LOGAN POLISH STAR OF APPLE TV+ THE MOSQUITO COAST

T-shirt by Adidas, Necklaces Stylist’s Own, Earring by Notte

 

Logan Polish was born to be in the entertainment industry. The young actress was raised behind the scenes, her father and uncle both writers, producers and directors have a long list of successful projects. As a child actor, Polish was cast in the 2006 acclaimed film, The Astronaut Farmer starring Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen and written, directed and produced by the Polish brothers.

Logan made her American television debut with the launch of Apple TV’s hit series The Mosquito Coast, starring opposite Justin Theroux. You might be familiar with the novel by the same name which was written by Paul Theroux (Justin’s Uncle) and adapted into the 1986 film starring Harrison Ford. The success of the premier season led Apple TV+ to approve a second season which will began filming this year. 

Logan spent the day with Iris Covet Book during her photoshoot at friend and co-star Justin Theroux’s Lower East Side bar, Ray’s to chat about coping with anxiety, filming in Mexico, and her favorite 80’s playlist. 

Photographer: Hao Zeng
Stylist: Rachel Gilman
Location: Ray’s NYC

 

Shirt by Victoria Beckham, Sweater by Chloé, Earring by Notte

Being surrounded by parents and family in the film industry, how much do you think you were influenced by their careers to start acting? 

I was heavily influenced. I grew up on my dad‘s film sets and he was always working on new projects around me. So, I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else, I still can’t. I think it’s sort of in my DNA, at this point. I have always loved the community within film, it something I constantly yearn for; those connections, those bonds that are created.

Your first acting job as a child was playing opposite Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen in The Astronaut Farmer. You then took a break from acting until you were scouted at the age of thirteen by your now agent. What was it about this incident that reignited your passion for acting? 

I was so excited when I met my agents because I had been wanting to act for a while, but my parents were definitely hesitant to push me into the industry. I think they wanted to preserve my childhood as much as possible and I’m really glad that they did. It was super exciting to finally be able to pursue the one thing I’d wanted to do for such a long time.

 

Sweater by Esteban Cortázar, Skirt By Paco Rabanne, Earrings by Notte

You star opposite Justin Theroux in the Apple TV series Mosquito Coast which was just picked up for a second season. Tell us about your character Dina Fox and how you relate to her. 

I really related to Dina’s maturity. She is put in many difficult situations and has to make many grown-up decisions for herself, and I think that’s something that I could relate to. I could also just relate to growing up in such an eccentric family because my dad started out making indie films and, in a way, he was sort of an inventor. My mom is also an artist, so similar to Dina, I was used to seeing my parents ‘invent’ new things every day.

What has been the most rewarding part of filming the first season? 

Wow, I mean there are so many things that have been very rewarding about the show. I think the first thing that comes to mind is just how amazing it’s been to work with such talented people. From the actors to the directors, it was an eye-opening experience to be around that level of talent. It’s also been so rewarding to be able to work on my craft for a whole season. I had never gotten so much time to be that serious about acting and really practice, get better, and grow.

 

Jeans by Levi Strauss & Co., Bodysuit, Stylist’s Own Necklaces by Notte, Rings by Keane

What was the biggest lesson you learned from filming? 

I think filming always teaches me and continues to teach me how to be present. It can be such an overwhelming process with all of the different schedules and lines and things that we’re having to do within a day. Mosquito Coast really taught me how to take it day by day, hour by hour, and really focus on the task at hand.

I was reading an article where you said you learned not to be too stressed out about working with new people after filming The Mosquito Coast.  What are some things that help you cope with the anxiety of working on new projects? 

One of the biggest things that really helped me with my anxiety was expressing how stressed out I was to the people around me, like Justin or Gabriel. I think keeping in my nervousness or reservations really made it worse, but whenever I was able to confess to people that I wasn’t feeling good about certain scenes, it took the pressure off. It became a good habit of mine to go to a cast-member anytime I had any stress and tell them what I was feeling, and they always had some sort of advice that immediately got rid of my anxiety.

I think one big misconception I had about acting was that ‘I’m going to know how to do everything and do it perfectly’ and that ultimately created so much pressure. On Mosquito Coast I quickly learned that I’m not going to always have all the answers but there’s a director, a writer, and other actors around to help. By the end of the season, I had become really comfortable with confiding in and being vulnerable with the people around me.

 

Vest by Chloé, Romper by The Row, Rings by Keane, Tights by We Love Colors

Various parts of Mosquito Coast were filmed in Mexico.  What were some of the cities you filmed in, and did you have a chance to explore and experience the culture?

We shot in so many places from Mexico City, Puebla, to Guadalajara and Punta Mita. I feel like the one city I spent the most time exploring was Puebla and I’m so happy that we got to go there. It’s so colorful and there is a church on every corner and it’s a very historical town. So, I spent the weekends just walking down each street trying to go to as many churches as possible and that was very fun.

You are following your family into the movie business. Writing and directing your first short film entitled Margot.  Do you see influences from your father’s process, or have you found your own way of working? 

I do see a sprinkle of his process within my own but the one great thing about my dad is that he has really let me figure out my own voice. Whenever he’s helped me with my writing or working on my own sets, he’s kind of been a guide for me to go to if I need help but he’s always sort of just let me figure it out on my own. But ultimately, we are related so I definitely think there will always be connections between our work and things that we like.

 

Dress by Versace, Necklace – Stylist’s Own, Socks by We Love Colors, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

Do you enjoy working behind the scenes as much as in front of the camera?

I do enjoy working behind the camera, if not sometimes even more. I am a bit of a control freak, so I like being able to follow a movie from the page to the set to the editing process to it being promoted. I love every part of the process and so when I’m just acting it’s sometimes hard for me to let go and not join in on every part of the creative side.

Your aunt is Kate Bosworth.  What was the best acting advice she has ever given you?

She’s always been a good example on how to navigate the business side of everything, and how valuable it is to understand it.

Who is on your wish list of directors to work with?

Christopher Nolan! He has been on my list for such a long time. I’m also very keen on working with Yorgos Lanthimos or Sam Esmail.

Jacket by Prada, Skirt by Jacquemus, Vintage Top – stylists’ own, Shoes by Nicholas Kirkwood

Do you believe in astrology and if so, what is your sign, and do you think it’s fitting to your personality?

Yes, I do! I am an Aquarius, with a Scorpio moon and Taurus rising. I do heavily relate to my sign, but I think I am very influenced by having a Scorpio Moon. I can get very dark, and emo and I sometimes lean more into that than I do my fun Aquarian side.

During the shoot you requested 80’s music on set.  Who is currently on your music playlist?

Everything 80’s!!! Currently I have The Smiths, New Order, English beat, Cocteau Twins, Duran Duran… with a sprinkle of Interpol and Sade.

DAVID WILLS DISCUSSES HIS NEW BOOK – NAT KING COLE ‘STARDUST’

 

The definitive photo book on Nat King Cole—in honor of his extraordinary legacy as a singer, jazz musician, style icon, and civil rights advocate. 

Foreword by Nat King Cole’s daughters: 

Casey Cole and Timolin Cole
Introduction by Johnny Mathis

Additional contributors:  Quincy Jones and Leslie Uggams.

Produced in a limited edition of 1000 copies, the volume is super luxurious and housed in a clamshell case with a soft cashmere lining. It comes with a limited edition 11×14 inch photographic print from the Capitol Records photo archive.

 

 

Congratulations on such a beautiful book, and congratulations on Nailor Wills Publishing.  We are big fans of many of your previous books such as VeruschkaAra GallantHollywood in Kodachrome, and Seventies Glamour to name a few.  What brought you to launch your new publishing company and to start it with a book on Nat King Cole? 

 Thank you for the kind words—that’s so nice. The main reason my partners and I started Nailor Wills Publishing was to produce books of exceptional quality. I have loved books since I was a kid, and even used to make my own books out of butcher’s paper when I was in primary school. For many years I had noticed that publishers were becoming increasingly more concerned with profit margins than they were with how well the books were made, particularly regarding materials, paper quality, etc. I completely understand this of course—as it’s a business—but when the day came that I found myself having to fight for a book to be shrink-wrapped, I knew it was time to leave and do my own thing. The opportunity to do a book on Nat King Cole actually fell into my lap, as around the time we were considering starting the company the representative for Nat King Cole’s family approached me about doing a book. I was so fortunate.

You collaborated with Nat King Cole’s daughters who were very young when he passed.  What did they bring to your attention about Nat that you were personally unaware of?       

Casey and Timolin were only three years old when their father passed away. Therefore—their personal memories aside—they have primarily come to know him through family photos and stories told to them by their late mother, Maria. What they brought to my attention was the generosity and humility of their father, and the radiating effect that had—still has—on anyone whose lives he ever touched. Casey and Timolin have done an extraordinary job carrying on their father’s legacy with their non-profit foundation Nat King Cole Generation Hope, which provides access to music education for children with the greatest need.

How long did it take for you to put the book together?  

Approximately two years. Johnny Mathis wrote a beautiful introduction for the book and Casey and Timolin provided a heartfelt foreword. As the book is extremely large in format—14×17.75 inches—it was very important that the images be of the most exceptional quality. For this reason, we went back to original negatives, transparencies and photographs. In some cases, images had to be scanned and laboriously cleaned and color corrected to restore them to their original vibrancy. Capitol Records was wonderful in their understanding of our need for first-generation source material, and the book contains many never-before-seen or published images from their archive. Also, Nat King Cole: Stardust includes rare personal letters and telegrams from President John F. Kennedy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. 

 

Where does the title Stardust come from? 

“Stardust” is my favorite Nat King Cole song, and it just seemed an apt title for the book—a metaphor for the magic of his star presence and the soothing quality of his voice. The song has such a serene, dreamlike quality. Every time I hear it I feel like I’m being sprinkled with fairy dust and lullabied by a beautiful whisper. Cole’s producer, Lee Gillette, urged him to record the standard, composed by Hoagy Carmichael, in 1957. Cole initially resisted, even though he had been singing it on stage since 1954. He considered the number to have been covered, and well, by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and others. He did one take, and subsequently sang it on the October 1, 1957 episode of his TV show. The single went to #79 on the US pop chart, #24 in the UK, but grew in status over the years to become nearly everyone’s preferred version. The poignant strings introduce Cole’s mellow tones: “And now the purple dust of twilight time. …”  

Nat started during the Big Band era; what set him apart in those days from other acts?

Having idolized jazz pianist Earl Hines as a teenager, Nat intended to follow his example. Just twenty in 1939, he formed the Swingsters, and played against the prevailing trend of Big Band swing with his three-man (piano, bass, and guitar) bebop. They had their first success in 1940, when Nat’s vocal track was included on their recording of “Sweet Lorraine.”

What was Nat’s first huge hit song?  Did Nat write his own songs or was he performing hits of the times written by others? 

For Decca’s “race records” label, Sepia, the group recorded Nat’s own compositions “Gone With the Draft” and “That Ain’t Right,” highlighting his exceptional jazz piano skills; the latter topped the R&B chart in 1942. They signed with new company Capitol Records that year, and as The King Cole Trio, scored with another Cole tune, “Straighten Up and Fly Right” in 1943, followed up with “(I Love You For) Sentimental Reasons” and “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” Encouraged by wife Maria, Cole evolved into a popular music vocalist, soon recording love songs—a notable first for a black male singer. An example would be “Mona Lisa,” arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle in 1950, which was a B-side that turned into a huge hit—five weeks at #1 on the Billboard singles chart—and won the Oscar for Best Song. This was after “The Christmas Song” and “Nature Boy.”

Did Nat experience much racism performing in clubs in America during those times?  I read that he was attacked while on stage by a mob of white men; can you tell us a bit about this incident? 

The King Cole Trio played mostly black clubs in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, staying in separate but not equal accommodations. However, after one hotel refused Nat and Maria their reserved rooms, he sued and was awarded reparations and damages.  

 The crucial incident played out in Birmingham, Alabama on April 10, 1956, in front of a white audience, which was infiltrated by members of the KKK, seeking to harm, even kidnap, Cole. Mid-performance—Nat at the piano—several of these men rushed the stage, grabbing him, and injuring his head and back. Musicians were assaulted as well as Cole was hustled backstage, and the attackers escaped. Nat returned to address the audience, saying he would not continue the show, and how shocked he was since he simply wanted to entertain. The next night’s performance, for a black audience, was canceled, and Nat vowed to never return to The South.  

 Cole made incremental moves to confront discrimination in Las Vegas. Initially forced to room in the “negro neighborhood,” he later parked a trailer in the back parking lot of the hotel while playing its showroom. His white manager stayed in the hotel. Nat then used his leverage as a Vegas draw to secure rooms, though segregated, for him and his band, as long as they did not enter the casino, dine at the restaurants, or use the pool. Starring at the Sands Hotel, he was able to insist on full accommodations and access. There was also the controversy over his buying a house and moving into a “residential covenant” neighborhood in Los Angeles in 1948: a battle he and Maria won. 

 

What do you feel was Nat King Cole’s most significant contribution to the civil rights movement? 

 He brought people together with his music. For millions of white Americans Nat King Cole was their first experience of a black person being part of their household, their daily soundtrack—whether it was watching him on TV or listening to his records. Also, just by being himself, he broke certain stereotypes unfairly placed on black people through decades of injustice. He was sophisticated, he was elegant, he was charming—he was extraordinarily talented. Some may have criticized him at the time for being a white person’s idealized version of what a black person should be. But I don’t agree. He was just himself—a beautiful and refined human being. One of the most profound statements Nat King Cole ever made was: “The important thing is for negroes and whites to communicate. Even if they sit on separate sides of the room, maybe at intermission a white fellow will ask a negro for a match or something, and maybe he will ask the other how he likes the show. That way, you have started them to communicating, and that’s the answer to the whole problem.”  

Did Nat have a close relationship with Martin Luther King, and did he participate in helping Dr. King fight racism, and bring about justice and equality? 

I don’t know if they were close, as they were both highly scheduled, in demand across the country. They of course knew and highly respected one another. Nat could provide entree to celebrity and Dr. King could count on his financial support as Nat was not comfortable making speeches or marching in the spotlight. He had faith in building connections and understanding between the races, and did state, in his offstage, soft-handed way, “Dr. King’s fight is my fight.” In addition, Nat had a genial rapport with Eisenhower; supported JFK, who thanked him publicly; and visited LBJ at the White House to offer advice during the controversies concerning the Voting Rights Act. 

How did Nat King Cole go from his successful singing career to appearing in movies? How many movies did he make?  Was he under contract as an actor at one of the big Hollywood studios? 

In the ’40s and early ’50s, Cole starred in quite a few musical featurettes. As his fame grew, studios capitalized on his star power in small roles, essentially played himself—for example as a club pianist/singer, establishing the mood, in the LA noir The Blue Gardenia (1953). Cole’s career as an actor climaxed in 1957 with Sam Fuller’s China Gate, in which he convincingly played Goldie, a soldier of fortune, near the end of the French-Indochina War. His only lead role, as composer W.C. Handy in St. Louis Blues, co-starred Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald, but made little impression on critics and audiences in 1958, and no studio contract was forthcoming. Nat played a singer in the suspense drama Istanbul (1957), and a club owner in the social/racial melodrama Night of the Quarter Moon (1959), which was never released in The South. His last movie role placed him in the Wild West with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou, released after his death in 1965. As Sunrise Kid, a Greek-chorus-type troubadour, he “narrated” the film, singing verses of “The Ballad of Cat Ballou.” Several times Cole was called upon to lend his authority, tone, and bankability to the recording of movie theme songs—my personal favorite being the Joan Crawford melodrama Autumn Leaves (1955).  

Nat was featured on TV, radio, and film. How was he able to break through and be successful and accepted in all of these medias? 

Even as a praised jazz man in the late ’30s and early ’40s, Nat came across as more than a keyboard talent. When fervently urged to sing as well as play, that smoke-through-silk voice demanded attention, well before he was prepared to accept it. As a pioneering crossover artist and hit maker at Capitol Records, he was compared favorably to Frank Sinatra, his label mate. Nat’s TV show, the first for a black singer, familiarized the American public with a person of color, right in their living rooms, singing of love and romance. The program, though it lasted just over a year, gave many households their first weekly exposure to a black host. It was a uniting experience. Nat became a premiere attraction across the country—singing at the most posh venues—and an international star, touring the UK and Europe, meeting royals, traveling to Japan, Central and South America, Cuba, and Australia, where he was received with Sinatra or Elvis-like fandom.

Nat was said to be the Black Frank Sinatra.  Did he have a good friendship with Frank? 

Sinatra loved talent and deplored discrimination; Nat personified one, and was a target of the other. The two men were friendly rivals, but Nat was too much the polished yet shy gentleman, to be part of the raucous Rat Pack. Frank, who was always at the ready to step in, helped Nat make a safe exit out of Birmingham in 1956, swiftly arranging a charter flight.

Nat King Cole was always so beautifully dressed and had such extraordinary style.  Do you see him as a contemporary style icon? 

Absolutely. In fact, the term “natty dresser” was apparently coined in reference to Nat. His personal style, in particular—sleek polo shirts paired with super-slim trousers and dark suede shoes; luxe cardigan sweaters in neutral shades; precise blazers in blue, black, or gray—has had considerable influence. He’s now a sartorial role model: dapper, debonair, snappy in sportswear, elegant in black-tie. Always sharply tailored—usually by “tailor to the stars” Sy Devore—even in the studio, his tweed porkpie hat and black horn-rim shades are now considered the essence of ’60s cool. 

What song do you think is the song that is most associated with that legacy? 

Thanks to daughter Natalie’s 1990 tribute album, the song that has become most identified as his alone, is “Unforgettable.” The virtual video duet was, at the time a technological triumph, a Grammy winner, and a labor of love for Natalie. The 22-song CD engendered a new fan base for the classics of Mr. Cole, whose rich discography had fallen out of favor in the ’70s and early ’80s before being revived as background vocals in film and episodic TV. 

So many people refer to him as a true gentleman, a trailblazer, and someone who commanded respect.  What do you feel his ultimate legacy will be?   

 I think his daughter Timolin said it best: “Our father was a pioneer who transcended color and race.” There’s something about Cole’s voice that reaches into your heart and just stays there—it’s a warmth, a comfort. Being able to extract emotion through your art is an extraordinarily powerful gift. Music is healing, and Nat King Cole was—still is—one of the greatest healers of our time. Ultimately, at the core of his legacy was Mr. Cole’s hope to unite, to convey joy, to give pleasure—as he said, “to make people happy.” 

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About the author (2021)

David Wills is an author, publisher, and photographic preservationist. His books include Veruschka (Assouline); Ara Gallant (Damiani); Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis (HarperCollins); Audrey: The 60s (HarperCollins); Hollywood in Kodachrome (HarperCollins); Seventies Glamour (HarperCollins); Marilyn: In the Flash (Harper Collins); The Cinematic Legacy of Frank Sinatra (St. Martin’s Press); Switched On: Women Who Revolutionized Style in the ’60s (Weldon Owen); Vegas Gold (HarperCollins); and SHAG: Palm Springs (Nailor Wills). Wills has produced and curated a series of photography exhibitions including Warhology and Murder, Models, Madness: Photographs from the Motion Picture Blow-Up. His books and exhibitions have received major profiles in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, American Photo, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, and Time. He has also written articles on photography and popular culture for publications including The Huffington Post, V Magazine, and Palm Springs Life.

IN THE HEIGHTS STAR MELISSA BARRERA

Dress – Paco Rabanne

Photography by Dennis Tejero @ ADB Agency

Styling by Marc Sifuentes

Makeup by Talia Sparrow @ Kalpana NYC

Hair by Cameron Rains @ Forward Artists

Interview by Evan Ross Katz 

Melissa Barrera, one of the leads on Starz’s Vida and the upcoming film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, opens up about her journey to success and prioritizing her Latin roots within and outside of her work.

Dress, Belt and Boots by Versace

“It feels like so much more than an acting job,” Melissa Barrera says of her starring role on Starz’s hit series Vida. “I feel like it was a gift that I was given.” Barrera stars as Lyn Hernandez on the series which was recently renewed for a third season. “Barrera’s performance in particular blooms with searing clarity,” Vox wrote. The Hollywood Reporter called Barrera’s performance “absurdly funny.” The A.V. Club called the actress “a force to be reckoned with.” 

“It’s important to see Latin stories out there and to see the dreams that our people have and how hard we work. There’s more to us than just the negative things you see in the media or what certain people want to say about Latinx people.” But it’s not just Barrera’s work on Vida. Whether her upcoming role in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical In the Heights, her time on popular telenovelas like Siempre Tuya Acapulco and Tanto Amor or in regional theater productions in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, much of the conversation with Barrera seems to circle back to her Mexican roots—and it’s no coincidence.  

“I’m Mexican. I’m fully Mexican. I was born and raised in Mexico and now I happen to work in the United States. And I am proud to be a part of this Latinx wave of shows and films that are finally starting to get made and people that have never seen themselves represented on screen are finally getting to see themselves and I get to be a part of it. So I feel that it is important to wear my identity on my sleeve and be one of the faces of this movement and help people see themselves because a lot of people have felt erased in their stories or their stories are never told. I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine to be a voice for those people who have not had one for so long. And I want to.” 

Dress by Off-White

It’s this passion that emanates from Barrera, who thinks long and hard before responding to questions, constantly aware of the possibilities and pitfalls of a first impression and desiring to represent both herself and her roots with pride. This, according to her friends that I spoke with, is the Melissa they’ve always known. 

Though acting and singing seemed like the natural trajectory from an early age, Barrera did not limit her possibilities. “There was a point where I wanted to be a doctor,” she says, adding that architecture, interior design, even biomedical engineering were all career aspirations at various times. “I even at one point wanted to be a secret agent. I’ve wanted to be so many different things throughout my life. But that’s the thing about being an actor, you get to be everything.” 

She started auditioning for local regional productions in high school and was quickly cast in a musical version of Romeo and Juliet in Monterrey. That was her first taste of the rigor of the theater: working six days a week, with two-shows a day often the norm. It didn’t dissuade her, only making her hungry for more. She furthered her education attending New York University to study theater. She left New York University’s prestigious CAP21 musical theater program two years in after making it into the top 20 on La Academia, a popular Mexican competition reality series that catapulted her star meter. 

“That show definitely prepared me for the industry. It was a very difficult experience because it brought all my insecurities to the surface. It made me doubt if I had what it took to be in this business. It made me fight for it really hard. I’m very grateful I had that experience, even though sometimes I have PTSD about it. Whenever I have to sing in public I get stage fright and I never feel good enough because of all of the harsh judgments I had while I was on that show.” But she’s careful to stress the positives that came from it, like learning to fight for her dream. It’s also the place where she met her future husband, musician Paco Zazueta. 

Dress by Georgine

That show proved a career springboard, landing her roles in a number of popular telenovelas. “I’ve always felt that telenovelas, especially in Mexico, are looked down upon as a genre….but I personally love them,” she says, describing the rigor of the production process as boot camp. “It’s literally shooting 30 scenes a day, one after the other, and it forces you to go through a crazy rollercoaster of emotions, more so than anything else I’ve ever done. I think because of that school of telenovela, it made everything that’s come after much easier for me.”

And thankfully, the “everything” that has come after has been plentiful, from Vida to a recently-announced contemporary reimagining of the opera Carmen opposite Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan, to the upcoming In the Heights, a role Barrera has been eyeing for over a decade before she was cast. “I remember going to see it on Broadway at least ten times. I remember the first time that I saw it, what I felt, it was as though my heart was going to explode with pride and hope. All my dreams of being on Broadway after seeing that show just felt so much more tangible.” From there, she set out to be casted, attending open calls for the show, but never quite landing a spot…until now, nearly a dozen years after the show’s first bow on the Great White Way. 

Dress by Tom Ford

“It’s going to be very different from the stage version,” she says of the movie, set for release next summer. “It’s been updated to reflect the situation of immigrants today, so it has appropriately been adapted to take place in 2020.” For Barrera, it’s about leveling out the audience with the content, noting the disparity between Latinx content consumption and shows casting Latinx actors, created by Latinx people and/or telling Latinx stories. To that end, Barrera says she hopes to begin producing her own work down the line. “Because [Vida creator] Tanya [Saracho] gave opportunities to people like me, I’m going to make sure that I follow in her footsteps.”

And with that, Barrera is back to set to shoot the final week of filming In The Heights. Though she’s not filming any scenes on this particular day, she says she just wants to be around it all, near the cast, watching the process unfold around her. Like much of the pride Barrera so often spoke about, it’s not necessarily about her, but about who she can be to and for those who come after her.

Dress by Victoria Hayes

 

Interview from Issue 12 of IRIS COVET BOOK available in stores and online by clicking —> HERE! 

COVER STORY – JIM PARSONS

Photography: Dennis Tejero at ADB Agency

Fashion Editor/Interview: Marc Sifuentes

Grooming: Melissa Dezarate at The Wall Group

Production: Savvie

Photo Assistants: Ben Kasun, Jai Castillo

Location: The Stonewall Inn

 

A sharp tongue, quick wit, and great timing have often been the ingredients necessary to make a movie star, but the ability to spin those talents into a career of longevity and diversity are far rarer.

Born and raised in Houston, TX, Jim Parsons followed a winding path of community theater, small gigs, and part-time commercial acting until his break-out role as Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”. While many actors struggle to break free of such well-known characters, Parsons’ talent and industry acumen have helped produce a portfolio that includes a starring role and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Ryan Murphy’s “Hollywood”, an independent production company with his husband, Todd Spiewak, and numerous accolades for his role in Netflix’s The Boys in the Band.

In an interview with the multi-hyphenate, we got a look into the road map that turned Parsons into the well-known and well-accoladed actor and producer he is today. With us, Jim explores a perspective shift of a young man interested in community theater in Houston to an artist trying to make ends meet in New York, the untimely death of a father that inspired a new chapter in his career, and wrestling with his identity as a gay man in a world just starting to normalize his identity.

Parson’s outlook, unique in its optimism and trust in himself, is ultimately infectious and inspiring. From coping with personal tragedy to starting a new chapter in life, Jim Parsons has always tried “not to grasp the sand too hard and just let things happen,” and it seems to have worked so far.

 

Suit, sweater and shirt by Gucci

 

When you were growing up in Houston and you became inspired to get into the world of the arts, was it always in the form of theatre that you were drawn to? 

Yes, it was immediately. I knew that I wanted to be an actor. My mother had these children’s books “What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?” type of books, and for years I would say I wanted to be a movie star. I don’t know what I meant by that, and I don’t know what triggered it. I know I was in a play in first grade which obviously made a big impact. But I don’t actually remember that being the turning point.

I will say that my love of theatre is just a fortunate act of circumstance. We had plays in our school, and I did them, but that was the only outlet I had for acting as a youngster growing up in Houston. It’s not like my parents were getting me into auditions for local movies or anything, we didn’t even know how to do such a thing.

Houston has an incredible art scene. But, growing up there, I wasn’t exposed to the arts until I was in high school. I worked as an usher when I was around sixteen for the big theatre spaces in downtown like Jones Hall, The Wortham or the Alley Theatre. So, I think it’s interesting to hear when you became aware of these outlets particularly the more underground ones, like the now-defunct independent theater company, Infernal Bridegroom Productions?

I honestly wasn’t very motivated during my junior and senior years before going into college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I wanted to get into. I mean acting seemed very risky and luckily my parents were never discouraging to me, but they weren’t people who came from a situation where acting was even an option. Like they wouldn’t have pushed me in that direction either. So, my first year at the University of Houston I personally didn’t do theater, but I was around people who were doing it. And by the end of my first year, I felt very strongly that I needed to give it a shot. There was nothing else in my life going on. It’s kind of like when people always ask you if there is anything else you can do. I felt at that point in time there really wasn’t anything calling me. Everything else sounded like I was just settling.

What were you going to college for at the time? 

I don’t know what it’s called anymore. Something in the communications department like radio and television. I guess I thought that maybe I would go into broadcast, like a weatherman or something. But looking back, it was naïve that I didn’t realize that you needed to major in journalism, or you needed to major in meteorology you know, and the on-camera stuff would be obviously secondary to that. 

Infernal Bridegroom came from eventually being in theatre at the University of Houston I was brought to them by another classmate that was already involved. I had been doing some college shows and I was really having a great time, but I found the idea of doing things out of the scholastic environment, with a different group of people and surroundings, really exciting. 

IRIS: Looking back now, what advice would you give to young actors that are just starting out. Do you think it still stands true today to say yes to everything? Which in your case, also meant working for free a lot of the times? 

Yes, I do firmly believe that saying yes to as many things as you can is really the key. It’s easier said than done because the hard part is making sure you find the right people or situations that have opportunities to offer. 

Just like any other job, there’s only so much you can teach, only so much you can theorize about. But when you’re acting on a stage with lights on you and people staring at you, there’s no substitute for getting used to that unless you are doing it. So much of it is about building confidence. That’s what it was about for me. And then, of course, if you want to make a career out of it, there does come a point in time where you have to decide I’m no longer working for free. I don’t remember ever saying I’m not going to work for free anymore that never happened for me. Hell, I’d still work for free depending on what the project was. 

Suit and Shirt by Canali

IRIS: What was the main motivating factor that pushed you out of Houston and to New York?

I remember I was really getting to do a lot of work in Houston, and I was very happy with it in many ways, but there was a practical side of me that was like, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this,” since at the time there were so few people that were able to make a living off acting in Houston. So I kind of felt strongly that it was New York or LA.

I went to grad school and did a showcase in New York, and I knew a couple of people living here already. So a friend let me live with him, and it just kind of made sense. It’s funny going over any of this with you just how much scarier it sounds to me looking back than it did at the time. It felt like I didn’t really have much of a choice at the time. I felt this is just what I needed to do, this is what I am going to do. But looking back, I know all these things fell into place, all the fortunate things that happened or people I met. It’s now so easy to see the thread being pulled and things completely changing for me. So that’s the advice I would give a young actor – let your ignorance be your bliss and keep going.

IRIS: I read that you were doing some commercial work and then you ended up with a contract with CBS. So then would you say that your first big break was the “Big Bang Theory?”

Yes and no. It was definitely the big break in the obvious way of a lot of people seeing the show and being a consistent, well-paid acting job, but honestly it was the little things that came together. It was the commercials, the off-Broadway plays. They weren’t things that a lot of people were seeing, and they weren’t providing enough of a stable income, but I met great people. Again, it goes back to building the confidence. It felt like I was on the right journey and that was crucial for me. I think it’s so hard to wonder when or if anything is going to happen, and it is these little paths along the way that kind of give you a tiny little shove. They all add up. When I did get the audition for “Big Bang” I felt it was the appropriate time. I didn’t know if I was going to get it, but I didn’t feel like I was unworthy. I felt like, “I’m here and I’ve been working and I’m trying to get things going.” And so that’s what I would say about the big break. It was all the tiny little ones before that. 

IRIS: I was thinking about being a lead in a successful show like Big Bang, which is in syndication and can be seen anywhere in the world on any given day. Did you ever feel you might want to break away from being Sheldon for fear of being typecast? 

What I realize now, as far as typecasting goes, is if that if they want to typecast you, there’s really not a lot you can do to stop them. I was fortunate enough to find a few people who are interested in working with me on other things and taking a journey on projects outside my realm. That’s where I’ve been very fortunate, and I feel so very grateful. 

I never would have wanted to stop playing Sheldon because of the association with him or the show, or for fear of being typecast. I knew it was the end of the line for me, not because I didn’t want to do it anymore, but because I felt it had run its course. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I can’t imagine something I could list that I’m more grateful for than that entire experience. But twelve years was a long time for me to play a fairly intense character. He’s a big personality, you know? I was going to be 47 when those twelve years ended, and my dad had died when he was 52, and that just gave me a very unique perspective. I said to myself, “you know what? What if you’ve only got six years left to live?” And looking at it like that, there’s other things that I need to get done.

Suit and Shirt by Berluti, Shoes by Gucci

IRIS: Which brings us to your latest venture as the head of your own production company. It has already produced some pretty successful shows for Netflix, HBO and Fox. How did you start this new foray into producing? 

I did not know if I wanted to do it at first. I did not know exactly what it meant to do it. I am still five years into this and still learning what it means to do it. But I did feel it was a real gift, and I wasn’t afraid of failing at it. I felt that no one was going to care if I succeeded at it or not, but if we have this opportunity we should take it.  I use the word ‘we’ because my deal is very specifically both mine and my husband Todd’s. I would not have done it without him. I knew that for sure and if anything, I’ve only learned that to a greater and greater degree as this has gone on. Todd wasn’t in the business until he met me. He sees things much differently than I do. When we’re looking at something at the production company, I can see his brain work differently, receiving information about shows or scripts or whatever. He’s very good at dealing with all the different personalities involved, I’m really not, and that’s been one of the main reasons this has been a successful venture so far.

IRIS: Speaking of your husband Todd, I was watching an interview where you were talking about you two meeting on a blind date nearly nineteen years ago and I was curious, when did you know that he was the one? Was it love at first sight? 

No, but I did know very soon. I won’t say that night only because I was always a little too stable for thoughts like that. He would argue with me on that one. I would say within a couple of weeks after the first blind date almost nineteen years ago, I knew that this was very much worth pursuing, and I knew that I thought he was very special. You know, we met November 15th, and by the end of December I had basically moved into his apartment. It was really the most romantic time of my whole life. I’ll never forget he took off a week from work for the holidays in December and I had never had so much fun as running around New York with him. I remember going to the coin cashing machine at the supermarket on New Year’s Eve, and he had two pillowcases full of loose change that we dumped into the machine, and that’s what we used to go out that night. I remember we got pizza and bought alcohol. I don’t know, everything was just through rose-colored glasses that’s for sure. We just had our 18th anniversary together. 

We got married in 2018. But you know back in 2002 when we met, gay marriage was barely a thing. It wasn’t legal yet. It was a long evolutionary process for me to care about getting married, it really was. It took me a long time to realize that, not having seen examples of gay marriage, I had lived so much of my life without that dream. It was part of the reason it became important for me to do it. I really wanted our relationship to contribute to the visibility of gay marriage and help people have that dream too, if that’s what they want.

IRIS: I want to make sure we talk about “The Boys in The Band.” The Broadway production was such a big hit, I’m curious, what did you have to do mentally to creatively switch between the stage to the screen?

Before we were actually working on the movie, I was kind of overly anxious about it. I had such a profound summer working on that play.  A huge part of it was just that I love playing that role, I loved getting to be in that play and I really loved getting to work with a group of all gay actors, director, writer and producer. I think it was just a gay extravaganza. 

I always think of my first times, and I imagine a lot of gay people do depending on where you grew up and when you grew up, like the first few times you walk into a gay bar and you immediately feel like, “Oh, I don’t have to hide anything here.” Only when you feel that do you realize the depths to which you’ve been hiding certain things just to get along and to get by. I hope a lot of that has changed by now. I think that is why I was all the more surprised at how powerful working with all of these gay actors was. There’s a language spoken in shared experiences. So, I’m only telling this because all of that made me very anxious to work on the movie because it had been such a wonderful experience as a play, I was worried we might mar the production. 

We were very fortunate that we only had to do a few days of rehearsal because we had all done the play not long ago. We all knew this stuff and it quickly became clear within a day that it was going to be great. It was thrilling. I felt myself relax more and more, knowing I can do these lines a million different ways and calibrate it or just completely change it. I would give them options.

On Broadway, the actors are utterly responsible for getting the story told and it does affect me. The number of risks I’m willing to take, the number of things I’m willing to try in the spur of the moment. It’s calibrated because I can’t risk the point not getting made. But with the movie I thought there is so much freedom to be explored here because the director and the editor have to put this shit together at the end. I can do eight completely different takes of a single scene and then they can pick and choose, and they will tell the story. But I can take some of that responsibility off my shoulders. I knew that we could all trust ourselves because we knew the story that had to be told.

Suit and Shirt by Alexander McQueen

IRIS: I watched The Boys in the Band the day it came out on Netflix and still remember one of the final scenes where you’re about to walk out the door, talking about the loss of your father. It was such a strong scene. Did the memory of your father ever come into play during that scene?

Yes, I feel like my father affects all of my work in all ways. So, when it’s specific like it was there and it’s a character who also has lost their father then yes, I do think it is more obvious in my head. But I really do think about him everyday, and not in a sorrowful way. And not always even just celebratory either. I don’t know. I feel his presence, I firmly believe that. I always have, from the moment he was taken from us I felt that he was with us and always would be. I have never veered from that or doubted that. There can be a real gift to these tragedies if you’re able to appreciate your life more with these beings that are no longer.

IRIS: Do you think you get your dry sense of comedic timing from your mom or your dad.

My dad. No that’s not fair, I shouldn’t say that so quickly my mom would be insulted. She is very funny because she was a teacher. She was the talker; she was the more showman of the two of them. He was a quiet one. He had a very dry sense of humor. He had really good sense of timing. He knew when to throw in commentary, as it were. He knew when to throw in his one liner. I definitely didn’t appreciate it at the time. I mean some of it was dad humor, but it was being applied, I see now, very skillfully.

It’s interesting the older you get, especially when a parent is gone, you are able to see them as human and not the parental figure. I found it really frees me to get a clearer view of him which is another blessing of the tragedy. 

IRIS: You did mention earlier you’re about to start a new movie.

Hopefully! Everything’s crazy now, as you can imagine, but a couple of years ago we had optioned a book called “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words” by Michael Ausiello. I was on vacation when I read it. I don’t know if I really intended on crying so much during the vacation. And then Todd read it and reacted similarly to me, but he was the one to have the idea of optioning it for our production company and for me to star in the movie. I said I didn’t think that was a good idea. I thought it was a great book, but I wasn’t wanting to go through that heartbreaking experience. But the more I thought about it, I knew he was absolutely right; it is rare that I read anything that affects me at this level. So, we did option it, and it came out in the trades or whatever. We thew around director names, and one of the top dream names was Michael Showalter. We felt that he would be such a good fit for he clearly knows comedy and he clearly knows good entertainment. He has this grounded foundation of human connectivity. Anyway, the news came out that we had the option and, lo and behold, he contacted us. I couldn’t believe it came true!

Jacket and Suit by Salvatore Ferragamo

IRIS: You have been lucky to have had a lot of great things fall into place it seems.

The universal system is always that fine balance between striving and letting go, and it can be hard when it’s important to you. I remember being in an acting class towards the end of graduate school, a class about auditioning, what it means, the practicalities. It wasn’t the most interesting acting class, but it was the most harrowing and stomach-turning class. I remember the teacher telling me the whole career of an actor is like trying to hold sand. If you squeeze too hard, you lose it. You lose a lot of it. It was such a good example and I always remember it because it bears repeating time and time again. 

It’s true for love and dating too. You have to both try to not grasp the sand too hard and just let things happen. There is only so much you can do. Now why did you get me started on this?

IRIS: I’m going to start thinking of opportunities using that metaphor. See? You’re already helping me cope!

Well, that’s what I’m here for. I’m glad I can help the people!

Suit and Shirt by Teddy VonRanson

 

 

FREDERIQUE AND THE CITY BY ELLEN VON UNWERTH

Frederique and The City

Frederique van der Wal by Ellen von Unwerth

Clothing by Georgine

Makeup by Romero Jennings

There is no denying that Ellen von Unwerth and Frederique van der Wal are legends in the fashion world. Between the photographer and Supermodel, there is a prolific collection of coffee-table compendium worthy images that, through the years, have inspired a generation of photography enthusiast and fashion fanatics alike. 

The universe brought the two fashion juggernauts together when they discovered they lived in the same New York City apartment building. Together, with fashion designer Georgine Ratelband the two icons have created images in Ellen von Unwerth’s unmistakable aesthetic of “sex, fun and rock & roll.” Iris Covet Book documented the chat between Ellen, Frederique and Georgine on how this shoot came together, staying creative during lockdown and their plans for 2021.

IRIS: Hi ladies, can you give us a little background on how you and Ellen met and how long you have known each other.

ELLEN: Ok yes, we know each other because we live on the same floor in the same building in New York and we run into each other often. You know, we’ve always said let’s shoot together but never found the right time. But this one morning I came home and saw Frederique with a totally new look. Her hair was totally blonde and you know how I love a blonde! I said “Oh my God this is the moment. We have to shoot!”. So, I called Georgine and I asked her if she wanted to join and Georgine offered us pieces from her collection.

FREDERIQUE: I’ve always adored Ellen’s work and strangely enough we had never yet worked together. Somehow it hadn’t happened until both of us, this past September were stuck in New York City.
Then it all came together…this sexy rock and roll Ellen element mixed with the city and the roof. It was very inspiring. For me sometimes, you have these moments when you really get your adrenaline going and that’s how the shoot felt for me. It felt great! It was a day where the playfulness was there, the fun, the sexiness, the rock and roll. It was so Ellen and then the fantastic clothes by Georgine.

GEORGINE: It was very spontaneous And it came together very effortlessly which I enjoyed very much! I think Ellen called me two days before the shoot, I pulled a variety of looks for Frederique that I thought would suit her and we were ready to rock & roll!

ELLEN: Yes, but also you look incredible in the pictures! It’s one thing to see you coming in and out of our building every day but when you see the pictures, you’re like “Wow! There’s Frederique the supermodel!”. I was really blown away when I saw the pictures. Also, it’s very intimate because it’s in my apartment and our roof. A small home production with friends.

IRIS: Frederique, I was reading about a new venture that you have called lifecycles. Is that a project of yours that we can look forward to later this year?

FREDERIQUE: Yes, I created a series with newswire.fm where I visit friends and or celebs from different industries. I’m always riding around on my bike and I talk about life in New York and what keeps them there and we discuss their ups and downs and inspirations. We did our first seven and we featured a bunch of people from different artistic backgrounds. As in fantastic singer Marieme Diop, actor/director Griffin Dunne, designers Badgley Mischka, architect Winka Dubbeldam who did both Ellen and my apartment. An amazing mix of people and it’s coming out this year. It was really fun and it’s a good thing to show the love we all have for New York City. It’s funny, I’m not a Native New Yorker but I do feel like I’m a Dutch-New Yorker.

Whatever happens, the city breathes a sort of inspiration. It’s the mix of people, the wild experiences which can happen in the city at any moment. It just makes it such a special place. I think New York has such a heartbeat. It keeps you coming back to it.

ELLEN: Each time I’m coming from the airport and I see the skyline I just think “Wow, I’m coming home.” You know? I really feel like this is my city. It is so special because even when I’m in Paris, Berlin and all these other beautiful cities, it’s still not like being in New York. Of course, it’s a sad time at the moment, but I love how quickly and creatively they built up all the outdoor seating restaurants. Some of them with really nice decorations and music. It’s nice to see how New York always overcomes challenges.

FREDERIQUE: And also, that resilience of a New Yorker. It’s interesting to see it from a European perspective. For example, the Dutch if you would say to people you have to take another job or you have to come up with an idea to have a different approach to what you’ve been doing, it’s harder for them. But here in New York people are like “Yes let’s go for it! Come on let’s do it!” And I love that.

GEORGINE: New Yorkers are so strong and also very flexible and easy to adapt to a new situation.

ELLEN: It’s also kind of a survival mode of being a New Yorker. You don’t have the luxury to wait things out, you have to be creative to make it there.

IRIS: What are some things you have been doing during the lockdown to stay creative?

ELLEN: I still have been working but of course much less than normal. Productions have slowly started again with many precautions with testing and mask and everything. You never know how the virus reacts so it’s always stressful after a shoot to not know if you might have it or how your body might react to it. I also did some facetime shoots. Like facetiming a shoot in Paris and another in LA. So, I guess we have found new ways of being creative which is the good side of things I suppose.
It can be kind of fun because you feel very voyeuristic since you’re practically in somebody’s apartment.
And then I’m like “Oh, I want to see what is over there… ok you could just sit over there you know and pose like this.” It does feel weird. I would much rather be with somebody in person of course.

FREDERIQUE: I think that the future will be more about coming together. I think we will see more value in what we are doing because of this time of reflection. And be a little bit more focused on what we really want to do. And I think when you do that, as in organizing this shoot and being surrounded with people you like, it creates something great.

ELLEN: I don’t always photograph the people I love for jobs, but I think we can definitely focus more on what we want to say through our work. Now that we see that time is precious and we can’t waste it, I think it’s more important than ever.

IRIS: One of the things that you talked about is reflection. Since we all had much more time for personal reflection, was there anything that you learned about yourself this past year?

FREDERIQUE: Well, I was quite lucky that I could escape to upstate New York where I have a farm. We were able to go back and forth from there and back to the city. It was so nice to be in nature, how healing that was actually. And I realized how much I loved the time I spent in nature and in the garden. Planting and gardening with all this free time felt new to me and it was different to have this solitude with just a few people at my house. Of course, I miss going out and I’m dying to go dancing and to go to all the fun events, but it was interesting to realize how much I actually love being more in nature and working with my hands. So, I ended up creating gardens, planting vegetable, and painting. I loved it.

GEORGINE: We got back from Paris Fashion Week and doing a last minute trunk show in Texas and enjoyed the time off. We are always on the run between places and running around so it was great to have a moment to relax. Catched up on a lot of tv shows and re-watched some classic movies and of course did a lot of cooking.But after a couple of weeks I felt very restless and needed a project. We have always wanted to renovate our showroom and give it new light. This seemed the perfect time for it. If not now, then when? We started with the kitchen area, and before I knew it, we reimagined our entire space and were living in a construction zone for the next 8 months!

ELLEN: And we went to our country home and we always go there for winters. We have a huge cherry tree in the garden and we actually got to see it blooming this summer and it was so amazing. It was a good time to really appreciate it. We also did some vegetable gardening. I also just photographed everything in sight from rain drops on the leaves, to the bees, to my neighbor’s horses. And I really feel like I experienced nature in a very intense way.

IRIS: What new projects should we expect from you this year? Frederique let’s start with you.

FREDERIQUE: Yes, there’s a couple of shoots that I did. I did a story for Vogue Living on my place in upstate New York and I’m actually working on a television program. It’s a bit futuristic where we will use virtual reality. We will follow how certain products come to us. In 2D and also in 3D. For example, the artists from Studio Drift, they create amazing light art and we follow their journey through their creative process. I’ve also decided that I should write a book. It came to me while I did a ‘journey’. I will see once I start writing if it indeed moves me and if it’s something I would like to see to completion and published.

IRIS: Georgine?

GEORGINE: Actually, as I’m talking to you guys, I’m sketching some proposals for the First Lady. It’s very exciting! After redoing our space I’ve ventured into interior design besides designing collections because many of our clients that have come over to our space since we did the renovation were so enamored by the space that they asked me to help them redo their homes! I’m also working on a new spring line and trying to improve my italian by taking classes via zoom.

IRIS: And then Ellen what about your plans for 2021?

ELLEN: I am planning to do another photography book because people are still so fascinated with the time of the supermodels and I lived that time you know? I shot with Naomi when she was 16, I discovered Claudia and Eva and I have so many pictures. So, I think it’s actually a good time to pull them all out. The glamourous fashion from the nineties in a book will be my next project. I also got asked to do a very exciting project which is to create a cabaret burlesque show in Los Angeles in a very special venue. It’s not really what I do but why not? I want to try different things, so why not? It’s good to go in a bit of a different direction sometimes. Everyone is going to be so ready to go out, so I’m super excited about it.

Frederique with designer Georgine

Photography: Ellen von Unwerth @ellenvonunwerth

Model: Frederique van der Wal @frederiquevdwal

Makeup: Romero Jennings @romerojennings

Clothing: Georgine @georginestudio

WILLOW SHIELDS STAR OF NEW NETFLIX SERIES SPINNING OUT

Dress and Coat by Versace

Photographers: Fionayeduardo @fionayeduardo
Art Direction: Louis Liu @herecomeslouis
Styling: Marc Sifuentes @marc.sifuentes
Hair: Austin Burns @austinkburns
Make-up: Agus Suga @Agus Suga
Production Assistant: Benjamin Price @benprice4real
Location: Colony Studios @colonystudios

Interview by Regina Moretto

Top by Marc Jacobs

Hunger Games alum Willow Shields deftly navigates her acting career with the confident beauty and grace of an ice skater. 

The beguiling illusion of easy jumps and spins requires many hours of handwork and tenacity; quite similar to the dedication, preparation and training expected of an actor, which makes watching this young star transcend new roles all the more intriguing.  Starting out with a box office smash at the early age of 12, surrounded by the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the precedent was set for Shield’s strong work ethic which helps drive her blossoming career. 

We sat down with Shields amidst her busy schedule to talk about her latest project; Netflix series Spinning Out.  Spinning Out, created by Samantha Stratton, is a series based on a figure skating Olympic hopeful struggling to balance her dreams of competition and the state of her family’s battle with mental health all while her dream of winning takes a dizzying hold.  Never one to remain idle for too long, Shields shared with us a few additional projects her fans can look forward to seeing her in soon. 

Sweater by Proenza Schouler White Label, Hat by Dara Senders

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?

I started acting when I was about seven but working on my first big film and experiencing the creativity and tight knit community involved in the acting world was when I knew I would love this job.

What was your first big break into entertainment?

I did an episode of a show called In Plain Site when I was about eight and that was my first experience on set. But I guess my big break into entertainment was two years later when I did the first Hunger Games film.

Fans know you from your role as Primrose Everdeen in The Hunger Games, can you tell us the best part of working on these films?

I truly feel like I learned so much from working on these films. I grew up on set for five years learning from the most brilliant actors from Jennifer Lawrence, to Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and so many more but aside from being able to watch and learn from them everyday I was also able to witness other brilliance from the technical side of filmmaking watching our director Francis Lawrence working. I feel like after those films I had more of an understanding about filmmaking and every detail that goes into making a great film.

Being cast in Hunger Games at age 12 and being surrounded by a cast of seasoned actors, what are the most important lesson you learned on set with this crew?

To work hard, show up on time but to also give yourself room to be creative and have fun at the same time.

Do you have any funny or memorable Hunger Games stories you could share?

We had so many cast members as a part of our whole series that there was always so many fun stories being told everyday on set. When you’re in a room with Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson, you know you’re gonna be laughing all day with those two.

Jacket by Zadig & Voltaire

 

Tell us about your new Netflix series Spinning Out and how did you land the central role as Serena Baker?

Spinning Out was a very exciting project for me after reading the script. The story elements are something I’d never seen in a show before and it deals with a lot of pivotal emotional and physical stories that I feel need to be seen.
I fell in love with the character of Serena because she feels like a real teenage girl who’s very complicated. She has a very unusual home life and deals with a lot of emotional ups and downs between her family life and her time in competitive figure skating. It felt like a bit of a dream come true to play a figure skater as well.

Your character is training for ice-skating  competitions, did you have any formal training in your past?

I did not. I came into this show with zero ice skating abilities but I trained for about two months everyday prior to filming the show. My goal was not only to be able to do as much of my own skating as possible but also experience what it was like to train that hard everyday. I came home black and blue all over my body from falling everyday but it helped me understand my character Serena and how figure skaters train.

The show brought on Sarah Kawahara, a former figure skater and Emmy winning choreographer who has worked on “Blades of Glory” and “I, Tonya”…what was it like to work with Sarah on this series?

Sarah is phenomenal. We were all so excited to work with someone so brilliant in this specific field. She helped us train in Toronto and choreographed all of our routines. The coolest thing about Sarah is she was right there with us on set when we filmed these scenes so any detail that was off she was able to help us fix in order to pull off all of the intense skating involved in our story.

Coat by Kenzo, Top by Zadig & Voltaire

 

Did you have any difficulties learning to ice skate or learning the choreography for the series and how did you work through these challenges?

It’s definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I trained for hours everyday and was so determined to learn as much as I could. But one of the most challenging things I did was for the final episode of the show I did a portion of my routine in front of an actual crowd of about five hundred extras so it really felt like a performance for me. Which is both stressful and exciting.

In what way is the character you play in this project different from the roles you’ve played in the past?

Her athleticism is unlike any character I’ve played in the past so that’s very different for me. But just like any young woman she’s full of so much life, emotion, drive, and confusion in her teenage life so those were similarities that I’ve seen in characters I’ve played in the past.

The series seems to focus on mental health.  What steps did you take to ensure your role was true to her character when handling her mother and sisters disorders?

My first step was to allow room for Kaya and January (my sister and mom in the show) to dive into those emotions and have room to experience that. I tried everyday to approach playing Serena in a very honest way, I thought through a lot of what she would go through on a daily basis living with her mom and sister who are both bi polar and how hard that truly is for a young woman who is struggling herself with things. But at the end of the day they love each other more than anyone and that was most important to portray.

Top and Skirt by Marc Jacobs

How have your fans reacted to your role in Spinning Out?

They are so excited! It feels great to have fans that follow and appreciate any project I’m a part of.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects When Time Got Louder and A Fall From Grace?

I am currently filming When Time Got Louder in Vancouver and it’s been an incredible experience. Our story is complex and raw following my character Abbie and her family including her brother Kayden who has non verbal autism. Abbie leaves home to go to school and falls in love with a girl named Karly while at college but struggles with being away from Kayden after being there for him his whole life.

Do you have any other projects coming down the pipeline that you can tell us about?

Nothing I can talk about yet haha

Do you have a daily mantra?

Just to be open minded and open to learning from your accomplishments and mistakes throughout everyday.

Coat by Kenzo, Top by Zadig & Voltaire, Turtleneck by Victoria Hayes

 

COVER STORY: ORVILLE PECK

Photographer: Emma Craft @emmacraft
Stylist: Angel Emmanuel @angelemmanuel
Photo Assistant: Michael Decristofaro @m.decristo
Editor in Chief: Marc Sifuentes @marc.sifuentes
Creative Director: Louis Liu @herecomeslouis
Interview by: Dustin Mansyur @dmansyur

With his fringed masks, rhinestone suits, and shoegazing lyricism, Orville Peck is every bit the part of “lonesome outlaw”. Reimagining tropes of tradition, Peck’s take on country music reinvents the genre as a decorated landscape ready for queer expression.

Orville Peck is a nomad. Like a cowboy on a cattle drive, home is an elusive feeling; the masked musician who’s been described as every imaginable synonym for “enigma” feels happiest hanging his hat just off the highway in a roadside motel. The open road is a part of his DNA, having traversed and inhabited several continents, countries, and cities as a boy. His incessancy for wanderlust belies a romantic narrative spun in the stories of his songs, lulling his listeners on a quixotic journey through a memoryscape evocative of another time and place.

Releasing Pony in March earlier this year, Peck’s sincere approach to his storytelling and lyricism is reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Patsy Cline, intimate and unadulterated. His vocals are as hypnotic and coaxing as a desert oasis on Route 190 through Death Valley. Somewhere between the inexplicable pain of loss resides the unparalleled elation of love and lust. It is the proverbial longhorn skull and rose motif. As a queer artist who croons about gay hustlers or doomed love affairs, his sincerity is the foundation for his music’s transcendency, appealing to longtime country music fans while attracting a younger, more diverse audience to the genre. In an era demanding the commodity of content, Peck deciphers himself apart from the formulaic clout of music industry contemporaries through his visceral ability to be truthful. It is this vulnerability that cannot be faked nor bought, and an even rarer quality for a performer as sensitive as Peck, fearlessly weaving the stories of his experiences and muses into the embroidery of his album; Pony is forthcoming and unapologetic. While the illusion of his shrouded pageantry may have him pegged as the “musical outlaw”, coupled with the intimacy of his music, it creates a contrasting dichotomy that is equal parts mystifying and infatuating.

Ready to saddle up and lead a cavalry of change in the country music industry, IRIS Covet Book shares a conversation with the artist just before he embarked on the European leg of his tour.

Jacket from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Hat: Stetson, Gloves: Maison Fabre, Necklace: His own

Listening to your album, really took me back to my experience as a gay person of color who grew up in the rural Midwest on country music, struggling to find acceptance in the 500-person town I was raised in. Because of your music’s authenticity, one might easily assume you had a similar experience. Where are you from and what was your experience like growing up?

I mean I grew up in a bunch of different places, by the time I was in my early twenties I reckon 5 different countries and many many cities. I’ve lived in Africa, in Canada, in the States, and in Europe—so I moved around a lot. My parents were both from kind of humble beginnings and whenever they did kind of have any money they would put the emphasis on traveling and getting to go and experience new places and cultures. So I think I grew up with a pretty diverse view of the world, in general, but especially in music and art. And I think country music always connected with me because, not only did I love the instrumentation and the themes, but I also related to the environment that it’s set in. I was born and grew up in a desert area, so there were obvious connections to it. As a young gay weirdo, I was really drawn towards the campness of it, the bold storytelling, the theatrical nature of it, which also ran kind of congruent with a lot of sincerity, heartbreak and loneliness which are all kinds of things that I felt and I still carry around with me now.

It’s funny because country music has this stigma surrounding it that it’s supposed to be for well-adjusted conservative, aggressive, white men. It’s sad because like you said yourself, a lot of queer people of color or marginalized people that grow up in small towns feel outside of country music. But the stories within country music—even going back to artists like Patsy Cline—I think those stories speak clearly to people like us. I think also that’s why it’s so obvious that someone like Dolly Parton is such an icon for gay people because she’s someone that had to blaze her own trail and really really convince people to listen to her by dressing provocatively and wearing crazy wigs and essentially being, you know, like a drag queen. But, she could also write some of the most heartbreaking gut wrenching songs of our whole civilization. I think country music has always been written by outsiders and it’s always been for outsiders. I hope to help to break that stigma down because it’s not supposed to be only for white men in trucks or whatever.

How did you break into the music industry; was it something you always imagined you’d be doing?

I was a performer since I was about 10 years old. I started with acting and I was a dancer for a long time and I’ve always been a singer. There were always instruments around my house, I never had formal lessons but I taught myself how to play guitar and piano. I think I just always knew that I was going to be a performer in some way. I’ve been in a bunch of different types of bands all through my twenties, but I knew that I always wanted to make country music and I always wanted to really sing and I never had the confidence to do it for a long time. Then I took a break from music for about 6 years at one point and then when I came back to it I knew I wanted to do country music because it had always been in the back of my mind.

You’ve toured extensively with punk rock bands. Do you find a correlation between the genres and your approach?

Definitely, there’s a similar rebellion, of course. I think there’s a similar aesthetic in some ways. The punk that I grew up loving was early seventies kind of punk. Those people all had pseudonyms; they all had costumes that they wore. You know they spent more time on hair and makeup than most musicians probably do now. So I think that there’s a lot of correlations between country music which is essentially pageantry and drama mixed with vulturous sincerity and heartbreak and I think that that’s kind of what punk is too.

Shirt and Jeans: R13, Vest and Chaps from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Hat: Stetson, Boots: Star Boots

Returning to country music, did it feel like you were returning to your roots in a way?

What I do now feels so easy in a way because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s the easiest thing to just be yourself. The best qualities about you are the most sincere ones. Of course, I still struggle with insecurities about it and I have self-doubts, but the older I’ve gotten, it’s become easier for me. Even though I’ve been a performer for so long and been doing it as a job for a long time, I think this time I can really sit back and enjoy it for the first time because it’s become fun and easy to be myself.

You’re about to embark on your European Tour for “Pony”. You’ve described yourself as a “born drifter”, which kind of furthers the romanticism of your musical canon and persona. What is it about the open road or a nomadic lifestyle that calls you?

I’ve just always felt anxious. As I’ve said, I moved around a lot when I was younger, so I think the idea of moving to new places and kind of making your home wherever you are—that’s always just been part of me I suppose. I find it very hard to put roots down. Oftentimes I’ve tried to stay in cities for long periods of time and I’ve always kind of gotten anxious and not really known where my place is. Part of what appeals to me now is that I’ve learned to really find the adventure in it and not look at it as a downside. When people ask me where I’m from and I say lots of places, it’s not to be obtuse or enigmatic, it’s just because I genuinely feel like I have left little pieces of myself in all these different places that I’ve lived. That to me is so special because I can go back to those cities and feel like I’m right back at home in a way that I’ve gotten to meet incredible friends and family all over the world. So I think those are things that appeal to me about it. I’m just someone that’s never been able to sit still.

Do you feel most at home when you’re on tour?

Yes, I do. I definitely feel most comfortable. When I’m stuck in one city and I have a lot to do like I am right now— I’m about to leave in two days again for tour—but I tend to have the most anxiety and stress when I’m stuck in one place. I do feel at home on tour; I just feel at home when I’m traveling.

Pants: Gucci, Hat: Stetson, Gloves: Wing + Weft Gloves, Belt: Diesel, Belt Buckle: Stylists Own, Boots: Frye, Necklace: His own

What is your song-writing process? How often do you write? Is it an ongoing discipline or something you do only when you apportion studio time for it?

I’m kind of writing all the time. It’s all different. Sometimes it’s an idea just based around a concept for a song. Sometimes it’s based around a melody that I have in my head. Other times it’s based around one lyric or a line that I want to try to incorporate. Oftentimes I start from more of a visual or kind of an emotive place where I know what kind of vibe I want the song to be or what emotion I want to evoke for the person listening to it. Then I go from there by making it personal to me and hopefully telling a good story at the same time.

Pony was released in March earlier this year and received with splashy critical praise as well as excitement from your fans who’ve been waiting for it since your single release of “Dead of Night” in 2017. What are you most proud of about the album, and can you share any personal anecdotes from the recording process?

What I’m most proud about and just generally about the past year is that I’ve been able to express myself as an artist. That includes collaborating with people, which is something I never used to be very good at doing. I’ve learned in the past year to really embrace that. And I find it really fun and exciting now being able to work with people on videos, visuals, aesthetics, stylists… as an artist I think it’s really important. Then in addition to that, getting to do what I’ve wanted to do since I was little, which is to be a singer and really sing, and sing about heartache and things that are important to me and things that are sometimes difficult for me to sing about. I think the bonus of that is everyone enjoying it; it’s more than you could ask for and I find it very fulfilling.

I’m curious if you ever struggled with proclaiming yourself as a gay artist right from the start or did you ever feel that you would embark on your career and let it come out naturally? How important is it to your brand?

I’ve never struggled with it. I think it’s important to me and it’s also not important at all in a way. As an artist, if I’m going to write songs with any kind of authenticity they’re going to have to be from my perspective and my experiences. And my perspective and my experiences happen to be of someone who has been with men. To me it’s kind of a non topic in a sense, but not because I’m dismissive of it, but because to me I’m just following in the footsteps of every other singer and songwriter who sang about the people they were with and sang about their problems. I just feel like I’m being genuine to myself so of course it’s going to be about men if that’s who I’ve been with. So I think on one hand it’s a huge part of who I am, what I do, and what I sing about. I’m completely proud and open about being gay and being part of that community, but I also think it could hold just as much weight if it wasn’t my background either.

What has been your greatest internal or professional challenge that you’ve had to overcome as an artist thus far?

My biggest challenge I guess has been trusting and really believing in myself I guess, which is something I learned through the help of other people a lot more in the past couple of years. I always was a creative child. I knew what I always wanted to do; I knew that I could write songs and I knew I could perform and make people smile and clap. But I think I still had a lot of barriers and defenses up,and in some ways I still do. I just never had much opportunity to really collaborate with people growing up, so that’s been a big learning curve for me. It’s interesting because I used to think that opening myself up to working with other people or even really opening myself up to sharing personal things about myself through my art would in some weird way dilute me as an artist. But it’s only just really enriched me as an artist and made it far more exciting. That’s been a struggle for me but it’s been a nice struggle in a way — It’s important to be far more open than I used to be.

Vintage Jean Paul Gaultier top from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Hat: Silverado Hats, Gloves: Perrin Paris

Was there a defining moment in your career that proved to be a turning point or breakout moment that propelled you to the next level?

I think a lot of artists and creative people struggle with the fact of embracing that they’re going to do this for real or whatever. Like of course you have to supplement art with an income and usually that means working some job you’re not really interested in and that’s kind of soul sucking. But it’s also about a state of mind, just fully deciding one day that you know you are going to do it for real and you are going to own it. Even though I was a performer since I was very young, I still had those fears. It wasn’t until maybe my mid-twenties that I decided that I’m only going to be an artist and everything else is purely to facilitate that. It’s just that mine is a change of mindframe and a “jumping-out-the-airplane” thing. You just have to do it.

Queer people working in media and entertainment have enriched the sector, and provided more representation for fans who identify with and relate to what you’re creating as an artist. When you were growing up, did you have any queer icons you looked up to?

Definitely, I was a fan of the obvious ones like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. I grew up loving dance and theater so there was no shortage of queer icons in that world. But I also grew up with a lot of icons who weren’t queer, I never felt outside of those people being references or inspiration for what I do. I never let the fact that I was gay define anything about me as an artist. Of course it’s enriched me in lots of ways, but I never let it be a barrier.

Now that you have this platform and visibility, how do you hope you can influence a younger generation of LGBTQ fans through your music?

It’s really lovely when I hear from young queer or trans people that tell me I represent something for them in country music that they never thought was there, or that they never felt a part of. If I can be that for someone, then I feel completely honored and thrilled by that. I hope that people feel welcome to express themselves and be a part of anything that they feel they want to be a part of, and not feel like the color of their skin or their gender, sexual orientation, or anything else should limit them. I think as marginalized people we tend to have to stand on the sidelines and be a fan from a distance or feel like maybe we don’t belong. I hope it inspires people to take up more room and get on and be a part of it because it is part of them, it’s already part of them, and there’s no invitation needed.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews the landscape of country music is diversifying to include many new types of sounds and voices. How important is it to you to expand the genre and/or to receive acceptance from the mainstream country music industry?

I think it’s important to me in the sense that country music has always been diverse and there’s always been people of color making country music, there’s always been gay people making country music. Unfortunately, those things haven’t been able to be very visible. So I think it’s been a long time coming now that those different perspectives in country music are visible. I think it’s happening quite quickly now, and those walls put up by industry people in mainstream country music are starting to crumble. We’re getting a lot of weird new voices in country music, some have always been there, but they’re starting to creep through the cracks now. I think that’s great because it’ll just start ending the stigma about who country music is for.

Shirt, Coat, Pants, Boxer Briefs: Versace, Hat: Stetson, Gloves: Lincoln, Boots: Star Boots

You’ve talked about your mask as having dual-purpose: an element of showmanship and a tool that allows you to be more raw / exposed as an artist. How did you arrive at the mask? Did you create the first one or did you work with a stylist or designer to engineer the look?

It’s all me and I make them. I think it was just my version of following in the footsteps of many country performers who had bold, camp, flamboyant visual imagery to their performance. There’s a huge lineage of that and a lot of them are very straight, conservative people in country music that would wear bedazzled rhinestone suits. Dolly Parton would wear 3-foot high wigs. It’s all in that sphere, so I’m definitely not the first person to do it. Maybe for newer country musicians it’s not as common, but that’s basically where I’m coming from.

Do you connect more with your audience because of the mask?

I think so. I think it eliminates a certain amount of pretense. I think it destroys the mask that people walk around wearing everyday, which you know, isn’t a real necessarily mask. I think it eliminates a lot of bullshit especially. It’s the same as when people feel so comfortable around a drag queen or someone like that. Something about it just puts people at ease and makes them feel like they can be comfortable and be themselves. That’s what I experience in my shows with people and they all look like they’re really connected to the performance because of it I think.

Jacket from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Pants: Gucci, Hat: Stetson, Gloves: Maison Fabre, Boots:Off-White, Necklace: His own

You’ve been described as a musical “outlaw” and the mask reinforces this idea. In a way it’s reminiscent of a bandana-wearing bandit hero, like Zorro or the Lone Ranger. Do you think your audience responds or relates to it because of this idea of a hero-like figure?

I think so. I think people project a lot of different interpretations of it. That’s what I love about it and that’s also why I hate to talk too much about it because I don’t want to put too much narrative on top of it. I actually like that people can have their own interpretation of it. Some people look at it and think of the Lone Ranger and then some people look at it and see an S&M mask and it’s like, well that tells me a lot about that person. That’s what I like about it—that it is open for interpretation. And it allows people to be involved in what I do. For a fan to feel involved in it and that they can get a piece of that too, then that is what you could only hope for as an artist. People not only enjoy what you do but they’re invested and they feel a part of it. Some of the musicians, visual artists, actors, filmmakers, and authors that I still respect to this day are people that made me feel like I had some ownership of what they did as well.

The dichotomy of being an openly queer artist while hiding your physical features is a striking juxtaposition. Do you think you’ll ever “out” yourself physically from under the mask?

I don’t know. To me I don’t feel like I’m hiding at all. I feel like I wear my heart on my sleeve in a lot of ways. We’ll see what that evolution is. At the moment I’m really happy just doing my thing as I’m doing it.

Your music explores the nostalgia of Americana and its sound. It’s a staple source of inspiration for many iconic popular country and folk-rock ballads. Having such a diverse international background, what inspires you most about Americana?

I think it’s the seemingly normality. I think Americana as we’ve been told to believe is apple pie. It’s very clean and neat with a picket fence. The reality of American culture is far weirder and darker than that at times. It involves a lot of trauma and craziness. I think that’s the part of Americana that I find far more fascinating. I think that is the real Americana. I always talk about how I love motels because the idea of this like chic version of a hotel that is on a highway and it’s very cheap, there’s no questions asked and sometimes people live in them for months at a time. That doesn’t even exist anywhere else in the world and that’s like a whole culture of America that is of its own. I find that really fascinating and I think the people and characters that inhabit those kind of worlds are really interesting.

Shirt from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Vest: Gucci, Jeans: R13, Hat: Stetson, Gloves: Agnelle, Belt: Kippys, Boots: Fyre

So many artists reinvent themselves over the course of their career. With your musical training, background, and musical influences being so diverse – Do you think you’ll stay exclusively a country music artist or begin to incorporate other sounds into your work?

I think I’ve always been kind of incorporating different sounds into it, but at heart I’m a country boy and I’ll continue to be a country musician. I think I’ll always try and push that to not leave it strictly in what other people’s idea of what country music is.

That darkness has, in recent times, become much more visible. Concentration camps have quickly become a new norm in America under the current administration. Trans rights have been challenged through rollbacks on protection for military service and healthcare provisions under the Affordable Care Act. Do you foresee this escalating its target on more LGBTQ+ people?

Unfortunately, I think I do. I think across the board not just with LGBTQ people, but also people of color, women, and marginalized people. In America we’ve been allowed to believe that things are changing but at the root of it nothing has been changing. Now that’s become more obvious to us and I think, strangely, not to sound flippant about it, but I believe that’s where this resurgence of cowboy aesthetic has actually come into play in our culture. To me being a cowboy has nothing to do with wearing a cowboy hat or being a rancher and roping cows or charging steers. I think being a cowboy is being someone who is intrinsically, innately on the outside of things and given a bad rap, maybe getting the short end of the straw, and forced to live on the outskirts of town. But instead of letting that be a negative, it’s about finding the power within that and the adventure and the freedom. The idea of getting on a horse and riding into the sunset, I think that sounds really beautiful for people like us right now where we can find our posse of rebels and cowboys, make our own rules and essentially live as outlaws. Those all sound like motifs and pastiche kind of ideas, but they do hold bearing. I think that is what being marginalized is about. It’s about not assimilating to the status quo, finding our community, our power, and charging ahead in the face of whatever. I think it’s a powerful thing, and I actually do believe that is why we’re seeing so much cowboy imagery in fashion and sub-culture and because there is something adventurous and powerful about that.

You alluded to this earlier in our conversation and in previous interviews drawn upon similarities between the Old West and the present state of affairs today saying, “We lived in a recent time when we hoped everything was going to be okay, that the powers that be were going to sort it out. But now everyone’s fending for themselves because they’re disappointed. Everyone’s on their own horse, doing their own thing.” So, if we’re all on our own horses, do you think we are equipped to become a calvary for change?

I think so. I do like to believe that. Listen, I have lived in countries other than America where I have seen, witnessed, had to live through massive social change on a really huge scale. I think it comes through perseverance and I think it comes to sticking to your guns and not swaying from who you are and what you believe in. I do believe that is powerful enough to make change because I’ve seen it happen. I think it’s time for all our posse, to find our community, and do exactly that—form a calvary and stick to who we are in the face of no matter what for change.

COMMITTING TO JONATHAN TUCKER

On Left: Coat by Canali, Sweater by Belstaff, On Right: Coat, Sweater, Pants by Missoni

Jewelry by Eli Halili

Photographer: Karl Simone @karl_simone
Stylist: Michael Fusco @mikeystyles
Groomer: Jeff Chastain @mascbyjeffchastain
Stylist Assistant: Merrit Rea @merritt.rea
Special thanks to Gem Saloon

Interview by Matthew Rettenmund

Jonathan Tucker is one of the best parts of all your favorite shows. The actor, who is currently playing devil to the women of Charlie’s Angels as the new film’s villain, is killer-with-a-conscience Frankie on the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck-produced Boston crime drama City on a Hill; was mercurial Low Key on American Gods; and was a highlight of Season 2 of Westworld as intense, self-unaware host Major Craddock, to name a few.

Perhaps most memorably, and in a role that will leave a mark, the Boston native trained like a fiend to play MMA fighter Jay Kulina on Kingdom opposite Nick Jonas — and still has the abs to prove it.

In an exclusive interview with Iris Cover Book, the 37-year-old actor talked about his myriad roles on TV and in film, what he’s carried with him from his youthful pursuit of ballet (#JayKulinaDancesToo) and how he hopes to be remembered.

On Left: Suit and Shirt by Missoni, Loafers by Gucci
On Right: Jacket and Shirt by Rag and Bone, Jeans by Helmut Lang

I’ve seen you in so many things over the last few years, but only recently connected that you were the teenager in The Deep End (2001), the dark, gay-themed story with Tilda Swinton.

That movie changed my whole life! I turned 18 the day I shot the sex scene with Josh Lucas.

It’s interesting how choices can lead us in totally different directions. I wondered how you decided early on in favor of acting over ballet, which you’d studied?

My second-grade teacher had seen an advertisement for a national call for a [1992] movie called Lorenzo’s Oil. I’d really fallen in love with ballet, particularly with being onstage, so I took him up on this offer and I went to the audition. I didn’t end up getting the movie, but I ended up getting on the radar of the local casting director’s office, and they’d call me back for national commercials they were shooting in Boston, and I ended up getting one for Fruit Roll-Ups. The moment I was there on set with the camera and the crew and understanding the process, I was like, ‘This is what I wanna do.”

 I remember coming back with my parents saying, “We need to get an agent — do you guys know what an agent is? I found a woman who I think is very reputable, I think we should have a meeting with her,’ so I certainly steered that ship early on, and I was very lucky to have supportive parents that helped make it happen for me. I was 10 years old.

Though you changed courses, have you retained anything from your ballet training?

I think self-discipline, the ability to listen and take direction, punctuality. As much as one can work on the interior of a character — we’re all spiritual vessels — physicality is a really important part of being a human being. That’s a critical component to the process of creating a character. Being in your body is something ballet dancers understand.

On Left: Trench by Belstaff, Tee by Mitchell Evan, Jeans by Linder, Sneakers by Geox
On Right: Jumpsuit by Kyle, Overcoat by Linder, Sneakers by Geox

Being committed physically is something you did for Kingdom. You can be committed to playing a doctor but you won’t be ready to go into surgery, yet on Kingdom, your training had you ready to walk into the ring and be an MMA fighter.

I was living that life. Actors are always toggling between “truth” and “truthful.” Everybody wants truth in their lives, but sometimes we have to settle for truthful, as an actor. Certain roles afford you the ability to get closer to truth, but it’s an actor’s responsibility to be the voice for at least truthful, as the bare minimum. No one’s gonna buy you as a fighter, if you don’t look like a fighter.

That must’ve been a tremendous commitment.

I like tremendous commitments and setting goals and achieving them, and discipline. I think my wife had a significantly more challenging time with what was required to keep and maintain Jake than I did; your mood is profoundly affected. When you hear about people who are imprisoned, they get out and the first thing they wanna do, they don’t care about revenge, they want to eat. That was very understandable for me at that point.

You’d been acting since you were so young, did you have a special bond with Nick Jonas when you were shooting Kingdom?

He’s a very important friend to me for a lot of reasons. I would say when you have been through the crucible of this profession and the craft, you then realize you’re always in it. It provides a great deal of wisdom that you can’t buy. People who have stood with you, people you thought would who don’t, people you didn’t think would support you when things were tough but who end up being the most supportive, making money, losing money, fame, no fame, successful movies, bomb TV shows — it’s a business that provides these artificial highs and lows until after a certain point in time, you start to realize what’s really important. Those people who have that understanding can spot each other from across a crowded room. I feel that way about Nick, and he’s had even more complicated experiences than I have. Growing up in the business and getting to see it for as many years as we both have is certainly a connection that we both share — and we value.

 

Trench by Belstaff, Jeans by Linder, Sneakers by Geox

 Were there any older actors you’ve worked with who served as role models?

You learn early on there are many classrooms providing an education, not all of them academic, and the teachers are not always society’s notable ones. It’s not just the famous people, it’s the dolly grip sharing how they made a lot of money when they were young, but now their back and knees are gone but they can’t do anything else because they didn’t take a larger perspective on their life.

I wanna have people say, when I die, that I was able to honor different kinds of people and reflect honestly a variety of worlds, or a host of experiences. So, if I could bring that authentic light and shine it in those places or on those people, it’s exciting to me. I don’t see the world in blacks and whites. The more educated I am on certain topics, the less clear they become. What ends up becoming immutable are certain themes in terms of how I want to live my life, rather than unequivocal truths about kinds of people or certain political topics or certain systems. What I’m looking for is truth, and I find that characters that interest me are significantly more complicated than people think they are — sometimes more than even the writer thinks they are — and I’m interested in that sort of dynamic.

You’ve been in the industry long enough to see the push for diversity. Would you agree that Westworld is an example of a show that is diverse, and organically so?

Westworld was diverse before this was a national conversation, or at least a business conversation, and I think it’s a really important point to share because diversity, just throwing around “diversity” as a cultural token does a disservice, rather than trying to address in a meaningful way a system that hasn’t been able to offer the same sort of opportunities to groups of people that it should.

It also comes from the system that [Westworld creators] Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have created and cultivated, which is, “How do we mentor different and unique voices and support and guide them?” versus trying to plug holes for the sake of optics. The business has a lot to offer every culture, every faith, every skin color, every economic background, we’re all storytellers.

Being on Westworld thrust you into the realm of a series where storylines are top-secret. Are you good at keeping secrets?

I like secrets. As an actor, you never want to tell anyone anything about your work. Your experiences are bifurcated between work and employment — you’re oftentimes working more than you’re employed. People say, “What’s going on?” What, are you gonna tell them about all the auditions you went on that you probably won’t get? About the movie that’s coming together that probably won’t come together? So, I’m pretty good about being tight-lipped. I might not even talk about it when it comes out — I’ll let you see it. I’ve sat next to people that have been cut out of movies and they had a great role and we’re at the premiere. [Laughs] It’s like — just keep your mouth shut.

Trench by Belstaff, Jeans by Linder, Sneakers by Geox

Can you keep your mouth open about Charlie’s Angels?

There’s something great about making a movie that’s simply a lot of fun, about three very talented young actresses kicking ass. It doesn’t need to say anything more than that. A great movie stands on its own, so if it happens to be about three young women doing things that we typically expect only three young males to do, I think that sends a greater message than having to explain to everybody what the message is.

 Your character in that seems thrillingly without merit as a human being.

I would say certainly without merit, but not without a clear intention. [Laughs] I think I was cast as the manifestation of violence against women.

How was director Elizabeth Banks, who also acts in the film, to work with?

She’s pretty, pretty outstanding. I’ve known her for quite a few years, so when this opportunity came we jumped on the phone and I said, “I’m gonna send you a text of what I think this character looks like, aesthetically speaking,” and she said, “You’ve gotta be kidding, check your texts,” and she had sent me the same model — different picture, but the same very distinctive model, so we were on the same page from the jump.

On Right: Helmut Lang full look, Boots by Saint Laurent

You’ve been in so many things, I don’t think there is a type that screams “Jonathan Tucker character.” Is there a role you’ve played to which you most relate, that’s closest to you?

I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that. It’s kind of like: you’re a pitcher, you have a certain kind of pitch you know you’re really good at, and you have a strike box you know you’re guaranteed to get an umpire to call a strike in, and you’re trying to work the corners a whole bunch. You’re always you, but if it’s not a strike, then at least you attempted it.

Being scared to throw in the corners, being scared of being unsuccessful with the choices you’re making as an actor is the death of a good actor. You have to be willing to throw a few balls or have that errant pitch.

Are you an actor who enjoys photo shoots, like the one you did for Iris Covet Book?

You gotta commit to those things. You’re relying on the team so you can walk in there and just jump. You wanna commit to things in your life. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t show up.

JACQUELINE NOVAK

Suit by Escada, Gloves by Dior, Choker by Christian Lacroix,
Courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage

Photographed and Interviewed by: Dustin Mansyur @dmansyur
Talent: Jacqueline Novak @jacnov
Stylist: Gabriel Held @gabriel_held_vintage
Lighting Tech: Johnny Vicari @johnnyvicari
Hair: Isaac Davidson @isaacdavidsonhair @Industry Mgmt.
Make-up: Nina Soriano @ninasorianomakeup
Production Assistance: Genaro Ordonez @genaroordonez
Special Thanks to Cherry Lane Theater for providing location

Going up from going down, Jacqueline Novak’s sold-out one woman show is extending its West Village run. With her prolix and personal storytelling style, Novak’s Get On Your Knees is sure to please. 

Jacqueline Novak is on the floor. Stretched out languid and feline in a vintage black and white color block three-piece suit, knees bent and feet mid-air kicking back and forth like an 80’s teen flick fantasy. In lieu of a landline phone she cradles the microphone, a fitting prop for her to divulge all of her juiciest momentos to. After flexing about her floorwork in hair and makeup, the Get On Your Knees comedian is happy to oblige for our shoot. Today she’s giving us a montage of her realest moments of recent: the backstage nerves before her entrance, the tenuous question, “Can she do it”, to finally owning the stage with her one-woman show. Glammed up is a good look for Novak, who’s giving us nods of comedic “it girl” with appearances on Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon and sparkly reviews from the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Sold-out and extending are also good looks–with its initial stellar off-broadway sell-out run at Cherry Lane Theater, the one-woman show Get On Your Knees presented by Natasha Lyonne and executive produced by Mike Birbiglia will remain in the West Village, continuing its run at the larger Lucille Lortel Theatre through the fall. 

Exploring the etymology of a blowjob, Knees takes us on a meandering discursive journey filled with Novak’s hilariously self-reflective personal anecdotes, hyperbolic metaphor peppered with sage wisdom weaving a story of sexual coming-of-age. Poetically examining all the feminine qualities of the penis was an entertaining concept for me to embrace as a gay man, and coupled with Novak’s articulate script-flipping on long-held stereotypes of masculinity was nuanced, comedically refreshing if not insightful. Profoundly-layered and self-aware, Novak’s delivery comes across at times like an unadulterated soliloquy of the voice inside her head conducting a many-angled dissection of the conundrum of catalogued oral sex experiences, preconceived ideas and expectations pushed upon her since youth, a storytelling technique that drives you to lean in. With Get On Your Knees, Novak proves comedically there’s no question of “if” or “can”–she’s done it and she’ll do it again. 

IRIS Covet Book caught up with Jacqueline in her dressing room just before her final show at Cherry Lane Theater.  [read more below] 

Suit by Escada, Gloves by Dior, Choker by Christian Lacroix, Boots by Jeffrey Campbell,
Courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage

 

DM: I had a really great time on our shoot yesterday. I’m so happy you trusted the team to push you off into a campy kind of character which is a departure from your show. Gabriel is such a genius with styling and character reference. Did you have fun? 

JN: Oh my god yes, I had the time of my life!

DM: We were in love with this Bette Midler kind of “Big Business” fashion reference for the styling with lots of prints and costume jewelry. 

JN: I loved it!

DM: You took our photo direction so well – I love how you put your spin on the idea. What’s that like when you’re asked to play a kind of character like that for a shoot? 

JN: I think I played my cards right by basically keeping it incredibly simple for my show wardrobe, right? Part of the thrill of the shoot was the departure from that. It’s a really exciting time right now with my show going up and going well, and as I said yesterday at the shoot, I felt like I was playing out an 80’s fantasy–like a montage in a movie for my big break. There were lights flashing and I’m in those kind of looks representing these moments–so it was really fun.

DM: When you were growing up, who were your comedy icons?

JN: Probably people in specific roles. Steve Martin in…Roxanne. Thenardier in Les Mis. Chris Elliot in Get a Life. In high school, Parker Posey in Christopher Guest stuff and of course, House of Yes. Chris Rock.

DM: In your stand-up, you mention writing poetry. I was just curious how you began your career writing…was it always satirical comedy or was that something that came later?

JN: I started writing poetry and short stories in high school. Then in college, I started doing dramatic writing, play writing. Then, personal essays. Around the time that I was doing improv in college. Stand up allowed me to be both a writer and a performer.

DM: So, it was more of a natural transition because it combined all the things that you were exploring at the time…

JN: Well there is no natural transition to stand up. It’s always an uncomfortable, awkward and outrageous leap. Unless, it’s 1902 and you sort of find yourself talking in a saloon night after night with an ever growing crowd. Otherwise, it’s showing up to open mics which isn’t natural. But for me, looking back, sure, it’s natural. It was the intersection between comedy, performance and different parts of what I was interested in.

DM: Your show has been a huge success, you sold out and you have moved to a new theater and extending it. When did you start to realize that your show was becoming somewhat of a phenomenon?

JN: I’m still in shock! Even when you articulate it that way, I’m like oh my God! Is it true? Well, it’s very absorbing doing the show and there’s no time to think. I moved to LA and I put it up for a few nights and got a great response which was exciting because it felt like “these people don’t know me and they enjoyed it.”  In terms of the NY run, in previews we were selling well which the producers said was a positive sign. I keep waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me. Then with great reviews, the run kept selling…until we sold it out! I’m truly still processing it. This is one of the cases where my brain works for me – my ADD hyper-focus brain keeps me weirdly in the present with it.

 

Jacket by Christian Lacroix, Jewelry vintage,
Courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage

DM: The producer Natasha Lyonne has been complimentary. She said that she thinks of you as “a great new philosopher with a fully existential show.” In your words, how would you describe your show and where did your inspiration come from for the material?

JN: It’s a show about blow jobs, but really it’s a show about ideas. I love how that sounds so I keep saying it. But it’s kind of a show about thinking, and one’s evolving thoughts around a particular subject. Yes, it traces a narrative but it’s a narrative of ideas – here’s what I thought at 12 about the blowjob, then at 16, then at 20, etc, with a few key moments shaping the whole thing.

DM: You share a lot of vulnerable and personal anecdotes. Does it feel liberating to just lay it all out there in this format?

JN: I’ve always been pretty comfortable with that kind of personal divulging, so that aspect didn’t feel new. The liberating part was letting more of me into the show – not just what I think of as ‘suitable for stand-up.’

DM: I love how you poke on the anxiety of walking from the door of the stage onto the stage. When you began doing stand-up, what were you most nervous about that no longer phases you?

JN: When I started, I was very scared of the embarrassment of having people perceive me attempting to be funny, but I also found it embarrassing to try to act like you had not just said the punchline that you wanted to [say]. It was embarrassing to cover up a joke that I had just said by rushing into more speaking to make it seem like the audience’s lack of laughter was not a problem. I wanted to skip the landing of every joke, so to speak, but then that requires kind of admitting that you think what you just said is funny and just pausing for laughter, it’s kind of the inherit thing of being a comedian. I think Mitch Hedberg had a joke that said something like, “I pre-approved all these jokes as funny.” That expressed what’s most embarrassing to me in comedy. The self-appointment. Inherent in standing up there, you have informed people that you believe you deserve to be up there, to make them laugh, and that you think you’re capable of doing so. Seems like something only an asshole would think.

DM: What’s the last thing that you say to yourself in your head before you walk onto stage, or what’s the last thought that goes through your mind?

JN: At the beginning of the show, Madonna’s ”Like a Prayer” is playing. I feel the physical nerves before going on stage. I try to experience gratitude for what’s happening…in a juicy way not in a moralistic way. I remind myself that feeling this kind of fear is exactly the fear I wanted to be in a position to feel. So take note and appreciate it, bitch.

 

Jacket by Moschino, Necklace by Chanel, Bodysuit by Bill Blass, Pants by Agnes B., Shoes by Fluevog,
Courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage

DM: What do you like most about performing for a live audience, and in particular, the audience for this show?

JN: It’s nice how few distractions there are generally in theater versus a comedy club. I remember Mike Birbiglia, in a conversation before the run, when I was running the show on the road in clubs. He likened performing in a comedy club to driving a car on a bumpy road and that performing in a proper theater is like driving that car on a racetrack. Everything is tuned up and ready to go. It’s a more ideal circumstance to present your ideas.”

DM: One of the brilliant things that I loved about your show is that feminization of the penis and how you personified it with the stereotypical qualities that are assigned to women like it being over-sensitive or hysterical in nature. How did you come to the realization that the penis has feminine qualities?

JN: I had noted that the vulva is compared to a flower, but I never found that image suitable. I then liken a penis to a flower instead, and from there the feminine imagery expanded. It’s hard to say though, it all kind of develops simultaneously.

DM: When we were at the show, there was this older gentleman behind us that was goading his wife to leave when you started to unpack the idea and she kept telling him to calm down and to let it play out. I was just curious…have you encountered anything of this among the attendees who didn’t know the nature of the show?

JN: I feel like for the most part people have been pretty well behaved in the first couple rows, which is where I could see. Do you remember specifically what I was saying?

DM:  I think it’s when you used the floral kind of reference.

JN: No! That’s hysterical!

DM: Yeah, you had just started to unpack it. You hadn’t gone too far into it and I thought [about the couple] are you serious right now? This is a comedy show so chill out!

JN: That’s wild! It hasn’t been too bad. Occasionally, I’ll see someone’s face in the front row and they start opening the program and look in it. I’m like, if you’re not enjoying the show, there is nothing in there that can help you. It’s just bios. I have a sense of some of my audience – like the people that come are comedy fans in general and then there’s the audience that just comes because it’s an off-Broadway show in NY. I particularly enjoy mixing the high and lowbrow, so to speak. I honestly get some pleasure of that mix.

DM: You take us on a journey of your experiences giving a blowjob, beginning with your initial insecurities surrounding it, overcoming those insecurities, and feeling as though you mastered it. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a metaphor for something a little more subliminal. I guess, without trying to get too Freudian about it, what is the blowjob implying to you and what do you hope that your audience takes away from the show or  the material?

JN: The blow job was something I was worried about, wanted to do well, had my own ideas about, and found this in conflict with the world’s. One thing I would like for people to have more understanding or empathy about is the idea of a teenage girl giving a blowjob is a pretty limited idea that is reduced to a stereotype, so it’s trying to complicate that image a little bit for people. It bothered me at the time when adults knew that you gave a blowjob they would think you were not a good girl. And in that way, a big part of the story is the blowjob could represent my changing perceptions around it, what it meant in different points in my adolescence. Then the question is – do you live your life by what other people think things mean or what you think things mean. Ultimately, the message, I guess, if I may be so vulgar, is that in this life you can cultivate your own narrative about yourself, even if it’s not bulletproof, even if it’s tenuous, even if all the proof is not there.

DM: In your book How to Weep in Public, you discuss your experience with depression. How did comedy help you make sense with the experience of it?

JN: I don’t think it really did. I think comedy, like anything, is just made harder to do when you are depressed.

DM: Was it therapeutic in any way to write and explore this darker form of humor?

JN: In order to write that book, I had to be in a better place than I was when I conceptualized it. I like to be clear about that. I feel like writing a book is NOT a therapeutic experience, and getting feedback and working on it is incredibly difficult. Writing is hell. Just happens to be my favorite kind. I’d love to be able to say it was therapeutic but that ain’t it.

DM:  So much of the work of a comedian and a writer is observing life experiences and dynamics and then finding the humor or meaning in them. Do you feel like you have a heightened ability for empathy as a comedian and a writer?

JN: I wouldn’t want to say I have heightened ability over someone else. I suppose I’m a little looser with my thinking than non-comedians. I am willing to draw inappropriate comparisons.  Comedians are never upset by that. Comedians are usually willing to go on thought experiments.

DM: You’ve written for popular TV series, such as “Broad City.” If you had a chance to create your own scripted series and star, what kind of storyline and character would you create?

JN: I’m actually too vain to properly do an autobiographical show.  I’d want my character to always be right and lovable. Ha! I’d rather not tell a story about a comedian, I know that. I’d rather go far and wide, away!

DM: I am excited that your show has been extended. I’m just curious – after the show concludes, do you have any other projects that you are willing to share?

JN: Nah. Gotta keep it all secret, while it’s still in the cauldron. Can’t open that oven door. And other analogies.

DM: Besides overcoming the insecurity of a blowjob, what’s the thing in your life and career that you overcame that you’re most proud of?

JN: Let’s see … doing stand-up at all. I’ve been doing stand-up for a long time, and the original leap, it seems, was the scariest part.  I’m most proud of the initial leap and I’m most proud of sticking with it. I’m proud of myself for being continually consistent and I’m in a position where I’m really getting to do it at a level that I want to do it.

DM: I feel that’s relatable for anyone working in a creative industry. I watched an interview you did a few years back and I think you said, ‘some of us are just scratching and crawling at relevance behind the scenes trying to make it’ and I was like, ‘I totally get that’. I completely agree with you.

JN: The long-term part isn’t flashy, but it certainly is important. And it can pay off. Even if it seems like it won’t. And I don’t think anyone regrets effort.

 

Dress by Casadei, Shoes by Christian Lacroix,
Courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage

 

STEPHAN JAMES

Full Look by Z Zegna

With a Golden Globe nomination for Homecoming under his belt and rounds of praise for his work in If Beale Street Could Talk, actor Stephan James is a storytelling force to be reckoned with.

Photographer: Karl Simone | Fashion Editor & Stylist: Marc Sifuentes | Interviewer: Stacy-Ann Ellis | Creative Director: Louis Liu | Groomer: Tara Lauren for Epiphany Artist Group using Kiehl’s | Features Editor & Producer: Ben Price | Photo Assistant: Ned Witrogen

Full Look by Z Zegna

Stephan James is well aware of the power of his eyes. For the better part of If Beale Street Could Talk’s two-hour run time, his gaze as Alfonso “Fonny” Hunt from James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, is plastered across the full length of the cinema screen. As his deep, pleading eyes focus maddeningly on his fiancée, Tish Rivers (played by KiKi Layne), or well up from behind prison walls, they wring out raw emotions from the audience scene by scene.

We’ve seen these penetrating eyes before in films like Selma and Race, and in the FOX TV series, Shots Fired. “Some actors, they use their eyes to carry a lot of emotion, I think that’s part of what I do,” James says over an early morning phone call, humbly attributing his affecting stare to the skills he’s honed as an actor. “It’s the subtleties sometimes.”

James’ grasp on director Barry Jenkins’ vision and intention for the Baldwin adaptation is clear, as is the importance of his role in delivering it. The first time the Toronto, Canada native read the novel, or any Baldwin literature for that matter, was after he’d read and fallen in love with Jenkins’ screenplay. However, the gravity of Baldwin’s words (and the necessity to be a proper vessel for them) were not lost on him.

“I was really blown away by the language of Baldwin,” he says, even describing his verbiage as Shakespearean. “Just how descriptive and vivid he was, the way he described love, the way he described tragedy in the same breath. The poetry in which he went about doing it. And then again those themes, the fact that this man wrote this book in 1974 and it just felt so relevant.”

Jenkins’ Beale Street follows the newly engaged black Harlem couple as they navigate major life hurdles occurring at the same time. (Shortly after Fonny is falsely ID’d and imprisoned for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, Tish finds out she is pregnant with his son.) As the story weaves in and out of the befores, durings and afters of Fonny’s grim predicament, Jenkins explores topics such as community, vulnerability, restraint and sacrifice. However, one particular theme is paramount: bonafide black love. “This film is showing what the power of black love is able to help us get through,” he says.

IRIS Covet Book caught up with Stephan James to dig into his future as a leading man, the threads that bind him with his character, Fonny, and the way If Beale Street Could Talk challenged society’s narrow expectations of black men.

Full Look by Z Zegna

Full Look by The Saltings NYC, Shoes by Bally

Once If Beale Street Could Talk wrapped, what was your experience watching the finished film for the first time?

The first thing that struck me about the film was it felt very much like a Barry Jenkins film. It felt like a movie about faces more so than places, and I think that it’s pretty striking when you have these characters talking directly to camera, cutting out the middleman. And Barry Jenkins, by the way, would never tell us when he’s doing those shots. He would never plan them. He would feel it out as a scene was going along and say, “Okay, well now I’m going to put it directly in your face, so let’s go.” It’s a great tool to cut out the space between the audience and the characters and just have a direct line of conversation.

When pursuing the role, what part of yourself did you see in Fonny reading from the page?

First and foremost, Fonny is an artist. He’s an artist much like I’m an artist. Outside of acting I also like to paint, and Fonny is a sculptor. He’s deeply, deeply sentimental and artistic and he loves a lot, so I found some similarities with just his artistry. And then maybe a couple of months before hearing about this film, I had become infatuated with the Kalief Browder story. It was striking because as soon as I read this screenplay, I thought of Kalief immediately. I thought that their stories were so similar, almost unfortunately similar. The fact that Baldwin wrote these words in 1974 and they had so much resonance in 2017 when I was reading this script and when I was reading this novel. It was just something inside of me that told me, wow, Fonny is Kalief’s story. Fonny is an opportunity to give a voice to young men like Kalief and so many other young men across the country who are going through the same sort of ordeal. So I feel like I kind of made the connection really quickly. And ultimately it just felt important. It felt important to embody somebody like Fonny. Although he is a fictional character, and all these characters are fictional characters, they’re representative of very real people.

It was refreshing to see a black man being just an artist—not sketchy, not a hustler—on screen. What does that communicate about the scope of the black man?

This film challenges a lot of ideologies in terms of what it means to be a black man, what black love means and the idea of what black families mean. Seeing Fonny as this deeply sentimental artist—he’s a sculptor, he takes something that is seemingly nothing and it’s a labor of love for him—I think that it’s important for the psyche of black men, young black men, watching this film. Often, especially in state of mind and art in general, I feel like there’s a very limited perspective when it comes to the portrayal of black men and what black masculinity looks like. Especially when it comes to these men who have been criminalized. We never get to see them as artists, sculptors, lovers, fathers, husbands. I think that this film is revolutionary in that way.

You look at some of the scenes—particularly the scene between Daniel and Fonny. To have these two young black men who have been criminalized be able to sit down at the table and open up to one another, be completely vulnerable with each other and share their deepest darkest secrets with each other, their fears, the things that keep them up [at night]. What a special thing that is, just for the psychology of these young men watching this film. The fact that they get to see that we can be like this, we can lean on our brothers like this… If it’s only one person, then we can use our brothers in this way and love in this way. I just think it’s a powerful, powerful message that’s being said.

Did you find yourself at any point angry just thinking about the helplessness conveyed in Fonny’s story?

Yeah… I mean the thing is this. Baldwin says, “to be a black person in America is to be in a constant state of rage,” but on a bigger scale, I think that the biggest theme in this book and in this movie in general is love. And in particular, it’s black love. It’s this idea that for hundreds of years the black community in general has been born into a world where the chips are stacked against them. Where we have an unjust system, a system that’s supposed to be a place to protect us but is seemingly failing to protect a group of people time and time and time again. I think that this film is showing what the power of black love is able to help us get through.

I think that despite these tumultuous circumstances thet Tish and Fonny find themselves in, the darkest times, it’s this love. It’s this unbroken, undying love in the face of adversity that has kept them going. That’s the only reason why at the end of the film, despite the circumstances, Fonny is still in prison, but it’s this love that’s helping to raise their child, this five-year-old boy now. That’s the only thing that’s kept them going. That’s the bigger message. So of course you get angry, and it’d be impossible not to get angry. It’s sort of the world that we live in, but I think Baldwin’s making a statement on the power of black love.

Full Look by Roberto Cavalli

Jacket and Shirt by Helmut Lang, Pants by Burberry

The nuance of that love really presents itself at the grocery store. After Fonny defended Tish from a creep in the store, Tish had to protect Fonny from a racist police officer who threatened to arrest him and called him “boy” in the same breath. Tish didn’t think twice when she spoke up to Officer Bell and said, “He is not a boy.” There’s so much energy packed into the scene where Fonny defends Tish, then she turns around and defends his manhood from a racist police officer. There’s tension between you and the officer, the restraint you have to exercise, and Tish’s fearlessness overcoming her physical fear.

I definitely saw that. I saw the restraint that many young men have to learn at a very young age and black men have to learn at a very young age, in terms of how to deal with police. It’s something we’re sort of instructed to [do] as young men. There’s definitely a lot of energy between Tish and Officer Bell, the idea that a black woman can be strong and stand behind her partner in this way. I saw a level of frustration, too, maybe between Tish and Fonny. Almost like, I don’t need you to protect me, and I should be the one protecting you. It’s ironic that I was protecting you and now you have to protect me. It’s interesting how the shift in the scene happens so quickly.

It seems to also speak to the power of the black woman in general. In the film, we see Tish, her mother, Sharon, and her sister, Ernestine—even Fonny’s mother, Mrs. Hunt, has a powerful (albeit negative) presence. Do you feel like there’s something to intentionally be said about women with this film?

In general, our ideologies have been challenged in this film. What it means to be a strong black woman. The fact that it wasn’t Frank who went to Puerto Rico to find Fonny’s accuser, it was Sharon. She hopped up on the plane and she went to find the accuser to see if she could plead for Fonny’s innocence and for his freedom. I think there’s something to be said for the family dynamic and how there’s a balance of power. Especially if you look at Tish’s family, how sometimes it’s Frank that’s out working and trying to make sure that everything’s good before the baby comes out. Sharon’s version of working is, I’m gonna hop on a plane and go to Puerto Rico. It’s just the balance of sharing those duties of the responsibilities. It’s Tish showing the strength of a black woman. She’s working all the way up until the last minute that this baby’s supposed to come into the world. There’s a lot of commentary in terms of what it means to be a strong black woman. This whole novel, this whole story, is told from the perspective of a strong black woman. It’s told from Tish’s eyes, and I think that Tish really grows into herself in this film. You see her grow up pretty quickly and step into that womanly, motherly type of role.

Jacket by Alexander McQueen, Shirt by Roberto Cavalli

Jacket by Alexander McQueen, Shirt by Roberto Cavalli

Jacket by Alexander McQueen, Shirt by Roberto Cavalli

Do you think that you would be able to maintain that sense of togetherness—in terms of love, sanity, optimism—if you were in Fonny’s legal situation? Especially if there was not a guarantee of freedom in sight.

I really couldn’t say, man, I really couldn’t say. I’ve never been to prison. I have no clue what that’s like. Those walls are meant to break people—physically, mentally, spiritually, all the above. So I can’t say. I really, really, can’t say. I’m thankful I’ve seen examples now in cinema of Fonny who was able to sustain himself through all this, but I’ve also seen examples of Kalief Browder who even after two years after his release from prison committed suicide. So there’s no telling what a thing like that puts you through.

That plays out with Fonny and Daniel’s conversation. Fonny tried to console him about his post-prison emotions and his acclimation to the world, and Daniel stressed that he just didn’t understand.

Absolutely, and like I said, these walls are meant to break these men, so after they come out, they’re still dealing with all of this trauma. This PTSD, if you will. So the conversation is not only about why they’re in there—obviously wrongfully, of course—but what to do to them and with them after they come out? How do we treat them? Especially when we know that we’ve wronged them. The system has wronged them. Is there a system in place now to help them get their lives back together and to regain humanity? What do we do with these young men who have been wrongfully imprisoned and are now having to deal with the trauma and the acclimation back into civilian life in general?

After both this performance and your role in Homecoming, the world is paying attention. How does it feel to see that growth and recognition?

We don’t make art from a place where we want a bunch of awards and stuff like that. I appreciate the recognition, that the people are seeing the work, and ultimately if that sort of recognition means that more people will see the work, you know, because it’s being regarded and respected as such, then that’s what I want. If [Golden Globe] nominations mean more people get to see Beale Street and more people get to see Homecoming, then I’m all for it.

Were there any key professional takeaways from working with Barry Jenkins for Beale Street and Julia Roberts for Homecoming?

There’s just so much. I’m so grateful for Barry Jenkins, who’s probably one of the great humanists that we have in this business. One of the incredible storytellers who’s always pushing the envelope, I believe, in cinema. I’m grateful to be able to tell stories with a man like that. Probably one of the most patient directors I’ve ever worked with who just allows moments to breathe and live. And then Homecoming, obviously I’m in a position where I’m sitting across from one of the biggest actresses in the history of acting. I’m able to pick up gems from her on a daily basis about etiquette, how you go about your work day, and how you do your homework. I wouldn’t say it’s one particular thing, but getting to spend months with these people with my favorite filmmakers and to be able to pick up the nuances in their work, it’s really an invaluable experience, altogether.

You’ve tackled stories of black love, injustice, tragedy, etc. Are there any stories or characters you’d like to explore next?

I don’t know, I wanna be in a comedy. I wanna be James Bond, I wanna do a Mission Impossible. I wanna be Batman. I don’t see any limits in terms of what I wanna do. I just see a whole world of… I mean I really feel like I’m scratching the surface, honestly. I want to do everything.

Jacket and Shirt by Bally

Jacket and Shirt by Bally