. After procrastinating for so long, when I do finally get to work, I work my fucking ass off.

What was some of the preparation that you did for it?

I’ve been to a lot of psych wards and I’ve done a lot of charity work too – but I’ve been in one myself, and taking a lot of the experience from that and taking a lot of the things I’ve written down over the years and going back into it was really really helpful. And a lot of stigmatizing that goes into it – not trying to fall into those cheap plays and also recognizing what is true and what does resonate.
But on top of that I went into hardcore research about OCD and how it can manifest, and I really wanted to respect that too, because I feel like it’s utilized as a character trait sometimes rather than just, ‘It’s fucking who I am.’

Now that this is all wrapped, what’s next for you?

There’s a lot that I’m really really excited about. I finished shooting Tales of the City with Lauren Morelli. It’s got a great cast: Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Ellen Page. It’s an Armistead Maupin novel; we filmed it in New York with a good week or two in San Francisco.
I also did a movie with Jamie Babbit – director on Russian Doll – and Drew Barrymore who’s producing and also starring, called The Stand-In. It’s going to be really funny.

 

 

Dune Bashing, Persian Carpets and a Spectacular Outpost of The Louvre: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part II

 

(Continuing on from Part I of our Abu Dhabi story…)

 

Peckish from sightseeing, we headed back to The Grand Hyatt where we lunched at Verso, a stylish Italian trattoria, that serves outstanding pizzas, pastas like pappardelle ai gamberi, and squid ink risotto – and as New Yorkers, we’re not easily impressed with Italian food. The property will actually boast a total of six international dining options (just two were open when we were there), so you’ll never go hungry. Sahha, an “adventurous market,” is the spot for made-to-order and buffet breakfast and dinner options – don’t miss the big-as-your-head pastel-colored meringues at the dessert station. Pearl Lounge in the lobby provided a sophisticated little stop off when we were feeling parched, as our minibar seemed to be a work in progress (um, empty).

And for those feeling a little more motivated than were we, there was a Dynamic TechnoGym fitness center open 24-hours, with a steam room and sauna to sweat out the night-before’s partying on the hip and happening Yas Island. (N.B., you can drink openly at hotels and nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, but public drunkenness is of course very much frowned upon.)

Never hearing of dune bashing before we visited Abu Dhabi, the daytime sport courtesy of Land Cruisers and their agile drivers, provided some raucous fun. We were told to buckle up, because off-roading amongst the sand dunes gets hair-raisingly bumpy. If you book a tour with Abu Dhabi Desert Safari you’ll also get up close and personal with a herd of very cuddly camels, available for short rides and lots of petting. As part of our excursion, we got to partake in sand skiing, a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, belly dancing and Tanoura (traditional folkloric dance) performances, henna painting, and even the chance to hold a falcon for the ultimate photo op.

For anyone who might be wondering where Whistler’s Mother is currently on view, it was right there at the spectacular, Saadayit Island located Louvre Abu Dhabi. The name is on loan from its Paris counterpart, which was incidentally paid $525 million to license the name for 30 years. Here, the Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel has again outdone himself – the sprawling design is actually comprised of 55 detached buildings.

With a giant overhead canopy ‘woven’ out of 7850 metal ‘stars,’ the structure ingeniously anchors sand and sea. Waterfront views from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s many terraces are breathtaking, while visiting day or night promises dazzling light shows under the dome. And the art? We especially loved the cosmography room and the well-curated collection of artifacts from early civilizations. Currently showing is Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, through the end of February.

Of course, when they go big in the U.A.E., they always go really big. And the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was no exception. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdekly, the glistening white-marble stunner is one of the world’s largest. A massive undertaking at over 20 years to build (2007 saw the completion), a collective of highly skilled artisans using only the finest materials were enlisted from around the globe, coming from India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia…the list goes on.

It should be noted that visitors are required to respect the dress code, traditional Abaya dress for women, or Kandura for men. For us ladies, this meant loose pants (so please do leave your athleisure at the hotel), loose tops covering arms and chest, and head scarf with no hair showing. Our Isabel Marant tunic was deemed too sheer by staff, so we were loaned a hooded, pinkish-colored Abaya, which are available before entering the mosque. And after all, who doesn’t look good in mauve?

Resplendent with the world’s largest Persian carpet (woven by women, we were told by our lively guide, with 2,268,000,000 knots) and the third largest, brilliantly colored crystal-encrusted chandelier in existence, the humbling, grandiose main hall can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. Its benefactor, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted to establish a structure uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, and its historical and modern values of architecture and art. His Highness’ final resting place is actually located on the grounds beside the mosque.

Before we departed from Abu Dhabi, we were determined to visit one of its beaches (and not one of the many man-made ones). Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the shores of Saadiyat, boasted an invitingly pristine, natural beachfront, where gentle waves beckoned us in. A quick dip provided perfect refreshment before winding down and washing up before dinner. The sleek, minimalist rooms here offer our favorite Le Labo products, which will soon become standard across all of the Hyatt properties, we were told.

Reserving a table under the stars at the award-winning Park Bar & Grill, we were thankful for the simplicity of a menu of charcoal-grilled seafood and fine steaks. Dining al fresco on a clear, we took in one last magnificent view, before normal life would take us back to Gotham.

(N.B. ideal travel times to the UAE are December through March, before it gets too hot and humid.)

BlackBook Interview: Brit Pop-Soulstress Jess Glynne Opens Up

 

Raw. Soulful. Organic. They’re words that the British pop sensation Jess Glynne used to describe a fellow star – but they are also easily applied to her. With her mop of fantastic, ginger hair, her sparkling blue eyes, an earthen purity of emotion to her voice and a purpose that transcends the ordinary, much less expected, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the 29-year-old North Londoner has managed to clinch more number-one hits than any female artist in the UK…ever. (That would be seven.) She’s also, remarkably, the only female to achieve a number-one album in her home country.

As far as rises to fame go, there are ones that are meteoric…and then there is Glynne’s – which could be said to be from another universe entirely. Her debut album, 2015’s I Cry When I Laugh, not only topped the charts and went triple platinum, but “Rather Be” also won her a Grammy for Best Dance Recording of the Year. Her collaborators have spanned from Rudimental and Ed Sheeran to Tinie Tempah and Macklemore, but Glynne in the middle always rings true.

She’s a girl, like any other, trying to find her way through life, romance, friendship and confusion. Never a victim and always a step ahead of herself, she strives to come out empowered. Her lyrics are both supportive and moving, and she never shies from sharing her vulnerabilities with what has become nearly the entire world. She certainly thrives where the average angel often fears to tread.

 

 

To her, it’s never been easy being a woman, much less in music; but it’s through the difficulties and often wild emotions that this shimmering diamond was cut.

In her own words: “I think I speak very openly and honestly and I’m not afraid to try anything.”

Glynne has just released her sophomore album, Always in Between, and is not only slaying the charts once more, but is also revving up to embark on a pair of very high-profile 2019 tours. The first will bring her stateside, sharing a stage with Leon Bridges; the second will see her on the bill with the one and only Spice Girls. It’s hard to say how to top the British pops more than she has, but give her time – there is certainly much more story still to tell.

We caught up with her as she prepped for her tour of America, to chat about insecurities, riding on horses with girls, and what we all have to learn about life through music.

 

You shell out number-one hits the way one may pistachios. Are you sometimes surprised by how it’s turning out?  

I don’t think surprised is the word. I feel like I’ve worked hard for a long time and that’s why people succeed. If you put the work in, at some point you’ll find success. I’m very grateful for it and I’m very blessed that it’s worked out the way it has.

Would the nine-year-old Jess have ever guessed she’d one day go on tour with the Spice Girls?

If you had told her that she would be standing onstage with the Spice Girls, she would have laughed in your face and said, “good one!” But if you told me it was true, I would have been running around the house screaming and telling all my friends!

How does the Jess Glynne of today feel on stage, compared to the one from 2015?

I know myself a lot better and trust myself more. I’ve grown. I’m a stronger performer. I’ve learned how to be onstage and really love it.

 


 

As a woman in music, how has the process been for you as you rose to success?

It’s not been easy at all. There are so many turns and so many put downs along the way. It’s genuinely harder as a female to connect and get people to believe in you. But you know what? I’ve enjoyed every minute of it because it’s been so amazing. It’s just given me determination and made me work harder. Every inch of success I’ve gotten along the way seems even better just knowing that nobody can stop me from doing what [I’ve done].

Many of your songs are a breath of honest, fresh air, with messages of self-empowerment. And everything from your body image to sexuality gets bravely explored in your music. Is it a genuine reflection of who you really are?

You’re absolutely right. The writing and creating process are about self-reflection for me. I reflect upon what I’ve been through – the highs and lows and what is in the current moment. It’s also to teach myself a lesson and remind myself of the things I forget constantly.

Do you hope that your listeners will perhaps take a cue and be more open in their self-discovery too? 

Yes, once I create those songs, it’s a really nice feeling to know that I can release [them] into the world and potentially help people. I always hope that when people do listen to my music that they listen to it from their own point of view. I want people to relate to the lyrics and let that make sense of their own lives. That’s what I do, I listen to artists who inspire me, and I listen to what they have to say and relate that back to myself. And that’s what’s so amazing about music – you can’t buy those feelings and you can’t buy those moments.

Your lyrics point back to insecurities…not wanting to have them, not wanting to admit that you do. Where are you today in relation to some of the feelings that were exposed on your last album?

Everyone has insecurities, it’s a part of life and growth. At the moment I feel like I’m in an okay place. I’ve had a lot of lows, but my insecurities have to be my friends at times. You have to learn to live with them, look at them as positively as you can, and learn to deal with them rather than push them under the carpet. That’s what the song “Thursday” represents.

 

 

What inspirations and experiences have gone into Always in Between? And what does that phrase mean to you?

It’s a story of emotions and a journey of everything I’ve been through over the past few years. My life has been in between for that long, through relationships, through work, through traveling, my friends, my family. Everything has been so in between in my life that I began to look at it in a negative way. I felt like I could never really find a balance. But I eventually came to realize that it’s not always about being one way, or being balanced. This is just where I am. I have my personal life and my friends and family and the people who really know me from that little girl growing up; and I have the people who know me through my music and my fame. And that essentially is my life, I had to come to a point where I accepted that.

Who are the girls you are riding horses with in the “I’ll Be There” video? Why are you riding with them?

The [Excaramuza] Charras girls. It’s a sport in Mexico. They all ride and do crazy things on horses. The reason I chose them for the video is that riding is a really empowering sport. I horse rode from a really young age, it was my lifetime hobby. It can come across as something quite masculine, but it can be truly empowering to see females on horses in control.

You’re touring with Leon Bridges, who BlackBook interviewed recently. How do you feel that your music intersects with his? What do you admire most about him? 

I love that he’s a raw, organic artist and that he has such soulful roots. He’s a really cool guy and a great performer, very inspired by culture and fashion – he does what he knows best works for him. He doesn’t follow trends, and I find that really inspiring. I’m very excited to go on tour with him!

 

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: As a New Season of ‘Riverdale’ is Prepping, a Chat w/ Series Fave Mädchen Amick

Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper in ‘Riverdale’

 

Unlike most teen soaps, the parents of Riverdale go through just about as much drama as their teenage counterparts. Consisting mostly of young heartthrobs of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the grownup portion of the cast (including Luke Perry, Skeet Ulrich, and Molly Ringwald) has portrayed the likes of brothel madams, drug kingpins, gang members, and serial killers.

But perhaps the most complex of these is Alice Cooper, brought to life by the indomitable talent that is Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks, American Horror Story, Witches of East End). The type-A mother to Betty (Lili Reinhart), Alice has been the subject of a once-hot affair with FP Jones (Ulrich), an impostor claiming to be her abandoned son, a tumultuous marriage to a masked serial killer, and now the protégé of a charming cult leader. Why should teenagers get to have all the fun?

“Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa, creator of Riverdale] and I talked about the concept that Alice was a lot like Annette Bening’s character in American Beauty, where she’s trying so hard to be perfect, and she’s super uptight,” she tells BlackBook. “But she’s a complete mess underneath it all. The higher we build her up and the more you hate her, the farther she can fall, and hopefully the more you can feel for her about what her life circumstances are.”

 

Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper in ‘Riverdale’

 

As Season 3 was in full swing, and Season 4 has just been announced, we caught up with Amick at the Chateau Marmont, the historic Hollywood hotel/hangout, and a particular fave of hers.

“This used to be my home away from home when I wasn’t living in LA,” she recalls. “But this was before the big renovation when it became fancy again. It was super cheap and kind of rundown, but really cool.”

Admittedly, she’s still possibly most known for playing Shelly Johnson in the original Twin Peaks. One of her first roles, she admits she perhaps didn’t fully comprehend the opportunity to work with David Lynch so early in her career – but now understands how lucky she was to have the chance.

“I can look back on it now it’s more than rare – it’s one of a kind,” she said of working with iconoclastic director. “Then, I had another layer, going back to it 25 years later, after all the experiences I’d had since then, being able to appreciate how special of a set David creates, how collaborative he is with everyone.”

Amick indeed reunited with Lynch in 2017 for the show’s long-awaited return. It featured the original cast, including Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, as well as new faces to the series, such as Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, and Amanda Seyfried – who played Shelly’s troubled daughter.

Although originally reluctant about the idea of a Twin Peaks reboot, Amick did not hesitate to work with Lynch once again. The chance to return to the set proved to be an emotional trip as well.

“It definitely felt familiar for me because I was back in the diner in my waitress uniform,” she explains. “I was an emotional wreck the entire time. When I went to wardrobe for my fitting, I looked down and saw the initials they put into my uniform originally were still there. I was just bawling.”

 

Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson in ‘Twin Peaks’

 

Amick has discovered an intersection of her following that loved Twin Peaks and has also become fans of Riverdale, as well as vice versa for younger fans just discovering Lynch’s opus. Given the similarly dark stylized aesthetic of the CW series, the overlap isn’t all that surprising. Even the creators of Riverdale acknowledge the homage.

“It’s funny, I didn’t see or know the comparison at all until we filmed it and the critics started talking about it. And that’s when Roberto and [Executive Producer] Sarah Schechter admitted they were huge Twin Peaks fans, and they were paying homage. They didn’t tell me the entire time we were shooting the pilot.”

Three seasons in, Alice has evolved more than most characters on the show. Since finding out the truth about a son she once abandoned and the shocking discovery that her husband is a serial killer, her character has coped by joining what seems to be a cult. As the season continues to unfold and the cult’s charming leader (portrayed by Chad Michael Murray) is introduced, we’re still hooked on Amick’s masterful performance of such a complex character.

“The first season was fun to play as just an overbearing mother,” she smirks, “screaming at people, hitting people. And in the second season, we see all of her baggage behind the perfect red door and the skeletons in her closet from her past – and what emotional wreck she was, how heartfelt and passionate she was about her family and her children. It’s a nice journey to play.”

Amick’s personal experience with motherhood has been a completely separate journey. She and her husband chose to raise their now adult children away from the glare of Hollywood. Since then, their family has returned to LA, and she’s begun to include them in her career.

 

 

Still challenging herself, she made her directorial debut in 2016 with her daughter Mina Tobias’ music video for “Kings & Queens.” Most recently, they collaborated for the Destiny’s Child inspired video for “Another One (featuring Gabi DeMartino and Kai Lucas).”

She’s also producing a docuseries about mental health in America. An extremely personal project, it was inspired by her son Sylvester’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder, and the family’s struggle to find resources.

“I’ve been a reluctant celebrity my entire career,” she admits. “I never really wanted to be famous, and I always felt a little weird – though I knew it came with the job. But when we went through what we went through as a family, and knowing how hard it was to get our son help, I just immediately wanted to reach out to everyone else going through this to help them navigate. There’s no path, there’s no communication, it doesn’t even feel like there are resources. It just gave me a meaning behind my celebrity.”

 

Mädchen Amick at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood (Photo by Glenn Garner)