Do We Ever Need to See ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Again? Apparently Lots of People Think So

Did you know that there’s a new version of Romeo and Juliet set to hit movie theaters this year? It’s got an all-star cast: Hailee Steinfeld (remember when True Grit was a thing?) as Juliet, Damian Lewis as her father, Ed Westwick as her cousin, and Paul Giamatti as that stupid priest who literally screws everything up. Good lord, people, do I hate Romeo and Juliet. I wouldn’t have much of an opinion, probably, if I hadn’t seen about fifteen different versions of it. Of course, Shakespeare’s classic tale of horny teenagers whose parents hate each other is pretty much entry-level Elizabethan drama, which means that everyone loves it. Everyone loves it so much that it’s coming back to Broadway with Orlando Bloom (thank God he’s working again) and Condola Rashad (Phylicia’s daughter). I suppose you can guess what new spin this production will give to this old, tired play. I could go on, but no one needs another lengthy blog post about Romeo and Juliet, either.

[via Playbill]

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Artist Brian Batt Talks ‘Gossip Girl’

If you haven’t yet heard of artist Brian Batt, you’ll be getting a glimpse soon, especially if you tune into Gossip Girl. We know that not everyone’s smitten for Upper East Side scheming, but this impressive painter makes a cameo in tonight’s episode, “Portrait of a Lady Alexander.” Indeed, the 33-year-old acting neophyte even delivers some lines, in the presence of Chuck and Blair, no less. Guilty pleasure, meet aesthetic skill.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Batt made his way to Manhattan roughly five years ago. At the time, he was working for a Long Island-based band merchandising company, designing t-shirts and other fan-focused products. But, much as he loved it, in 2008 Batt threw in towel, determined to work for himself and bent on painting fulltime.

And now, that’s just what he does. Day in and day out, he collides with the canvas in his Lower East Side two-bedroom walk-up, though soon he’ll be relocating to Dumbo. We can appreciate his need for more space. With two pit bulls, Lily and Zoe, bounding about (not to mention fixating on our feet) and countless large-scale works scattered throughout the apartment, perched precariously against walls and otherwise making it a little difficult to walk without worry, he’s due for—and deserving of—a real estate upgrade.

Batt’s style has certainly evolved over the years, and currently it’s all about gridding and dots. Some depictions we encountered during our visit were of Russell Simmons, Frida Kahlo, and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Just blocks and dots of color making for a magnificent and entirely fresh perspective. No Lichtenstein or Seurat to be seen here.

Our personal favorite Batt original would have to be Venus, which features a gorgeous girl (who looks a lot like Lana Del Rey). She sports a letterman jacket and oversized sunglasses, her long locks billowing in the wind before a body of water. The closer you stand, the more out of focus it is. But back up a bit and the beauty comes together, well, beautifully. We really dig the illusion, not to mention the evident meticulousness. And we aren’t alone. Batt counts among his collectors the likes of Reese Witherspoon and John Krasinski, amid myriad more. Though he can command up to $25,000 per piece, prints are available on his site, signed and embossed, for only $90.

Jolly and totally down to talk shop, Batt opened up to us about his craft, breaking into television (if only once…so far), and his relationship with L.A. Spoiler alert: New York City wins.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Have you always been into art, even as a kid?
I was always drawing. And, I went to college for illustration at Hartford Art School in Connecticut. Also, my dad was an artist, too.

That’s awesome. Who is your favorite artist, apart from pops of course?
My primary influence is Chuck Close. Chuck Close is the man.

I can see that, for sure. You have a couple reminiscent, albeit distinct, aesthetics. What would you call them?
Pixilated paintings and dot style[, respectively]. [The former] is influenced by the digital era. The reference is like a bitmap. [The latter is] like look[ing] at a newspaper [if] you zoom way in; it’s all dots. It’s influenced by print.

What does this endeavor mean to you?
I’m just so motivated to be painting every day, as much as possible. Definitely more motivated now than ever before. I spend a lot of time; I’m working at least twelve hours a day, seven days a week. There’s so much I want to do, so much I’m set up to do right now. Commissions and pieces I’m compelled to do. I’m the only one here to do it, too. I don’t have assistants or anything, so I just have to be as productive as I can. I work really hard.

It shows. How do you create these pieces? Like, where do you source the initial images?
This [Russell Simmons image] is taken from a photo on the internet, which is something I’m trying to avoid. I want them to be original. Like, with Gossip Girl, I couldn’t show this because I didn’t take this photo, you know?

It’s tricky. So, how did you initially get involved with Gossip Girl?
The head writer bought two of my paintings at a show I had in L.A. They wanted [to feature] a New York artist and were trying to write me into the script. They wanted me to play myself for authenticity. When they first told me, I really [didn’t] expect it to happen. [After some back and forth,] they invite[d] me to do a cameo on the show.

Were you stoked?
I was very interested.

Then what?
They explained what the scene was going to be; Chuck and Blair come to my studio to talk about a painting. They wanted me to read in front of the camera. That was the final test. I was super nervous, because I’d never done that sort of thing. They just wanted me to be myself.

Did Gossip Girl film here?
They wanted to. Because of the walk-up, it was an issue. So, they came, picked up, like, 18 of my paintings, and recreated my studio out on Long Island. It was cool to see it all recreated.

I bet. So, what was the end result?
It was amazing. The experience was great. They made me feel really comfortable and were really enthusiastic about the work. It was so surreal. It should be great exposure.

Beyond the head writer of Gossip Girl, who else invests in your work?
Probably the most famous person who’s bought work from me is Reese Witherspoon. I did one for John Krasinski a couple years ago, too. It was commissioned by a friend of his. He loves JFK…

Are you bent on depicting famous faces or are you also into lesser-known subjects?
It’s both. I don’t feel as comfortable submitting pieces where I didn’t take the photograph.

And that largely ties back to portraying folks you know or have easier access to than the celebrity (or deceased) set. Tell me about your Frida Kahlo painting.
I think it’s important [to represent] the power of women. There’s not as many female artists. There’s not as much of a presence of female artists. That’s what inspired me. I like subjects who are game changers, who overcome adversity, who stand up for something. To me, Frida totally represents that.

Absolutely.
It’s also about doing more obscure icons. People I think are amazing but don’t necessarily get the recognition of, like, Bob Marley, who’s on posters everywhere. [For example,] this is Karen O. from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I love Karen O.

Does anyone ever sit for a portrait?
Used to. But now I take a photograph because I don’t want to make someone wait so long.

Speaking of waiting, what’s your waiting list like?
A year. Some are priority. Some people are anxious to get something; others are, like, Whenever. I’m happy to have a bunch of commissions lined up.

It must be awesome to be an artist who isn’t starving.
It’s the best. I’m starting to pick up some momentum now.

Yes, you may even make it to Art Basel this year. Tell me more about the piece you anticipate showcasing there?
I’ve probably put in 1,000 hours so far. It’s tedious. I really hope they take it.

For sure. So, does New York inform your art? This area?
It’s always inspiring to walk around the neighborhood. I’m lucky I have dogs. Gets me out of the apartment.

But soon you’ll be abandoning the Lower East Side for Dumbo. Are you ready to say goodbye to Manhattan?
I’m freaking out. I’m majorly freaking out.

I would be, too. Lastly, your manager’s based in L.A. Can you describe your relationship with the West Coast?
There’s so many opportunities for artists out there now. It’s really refreshing to have New York artists [going] to L.A. The general population in Los Angeles is all about it. There’s so much to take advantage of. It’s really positive and beneficial to be involved in some way. It’s also nice to recharge a little bit, too. I love going back and forth, absorbing what both places have to offer. I don’t think I could live there full-time, though. New York is just so amazing.

Ed Westwick Gets Belligerent In Da Club

Ed Westwick allegedly threw a punch at a patron at a night club patron who he thought was taking his picture. Not only was the poor guy just snapping pics of his own girlfriend, but Westwick missed his mark. Awkward!

According to the New York Post, the British Gossip Girl hottie and friends had a table at the night club SL. At a table nearby, a guy started taking pics of his own girlfriend, but Westwick apparently thought the pics were of him. No paps, please!

So the actor allegedly confronted the dude and threw a punch, and, according to the Post’s anonymous source, "completely missed." So, like a little Chuck Bass-hole that he is, Westwick asked a bouncer to kick the guy out.

Westwick’s rep denied the story to the Post, of course, but the paper recalled other tales of Westwick’s nightclub belligerence, like a "shoving match" at Westside Tavern. Calm down, Ed! Having the sexiest accent in all of New York City can’t be that stressful.

Morning Links: Justin Bieber Gets Booed, Beavis & Butt-Head Return

● Justin Bieber hit the Knicks game after his Never Say Never 3D premiere, and was booed after being shown on the jumbotron. “The boos are from the guys,” the announcer reassured, pointing out a girl nearby who was convulsing. [FabLife] ● Nearing the end of their seventh season, and with no end in sight, Grey’s Anatomy producers are looking to freshen things up with a musical episode. [NYP] ● First, Leighton Meester grew tired of playing the pretty girl, and now Ed Westwick is telling British magazines that he doesn’t feel connected to Chuck Bass anymore, and that he’s “ready to do something else.” [E!]

● Something is rotten in the state of music: three out of this year’s first four weeks of music sales have posted record lows, with Amos Lee’s Mission Bell topping this week’s Billboard charts with only 40k in sales. [VV] ● Rapper Juelz Santana was arrested in New Jersey yesterday, concluding a ten month investigation into the Diplomat member’s recording studio — or as Bergen County police like to call it, his “well-established gang operation.” [NorthJersey] ● The cast of MTV’s Skins and Justin Bieber announced the return of Beavis and Butt-Head to the network. Bieber tweeted: “solid day in NYC. played hoops and just went to the MTV Upfronts…BEAVIS and BUTTHEAD are coming back!!!” [MTV]

Links: Barack Obama vs. Kanye West, Ed Westwick’s Tattoos

● Joe Jackson has elected himself the new King of Media and demands Kanye West be banned from all award shows and show business in general; it’s what Michael would have wanted. [PopCrunch] ● Barack Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” for his Taylor Swift stunt during a (not so) off-the-record interview with CNBC on Monday. [HuffingtonPost] ● Matt Damon will play Michael Douglas’ lover in the Steven Soderbergh-directed Liberace biopic. This is not a joke. [USAToday]

● Ed Westwick added some unnecessary ink to his arms recently, one being a large feather while the other is a pin-up girl with the words “She’s a Pin-Up” (in case you didn’t get it) on the other arm. [JustJared] ● Christoph Waltz, who stole Inglourious Basterds away from Brad Pitt, has been cast as Seth Rogan’s foe in The Green Hornet. [Variety] ● The Ukrainian government is set to deny Elton John’s bid to adopt an HIV-infected Ukrainian child on the grounds that he is too old, at age 62, to adopt. [News.Au]

Links: Miley Cyrus + Robert Pattinson, Amber Rose Pregs?

● Now that Star magazine won’t have her, Kate Major (a.k.a. Kate 2.0) has run to E! to tell us she was deceived by Jon Gosselin, saying he planned to be with her, not Hailey Glassman. [E!] ● Jeremy Piven once again proves he can’t take a joke by getting into a fight with Chris Kattan (yes, Mango) over the former’s sushi-mercury poisoning thing. [Gatecrasher] ● Miley Cyrus has jumped onto the Robert Pattinson bandwagon, admitting she now sees his appeal after meeting him at the Teen Choice Awards. [Examiner]

● Ed Westwick got into a fight with his Covenant costar Toby Hemingway; however, the fight occurred at J.C. Chasez’s birthday party, so it hardly counts. [JustJared] ● Rumor has it Kanye West’s girl Amber Rose is pregnant with the self-proclaimed new King of Pop’s baby; guess she’s got him for 18 years. [GlobalGrind] ● Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson are back on, but this time it may last for more than ten minutes, as Lilo doesn’t cling to Sam in the DJ booth anymore. [Star]

BlackBook Intern Attack Squad: Operation ‘Gossip Girl’

Even when not stalking Robert Pattinson or being Ryan Adams, our trusty interns remain vigilant. Early this morning, we received a tip that went straight to the BlackBook Red Phone: the cast of Gossip Girl was shooting on location at Japonais, two blocks from our office. I quickly dispatched our elite squad of hardworking, perpetually awesome BlackBook interns on a mission: locate the cast of Gossip Girl. Document them with your high-tech image capture devices. Extend a copy of our tangible paper product visible in the frame. Finally, exfiltrate from the hot zone and return safely to HQ. Did they succeed?

image

Marie Baginski and Lindsay Abrams: Chace Crawford and Ed Westwick were sexier in person … especially with their arms around us. Hopefully they didn’t feel our hearts jumping out of our chests. Also, we were the least creepy people there. Everyone else was running after them. We just stood there. They came to us. Leighton Meester looked gorgeous and put together. We gave her an issue of BlackBook that she excitedly accepted, and we asked for a picture with her. She was really sweet, though we could tell she was in a rush.

image

Megan Kunecki, Joanna Rubinstein, and Liz Pirozzi: It was 85 degrees today, but when Ed Westwick and Chace Crawford put their arms around us to pose for a picture the temperature quickly skyrocketed.

Your interns get coffee; ours get plugs from the biggest stars in TV. Ladies, you can leave early today.

Stars Interested in ‘Gossip Girl’ Movie, General Public Not So Much

The universe overflows with existential questions. Many of them are identifiable by Google and seemingly unanswerable, like “How many ounces in a gallon?” and “Is my husband a narcissist?” Unfortunately, I can’t answer those questions. But I can answer, “Why?” as in “Why would they think to make a Gossip Girl movie after season two sucked more than Kirstie Alley in a pie-eating contest?” Because you will continue to watch it. And then you will talk about it and then talk about talking about it. And then, because you have unrealistic perceptions of Manhattan’s bratty elite (I can’t imagine why!), you will buy into the myth that just because they’re on Gossip Girl they can sing. That includes Blair, Lil’ J, Lil’ J’s irritating older brother, and Chuck Bass. And because they can sing, you’ll assume that somehow readies them for a big-screen version of Gossip Girl (Gossip Woman perhaps?)

And if you will it so adamantly, such a big-screen bomb may just happen. But luckily most of this is just fueled by the drunk ramblings of Jessica Szohr — i.e. the worst thing to happen to Brooklyn since this guy. Szohr says, “I think it’d be fun, we’d all be excited to do it.” You know what’d be more fun? If Vanessa’s character could make up her mind whether she was from Bed-Stuy or Williamsburg. Those hoops are really misleading.

Adds Leighton Meester (who we can forgive for being weighed down by her castmates because of this): “A Gossip Girl movie could be compared to a Sex And The City-type of movie. But maybe this idea has merit. Y’know, if we swap showrunner Josh Schwartz for someone more sensible, like Darren Aronofsky and replace Chace Crawford with an actual mannequin.

Links: Angelina Jolie’s Sapphic Allure, Lindsay Lohan + Samantha Ronson Back On

● Angelina Jolie will grace the cover of July Harper’s Bazaar, but the actress has nothing to promote; she isn’t even interviewed for the magazine. Rather, feminist writer Naomi Wolf will explain why so many woman would go gay for Jolie. [US] ● Ed Westwick — more commonly known as Chuck Bass — would like you to stop calling him “fat.” He’s practically svelte. [E!] ● Miley Cyrus isn’t attracting the same crowds as in the past; thousands were expected to show up for the casting of her latest film, but less than ten showed up. [WTOCTV]

● Mission accomplished: After a meandering trip to London, Lindsay Lohan left with on-off-on again girlfriend Samantha Ronson, sparking rumors that they are engaged as Lohan was seen with a ring on that all-important finger. [DailyMail] ● Prince left the comfort of his abode Sunday night to track down Karen Olivo, Tony winner for West Side Story, who he had fallen in love with whilst watching the Tonys last night; he found her at the Hudson Hotel Tony after-party. [NYMag] ● Celebrity clothing lines are so 2008. Heidi Montag’s next career move is to launch a line of dry shampoo. [JustJared]