alexa BlackBook: Fluid Notions: Face to Face with John Cameron Mitchell and Shamir

Share Button

 

Singer and songwriter Shamir — who just dropped Revelations, his third album — discusses the connection between gender expression and creativity with actor, writer and director John Cameron Mitchell.

 

 

John Cameron Mitchell: Do you get a lot of people saying you are their role model, in terms of your masculinity, your femininity, your mix? Do people say, “Thank you for letting me be me because you’re you?”

Shamir: I didn’t realize how important my representation was. I definitely tried to downplay it. One definitive moment for me was in Nottingham, when a queer British kid – he was Middle Eastern or Indian I think – told me how good it was to see a queer person of color in pop music. We’re still people, you know? It feels a little too martyr-y to be like, “I’m like Moses, and I’ll lead you through the water.” I’m still trying to figure out life. I was 19 when I came out. I remember one moment when I was on BBC World News, and this staunch British guy in a suit sitting across from me was like, “Transgender — what does that mean?” I was like, “Honestly, I don’t know because I didn’t make up that term.”

JCM: I remember when people started saying “post-gay” and I was like, “What does that mean?”

S: There are other words! There’s nonbinary, there’s genderqueer.

JCM: We don’t fear anymore – maybe that’s what they’re saying. Gender is a fluid thing but it’s also a very determining thing for many cultures, where you get killed if you don’t fit in. Being kind of a femme-y gay boy, and creating Hedwig, which is not really a trans character, it’s more accidental and he’s forced into a situation by politics. He’s in the middle because of people’s cruelty. It’s an interesting metaphor that a lot of people can relate to. It’s the idea of the Other.

S: When you’re in the public eye, people might think that it’s an aesthetic choice, and that’s one thing that really grinds my gears, especially if I get a David Bowie comparison. I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t like that. It’s not about a character – I’m not a character.”

JCM: He did a fake queer character. Cool, you know, he did it really well, but that’s about performance.

S: It’s performance art! Fine. But it’s not what I’m here for.

JCM: It’s about you recording straight out of your house, and people responding.

S: I feel the most content I’ve ever felt in my life.

 

Photos by Jason MacDonald & FilmMagic

alexa BlackBook: Style Icon: Edgar Ramirez Fashions a Vivid Portrayal of Legendary Designer Gianni Versace for ‘American Crime Story’

Share Button

On the cover: Versace blazer, similar styles $2,650 at Farfetch.com; Turtleneck, $650 at Versace.com

 

A FEW months before fashion designer Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami Beach villa by serial killer Andrew Cunanan, then-20-year-old Edgar Ramirez visited his parents in the sun-kissed party city. “If you walked on Ocean Drive, you could feel the vitality and the energy,” the Venezuelan actor tells Alexa of those freewheeling days in 1997. “It was exhilarating, it was exuberant.”

Ramirez, now 40, is revisiting that glamorous — and tragic — time. The actor plays the legendary Italian couturier on FX’s 10-episode The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, premiering on Jan. 17.

 

Shirt, $195 at ThomasPink.com

 

It’s a departure for the square-jawed screen star, who has become a Hollywood go-to for variations on masculine archetypes: a deadbeat ex-husband opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Joy; a CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty and Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Durán at the center of Hands of Stone, a biopic also starring Robert De Niro and Usher.

While Ramirez transformed himself into fighting shape for Hands of Stone, dieting and training for hours a day in Panama City gyms, he went in the opposite direction for his fashion-designer role. The normally fit leading man packed on 20 pounds, the Italian way — by indulging in endless plates of pasta — and used prosthetics for the first time. Sporting a receding hairline, graying coiffure, three-day stubble and a generous physique, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the late designer.

Cutting the weight is proving less enjoyable. “Now is when the fun part is over,” he says with a slightly gloomy tone in his voice. “Because I gotta lose it.”

 

 

Jacket, $2,895 and pants, $750, 
both at Valentino, 693 Fifth Ave.; 
James Perse T-shirt, $60 at MrPorter.com

 

His preparation for the part also included speaking to close friends of Versace, whose private life stood in stark contrast to the glorious excess of his brand’s image. “[People] remember the lush exuberance of the clothes and the sex appeal and the sexuality and the models and the parties,” Ramirez says. “But on the real, personal side, he was not a party animal. He used to go to bed very early and get up very early as well. It was very interesting to discover that side of him.”

Ramirez gained a newfound respect for the refined artist during his preparation. “He was a very cultivated man. He used to say that in order to be a fashion designer, in order to be an artist in general, you have to be very cultivated, you have to be very well-informed,” he says. “He wanted to be a musician before he became a fashion designer, so he took inspiration from a lot of different sources. It was great for me to try to act for a mind like that.”

It’s not a stretch for Ramirez to embody worldly charm. His mother was an attorney and his father was a military officer, which means he spent much of his childhood traveling the world and speaks five languages fluently. If he takes a journalistic approach to researching his characters, there’s good reason: He studied to be a political reporter at university in Caracas before pursuing his love of the performing arts. In 2003, his matinee-idol good looks helped land him a role in Cosita Rica, a Venezuelan telenovela. His Hollywood breakthrough came with a role in the 2005 action flick, Domino, and since then he has forged a reputation for portraying swaggering macho characters with both intensity and intelligent nuance.

 

Canali blazer, $1,429 at Farfetch.com; 
Sandro turtleneck, $345 at 
Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Ave.

 

The opportunity to share an unseen side of Versace is part of what drew him to this new project, in addition to working with American Crime Story executive producer Ryan Murphy.
While there is plenty of romantic passion in American Crime Story, it’s also a familial drama. The central relationship is between Gianni and his sister Donatella, played by a cigarette-smoking Penélope Cruz in tight dresses and a platinum wig. In the 20 years since her brother’s heartbreaking death, Donatella has taken over the brand’s creative direction and built it into a global luxury powerhouse, but here we get a glimpse at their early behind-the-scenes partnership, which could be — shall we say — lively.

Ramirez says that both he and Cruz, who is Spanish, understand the fiery temperament. “We can relate to volatile but strong and beautiful family relationships,” he continues with a laugh. “That’s a world I understand. Like when someone from another culture asks about you and your family, ‘Are you fighting?’ And you’re like, ‘No, this is how we talk!’”

Ramirez treasures the strong bonds he formed on set with his fellow actors. “Penélope and Ricky [Martin, who plays Gianni’s partner Antonio D’Amico] and I became good friends and it was great, there was a lot of compassion for each other,” he says. “It was really beautiful. Penélope is very family-oriented, there was a very great connection between us.”

 

Tallia Orange jacket, $375 at Macys.com; 
Shirt & Cufflinks, $195 & $225 at ThomasPink.com; Pants, $895 at DSquared2, 166 Spring St.; “Papal” derbies, 
$1,395 at ChristianLouboutin.com

 

While Ramirez loved the flashy Versace wardrobe, off-camera he favors low-key, timeless pieces that look stylish, never trendy; so much so that GQ magazine dubbed him “the king of good taste” earlier this year. “I love design in general,” says the star, who cuts a slick figure on the red carpet in narrow suits and classic tuxes. “I love architecture and, of course, fashion. There’s nothing random about how we dress or how we project [ourselves].”

When asked what he does during his time off, Ramirez falters because, well, he can’t remember the last time he had any. But, for an actor, that’s a good thing. “There are no off days,” he says with a laugh. “It’s great to be working and doing what you’re passionate about. I don’t take that for granted at all.” He had just touched down in Los Angeles from Miami, where he presented at the Latin Grammy Awards. The following day, he’ll head to Argentina to film the thriller La Quietud, all while promoting American Crime Story.

On Dec. 22, Netflix fantasy crime drama Bright opens, with Ramirez playing a blue-haired elf, alongside Will Smith’s human LAPD officer and Joel Edgerton’s orc cop. He’s also slated to appear again with Robert De Niro in an as-of-yet untitled flick directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz of Hands of Stone fame.

 

 

Tallia Orange blazer, $375 at Macys; Todd Snyder turtleneck, $278 at Bloomingdale’s, 1000 3rd Ave.; Balmain jeans, $1,290 at Neiman Marcus

 

Suddenly, Ramirez remembers what he likes to do with his free time — although with a schedule so jam-packed, maybe it should be obvious. “When I have a day off, I sleep,” he says. “I love to hibernate.”

Still, he insists that his off-duty time isn’t that different from anyone else’s. “I try to relax. It depends where I am and what activities are available. Exercise, work out, try to catch an art exhibition, whatever is available. Nothing out of the ordinary, honestly,” he says. “What we do is extraordinary, but that doesn’t make you an extraordinary person.”

 

Photos by Williams & Hirakawa, Fashion Editor: Serena French, Stylist: Anahita Moussavian, Grooming: Barbara Guillaume at 
Forward Artists using Oribe, Tailor: Erik Gavrilov for Sew Ponies

Comedy Central Orders 8 Episodes of Musical Mashup Series

Share Button

Comedy Central has ordered eight episodes of The Comedy Jam, an unscripted series where comedians talk about songs that have held importance for them and then offer their own renditions of said tunes.

The series previously existed as an hourlong special on Viacom, and featured guests as varied as Jay Pharaoh, Pete Davidson, and Adam Devine, who talked and sang about losing his virginity to Blink-182.

The show is based off of a live event in Los Angeles created by Josh Adam Meyers, who will be producing the show with Ugly Brother Studios.

Comedy Central president Kent Alterman said of the series, “We have been working under the false impression that what comedians want most is to have television and digital platforms to further their comedy careers. It turns out they really just want to be rock stars.”

Take a look at Pete Davidson giving his all to “Gangsta’s Paradise” below.

The Comedy Jam is in talks to air early next year.

The First Full Trailer for Woody Allen’s Amazon Show is Here

Share Button

The first full trailer for Woody Allen’s new Amazon original series, Crisis in Six Scenes, has finally arrived, and it promises to be a quirky, star-studded riot of a TV show. The show follows a struggling TV writer (played by Allen) in the 60s and his dysfunctional suburban family, thrown into turmoil by the arrival of one rebellious hippie daughter – a certain Ms. Miley Cyrus.

Cyrus returns to acting with longer hair than we’ve seen her sporting in years, eating naval oranges and wagging them in front of her face in the trailer. She and Allen are joined in the cast by Elaine May, Rachel Brosnahan, and John Magaro.

The show is a single season, six episode project for Allen, and airs on Amazon on Sept 30.

Check out the trailer below.

Meet the Mind (and Watercolors) Behind ‘Bojack Horseman’s’ Animal People

Share Button
Cover illustration by Lisa Hanawalt.

Lisa Hanawalt’s childhood doodles have morphed into one of the most popular, critically-acclaimed smash hits in Hollywood.

The comic artist, illustrator, and published author (most recently of the food-themed art book Hot Dog Taste Test) now serves as Production Designer for Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman.” But she never intended to get into the TV business at all.

The California native hunched over notebooks all through school, doodling animal-human hybrids in patterned sweaters for as long as she can remember, much to the chagrin of her teachers. It was through high school theater that she met Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who would go on to pitch, create, and executive producer the massively successful show about a horse-human who’s past his celebrity prime. Flipping through sketchbooks during downtime at rehearsal, Hanawalt and Bob-Waksberg invented stories for the characters living on each page.

“I found some of my old sketchbooks, and in them I’m basically drawing the same stuff I do today,” she explains, chortling at her own predictability. “There’s cat people, and horse people, and they’re having relationships. I was really into this one character I made up that’s a cat with a guitar, based on Weird Al Yankovic, because I thought he was the coolest person. I wanted to be him. But a cat.”

After attending UCLA for visual art she began to do portraits of people’s pets for $20, or else just a case of beer. It was these portraits that Bob-Waksberg would later staple to his pitch for “Bojack,” eventually steering both his and Hanawalt’s lives in a completely new direction. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

HOTDOGinterior_72

Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.

Hanawalt soon found herself in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, working as an illustrator and cartoonist, writing and illustrating a food column for Lucky Peach magazine, getting her work into such niche publications as The New York Times, and having her first anthology, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, published through Drawn and Quarterly in 2013. She was also a member of an all-female comic’s studioPizza Island: “It was awesome. We didn’t collaborate on anything, but it’s kind of cool to be next to each other and complain about things. About dudes treating us badly. That solidarity.”

“The feeling of space in New York is very different, almost claustrophobic,” she explains. “Being down in the subways is very new to me. It’s very frightening and loud, and I felt a bit trapped. So I immediately made a lot of artwork about the subway, and how nightmarish it can be.”

She wouldn’t have to deal with the train for long thanks to her friend Raphael, who sold his show, and her drawings, to Netflix in 2013, and pleaded with her to come on as Production Designer, bringing her vision to an entire world of televised animal-people. With no animation background whatsoever, she nervously took the job.

“I had to figure out how to adjust my designs a little bit to work better for animation. It’s so different from what I do in my solo work, because every decision I make on this show is going to impact the lives of 40 different people, at least. Actually more like 100, because there’s animators in Korea, too, who work on the show. So if I make complicated patterns on the arms and legs, I’m going to hear it. People are going to be mad at me. Sometimes I do it anyway.”

Hanawalt’s sensibility quickly proved to be exactly what the show needed – every visual gag, every silly t-shirt, or background painting, or poster, or menu – it all comes from her and her team. The subtle wordplay and visual nods to the animal-human hybrid universe of the show are easily one of its best features, and a main talking point in glowing reviews from top publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. 

HOTDOGinterior_86

Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.

Some of Hanawalt’s favorite creations in the Bojack universe: “I really like the manatees. I like Sextina Aquafina. The whale strippers. I guess I like the aquatic ones best.” 

In episode 4 of the show’s latest season, a silent short film unfolds underwater, where we see an entirely different habitat for the stars and wannabes of Hollywoo (the show’s name for Hollywood).

“Oh god, that episode was so fun, and I kept trying to cram more stuff in there. I was like, ‘We need a jellyfish lady!’ We only see her briefly, but, man, she’s important.”

Since starting her own Hollywood career, the admittedly anxious artist has been forced again and again out of her comfort zone. In addition to working on the show, she directed, animated, and edited a stunning music video for Tegan and Sara and published Hot Dog Taste Test, a hysterical, absurd, gorgeous collection of some of her favorite pieces.

HOTDOGinterior_66

Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.

“The book’s hard to explain if you aren’t looking at it, which I think is true of a lot of my work. It’s like a one woman anthology. There’s a collection of food-related essays and comics, but then you also find comics about birds. And autobiographical work. I think it’s good if you are a funny, silly person who also has feelings.”

Taste Test flips from pages detailing chicken vaginas to raw, emotional confessions about deaths, fears, and embarrassments in Hanawalt’s real life. It’s this combination of goofiness and vulnerability that reminds me so much of Bojack.

Hanawalt gave a talk at the XOXO Festival in Portland in 2015. For someone who’s explained she feels weird talking about herself and her work, it’s perhaps the greatest test of her nerve thus far.

“I was really nervous about doing it, and I didn’t want to. But I’m glad I did because I think it resonated with a lot of people, and their own issues with anxiety and creativity. So I’m happy it helped some people, and made them feel less alone. That’s the problem with anxiety, is it’s very isolating and you feel like a fucking weirdo. But basically everyone I know has panic attacks, so it’s very cathartic to be able to talk about it openly.”

When I ask her about which character she identifies with most on Bojack, she muses, “Maybe a mix of Diane and Princess Carolyn? I am ambitious like them, but Diane can be a little up her own ass, in a way I’m hopefully not.”

Ambitious she certainly is. The artist hopes to direct more music videos, dabble in video game design, and even pen a graphic novel. But she doesn’t link career achievement to personal joy.

“I’m very happy with what I’ve done so far, and there’s other things I want to do, but they’re not things I have to do to be happy. I want to keep working, and I want to make work that people like, and that’s really all I care about. So I don’t care if what I do in the future is hugely popular, or just reaches a few people. I’m just going to keep at it.”

Hot Dog Taste Test is in bookstores now.

‘The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore’ Show Cancelled Pre-Election

Share Button
Photo: Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore has been cancelled, and will only air a couple more days before it’s done, just before the final months of this incredibly wacky election season. Which means we no longer get to hear Wilmore’s fresh, spunky take on how big of an ass Trump is sure to make himself in the coming debates.

On Monday night, the day of the axing, Wilmore opened by asking the crowd: “So, how was your day?” He continued to explain, “On the plus side, our show going off the air has to only mean one thing: Racism is solved. We did it!”

While we’re sad to see Wilmore go, it’s not exactly a shocker, as Vulture points out. The witty political comedy hour was simply not drawing in enough of an audience for Comedy Central to justify sustaining it. That’s a shame, because it deserved a bigger audience.

Take a look at Wilmore’s Monday night monologue below.

 

Taran Killam and Jay Pharaoh Not Returning to SNL

Share Button

Photo: Wikipedia

Live from New York, two of our Saturday Night Live favorites are leaving and we don’t know what to do! After six seasons on New York’s comedy crown jewel, SNL stars Jay Pharaoh and Taran Killam will be exiting the show, Vulture reports. In an interview with UproxxKillam explained that despite being under contract to do a seventh season, the show had not asked him back for its 42nd year.

Killam said: “I had sort of had it in my head I would make this upcoming year my last year. But then heard they weren’t going to pick up my contract. I was never given a reason why, really.”

“My feeling about it is I got my dream job,” Killam continued. “I set out to be on SNL and I got to do that and I did very well.”

Killam’s going to have a busy year despite the end to his SNL career. He’ll be making his directorial debut with Why We’re Killing Gunther, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Pharaoh, meanwhile, will be performing standup across the country.

Both comedians were favorites on the show: Pharaoh known for his impressions of Jay-Z and Barack Obama, Killam appearing in many of the best sketches each week. They’ll be sorely missed on Saturday nights.

Check out some of their best moments below.

What to Watch This Weekend In Bed with Armond White

Share Button

Illustration by Hilton Dresden

Foreplay: Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2010)

Kevin Smith combines his most acclaimed strategies–the slacker workplace comedy of Clerks and the slack romantic-geek comedy of Chasing Amy–into an elongated burlesque about platonic Pittsburgh roommates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miriam (Elizabeth Banks), old high school friends, who attempt to get out of debt by joining the amateur porn craze. What makes this formula “indie” is Smith’s brazen primitivism. He boasts crudeness in working-class men and women’s sex talk. Like a low budget Judd Apatow comedy, Smith flashes vulgarities. He satirizes the confusions of porn and gets lost in them, too..

Press Play: From the Terrace (1960)

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were Hollywood’s blond version of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor celebrity actors duo and this adaptation of John O’Hara’s novel is close to the top of Paul & Joanne’s teamwork. They play a mismatched couple whose marriage crumbles due to career ambitions and class conflicts among Pennsylvania elites. It’s a splashy deluxe soap opera in the Douglas Sirk tradition but directed with straightforward melodrama by Mark Robson from Ernest Lehman’s screenplay adaptation. Newman’s blue-eyed sincerity is tempted by brown-eyed virginal Ina Balin while Woodward steals the film flashing platinum-blonde rich-bitch chic.

Play Time: Black Widow (1988)

This cat-and-mouse murder mystery starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell is also the best example of the Single White Female stalker-double genre. DOJ agent Winger hunts down serial killer Russell (who victimizes a string of rich husbands). Each woman’s envy of the other provides the psychological twist, sometimes turning this thriller into a topsy-turvy feminist comedy. Director Bob Rafelson gets definitive performances from the sexiest American actresses of the 1980s and Conrad Hall photographs them in sparkling light and deep shadows, a stunning film noir in color. Nicol Williamson, Terry O’Quinn and Sami Frey guest star as male victims.

Awe-Inspiring Paralympics Trailer Will Leave You Breathless

Share Button

UK Channel 4‘s new trailer for the 2016 Paralympic games is an explosive celebration of human talent and capability. The 3-minute video features 140 different Olympians, artists, musicians, and ordinary people, all with disabilities, competing, dancing, singing, brushing their teeth, and, above all, warming the hearts of millions and getting the masses jazzed up for the 2016 Paralympic games.

Since it first aired last week, the video has garnered almost 2 million views on YouTube, as well as another 23 million on Facebook.

The trailer features singer Tony Dee, who gained international recognition after his wife posted a clip of him singing on YouTube, delivering an oozing-with-charm performance of Sammy Davies Jr.’s “Yes I Can.”

Also featured in the video are musicians, like Canadian drummer Alvin Law

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.02.31 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.03.31 AM

Athletes, like wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.04.15 AMScreen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.03.08 AM

And ordinary people doing everyday things.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.05.06 AMScreen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.03.06 AMFollowing 2012’s trailer, which reverberated among audiences greatly but only focused on a collection of top-tier athletes, the intention this year was to convey that everyone has greatness within them.

Dan Brooke, who put the ad together, explained to The Guardian, “We wanted to say any disabled person can be a superhuman. You have everyday people doing amazing things. There are more disabled people in [this] one advert than in the whole history of British advertising altogether.”

Check out the heart-warming video below. With the world in such a state of turmoil, you won’t regret adding a little brightness to your day.