TARAJI P. HENSON

Taraji P. Henson and Pam Grier talk shop on their shared experiences playing formidable roles for women of color, executing death-defying stunts, and uniting women in entertainment.


Dress by Alexandre Vauthier, Hat by Eric Javits, Stay-Up Tights by Falke, Shoes by Aquazzura
Interview by Pam Grier | Photography by Alexander Saladrigas @ Cerutti and Co | Styling by Ron Hartleben

Taraji P. Henson is a typhoon of energy when she arrives curbside at the Plaza Hotel for her cover shoot. With an entourage in tow, Henson’s seven-day work weeks are the new normal for an actor in such high demand. Rising to fame years ago with her Academy Award nomination for her lauded role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Henson proved with her talent and tenacity that she had staying power. Now, beloved by Empire fans as the one-and-only Cookie Lyon, Henson’s take on the badass-boss-queen character earned her a Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice Award, and two Emmy nominations, as well as fashion-cred from her fans for her character’s memorable high-drama designer looks. Gaining international recognition and several awards and nominations for her role as NASA scientist Katherine Johnson in the historical drama Hidden Figures, it’s evident that Taraji brings a range and depth to her characters that incites a devoted audience, and garners accolades of esteem from an industry that has an infamous history of shortchanging roles for women of color.

After years of working odd jobs as a Pentagon secretary and a singing waitress while completing her degree at Howard University, Taraji moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. With her young son Marcell accompanying her, Taraji juggled being a mother while working as many roles as she could – a work ethic she refuses to shake to this day. Through her years in Hollywood, Henson has grown a thick skin and learned to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of show business, building off of the foundation laid by the women who came before her, and adding her contribution to the empowerment of women in entertainment. Dressed to kill in the upcoming action thriller, Proud Mary, as a hired hit-woman, Taraji chooses yet another career-defining role, pushing the envelope while balancing the razor wire between her signature bulletproof strength and intrepid vulnerability – something she’s managed to turn into a touchstone of her work.

One pioneering actress who helped pave the way for women of color in entertainment is legendary cultural symbol, Pam Grier, known for her iconic roles in Foxy Brown; Coffy; Sheba, Baby; and Jackie Brown. Here she interviews the newest face of black female action stars: Taraji P. Henson, for an IRIS Covet Book exclusive.


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Coat by Landlord, Bra, garter and underwear are Vintage Christian Dior at My Haute Wardrobe, Stay-Up Tights by Wolford, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

 

Taraji, how are you? Girl, congratulations I am so happy for you! I can’t wait to see Proud Mary.

Thank you, thank you! I can’t wait to see it either–we’ve just finished shooting.

Well, the trailers look fantastic! And to see that 50 years later is overwhelming because I was out there by myself, I was just trying to show an example of our culture, our black women, who we are. This is who we are. Nothing can stop you. You have wings, spread them.

Yes, ma’am.

When you won your Golden Globe for playing the role of Cookie Lyon on Empire, girl, I think I screamed louder than you! What does Cookie mean to you? How much do you identify with Cookie’s character?

I think what I have in common with Cookie is her fight; you’ve got to fight to be in this business, especially as a woman, and a woman of color. You’re always fighting. So, I think I have that in common with her for sure. The mother lion… I identify with how protective she is of her family. I identify with how protective she is of her family. I identify with what she will do for her family, the great lengths she will go for her family. Cookie chose to go to jail to save her boys from becoming a statistic in the hood. She didn’t want them selling crack like she did. She sacrificed her freedom for her family. Now, I don’t know if I would sell drugs for my family. That side of Cookie, I have to find another way to hustle! (laughs).

At the same time, I grew up in the hood. I grew up in the ‘80s, and I remember when crack was dropped off in the hood, so I can understand her thinking. Your [tax] refund, your McDonald’s income, or working at the grocery store as a clerk are not going to do it. So I understand your back being pushed up against the wall and that’s all you’ve got; I get it. But growing up in the hood, I saw all my friends who chose that path, and well…I couldn’t. That life was not enough for me, I needed more. I chose to go the tough route.

That’s where Cookie and I are different. I had friends in the drug gang, but I chose not to be. I chose to work doing data entry at 16-years-old making $4 an hour. I didn’t want to risk my freedom because I had things to do, and I knew there were other ways to be successful. There are other ways to accomplish your dreams. But I still understand her, that’s why I didn’t judge her. As an actor, you can’t judge. At first, she scared the hell out of me. I was like, “Oh my God, this character is crazy. The viewers are going to hate me. Black people are going to be like, ‘Why did you make us look like this?’” And then, you know, I peeled back the layers and found her truth. I thought if I play her truth then the audience will empathize with her, they will understand her, and they will understand why she made the choices she made.

And now you’ve got the support and they are moved, touched, and rooting for you! Sometimes as we work, there’s so much going on from scene to scene that the audience doesn’t get a chance to really absorb or savor all of those elements that you just described as the actor.

And especially on TV. I mean, you have to follow the series because you only have 43 minutes to tell a story. The beautiful thing about TV is that you get to watch each episode through the series and track the character’s journey and struggle. If I feel like I can’t bring the truth to a character, then it’s not the job for me. I’m not the only actress on this planet. There’s enough work for all of us. (laughs)

That was my philosophy as well! It’s a beautiful platform to have. When I would be working on a project and I would be sent scripts, sometimes I’d say, “You know who’s good for this? Vonetta McGee. Send this to her.” We always shared, and there weren’t that many movie roles.

I also wanted to welcome you to the “Action Woman’s Club!” You’ve got to tell me about Proud Mary, who she is, and the challenges you faced playing her. Now this looks like you’re going to take some blood!

Mary’s a different character for me. I played a killer before, but she was an ex-army sniper. Mary struck a chord in me because she’s a woman and she is a hired killer. She gets paid to kill. That was interesting to me because that’s usually something men do. We’re emotional creatures; we feel. I wanted to explore that side. The beautiful thing about Mary is you’re meeting her at a crossroad. The audience is meeting her where she wants something else for her life. She has never felt maternal, and all of a sudden she meets this kid through whom she sees herself. She sees a chance to not only save herself, but save this kid from the same life she’s had.

Mary was an orphan and she was found by Danny Glover’s character who is a big mob boss. She just was, instinctively, a good killer. I think people are going to want to see this movie because Mary is different, they’ve never seen a serious female black killer. She is a real, straight up, all-about-her-business hit woman. It’s not funny, it’s not jokey, there is no wink-wink on the side. It is very serious, like when you see Liam Neeson or Tom Cruise. You’ve seen white women do it on this level, but you have never seen a black woman in this light.

No, because black women have been so invisible, but not now, not today. I hear you like to take on roles that scare you, why is that?

I know right away that it’s going to be a challenge. I don’t want anything easy. Those are the roles I look for because, in those roles, I will grow. That means it’s going to stretch me. That means, Oh I’ve never done this before. I’ve never tapped into this emotional shit, how do I get there? Proud Mary scared the hell out of me. I’ve never done action before in my life. I wasn’t used to being as physical. If I had it all to do again, I wish we had had more time to train. The great thing about it is, we did reshoot to make it even better because that’s how much the studio believes in this film. I worked seven days a week like a crazy woman to get it right. When we went back to reshoot, the stunt coordinator was really blown away. He was like, I can’t believe you caught on that fast, and I was like, Imagine if we had three weeks to train!


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Clothing and Shoes by Alexander Wang


What was the research you had to do to play a character who kills?

I came across this guy called The Iceman and I can’t let him go. He was a very handsome man. I forget where he operated out of… New York maybe? But what I found so interesting about him was that he had a family. This man had a family! He had two beautiful daughters and a wife, and he was a hitman. He would go home to his family and they did not know what he did. Finally, he got caught.

I watched his interviews to research the role and psychology. There was a charm about him. He was dangerously charming, and I found myself thinking he was handsome…this is a man who kills people. So, then I thought, Wow, what do you turn on and off inside you to just go out and kill people, and then go back home to your family like nothing ever happened? But Mary is a woman, so how do I make this make sense? Is she void of her feelings and then all of a sudden it changes? It was just a lot of things that I had to explore, and I think after awhile it just became too much, too much blood on her hands. Where is my retirement? You know? When do I get to kick up and get my pedicure, my manicure and live a normal life? You know, everybody wants to retire at some point; I don’t care what you do.

Were there any challenging stunts?

I was shooting a MP5 rifle and you have to smack the trigger to make it look cool on camera. They kept saying, Karate chop it. Well, thank you because now I have blood blisters on my hands! I threw my shoulder out when I had to do this stunt where I had to swing that rifle around with one arm. That’s a heavy rifle! In another stunt, I had to throw a guy over my back. I bit my lip. I got smacked in the head with the magazine of my partner’s rifle. I have bruises. These are the things people don’t realize when they see it on the screen, it’s, Oh that was incredible! No one really understands that you’re risking your life in it. If you’re tired, if you’re fatigued, you make the wrong step, you could really hurt yourself.

Oh yes, I’ve gotten many bruises and scrapes too. Often people couldn’t believe I was a lead that held a gun, that I played a character that could actually take a life and defend my family and myself. They were so shocked, and that realm created the audience for a woman in action films.

Now, I know you’re about to star in the upcoming movie, Best of Enemies. Tell me about playing the real life civil rights leader, Ann Atwater, and her association with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

This movie is about how love can conquer hate. Ann Atwater was a poor woman; so was Claiborne Paul Ellis, the Ku Klux Klan character that Sam Rockwell plays. They were both poor, living in a poor neighborhood. The school where the black children attended burned down, so the children had to integrate into the white school. Well, of course, the white people of the town had an issue with that because there was a heavy Ku Klux Klan influence. The councilmen and a lawyer from the North had to step in to come to some kind of agreement for these kids.

Through this process, things were very hateful and scary. People’s lives were threatened. It wasn’t easy back then trying to mix the races, but Ann was boisterous; she didn’t care. She spent her entire life in poverty, but she fought for those people just like her. She was very loud about it; you could hear her before you see her. So, she and Claiborne developed a friendship through this tumultuous time and he ended up denouncing the KKK. They were the best of friends; their story is beautiful and I can’t wait until it comes out.

To play Ann Atwater, I had to totally change the way I look. I wore a fat-suit because we don’t look anything alike. I remember the paparazzi came on set one day. They saw a light skin woman with hair slick and styled, and they thought that was me. But Ann Atwater had a short afro and I had darkened my skin because she’s a little darker. So, they didn’t spot me. So, when it came out in the local newspaper, that Taraji P. Henson was in town filming her movie, the picture wasn’t of me and I was so happy because I didn’t want those images floating around yet. It would have been like they kind of gave us away before the movie poster had been released. You’re not going to believe who you’re looking at when you see me.

That’s a part of our craft that we so cherish, our transformations into our characters. I gained weight for mine, cut my hair, shaved off my eyebrows, but it’s part of the work. You want to become that character because you’re not going to be able to redo it or reshoot it, and it’s going into the future. Oh, a historical political story of love, I can’t wait for that one! Do you have a motto or philosophy that you live your life by?

Treat others the way that you will have them treat you. It’s got me a long way in life. You are kind to me, I’ll be kind to you because that’s what I want from you.

There you go! I guess most people attempt to live their life by how they treat someone because it comes back to you.

It’s called karma, and I believe in it. I have great karma around me because I give good karma. I’m just love, love, love.

And you know what, when you have great karma, great roles come to you, great people, great situations, because I do believe in the law of attraction.

Absolutely, me too.

You know, recently there has been a lot of press exposing the reality of treatment of women in Hollywood/entertainment. Tell me about your thoughts on women supporting women in the industry.

Well, I’ve always been a big supporter of women, even before I got into the industry. I just think overall that that needs to be the narrative. Not just in the industry, but in the world, because art imitates life. If we’re artists, then we need to be setting examples for the world. That’s how I was raised, that’s all I know.

My mother was one of five sisters, so I grew up watching sisterhood. I’m real tight with all of my cousins. We never snitched on each other. We all got in trouble together, and we all went down together. We learned that from our mothers, watching them and how close they are. So, of course I’m going to be like that with other women. I don’t understand hating another woman.

We go through so much as women. Why am I, another woman, going to add to the stresses that women already have? Why would I do that?

Yeah, why tear each other down competitively? We should be supporting each other as women.

Yeah, why would you want to be that selfish? God didn’t make you the only human. He certainly didn’t make you the only female and he certainly didn’t make you the only female actor. How can I learn if I don’t have my counterpart’s work to watch? You know what I mean? I’m so happy with what’s happening right now in the industry. All of my friends are working. All of them.

Yes, and working at various levels, not only as actors but, you know, writers, producers, directors, costume designers. It’s all across the board in so many ways, and each door that they open, 100 follow.

That’s true.

What advice would you give to young women coming to Hollywood?

Be very clear and know why you’re coming to Hollywood. Whatever that dream is, don’t let anyone deter you. Keep focused on your bigger picture, stay in your lane, do not compare yourself, put in the work, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and don’t take no shit!

Absolutely! Don’t take no shit!


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WEB EXCLUSIVE – JULIAN MORRIS ON MODERN INTIMACY, TRUMP’S ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH, AND HOLLYWOOD SEX SCANDALS

Photographed by Karl Simone | Styled by Alvin Stillwell @ Celestine Agency | Interviewed by Matthew Rettenmund
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After three seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he built a following with magnetic turns in horror fare like Cry Wolf (2005), Donkey Punch (2008) and cult-fave Sorority Row (2009). Though originally from England, he honed a foolproof American accent studying his Valkyrie (2007) co-star Tom Cruise.

Hot off a role on New Girl (2014-2015) and a return to the ABC Family teen drama Pretty Little Liars as Dr. Wren Kingston this year, just in time for that series’ sign-off, he appears to be making a clean break with less challenging roles, stunning in this summer’s British miniseries Man in an Orange Shirt as a gay man navigating empty hookup culture who discovers his grandfather was himself closeted — and had far more serious roadblocks to maneuver in the ‘40s.

Continuing his pattern of upward mobility, he is currently playing Watergate lid-blower Bob Woodward in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, and will next be seen in a new film adaptation of Little Women.

His good looks have made him an easy casting decision, whether in genre flicks or on PLL, but he has always given layered performances that rise about what’s on the printed page, which may be why he’s managed to work with Carrie Fisher, Vanessa Redgrave, Liam Neeson and Dame Angela Lansbury. Unsurprisingly, in his Iris Covet Book interview, he was similarly complex, speaking comfortably about politics, the abuse scandals sweeping Hollywood, and his sex-symbol status.


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You started with some very intense training at the Royal Shakespeare Company. How did that stage training compare to your Hollywood experience?

Never at any point did it feel intense — it was just fun! I think what I learned in that time was that it’s about teamwork and the importance of the company and that it takes many, many people to build a production. When I got to America, I starting doing film and TV, and film work is very different, but in terms of what you do as an actor, the approach is the same. I’m lucky that as a teenager it was fun — and it still is.

You soon had a following for doing suspense and horror films like Sorority Row and Donkey Punch — are you naturally attracted to darker roles like that?

It’s not the genre. As long as the character has many layers and is interesting and challenging, that’s what I’m drawn to. I really dig horror. Some movies I’ve seen the last couple of years — The Witch (2015) and Under the Shadow (2016) — I love how they utilized horror to tell a bigger story. I’m in talks right now with a director named Kieran Evans, who I worked on Kelly + Victor with, to do a psychological horror.

There was a lot of psychological horror of a different type going on in Pretty Little Liars! Did being a part of PLL expose you to a whole new level of fandom?

Yeah, that happened. It was a really fun job. It wasn’t the most challenging work, but I had a really enjoyable time doing it from the get-go. I met one of my best friends on it, Ian Harding, and the girls and I always got along great. I remember at the time when I got the role I was supposed to go on this big trip to Africa and it was like, “Am I going to delay this trip or play this role in this pilot that may or may not go?” I wasn’t fully committed to the pilot and looked into who was making it, and it was Alloy Entertainment, who’d done tons of really successful shows, and Marlene King, whose work I really enjoyed. My gut told me that it would go, it would be special, and do well, and it did.

I never signed an option agreement with the show, despite one being offered, because I loved the people and I believed in the project, but I definitely always had an eye toward wanting to do more challenging material. The first few months of shooting that show, I was also shooting My Generation (2010-2011) in Austin, TX with Noah Hawley and Warren Littlefield. It was one of those shows where the ratings were not great. They’d be amazing now, but back then, they weren’t good enough and it was ripped off the air. Noah Hawley and Warren Littlefield went on to make Fargo (2014-present).

You left PLL and then returned this year for the final season. Was that strange leaving and coming back?

It wasn’t a strange thing; it was familiar. I continued to see and hang out with the people in the show. What was great was that in that time in-between I’d done work I was really proud of, in Hand of God (2014-2017) and New Girl and Kelly + Victor, and I’d told them I wanted to come back for the fans.


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The great thing about that project is that once you’ve done it, you could have two Oscars in the future, but there will always be a certain sector of people who will be like, “Oh, yeah — from Pretty Little Liars!”

You and my mom say the same thing. [Laughs]

You mentioned your trip to Africa, and I saw on your Instagram that you did eventually make it to Rwanda. What was that like?

I’ve always loved animals, and I had this incredible in Borneo when I was 18 working in an orangutan sanctuary and have wanted for years and years to see the gorillas in Rwanda. It finally happened last Christmas.

It’s utterly magical. What’s so magical about it is that you see another species that is so similar to us, so like us. They’re another species, and yet you have such a sense of their humanity — you see it in their eyes, you see it in the way they interact with each other, and you see it in the way they interact with you. It’s breathtaking, and you can’t help but leave a situation like that thinking we’ve got to do everything we possibly can to help these very close relatives of ours.

Seems like an amazing observational exercise for an actor.

You’re absolutely right. One of the powers of acting, or at least what drives me to it, and why I think it’s so important or can be so important, is how universal it is — I really believe that as different as we may be superficially from each other, and it really is a superficial thing, we all experience the same emotions and dream the same and hope the same and feel devastated in exactly the same way no matter our politics or our superficial identity.

You described Hand of God as a role of a lifetime because you admired Marc Forster, who directed Monster’s Ball (2001). It’s sometimes said you shouldn’t meet your idols.

I wouldn’t say that I have “idols” in terms of my industry, I just admire them deeply. I think one of my idols was Christopher Hitchens in terms of his work in human rights, in terms of his eloquence, in terms of his integrity — and I did get to meet him. It was the only time in my life where I was completely starstruck to the extent that I couldn’t speak! He was talking to me and I just remember I had this grin on my face. I think I was speaking to him — I couldn’t tell you what I said or even what he was saying to me, I was totally starstruck.


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You’re currently playing Bob Woodward in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House. Why did you refer to it as “almost impossibly timed for its relevance”?

Clearly, we’re living in a time when institutions that support our democracy, that are fundamental to it, are under attack. I love what The Washington Post said: “Democracy dies in darkness.” It’s absolutely right. We need a functioning free press, and yet we have our leaders attack it daily and also of course institutions like the FBI, or our court system, our legal system, which I think is a really dangerous thing to do for politicians. I think when you use our court system to attack a political opponent or you defame an institution like the FBI when it is legitimately investigating something that is vital to our interest that it be investigated properly, that is when our institutions are under attack. In this film about Watergate, its relevancy today was very timely and striking.

What did you learn about how Woodward and Bernstein were looked upon by their fellow Americans while they were reporting these unpopular facts about Nixon. Were they similarly attacked?

I didn’t know, embarrassingly, nearly enough about Watergate going into it. It is incredible how similar it is to today, although they are very different. I think the level of attack today is really concerning and it’s coming from so many different places, not just the White House, that it makes our time, I think, so much more dangerous. Whereas back then, you had political parties that I think stood for something, today… I think they’re so… I don’t want to get too into politics, but I think at least back then you had really good people who could withstand an attack on democracy in many different places, and I think that today, it seems that we’re really wanting for good people in our legislature, and that’s concerning.

In terms of the role, it was fascinating to me to see how someone as young as Woodward was at the time of his investigation could take on someone so much more powerful than him in Mark Felt, and sort of manipulate him as any good journalist does to acquire information that would eventually bring down a government. That was an incredible discovery to look into Bob Woodward’s history to see how he might have been changed by fame.

Did Bob Woodward do a courageous thing? I think he was doing his job and was driven by his personal destiny, and that’s how I wanted to play him.

It was really an incredible time in my life making that project.


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Your miniseries that aired in the UK in August, Man in an Orange Shirt, is another look back at a very different time. You play a gay man struggling with relationships who discovers his grandfather was gay and closeted in the ‘40s. Aside from working with the legendary Vanessa Redgrave, who I’m going to come back to, what did you find most compelling about the project?

There’s a number of things. I guess the first thing was the story. I think it showed something that I think is really important in society that should be revealed, and I think that any great film or artwork has that imperative to do so. It was this character that I found so moving and painful to read on the page and thinking how I might play him and thinking, “I have to play him,” and then of course the joy of working with Redgrave. But it really was a story that I felt was really important to tell.

It’s incredible to think that things were so different not so long ago.

It’s incredible how things have really changed and also how they haven’t. What was really interesting to me was to see how — it’s a multigenerational story— in the first episode it looks at what it was like to be a gay man in the ‘40s, where society deemed that an impossibility and a criminal offense. You have a man who falls in love and is denied that love by society, and then compared to my character, which takes place today in our time, where you’re able to get married and have a job and be yourself, at least in most places, although certainly not everywhere, and yet the shame that my character has carried with him all his life forced upon him by the relationship he has with his own grandmother, played by Vanessa Redgrave, makes him his own jailer. He is the one who, because of his shame, the shame that has been put upon him, his repression, denies himself love. I can’t think of anything more important in life and more sacred than that — to be loved and to allow yourself to be loved.


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My impression is that Man in an Orange Shirt is very much about intimacy. What do you think about social media? Is it a doubled-edged sword because while in some ways we’re able to be much more connected much more easily, we question whether it’s a true connection?

One thing about social media and the internet is that it does connect. It connects people together and people who certainly might not feel a ready connection in their small environments. So, if you’re in a small town and put-upon, you can reach out and find someone who’s like you and there’s a strength in that. You can reach out and find people who are similar to you and then find people who are not like you and that connection is wonderful, too.

The challenge, though, is that it’s such a new technology and the change is happening so rapidly that its challenges are here and yet we’re taking too long to adapt to them. Before, when change came about, we had time to adapt to it, and yet now clearly we’re finding that hard to do. You see how the promise of social media to be this great connector, to be great for democracy, for freedom of speech, was in fact not so great in the last election or in Europe and is no doubt being utilized as a tool of propaganda by the enemies of free speech and liberalism and democracy… and we didn’t even know it! It was happening and yet we allowed it to happen because we didn’t know it was happening. Now, the conversation is about how we adapt to it. How do we prevent the manipulation of a tool of such potentially good things to be used against us?

I’m really against identity politics. I don’t like the atomization of it where we’re just individuals living alongside each other without any connection. I think that type of atomization leads to the populism that we’ve been seeing, certainly in Europe, and is the source of the dysfunction in society that I think we have.

Speaking of change, you’re in an industry going through turmoil due to sex-abuse allegations. Is it an exciting time? A scary time?

I have two feelings about what’s happening right now, and of course it’s not just happening in our industry, it’s happening across the board. I’m devastated reading the stories of these women and men who have been preyed upon. But also, there seems to be a cultural shift that hopefully will prevent these sorts of acts from happening again. I think if you look at any shift in terms of a progression of society, whether it’s civil rights or gay rights, the liberalization of society, it’s a cultural one and it’s a really positive one. So I think if we can come out of this time with a change, determined to really help people feel open enough to tell their story, we can hopefully stop people from preying on the vulnerable.

Chris Evans has talked about a provocative shoot he did for Flaunt, saying his publicist was against it because it showed too much skin. You show a lot of your body in Man in an Orange Shirt, and also did a revealing shoot a few years ago that was every gay man’s screensaver for a while — what’s your approach to nudity, whether on film or for a photo shoot?

 I’m not fazed by nudity. I don’t have a hang-up about being naked. In terms of work, it has to serve the story and the director’s vision or it becomes gratuitous.

Back to Vanessa Redgrave.

Genuinely, she is amazing to work with. I love and adore her. We got really close making Man in an Orange Shirt, in part because the material was so intimate, and all her scenes were with me, long days, just the two of us. I really admire her, I admire her of course for her talent, her intelligence, her silliness. She’s so silly on set in a fun, dramatic, and really funny way. I adore her. I loved being with her. As an actress, she is formidable. She is fierce. She is highly intelligent. She picks apart the script like only a truly great and truly intelligent actor can. You’ll do takes and she’ll be good — she’s always good — and then suddenly it will connect and something amazing will happen! And I’m like, “Fuck! How do I match that? How do I bring my game up to her level?” You’re pushing yourself and she’s pushing you and it’s wonderful. The other great thing is — and this isn’t true of every big actor that I’ve worked with — she is always there for you. She is giving her all. She is always there for you.

Leaving Pretty Little Liars, the dream was to work with people like this and be challenged. This is the dream.


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Special thanks to Simon Shwartz

HALEY BENNETT

Though press has angled her as a “girl on the rise” for years, Haley Bennett has proven herself as the screen siren she set out to become.

Photography by Diego Uchitel @Jones Management Styling by Sean Knight Interview by Dustin Mansyur
Top, Skirt and Belt by Michael Kors

It takes a special kind of girl from the Midwest to brave the shark-infested waters of Hollywood and emerge, not only unscathed, but also with one’s truest character still intact. In a world quick to tell you everything that you are not, Haley Bennett unapologetically beats her own drum to a tune that she is: grounded, earnest, and refreshingly honest. Her ability to play upon her vulnerabilities both on and off screen is what makes her most enticing. Having an “affinity for characters who have experienced loss” isn’t necessarily the kind of target P.R. strategy that most would choose for the path to becoming A-list. But then Bennett isn’t most.

For Haley’s convincing, intricate range of emotion as an actor, these are just the kind of roles that have given her career dimension and life. The whole of her experience has left her in touch with her humanity and its many complexities, in a way that makes her empathetic and aspirational. She is a different breed of protagonist, a new form of hero that captivates with a quiet strength – one that relies on the tools of good acting instead of flashy special effects. With exciting projects on the horizon, including the highlyanticipated directorial debut of Jason Hall’s Thank You For Your Service based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book by David Finkel, Bennett is positioned to beguile audiences yet again in what is certain to be a compelling story of love and war.

IRIS Covet Book recently had a chance to catch up with the winsome actress while on the set of her latest movie in production, Red Sea Diving Project. Bennett is perched inside of a production trailer on set, pandemonium ensues as the worker bees of wardrobe fawn over her, determining which pair of sunglasses best compliment her alabaster skin.


Dress by Jil Sander

How are you doing Haley? They told me you were going to be on set today for our interview.

I’m well thank you! I’m just in a hair and wardrobe test – we are dealing with wigs, sunglasses and all sorts of fun stuff!

I just want to start with a little bit about your background before we move into talking about your upcoming projects. Where did you grow up and what was your adolescence like?

I grew up near Akron, Ohio. Actually, my grandparents lived in a little town called Brimfield. It was delightfully Midwest, and quite outdoorsy as I still am. My dad was actually just visiting here in Africa, and we hiked to this incredible location called the Elephant’s Eye. It wasn’t far from what my life was like growing up. My dad would take me deer hunting, fishing, and four wheeling. I was climbing trees and swimming in creeks. It was all very idyllic.

Overalls by Palace Costume

It sounds picturesque. Growing up in the Midwest, what sparked your interest in acting? Was it something that you were drawn to early on?

I have a love for cinema. I grew up watching a lot of Time Warner classics – I was very fortunate to be able to view these incredible classics with my grandparents. I thought it was the closest thing to magic-making. I would think, ‘God, are they real people? Are these real people on real adventures?’ and when I learned that they weren’t real people I became fascinated with the process of filmmaking. Growing up in a small town, I didn’t know or understand what the path would be like in order to do that. But, of course, I wanted to be a part of that world of creating characters and storytelling – sorry, Dustin.

(We are interrupted as a wardrobe designer comes in with a mound of accessories for Haley to try on for screen tests amidst our interview. )

This is crazy! I feel like I’ve become a master juggler. This could be another hour so…

Don’t worry, we can make it work. Last year you had a banner year with a lot of lead roles. You were in The Magnificent Seven, Rules Don’t Apply and The Girl on the Train. I expect it’s only going to get crazier for you as the spotlight shines on you more with your upcoming projects.

This past year I have gotten a lot more exposure, but it has very little to do with me and everything to do with people’s perception I suppose. As an actor, you just continue to do the same work. You always hope that the story that you tell resonates and that the character you are portraying will strike a chord with the audiences. It is a lot of work, but you leave the work on the show and go home when the production is finished and you don’t think about it anymore. Naturally, the more projects you take on, the more constant your schedule is. One of the first things trying to be a master juggler is to do the best you can. It’s just like anything else.

Dress by Rag & Bone

I guess that’s your latest role right now, “master juggler”?

(Laughs) I guess that would be a natural progression. It’s been incredible to get more exposure because you do get more opportunities to come in, and to do films that you believe in. So even though I’m juggling my schedule, the opportunity to be a part of projects I am inspired by is very much welcome. That means that there is more freedom to do things that I set out to do.

Can you share with us a little about your character in the upcoming movie Thank You for Your Service? What is she like?

My character is Saskia, and the film is based on a true story about a battalion coming home from the Iraq War. David Finkel [who wrote The Good Soldier] wrote the [Pulitzer prize-winning] book upon which the film is based. He shadowed veterans who were returning home from Iraq and learned what it really meant for these soldiers to come home and to re-integrate themselves back into their civilian lives. He got to witness and be a part of their journey upon returning home. The film is a story of heartbreak, brotherhood, love and courage. These veterans like Adam Schumann and their families opened themselves up to David. Their stories became very important to us, and we all became very close as cast and crew while filming.

My dad and my grandfather are also veterans, so it was quite a personal journey working on this project. The film explores, not only what the soldiers experienced while in combat in Iraq, but also what their families were going through at home while they were away. When they came home, if they did come home, they were changed people and maybe in some cases unrecognizable to their loved ones. The film gives an intimate view of Saskia’s reality while her husband, Adam, was away – raising their two small children, one of which was under a year old when he returned; and then his journey discovering and coping with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].

Did you actually get to dialog and have conversations with the person whom your character is based upon so that you could better express and play her in the movie?

There was an enormous wealth of information in the book itself, which is very hard to read at times. It showed what Saskia went through. It’s a very complex story, but fortunately I had an opportunity to speak with Saskia prior to the film. Saskia and Adam inevitably separated and went on different paths. Since these are the lives of real people whom we are portraying, we wanted to be respectful and sensitive of their feelings. I wasn’t as close to Saskia as I would have liked, but the material and script that was adapted from the book was so rich.

Dress and Belt by Monse


Do you feel like you personally evolve by learning from the character while working on the project like this? Does it gives you a new perspective on things?

I believe we are constantly learning and evolving. Experiences merge with a person. Even if someone else has had a completely different experience than you have personally, they are still human. As humans, we all share the same spectrum of emotions. It’s innate to our humanity. I always say that I have an affinity for characters that have experienced loss. This film is no different because, in a way, Saskia has experienced an enormous loss. She loses her husband to PTSD and the aftermath of the war, and yet, the interesting part is that a lot of her friends lost their husbands to the war.

She is dealing with a complex and confusing aftermath from the war, and she has an enormous well of feelings of loss, grief, and loneliness that resulted from her husband’s return and diagnosis with PTSD. He isn’t the same man with whom she fell in love and had a full life with prior to the war. So I found her to be an incredibly strong woman to endure this lifestyle and her loss while still managing to be the light within the story.

Cape by Chloe

Wow, that sounds like it was a very emotional project to work on. What is the experience like exiting a production like this after having been in such an emotional role?

It can be an extremely intimate and intense experience depending on the film. This film in particular we had forged these incredible bonds that really allowed us access to each other’s emotions and feelings. So it was quite painful to say goodbye to this cast, crew, and staff. It’s also hard to say goodbye to the character that has made an impact on you the way that Saskia did for me. We really exposed ourselves on this film. Going back to your day-to-day life, you kind of have to put your armor back on. You go back out into the world and adjust, so it is a bittersweet process.

Jason Hall is making his directorial debut with this film. So, what was the experience like working with him?

This story is a very personal story – the veterans whom Jason shadowed have become very important to him and he really had a deep understanding of the psychology of what it was like to be in Iraq and then to come home. He spent a lot of time with them. Jason immersed himself in this world for the past five years of his life. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects those who have survived extremely traumatic events, and can affect anyone who has experienced trauma. As humans, we all will experience trauma to some degree within our lives.

I just think Jason had this incredible insight. He was able to personalize his own trauma and was very open about some of those issues. He had this way of making us really feel very connected, attached, vulnerable and empathetic to the material. He pushed us to explore emotional territory that wasn’t always comfortable. He was constantly pushing me, which I believe to be necessary. You need that push in order to lunge deeper into your work. Jason was the architect of that; working with him was a transformative experience in my life and work.

Slip Dress by Palace Costume

You’re on set of the production of Red Sea Diving Resort. Are you able to share with us any details about your role in this film, your character, and how you came on board the project?

Absolutely! I had spent a lot of time promoting Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train which was a completely new territory for me. After working on Magnificent Seven and Girl on the Train, I wanted to refocus on work, so I sought out a new project. I was reading a lot of material, but I wasn’t really connecting with any of what I was reading until I read the Red Sea Diving Resort. Then, it was all I could think about! Gideon Raff [creator and writer of Homeland] wrote the script and is directing the film. It is one of the most compelling, shocking, and evocative stories that I have ever read. It is based on a true story about a group of Mossad operatives in the 70’s with an incredible cast and crew. It’s amazing that the story hasn’t been told. But I’m glad Gideon uncovered this gem.

That’s very exciting to be involved with such stellar and exciting projects! Not only have you been busy with films, but fashion is keeping you busy as well. You are the new face of Chloé’s signature fragrance for their ten-year anniversary. How would you describe the Chloé woman and what about the brand speaks to you?

My collaboration with Chloé was a very organic one. Their brand philosophy is very aligned with my own personal aesthetic: effortless, easy, and elevated. It celebrates strong women who embrace their own femininity and freedom. The campaign film was directed by a woman named Stephanie DiGusto, who directed a film called The Dancer which is this incredibly poetic and lyrical film. I was really excited to work with a female director, and the theme of the campaign was freedom and female empowerment. Stephanie’s approach was very cinematic. We shot in South Africa in January, and the commercial itself looks like a film. It’s funny, when I was shooting the campaign, I had a feeling that I was going to be shooting my next film here. At that point, I didn’t know I was going to be doing Red Sea; but sure enough, here I am.

Coat by 3.1 Phillip Lim, Slip Dress by Palace Costume

Skirt and belt by Michael Kors

It all came full circle for you then. I am just guessing that in some ways you must feel like you are finally living the dream you had from childhood while growing up on those Time Warner classic movies. Is “the dream” constantly changing as it becomes a reality? What do you foresee in the future?

In my experience, I found that the more I tried to will something into existence, the more resistant it became. Now, I think that when you allow yourself to be the most open to all possibilities, that is when the most exciting things begin to happen. I live with a willingness to be surprised, to let life take me where it wants to. You can make your mind up about something, but in the end you really have very little say in things. I think it is important to live in the moment and to be open to life.

The sun is setting in South Africa. As I thank her for her time and juggling all the many distractions of being on set while managing to hold down an interview with charm and eloquence. She interjects just before we hang up, “The biggest distraction was that gorgeous sunset!”

 

Cardigan by No. 21, Vintage Slip and Boots from Palace Costume.

Dress and Belt by Alexander McQueen

Hair by Lona Vigi using Clairol at Starworks Artists, Makeup by Sabrina Bedrani using Dior, Nails by Morgan McGuire using Chanel, Prop styling by Ali Gallagher, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Photographer’s 1st Assistant Jordan Jennings , 2nd Assistant Luc Richard Elle, Digital Tech Logan Bingham, Producer Monae Caviness @ Jones Management and XTheStudio, Stylist Assistant Jake Sammis.‡

CALVIN KLEIN

A legend, an icon, and an American champion of minimalism; Calvin Klein tells all to renowned writer George Wayne about his rise from growing up in the Bronx to becoming an international brand.


Interview by George Wayne | All Images Courtesy of KCD Worldwide and Rizzoli
© Steven Klein

He was born Calvin Richard Klein, a Hungarian-Jewish spawn out of the Bronx, New York in the 1940’s. This, the very same Calvin Klein, who was also the college dropout, after failing to graduate from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. And whose father owned a grocery store in Harlem and gave him that first $10,000 loan in 1968 to start his forever iconic fashion brand – Calvin Klein.

The fact that this All-American icon long sold his fashion business more than 14 years ago and no longer has any involvement with the brand Calvin Klein whatsoever is all in-consequential. For he still remains, to this day, that legendary force majeure! The real Calvin Klein remains that indispensable, and unequivocal – and undeniable master of our popular culture, and hence our zeitgeist!!

The debut of his coffee-table photo book CALVIN KLEIN this September will be an immediate collectible and the closest thing this notorious perfectionist and privacy obsessed legend will be willing to parse as a quasi-memoir or autobiography. As such it was very much a special and joyous moment for this particular arbiter to now be able to declare that the tête-à-tête that follows with Calvin Klein is a seminal moment. It was sheer master-class and brimming with CK revelations galore!

Calvin was breezy and open with the absolute funniest and most priceless anecdotes…and so without further ado…Here’s the man who has done it ALL, Calvin Klein.

Volume One, Rebellious, cover image of Kate Moss, 1993, ©David Sims ; Volume Two,

Calvin dearest. I suppose the first and most obvious query here would be WTF took so long?! I am sure this idea of a coffee table book legacy from the icon that is the real Calvin Klein has been germinating for decades. So why only now?

Well, I’ve thought about it on and off, as you said. Not for decades, but I thought about it after I sold the company and after I stopped contributing to the company, because I did that for a number of years. Then I took on projects that seemed to me more important at the time. I worked with the Harlem Village Academy. That’s a group of charter schools in Harlem. I did a lot of work giving them an image, setting up website, uniforms, doing all kinds of things, and that took a couple of years to do. I also was working on my New York apartment, which took four years to complete.

Right, right…

When I worked – I worked 24/7, and I was thrilled to do it because I loved the work. Quite frankly, doing this interview with you is exactly what I would have done if I was coming out with a new fragrance or a new product line, and it’s my way of communicating to people what we’ve created and why. And also, working with the most creative people I could find – photographers, art directors, models, stylists, to do something that explains what I was trying to communicate…the product, but also do it in a very creative, fun, exciting, and sometimes, often, provocative way.

There is no question that this new Calvin Klein coffee table book is destined to be an instant collectible! And it it so Calvin! The spare, white cover and the simple unassuming typeface. Was Calvin hands off with the design, and more importantly the images that made the final cut? Was it all left up to your longtime Creative Director Fabien Baron? We all know Calvin is the ultimate control freak so this is hardly the most profound question!

George, let me start from the beginning. Anna Wintour and Kelly Klein, my ex-wife, whom worked with me on the book a great deal, as she had worked with me on editing the original images that we did from the ‘70s on. They both convinced me I have to do this. The reason I felt I had to do it is because I speak a great deal at universities. Cambridge was one that I had a very good experience with this year, Oxford in the UK, I’ve spoken to the Architectural School at Harvard and the Business School at Harvard. I’ve touched on so many different areas from fashion design, to beauty products, to the world of jeans where we did so many different things, in addition to advertising and marketing, package design…and saying something through words, as well as visuals that would be exciting. What I realized, going to universities, is that the people I’m speaking to, they know the name. The name became world-renowned before the internet even existed, but they don’t always know exactly what I do because they weren’t born. I’m speaking to 20 year olds, and I’m also speaking to businessmen who want to be global. Which was another thing we managed to do before the internet! This book is really the story of my life.

And I love it!

I wrote introductions to each section and I ended with the section that has stories, which has photos, and why we did the photo, how it went, and all that influence it had on our pop culture.

What I really loved seeing were the gorgeous, sexy images of the younger Calvin Klein interspersed throughout the book. Because for this arbiter those images, to me, truly defined exactly what you were always trying to do with your campaigns throughout those many decades. Those images of you truly defined The Calvin Klein DNA. That summed it all for me.

Thank you. I spent over a year just going through 40,000 images in my archives. And then I narrowed it down to…I don’t know…500, 600 that I then sent to Fabian Baron and said, “These are the images that I feel are important to say what I want to say.” Fabien Baron is a genius that I’ve worked with for years. He said, “You know, I see the different side of Calvin.” He said, “There’s that minimalist side that runs throughout the collection. It is so pure, and sensual, and sexy, but in a very subtle way.” And then he said. “Then there’s the provocative and controversial side,” he said, “where we would do things like…it started with Brooke Shields, you know, ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s.’”

Hello! And that is where Calvin Klein as the agent provocateur all began! It was that legendary…did I say legendary and forever iconic campaign of yours With the prepubescent Brooke Shields and nothing coming between her and her Calvins. Recall those early days for GW…

The news media picked it up around the world. There was so much publicity over the fact that we provoke people and used a very young-looking Brooke Shields to portray different roles. A lot of people thought it was brilliant and funny, and other people were truly offended. I never set out to create controversy, I promise you.

© Mario Sorrenti, Natalia Vodianova, St. Barts, 2003

Unlike today when creating viral internet controversy to achieve fame and fortune is the typical modus operandi. Calvin – you did all this before there was YouTube! You, in fact, presaged all that and, in fact, set the template for what is now the norm here in the 21st Century!

I just wanted to do the best work I can do and make it exciting…and, yes, there is that side of me that loves to party – years ago during the Studio 54 years. There is that side of me that appeals to eroticism, but most importantly, is the side of me that’s more minimalist, because that comes through in my homes, in my selection of how I live – furniture – how I arrange flowers, for how I design clothes. That minimalist aesthetic was always really important, and from that, then I wanted to tell the story of what I was trying to say in designing these things, and that’s where the campaigns came in. That’s where my collaboration with Bruce Weber began.

Tell me about that. Tell me about that time, because Bruce Weber was so much a part of the pedigree and heritage of the house of Calvin Klein.

I always had this affection and passion for photography. It seemed normal to me that if I’m creating the product, whether it’s fragrance or fashion, that I would know who the right photographer is to communicate that message, who the model is and where the photoshoot should be done. I would be on the phone with Bruce Weber three, four, five times a day and we would be discussing every aspect of the upcoming shoot, but it always started from one question, and that was “what is the meaning of this product?” He would say, “Calvin, what are you trying to say?” And from that threw us into trying to do something new, exciting, and interesting. We pushed the envelope, for sure, but I didn’t set out to push the envelope. In fact, when you work with very creative people, it’s a natural process. I was always willing to take risks.

Well, that’s for sure! (Laughter). Calvin, you said in the introduction to the book… “I’m a non-conformist by nature.” How old were you as a kid in the Bronx and first realizing that you were nonconformist by nature?

I was born in the Bronx. It’s part of New York, of course. From the age of six, seven, I was drawing and sketching. My grandmother worked for a designer as a dressmaker. My mother knew how to draw and sketch, and she had a passion for clothes. There’s even a photograph in the book of my mother, father, and myself – and I’m wearing leggings…leather leggings with a tweed jacket or something! My mother…her life was about fashion, and a particular kind. That’s where I got this minimalist thing. She was very sophisticated and very tailored. In this photograph that’s in the book, she’s wearing a Persian lamb coat, she’s wearing pants, and flat shoes.

So you came from that?

And this was in the 1940s!

What I am saying, is that your basic style element came from growing up with two obvious ‘’Fashion Bessies’’– Calvin!. Every pun intended…it was clearly in your genes!

That’s very funny. The truth is now I can explain that to people because no one… When we did imaging or product development, you end up with what you end up with, and you hope people like it as much as I did, but they don’t know what the vision was. They don’t know where it came from, and my childhood. They don’t know the story of my life. I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years, but we would always talk about what we were creating and what was new and different. Rather than…this is a boy who was influenced at a very early age by his grandmother and his mother.

‘’New York City in the ‘70s and ‘80s was the most exciting city in the world,’’ you also say in the book…

Yes.

But what are your thoughts of the city that made you an international icon here and now in the 21st Century? For GW – Calvin Klein is the quintessential New York City icon!

I’m a true New Yorker. I was born in New York. I went to schools – at Art and Design High School, the Fashion Institute of Technology for college – everything that I did, I was influenced by my surroundings. New York, whether it was the ‘70s and ‘80s, which was such an exciting period. It was like Paris in the 1930s. Berlin was another city. New York had it, I think, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but New York still has it. It’s still a center, magnet for creativity. That’s, today, it’s no different. Often I’m asked if, with the internet and all the changes of technology, could I have done what I did today. I truly believe that I could, because those things are all tools to make you more creative and to reach out to the world more easily, but in the end it’s about the product, it’s about finding something that people didn’t know they needed, but they do. Once they see it, then they know they would like to have it. It’s the combination of everything that I enjoyed being a part of. There wasn’t anything that ever had my name on it that I didn’t see, approve, or change, or help create from the very beginning, the middle, and the end…always.

 © Bruce Weber, Tom Hintnaus, Santorini, 1982

Wow! Well said CK! I will tell you this…I will always remember the first time, as a boy growing up in Jamaica and seeing for the first time in my young life a copy of Gentleman’s Quarterly [GQ] and seeing one of my first Calvin Klein underwear campaigns and being immediately aroused! And not understanding what it all meant. This young fifteen-year old boy in the bush in the West Indies. That ad I will never forget and was so happy to see it in the book.

That’s Tom Hintnaus. Let me tell you how it happened. I was driving along Sunset Boulevard and all of a sudden I see this young guy running on Sunset Boulevard. I stop my car, I jump out, and I say, “Hello. My name is Calvin Klein.” I said, “I’m in the fashion business.” I said, “Have you ever modeled?” He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “No, I’m a triathlete.”

Pole vaulter…he did everything…swimmer, he was captain of the water polo team at Pepperdine. This guy was fantastic. I said, “I’m doing a shoot with Bruce Weber about a lot of new products that we’re doing. We’re going to do it in Greece, an island called Santorini.” I said, “Would you like to go?” He said, “Yeah, sure!” I, then, sent Bruce a picture a Tom. I said to Bruce, “I’m insane over this young man. He’s gorgeous and he’s an athlete…everything healthy, and he’s a good kid.” You could just tell. Fast forward…we’re in Santorini and we’re shooting Tom in our underwear which was really like the launch of the men’s underwear. Bruce places him against this architecture, a part of the house, that looked like a gigantic phallic symbol. Bruce and I look at each other, because we both knew what we had. Then, of course, he took the pictures. Those days the bus stop shelters had just started in New York. I get a call from the city because I placed hundreds of bus stop shelters. So the posters are placed behind glass and the city called and they said, “Mr. Klein, we want you to know your bus stop shelters are being broken. The people are breaking the glass and stealing the posters.” I said, “How much does that cost for each bus stop shelter?” They said, “Ooh, about $500.” I said, “It’s okay. Let them break whatever they want and we’ll pay for it!”

Calvin! This is genius anecdote that has never been told. GW will never forget this priceless anecdote! I looked through the book. Of course, I studied every image, and this image in particular is so timeless. And, so personal to my discovering and discerning and first grasping my own sexuality. It is all so Amazing!

Thank you George! It means so much to hear that coming from you and I mean that.

And then of course the era of Kate!

I’ll tell you the story of Kate Moss. I went to Paris to see some fashion shows because in New York, the Council of Fashion Designers, we were thinking of creating a venue where a lot of us could show in this one place. I wanted to see how it works in Paris. I was always looking for models and I was always finding new ones. Liz Tilberis, Anna Wintour and all the editors would call me, “Have you seen anyone? Who do you like?” When I went to Paris, I suddenly started to see young women, models, that I was working with that I thought were so special, but, in fact, they were doing every other show in Paris. I thought, “Well, if I were the buyer or the press, I wouldn’t be so excited about seeing them because you see them everywhere. Instead, I decided to find a different look. I didn’t want these girls – and then they were called supermodels – who had big bosoms. They augment their bodies. They used artificial implants and things. They were doing crazy things to their bodies. I found that offensive. I found it really unattractive, unhealthy, and a bad message to send. Let me tell you, the girls who had their boobs done – I couldn’t fit them into anything because they were sticking out in places that didn’t fit my design. I came up with this idea…this is that many years ago, in the early ‘80s? There was this French actress, Vanessa Paradis. I thought, “You know, she’s got a look that’s totally different than what I see out there. To me she’s a little androgynous. She’s got a boyish kind of figure, but there’s something so beautiful and so sensual about her.” It turned out she was working on a film; I couldn’t get her. I was discussing this with Patrick Demarchelier. A week or two after we talked about Vanessa Paradis and this body type that I was mad for, he calls me and he said, “Calvin,” he says, “I think someone just came into my studio that I think you should see.” He said, “I think this is what you’re looking for.” – Kate Moss. She comes to my studio and shows me photographs that Mario Sorrenti took of her, who was her boyfriend at the time. I was, at that time, trying to reinvent Obsession, the fragrance, because the sales were slipping, and the fragrance company said I have to do something. I said, “Do what?” They said, “Come up with a new idea.” I have to take it, I have to completely update it, and I looked at the photographs and I said, “You know,” I said, “I’d like to meet your boyfriend who took these pictures,” because to me they said “obsession”. He was obsessed, in a very good way, with her. Sure enough he comes up, I see him a day or two later, and he shows me more. These are supposed to be the personal pictures that no one is supposed to see, and they’re showing them to me. I said, “Have you done much with photography?” He said, “Nothing,” he says, “I’m not a photographer.” He said, “I never took a picture for anybody. I just took these of Kate.” I said, “Well, I tell you what,” I said, “We will show you what you need to know. I want you to go to an island with her and just photograph her and then film her. We will show you how to do a commercial for TV and print.” He related this story to me, which I had forgotten, about four or five weeks ago at dinner. He said, “You started my career.” He says, “I was never a photographer,” but I sensed something in him, and in the two of them. The advertising was fantastic. It was really hot. It was sexy. It was really kind of great, and the sales went through the roof after that.  

© Mario Sorrenti, Kate Moss, Jost Van Dyke, 1993

That truly defines – Obsession. Here he was – a young man in love with a young woman – and it so happens that certain new body type. You wanted to reinvent the wheel. You wanted to start to bring a whole new feeling to the model aesthete – you, ever the revolutionary visionary – flipped the script on the ‘’Glamazon’’ supermodel and took the world into a whole new direction! It is something you managed to do decade, after decade, after decade, Calvin! It is just amazing!

That’s also why I put an image…as I paginated the book… One of the things I said to Fabian is, “I’d like to show on one page, on the left side, maybe it’s from the 1970s, and on the right side of the page, it’s from 2000.” It’s to show that the vision was consistent, and yet it changed all the time. We always had to come up with new ideas, but there was the vision of mine – it’s what I saw, what I was able to see, and create through working with great photographer. Richard [Dick] Avedon…I had a blast working with Dick. My God, he was so much fun. I used to go to his studio every night…when we were doing the Brooke Shields’ “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins. ” campaign. When we did that that was the first controversial thing that I ever did. I didn’t think it would create any controversy. I thought it was fun, it was amusing. June Arbus, who was Diane Arbus’ daughter, wrote the copy. Every night I’d be up at Dick’s studio, and he was on the floor acting like Brooke Shields.

Lawd have mercy…! (Hysterical laughter)

I swear. Dick was Just like Brooke with the mimic speaking, and he was saying the words that Brooke would say. Then he would go through the gestures of his arms, his body. We had a blast!

Calvin this is beyond thunder-dome! I have not laughed this hard in a long, long time!

And then we did like ten commercials for the Eternity fragrance campaign. I said to the fragrance company, I said, “Look, we have to do 10, because I don’t care about the cost. You figure it out, but I need to do nine more in addition to the one we just did. They said okay. Honestly, they were afraid of me, because I had some difficulty with the fragrance company…it was the company I owned and then sold to a public company and took licensing royalties, but I did all the creation, all the product design, the scents, the advertising. I did everything except warehouse and distribution. But again, with the Brooke, when I started to show the campaign to people, they were laughing, they thought they were great, but we got thrown off the air within days. We didn’t set out to create controversy to get publicity, we just wanted to do something that was amusing, clever, and kind of sexy. But because she was so young and she was saying things like, “What comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,” meaning she’s not wearing any underwear. People went crazy. That was the beginning of me getting this reputation for being provocative and controversial, which I had to defend all those years, because people would think I set out to do that, but I never did.

But then, of course, after all that…all that early controversy from the get go. The question became…what will Calvin do next? How could Calvin Klein possibly top this?!

Always. Always. That was always the problem. But I looked at is as a challenge. The truth is it’s those challenges that excited me. My real obsession was perfectionism. That was my true obsession. I wanted everything that we did to be perfect. Well, rarely is anything perfect, and it’s just in one’s mind. I was always trying to make things better than the last thing we did, rather than sit back and say, “Isn’t it wonderful how well we’re doing, and we’re successful?” I never thought that way.

I will ALWAYS consider it’s one of the greatest moments of my life being asked to be in the first CK One TV commercials.

I know! I loved that!

Steven [Meisel] and Fabien [Baron] tossed GW into those commercials at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City with Kate Moss and Joe D’Alessandro and Lady Bunny—such a motley crew and totally unforgettable!

We had Alex [Gonzalez] and Raul [Martinez] working on it, too! What happened is I wanted Fabian, and Steven wanted Alex and Raul, so I said, “You know what?” I said, “Let’s take the whole bunch of them. I don’t care,” because the truth is I knew what I wanted and I needed them to help me facilitate it. Steven, and Alex and Raul presented this idea for the campaign. Which one we talking about…Eternity or CK One? CK One, yes?

Yeah, CK One.

They showed me an example of, at a rock concert, the mosh pit, and this girl wearing jeans in the mosh pit, and all of this and that. I was thinking, without being insulting, what do I say to them, because I did this 10 years ago with Bruce Weber and I wasn’t about to repeat it. I’m looking around the room – we were in Steven’s studio – really thinking of what do I say to these people? Sure enough, I focused on a couple of images on the wall that had a pink shag rug, knotty pine walls, and a young boy and a young girl in their underwear. Even though we were doing CK One, I looked at that and I said, “Mmm, this is, already, pushing the envelope, because it looks like porn.” I said to everyone, “You know, the mosh pits a great idea.” I said, “Congratulations.” But look at these two images on the wall.” I said, “What about putting cut-off jeans on the boy and putting a short little jean denim skirt on her, and maybe in her bra.” Steven looked at me and he said, “You would do that?” I said, “Yes!” That became the campaign that created a lot of controversy, especially the commercials. But I need to tell you the story with another CK One print campaign. You know the one with all the models lined up next to each other? I was working with Dick [Richard Avedon] also, at the same time. I went to Dick’s studio because we were working on something else and Dick started screaming at me; he said, “How could you! How could you let Steven Meisel copy, rip me off of what work that I did at the factory at Andy Warhol?” He said, “And you let it happen.” I said, “Why don’t you relax?” I said to him, “Relax.” I said, “You should be thrilled that he looks at you as this icon.” I said, “He’s imitating in his own way. He’s inspired by what you’ve done. It’s not really a copy,” I said, “but it’s an homage to you.” and Dick replied “No, I wanted the work. I should have gotten the work,” he said to me. He was a riot. I loved him.

It was epic! And I will always remember Kate Moss, who was always late, And kept us waiting on set for two hours over those three days before she would show up! But she got the job done.

That casting was brilliant. We had people casting all over the world. I would use people from model agencies once in a while, but, really, hardly ever.

© Patrick Demarchelier, Kristen McMenamy, 1993

Was marketing research and all that integral to your campaigns and product launches?

I would always create the product first. We would do market studies with fragrances, for instance, to see what was trending. Was it a sexy fragrance that was going to be the next big trend? Was it a romantic fragrance, like Eternity, which was floral? We did research especially in the world of fragrance, because there you’re selling an idea. You look at it – it’s just liquid, and a bottle – but the scent has to be what people will want. My role was to apply it to my life. If it was

Obsession, it was about me at Studio 54 being obsessed with partying and doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing. If it was Eternity, it became about life continuing on to children and grandchildren. No one sold perfume with children. It used to be, when I started in the fragrance world, a typical fragrance advertising would be a young, pretty thing, walking through fields meadows someplace by herself. I used to think, “I don’t know if that’s why people would buy fragrance, to walk by themselves in a field of daisies?” No. I said, “It has to do with attracting a man,” so I always did men and women in the advertising for all fragrances. The campaign, whether it’s been choosing the name of the fragrance, or choosing the photographer, or the model, it really came from me. Maybe I was given this gift when I was born, of knowing how to do these things. Often I would get an emotional reaction. When I edit film – and Bruce Weber shot more film than anyone, ever – I would edit thousands of pictures. In working with people like Bruce, what would happen as I’m editing, I get an emotional reaction. My heart would start beating faster.

That was the key – the emotional reaction?

Yes. Totally.

Of all the talent you’ve worked with, which of them will always have a special place in your heart, Calvin?

You know, no one’s ever asked me that before. Which one…it’s hard to say one person. I’ve worked with just really brilliant people…I mean, I worked with Irving Penn! Let me tell you, my discussions with Penn were most memorable because he was so tough and people were terrified of him. The magazine editors, the people who did the shoots, they were so nervous around him. I didn’t intimidate so easily. I found him to be just a brilliant, brilliant photographer and I took such joy in working with him and listening to him. He was an artist. He and I sat in my studio and I would go to introduce the first perfume we did and the cosmetics that went along with it, in this red Bakelite packaging. I showed him the product – the makeup container and all the different things we were doing – and it was all in a beautiful shade of red. He said to me, “These are really something.” He said, “No one uses Bakelite anymore. They use cheap plastic.” Bakelite was something from the ‘30s and ‘40s, but it had a quality to it. You felt it. You knew that there was something special about those packages. He, then, sat next to me and he started to draw. He drew what the ad would be. He was just genius, as was Dick Avedon, in his way…genius, and Bruce Weber, to this day is still brilliant. How does one say one is better than another? They’re all different, but they’re all great.

At the end of the day, Calvin worked with all the greats because he was great himself.There was, obviously, a time when anybody who was anyone wanted to work with you…

Oh, I didn’t ever think that way, or even was aware. I’m becoming more aware of this now that I’m talking to you and you’re asking me questions. It’s different now than it was, and I’m learning what people thought about me. When I was working on the book, I thought, “Is anyone going to really be interested in this, other than Kelly [Klein] and Anna Wintour?” I didn’t know. I always tell students this, “If you’re insecure, act as if you’re very confident, because you’re never going to get anywhere if you show insecurity.” We all feel insecure. That’s a normal human emotion, but you have to convince people of what you believe in and chances are if you believe in something, it’s probably a good thing. You just have to convince others through your own confidence. I was just lucky with so many things, that I instinctively knew what model, what photographer.

You hit the nail on the head right there, Calvin – instinct. The gut instinct that you possess.

You’re right. It is gut instinct. That’s exactly what it is.

And it is still has no equal! It is one of a kind. That’s deft instinctual touch to titillate popular culture is just the most incredible gift! It is something that you have to be born with. It is something that’s part of your core, and it served you well…very, very well!

Oh, my God. George, that is so sweet. That’s so adorable. You made my day! (Laughter)

(Laughter) And you have made mine Calvin Klein! Thank you!  

Thank you George! This was so nice, I really enjoyed it!

© Peter Lindbergh – Courtesy of Peter Lindberg, Paris /Gagosian Gallery

George Wayne is an Associate Editor at Interview and the first Contributing Editor at Allure magazine, George is best known for his GW Q&A’s, which twenty-two years later remain the must-read column in Vanity Fair. His beat remains celebrity culture and the whirly world of fashion, music and style.  ‡

LEE DANIELS

Star of His Own Empire: Behind the scenes, Lee Daniels is protagonist of his own story and reinventing the Great American Musical along the way.

Photography by Diego Uchitel @ Jones Management | Styling by Rafael Linares @ Art Department | Interview by Alan Bindler

Suit and Shirt by Ron Tomson

West Side Story. Hair. Rent. Hamilton. Musicals have always reflected the times we live in. Passing on specific narratives as told by the people who have lived them is crucial to a society’s fabric, an entertaining amalgam of “real facts,” song and dance that often packs more truth than a public school history textbook. In this current Golden Age of Television, various portrayals of our society are being played out on screen to dizzying and oftentimes brutally honest effect. No one is synergizing these two factors better than Lee Daniels – the Academy Award nominated director and producer of Precious, Monster’s Ball, and The Paperboy, amongst others.

Empire, now in it’s fourth season and Star, in its second, are the hit television shows written and created by Daniels to confront the same topics splashed across newspaper headlines daily – sexual assault, racism, class divide – and are revolutionizing the industry with their interweaving of original music, fashion, and celebrity; using these as a backdrop to the gritty storylines that are holding a mirror up to the changing demographics of America.

Born in Philadelphia, his grandmother was a huge influence. In previous interviews, he has fondly described her as “a crooked politician“ and “gangster” who helped get the African- American community to vote at local levels in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement. After the death of Daniels’ father, a policeman who beat him for being gay, his mother sent him to an upscale, white suburban high school, knowing he “couldn’t survive selling drugs.” A fund assembled by the Philadelphia police force had provided him with enough money for his first year and a half of college, and as an act of filial piety, Daniels found himself a girlfriend. The money ran out, and not wanting him to turn to the streets, she gave him seven dollars and a bus ticket to LA.

Living in the back of a church, he started working with the theatre program there to earn his keep. At the same time, he got a job as the receptionist for a nursing agency, a fact he attributed to using the “white voice” he learned in high school. Soon after, he went out on his own, founding his own agency and taking some of the nurses with him. At the height of the AIDS crisis, when other agencies were too scared to allow their nurses to work with HIV+ patients, Daniels’ became the first agency under AIDS Project LA. It made him a lot of money. That, united with a chance encounter with a connected Hollywood client, lead Daniels to sell his agency for “a couple of million.” His career in entertainment was born, starting with a PA job on the set of Prince’s Purple Rain and later moving up the ladder to Head of Minority Talent for Warner Bros.

Casting directing lead to managing, but when he got “tired of telling [African- American] actors that there weren’t any jobs for them,” Daniels transitioned into producing, hustling up the money to make Monster’s Ball, which garnered Halle Berry her history-making Best Actress Academy Award. Mining his own captivating life story, the goal in his work is to give the voiceless a voice, and to make viewers look at people that they normally wouldn’t.

“I’ll give you and feed you a political agenda, but with music, or with a sexy girl or a sexy boy or with some fashion. You will find yourself drawn and sucked into my world regardless of how you feel about me, through what you’re seeing and the audacity of it. Audacious is what it is that I try to be. Not shocking, but just showing shit to people that they don’t always get a chance to see, that other people are afraid to show…”, Daniels says. He is a truth teller, shit-talker, and skilled auteur, telling intimate stories that haven’t received such wide exposure until now.

Passionate as he is in bringing personal narratives to the screen, Daniels is also involved in several charities and nonprofit organizations. His work with the African American AIDS Institute (which is in danger of losing their funding) is a direct result of having lost most of his friends to the epidemic. “That I don’t have [HIV] is a miracle from God and I don’t know how I didn’t get it or haven’t gotten it… and I know that my work as an artist, my obligation isn’t just to my art and my craft but to my people,” he tells me candidly. This humility is also summoned when discussing his work with The Ghetto Film School, an award winning nonprofit that helps young filmmakers, which Daniels helped co-found with David O. Russell. They both still sit on the Board of Directors. “Because I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t have the luxury… I learned how to hold a camera by watching people as I produced films. To me this is not my gift. I don’t own it. I don’t own my art. My art is to pass on. My job in life is to pass it on to someone that will be far more talented than I. And so for me, the Ghetto Film School represents who it is that I am and what I have to do. It is my obligation to pass whatever gift that God has given me to others who haven’t been fortunate enough (to be able to) afford to go to film school.”

Speaking to him over the phone while he was in France for the Cannes Lions festival, I sense two things: one, that Mr. Daniels is extremely candid, as much so as his work; and two, that what Mr. Daniels doesn’t say is as important as what he does. He’s warm and spirited, with our conversation splitting off into tangents as numerous as his subplots. Here, we discuss embracing the grey areas of life, mortality, binge-watching… and a possible John Waters collaboration? With Lee Daniels, the element of surprise is as guaranteed as the controversy he brings to the screen.

There are times when I’m watching Star, specifically when they break into fantasy sequence musical numbers, that I really feel like I’m watching the 21st century incarnation of “The Great American Musical” … and yet this is about a very specific demographic. I pose this question in relation with a recent comment you made about wanting to be referred to as a “director” instead of a “Black director”, or a “creator” instead of a “Black creator”. Could you speak on how coming from a place of personal authenticity can translate to all people being able to relate, on a mass scale?

Yeah… it’s crazy… and this is what’s really frightening… It’s not the overt racists, that clearly one can see is racist, or clearly one can see is a gay basher… people with white masks, or people that don’t have a problem calling someone a nigger or a faggot… I’d rather see that, than those who truly don’t understand that they’re racist or homophobic. Those who really believe that they’re liberal and embracing of “the other,” and yet still take offense to my work. And ones that are in power that don’t see the problem. So for me, I’m the first to call someone out on that. That type there is the one that is scary, and I get in trouble with those people.

So in a way it’s almost as if your work is holding up a mirror to those that think they’re “woke…”

Yeah, because a lot of them ain’t woke!

You’re known for telling stories, and for giving a voice to controversial topics that haven’t been shared on the scale in which you’re sharing them. Do you ever feel you’re not giving enough time to one topic because there’s more emphasis placed on another?

Oh my God, I always feel like I’m rushing through a story, and I’m not giving enough time to a topic. There are so many subjects and atrocities to cover in America, and in our culture today. In film I can do it, in television I can’t. With Empire, it’s clearly about the kids in the empire. With Star, it’s about three girls struggling; but in the backdrop of that, we’re trying to tell stories that are politically important. That are important to what Americans need to see. Social topics are important. It’s hard to weave everything in.

How many other voices, particularly voices with power, and how many other opinions affect which stories you give priority to?

They sort of let me do my thing now. Which is the reason why I got into television from the very beginning. Danny Strong and I did Empire together and we had a very strong political agenda that was served. With Star I have a political agenda as well. When I am making the network uncomfortable, I know I’m doing my job. When Cookie descended from a cage in a gorilla suit from Central Park in the second season, beating her chest, and she rips off her outfit, and it’s Cookie dressed in Gucci couture and diamonds, saying that she felt like an animal in a cage because that’s how they’re treating us. The network freaked out! But that’s what I was feeling at the moment. I felt like my son, Taraji’s son, Terrence’s son, they were all Black men that were being targeted by the law at that time, so I wrote about it; I felt like we were all people in cages. But guess what? When she pulled off that gorilla suit, homegirl was in Gucci, head to toe, bejeweled in diamonds! I still laugh about Taraji screaming about getting into that monkey suit! But she did it because there’s no actor like her.

On that same subject, there’s a line in an episode of Star, the one with the Black Lives Matter protest, where Queen Latifah’s character says “You win by speaking the truth.” Your narrative, the specific narratives of the stories you tell are your truth. However, at a certain point that a creative achieves a certain level of fame – becomes mainstream, if you will – their narrative and their perspective sort of become “the narrative.” Are you worried about that at all with your work?

It’s terrifying because I didn’t realize that… you don’t know that you’re famous until you say something and it is completely taken out of context, and your kids are coming up to you and saying “why are they saying this ?”. And then there’s negative feedback from your own people. That’s really painful because you then realize you have an obligation to be politically correct in your agenda. And I’m not politically correct AT ALL. It can get me in trouble with my own people sometimes. And that’s inclusive of gays, I can get in trouble with the gay situation, I can get in trouble with the black situation, and you know… I’m sort of a loose cannon in that regard. It can get me sued. I’ve learned over the years to edit myself. And I don’t like editing myself. I’ve learned that some people just can’t handle too much of the truth. So I can only give them a little bit of the truth at a time. You’ve received criticism of topics you cover being “too left leaning” “too gay” etc… and these come from both sides of political and racial divides, different communities… Because I’m not going to sugarcoat a topic. I’m going to tell the truth from my perspective. Racism is not black or white. Homophobia is not black or white. There are grey areas that are there. Unless you take a specific stand on it that is pro or con, you get eggs thrown at you. So I’m very clear that there is a grey area. Because I embrace that grey area, I am criticized. I’ve learned to accept that, and it is what it is. There’s this one quote in which you reference your grandmother. You said you learned from her that “people aren’t good or bad, we all try to wake up in the morning to be the best person that we can be but we end up falling on our asses. No one is perfect. So my work has really been that grey area that we all are — that murky area that we all live in.

Is there anything else about that grey area that you can speak on?

Yeah (long pause). I know what I can talk about. I can talk about the grey area of parenting. I have two 21-year old kids, and oftentimes I feel like I have let them down as a parent. I’m constantly reminded that there’s no such thing as a great parent. You can only be the best parent that you can be. You see kids today, and this represents the millennial, and there’s a sense of entitlement that comes to these kids. Like “you owe me, give me, I’m here to take.” And there’s no work ethic there. I have wanted everything for my children that I did not have. And then you realize “Oh my god what have I done? I’ve created monsters,” not monsters but you know, like, entitled kids that are used to certain things. How will they be able to survive in the streets if I were to die tomorrow, you know, how will they survive? Not from a monetary standpoint, but how will they have the skillset to interact with people? So, now I find that I have to reteach things. My son didn’t know about racism at all until very recently. I had protected him from that by putting him in the schools that he went to. So now he sees it and he’s looking at me like, “why didn’t you talk to me about this?” Again, it goes into the grey area of life. I know that I’m not perfect but striving for perfection.

You’ve mentioned that before – how you have raised your own kids in this bubble where they had not known what it was like as far as what the real world had to bring; do you think that sort of affected how you tell stories, and if you were to make another Precious, now that your kids are older, how does that affect how you dive into these tough topics?

The most potent storytelling comes from a place of where I’m at right now in the moment. Empire came at a place where I was in that moment. It was important for me to tell that story because I needed to tell my family’s story at that moment. Star came at a time when I had to tell that story, and I’m still telling that story because I’m in that moment now. I’m not the guy that I was when I shot Precious. I don’t want to repeat myself, and I also have to tell a story that is important to me. It’s not going to resonate as true unless it’s in me right now. I’m in another part of my life where I’m realizing that mortality is real and that my next breath is not promised. So that area of storytelling is important to me because that’s how I’m feeling right now. Mortality, and telling stories about what have I contributed, what is my contribution, what have I laid out, what have I given back to the world in some way? That’s where I’m at right now.

Trench Coat by Saint Laurent, Shirt and Jeans by Gucci, Sunglasses by Tom Ford

Speaking of mortality, you’re directing a new version of Terms of Endearment; you recently revealed that your remake of Terms of Endearment would deal with the intersectional issues of race and sexuality, specifically that Flap would contract HIV through homosexual sex and infect his wife. In response, critics and fans alike are saying things like “Wait, don’t mess with this classic” and “Far more people died of cancer than HIV!” Why do you think people have reacted this way?

People can say whatever they’d like to say. I say, BYE, haters! I have a story to tell. See y’all in the theaters! I don’t have time for people’s opinions. If I go with people’s opinions, then I’m not making Monster’s Ball, and I’m not making Precious, and I’m not making The Butler, and I’m not making Empire, and I’m not making Star, I’m doing what people want me to do. So, BYE people! I’ll see you in the theaters. And then they go see the movie and are like, (mockingly) “Oh, ok I get it.” …NEXT!

So basically you’re saying “Wait for it to come out, then come at me…”

Then come at me with all of your armor and spears… and you will anyway, so whatever.

In an interview with Elvis Duran, your protegé and an amazing actor, Gabourey Sidibe said what I think is going to be one of the most iconic quotes of her career. Speaking on the topic of self-confidence, she said that self-confidence is something that she has to remember to reapply to herself during the day, like lipstick. Could you speak to that a little bit? You’re a very confident guy…

I am not confident. It’s all a facade. It’s masked. As hard as I try to go for the truth in everything that I do, the only thing that’s untruthful about me, which is fascinating, is my confidence. My confidence is forced. And it’s exactly what Gabourey Sidibe says. That I have to constantly remind myself that I am worthy of being on this phone with you talking about ME. Because I don’t think that I… deep down somewhere there is an insecure boy that feels very much that he isn’t qualified to be on the phone. And I have no problems sharing that with the world, that the exterior masks a very scarred and insecure man, who has learned to love himself.

I want to follow up with you on a question that was raised during your SXSW keynote – I believe the question was something along the lines of how you feel the visual elements of storytelling are changing in this era of binge watching and mobile viewing platforms… at the time you didn’t have an answer. Have you thought about it since?

Well, let me tell you. I can talk about that now because I am now binge watching, and I’m always a little bit behind the eight ball because I’m always working. When I took a little break I started binge watching and now I’m obsessed!

(laughs) So tell me what you’re binge watching!

Well I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m obsessed with The Crown, like borderline crazy level. And right before that I binge watched The Handmaid’s Tale – obsessed with it! I can’t get enough of it! And right before that I binge watched The Night Of – oh my god! Just like obsessed with it, can’t get enough of it, and right after that I binge watched Feud. So I’m ready to talk about binge watching. I’ve never binge watched before until then.

Even your own work – Empire, Star…

I don’t see my work… I don’t binge watch my work, I cringe watch my work! how’s that? (Laughs)

But a lot of people are binge watching your work as it’s available on platforms like Hulu, so now that you are binge watching, could you speak on how that’s inspiring you to tell stories or how that may affect how you tell stories?

What I have learned now through binge watching is that these stories have to be ON. I can’t just drop the ball on a subject matter or topic that I’ve sort of grazed upon in one episode. So I’ve got to make sure that they land. Because I see the mistakes even with my favorite television shows that I binge watch and I would like to make sure that I don’t make the same ones. And I understand now the importance of binge watching, and I have a new appreciation of it.

Are there stories or products that you were holding on to and didn’t know quite what to do with and now that you are a part of this binge watching culture, you maybe see better opportunity to tell those stories?

Yeah, it’s hard though. Because you’re dealing with celebrities’ schedules that are on the show, along with production schedules, and then the notes from the studio. It’s a puzzle, it’s a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a miracle really, that any great television is made. I really don’t know how it’s done. Through a wing and a prayer! Because that’s how we did Star last year, and it will be just as difficult this year in making sure that we tell this story. Because we’re dealing with schedules. People’s schedules really screw it up! (laughs)

Other than your life stories and experiences, you’ve mentioned before that your influences vary widely. The first book you read, which had a huge influence on your entrée into the entertainment world, was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. You’ve also said you and Mariah Carey call each other Cotton and Kitten based on an old John Waters movie [Pink Flamingos]…

(Laughs) Do you know John Waters’ films? I mean, how great is he? Astounding. I would love to see John Waters do something for Netflix or another streaming site, I mean what would that look like? He better figure it out! As a matter of fact I’m gonna call him when I get back from Cannes to make sure that his ass is behind the camera again because so many are influenced by his work. He is such an underrated trailblazer, at least in my eyes. He is everything! So yeah, Kitten and Cotton come to the rescue.

Do you think that we would ever get a Lee Daniels / John Waters collaboration?

I would kill for that! But here’s the thing. As we get older, we become more politically correct. I know I do, and I think John did and I think it’s just that a part of age is being old. I don’t know that I would have the courage to do Precious now, if that makes any sense at all. I know how it is out there. And youth… you know the naiveté that you have when you’re young and not afraid to be criticized, and then that level of fame that comes with that. I may hang up the phone with you now and say “Wow, this is almost like a therapy session, where I might say ‘well maybe I will do something like Precious just to shock people.’” Because one expects you to go on and on, to bigger and better things. My first movie we made for two cents and it garnered Halle Berry the first Black woman to have an Academy Award, and that came from a place of utter fearlessness and not caring and not giving two F’s what anyone had to say about a subject matter that everyone in Hollywood passed on.

In 2015 you were on a drama showrunner roundtable panel where you said “I hate white people writing for Black people; it’s so offensive. So we go out and look specifically for African-American voices. Yes, it’s all about reverse racism!” and asked the other show creators if they had African-American people in their writer’s rooms. Another notable creator, Ava Duvernay, is known for selecting female directors for her show Queen Sugar. For this and the upcoming film A Wrinkle In Time, she even sent notice to the heads of each department not to submit a homogenous list of hires unless they could prove they had considered others. How do you feel about this approach to hiring crew and building a team? Could you speak more on this, especially with direct relation to the stories that you’re telling?

I can’t speak for Ms. Duvernay, I don’t know her. But I can speak for myself in that… I have to be frank with you. Again, it’s a grey area. Not to retract the comment, but if I could think about it again… there are people that aren’t of color that can write for people of color. But to a bigger picture so many people of color weren’t being hired to write for themselves. So, I can’t isolate to say that there aren’t those exceptions. That’s like saying that I can’t write for a white man, when I have; you know what I mean? A hundred percent. I think what a lot of people would say to that is that there’s enough white men writing for white men, so that’s why this is important; that we make sure we have enough people of color in the writing room… Yeah but I think that I make it a point to make sure that my world around me reflects the environment that I have grown up in and that I’m trying to articulate on the screen. So yeah, I believe strongly in hiring who’s right for the job. It’s tricky. I think I’m gonna be politically correct on that subject and shut up. Let me shut up on that comment. (laughing) How about that!

Going from one politically sensitive subject to another, last year was a huge year for entertainment depicting stories about people of color and featuring POC with Moonlight, Hamilton, etc. It was also the year our administration completely changed. Do you think these are related and how does one inform the other?

Yes. I think Trump is a reflection of who we are today and who we have become. Just as Obama was a reflection of where we were when he was in office. I think Trump is our karma, just as Obama was our karma.

Would you almost consider that as a backlash of sorts? You know, all of a sudden people of color have these voices… and now this happens. Do you think these stories that are being told and released on such a mass scale are causing this kind of backlash and uproar?

I think that we had our first Black president; and Empire was created, that changed the landscape of television. I think my mother needed a reality check. And I needed a reality check. America made sure that we got that reality check by putting Mr. Trump in office. So how does that now affect the narratives that you’re exposing or the stories that you’re telling? I have to respond accordingly now, don’t I? ‡ Suit and Shirt by Ron Tomson, Watch by Rolex

Grooming by Jhizet @ Forward Artists, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Photographer’s 1st Assistant Jordan Jennings, 2nd Assistant: Luc Richard Elle, Production by XTheStudio, Special Thanks to Chantal Artur and Brooke Blumberg from Sunshine Sachs.

YOLANDA HADID

Shedding celebrity skin in a compelling new memoir, Yolanda Hadid reveals her metamorphosis from television personality into a champion for Lyme disease survivors everywhere.


Photography by Karl Simone | Styling by Inge Fontayne @ Art Department | Interview by Dustin Mansyur
Chain Metal top by Paco Rabanne, black tuxedo blazer by Lanvin, Earrings by Martin Katz

Transformation is an effective modality when heralding life’s challenges with grace, and Yolanda Hadid is no stranger to change. Throughout the course of her life, Hadid has weathered tumultuous tempests with a hearty and positive outlook, “You have to pull up the bootstraps,” as she says. Few could survive the invasive stress of a camera following them while trying to heal from a debilitating disease, balancing duties as mother and wife, all while dealing with reality-tv Real Housewives of Beverly Hills castmate drama; but Hadid managed to do all of this with class, wit, style, and humor. Over the years, fans have been captivated by Yolanda’s candor and can-do attitude, who regularly takes to instagram and twitter to share positive kernels like: Focus on your goal. Don’t look in any direction but ahead. Or Character isn’t what you have, it’s who you are.

For Yolanda that has meant being the most authentic version of herself, grounded in her truth, and unashamed in the face of those who questioned or stigmatized her illness. Her new tell-all memoir, Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease explores Hadid’s journey down the rabbit hole for a proper diagnostic and 7-year long battle to remission. Hadid has many assets, but her strongest is her ability to evolve, attesting to the truth that suffering doesn’t have to be without reason. The memoir explores her personal evolution and spiritual journey to a higher conscious understanding of her life’s fullest purpose. With a highly-anticipated new series, Model Moms [working title] with Lifetime also in the works, Yolanda makes a return to television and has been busy with the show both on and off-screen.

Capitalizing on pop culture’s fixation as the mother of Supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid, Yolanda will share her expertise and advice with aspiring model-and-momager duos. The show features weekly prizes and a chance at a coveted modeling contract with IMG Models. Adding executive producer to her accomplishments is a proverbial cherry on top for model mom Hadid, as she makes a full swing into a healthy, joyous comeback.

Too classy to gloat, Hadid’s proud smile simply shines all the way from the top. Success really is the best medicine. Here IRIS Covet Book shares a conversation with Yolanda Hadid.

Georgine black leather dress with safety pin detail, Giuseppe Zanotti black satin sandals.

Many people recognize and know you from the popular Bravo series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but you are actually a modeling industry veteran, with over three decades of experience. How old were you when you were discovered and did your world change quickly thereafter?

I was discovered in Holland by a Dutch agent when I was 16 years old and shortly thereafter by Eileen Ford, which opened many other doors internationally as I started working in London, Paris, and Milan. What made you want to break into the modeling industry and stick with it? I always dreamed of being a professional horseback rider, but never of a career as a model, so it kind of fell in my lap by coincidence. The traveling and financial independence that came with the job made me see the possibilities of my dreams. This is what really motivated me to be disciplined and stick with it for as long as I did.

How and when in your career did you decide to make the transition from modeling into other entrepreneurial interests and opportunities?

I’ve always been very driven and have had an entrepreneurial mindset since I was 12 years old. When I had Gigi at 30, I continued to model for another year. Once I gave birth to Bella, it became impossible to travel, so I started to learn about interior design and worked with my ex-husband on his real estate projects. Once I became a single parent, I remained busy with many different projects, but have always esteemed being a mother as my number one priority.

You helped launch your children’s successful careers in the fashion industry, sharing with them your expertise and experience. Now you’ll be bringing that same expertise to a wider audience on your new show with Lifetime. Can you share details about the premise of the show and how the project came about?

This project came at a very unexpected yet perfect time of my life. I knew that I wanted to move to NYC in the fall of 2017 when my son, Anwar, was going to attend college here. When this opportunity came along, I was completely emerged in writing my book. I was focused on sharing my story while still trying to heal from [what had been] a six-year journey. Energetically, this new opportunity felt right and caught my attention. I guess the best things do come along when you least expect it! I really did not plan on returning to television, unless it meant that I could do a project that was meaningful and inspiring. When I went in to meet Mioshi Hill [VP of Non-Fiction Programming ] and her team at Lifetime, I loved their concept for the show. I was pleasantly surprised that [Mioshi and I] were magically on the same page, and I am hoping the show will reflect that. The show will follow a panel of mother-daughter duos who will live in New York City for two months. The intent of the show is to nurture and prepare them mentally, physically, and emotionally while we explore a journey into the fashion industry and its possibilities. I also hope that the show will be educational and inspiring for all moms and daughters who value the importance of family and their journey together.

What has been the most exciting part of your role as an executive producer?

The most exciting part has been working with a great team from Hudson Media. They were willing to go the extra mile to try to make a meaningful show. I am very passionate about this project, and it’s the best feeling to finally be back at work, doing something I really love.

I imagine you have had more creative input and control with this new project?

Yes, it’s been great to not only be part of creating the scenes in front of the camera, but also to be a part of the editing process off-camera. Would you ever consider doing a masterclass online or in some kind of digital forum that would focus on the same topics as your training program on the show? I am open to anything that will unfold from this experience. I love to work hard and be busy!

What advice would you give to any young person who is trying to break into modeling or the fashion industry?

I believe that it is very important for any young person to have realistic expectations about what it takes to become a fashion model. But, if you are tall, photogenic, willing to work hard, and unique in your own way, then I think it’s worth giving it a shot. I want to shift topics a little and talk about your new book Believe Me. This is your first book. What was the writing process like for you? The writing process was a very cathartic experience for me because it gave me the opportunity to put everything that had happened all in a row, process it, and let it go. I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to share my story, in order to educate and bring awareness to an epidemic that is much worse than people can imagine. Lyme disease has been growing in the shadows worldwide.

Did you go anywhere to find peace and silence to gather your thoughts while working on the book?

I started the process when I was on a trip to Tahiti. Being in silence so that I could hear my inner voice was really important for me. At that time I created the foundation and road map for the book by using chronological pictures from my iPhoto album.

Did you find the experience to be a source of healing?

I think writing is a great way to process things and, for me, very much a completion of that chapter in my life. I thank God everyday for being alive and being able to share my story. Do you think you will write more books in the future? I would love to continue to write, especially now. My brain fog is finally starting to lift after seven years of living with compromised brain function.

Why do you think you ignored the earliest symptoms you were experiencing?

I ignored the earliest symptoms because I’m a tough cookie. I thought that I could push through my symptoms, especially because prior to my diagnosis, doctors had told me that there was nothing wrong with me.

Black Sweater by Helmut Lang, Black Panty by Victoria’s Secret Ankle-Strap Sandals by Gianvito Rossi

In what ways did your health journey and contracting Lyme disease force you to shift the focus on your own well-being?

I really did not have a choice. I was forced to shut down and retract into my cocoon while uncovering the mystery of chronic Lyme disease. You have chosen not to be a victim of circumstance, but rather a champion for a cause.

Why do you find it so important to use your platform as a tool to shed light on Lyme Disease and its devastating effects?

I truly believe that I got this disease in order to raise awareness and lift the stigma around Lyme disease. Once I understood the higher purpose of my journey, it became clear to me that this was the reason my platform was given to me. There is nothing I would rather do than find a cure affordable for all. This is my dream and will be my life mission until the job is done.

Which modality do you find more effective for those who are living day to day with a family member who suffers from a chronic disease / illness: Sympathy or empathy?

Empathy by far, I don’t think anyone suffering from a chronic disease is looking for sympathy. When you are severely debilitated and in the battle 24/7, a kind word of encouragement from a loved one or friend means a lot.

You make an interesting point in your book when Dr. Klinghardt says to you that the health protocols and regimens are only a portion of your journey to recovery, but also “that working on one’s emotional health is 50 percent of the healing pie”. Throughout the course of your health journey, what experiences have you had that have demonstrated to you the connection among mind, body, and spirit?

After being sick for so many years and living like an isolationist due to Lyme Disease, you lose the ability to really express yourself. When Klinghardt told me that, I was already 5 years into my journey; it just resonated with me. I knew I had to start digging really deep and let go of everything that could potentially hold me from fully healing.

What practices have helped you find balance and peace within this trichotomy?

Through stillness and meditation, I learned to clear my energy field from anything that is not pure. The recovery is long and I still work through stuff everyday but so does everyone else, life just isn’t perfect for anyone.

Suffering often provides us with an opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve. In your book, you share much wisdom that has resulted through your journey. What has been your greatest take away or lesson that you have learned by living with Lymes disease?

During this humbling experience, it became very clear to me that pain is inevitable for anyone, but that suffering is a choice. Practicing a positive attitude and gratitude is very important no matter how shitty your day is. When I started to evolve to my higher self, the road seemed very lonely, but I see now that I needed to shed every energy that no longer matched the frequency of my destiny.

In what ways would you say you have evolved internally / spiritually through the experience?

I really had to get to the essence of who I am in order to survive. So I started to pray more and began allowing my inner voice and intuition to lead me through every step of my recovery. It truly was a humbling experience that made me a much more patient, compassionate and stronger human. It lead me to live in my higher consciousness.

Does living with chronic illness force you to live in the present moment as opposed to being overly preoccupied with the future or past?

The past is gone, and I can’t control the future. You never know how many great hours or days you might have, so you learn to live in the moment and enjoy every minute of it.

You describe many situations when you met other Lyme disease patients who lost their homes, jobs, families, friends, and overall quality of life because of this silent disease. How did these stories shared by and experiences with these patients affect you?

The stories deeply affected me, and still do, as I connect with fans who are suffering everyday. The injustice of it all gave me the fire to fight for everyone and be a voice for those who can’t be heard.

Do you think that affordable healthcare, not only for Lyme disease patients, but all those suffering from a chronic illness, is a human right? If so, why?

Nobody in this world deserves to suffer the way Lyme disease patients do, and it is about time they get the acknowledgement that they deserve. Initially, you were misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and depression, as well as prescribed medication for adult ADHD.

Yes, I feel that doctors in today’s world are very quick to write prescription to treat symptoms rather than finding the root cause of the symptoms. Is Lyme disease an illness that is well researched within the medical community?

It’s hard to understand the stigma and debates around Lyme disease considering the fact that it has been around for over 4 decades. I know there are many institutions working hard on finding a cure and proper diagnostics. I just pray it happens soon enough, as millions of people of all ages suffer deeply from this invisible, debilitating disease worldwide.

In what ways did you experience that the modern-day healthcare system in the US is failing its patients?

The health care system is failing the Lyme disease patients that do not recover after 28 days of antibiotics, as any care after that time has to be paid out of pocket. Believe me, it costs an astronomical amount of money to get well.

Black Mesh Top and black leather pencil skirt by Georgine, Black sandals by Gianvito Rossi

What value would you say homeopathic or alternative forms of treatment play in one’s journey to recovery?

We need to get back to Mother Earth, I believe we have a much better chance to heal from chronic Lyme disease holistically than with any of the pharmaceuticals that I have personally tried at this time. There is no magic pill to cure Lyme. Chronic illness, especially Lyme disease, can have devastating effects on a family unit and a marriage. You share very personal details about your marriage and how it was affected by your illness. I shared a few of the details and tried to do it without any judgment, but this is a real life story. What happened to me is something that happens to many of us. I learned that in today’s world, everything is fast and replaceable. Being a caretaker is very difficult, and I have much respect for those who support their partners through situations like mine. But, on the other hand, isn’t that what marriage should be about? Through the good times and the bad times?

What advice would you give to others suffering in a similar situation?

Show gratitude to those who are there to support you, but know that you are in this journey alone. So pull up your boot straps, and fight like it’s your full-time job – 24/7, slow and steady, one day at a time! There is light at the end of the tunnel, and you can all get there, but it takes hard work and dedication.

How have you managed to maintain hope / strength even in the face of the emotional trials that have been a part of your health journey?

My children are my guiding light and my reason for wanting to live and fight through the darkest days of my life.

Thus far, what has been your greatest victory in your battle against Lyme disease?

My greatest victory is being back on my feet, in remission and being able to give back and help others get through this nightmare.

Besides your new book and show, what other projects do you currently have in the works?

My dream is to eventually open a healing center and apply all that I have learned in this journey. But for now, I am very much enjoying just living life, working on expanding my brand, and making up for the seven years I’ve lost!

The fashion industry’s opinion of what is beautiful is in a constant state of change. Today, after all you have experienced, how would you define beauty?

Fashion to me is a personal expression of taste, feelings and choices. But, for me, beauty is your inner authenticity, the connection to Mother Earth, and standing strong in your roots while enduring the storms of life gracefully. The Housewives series is famous for its personalities’ bylines at the beginning of each show, and each season, you write a new byline for yourself.

Today, after all that you have overcome, and accomplished, what would your byline be?

You can’t beat a woman that never gives up.

Is there any message you would like to share with those who ever doubted you?

I send love and forgiveness to all those that ever doubted my journey, and I pray that none of them or their loved ones will ever be affected by Lyme disease or have to suffer the way I did. To be unafraid of the judgment of others is the greatest freedom you can have, and that’s really the bottom line of what I took away from the whole judgment situation I experienced. I will continue to work hard in silence and let the success of my recovery make the noise. ‡

   Black Sweater by Helmut Lang, Black Panty by Victoria’s Secret

Hair by Seiji @ The Wall Group, MakeUp by Dominique Samuel using Giorgio Armani cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Stylist’s Assistant Jenny Hargrove, Production by XTheStudio Special Thanks to Sean Gomes, Special Thanks to Milk Studios NYC, Special Thanks to Marc Johnston.

IRIS MAN – CHEYENNE JACKSON

Cheyenne Jackson is a master of his own destiny. From sleepy Spokane, Washington, to the lights of Broadway, and now in the luxe hills of Hollywood, Jackson has scaled the ladder of success to become a leading man on stage and in film.


Photography by Karl Simone | Grooming by Lacy Boughton | Interview by Benjamin Price
Sweater by Gucci and Coat by Firetrap

Cheyenne Jackson is a Grammy-nominated singer, actor, and songwriter who, as a musician, dancer, artist, writer, husband and father of twins, is the definition of a “Renaissance Man”. Cheyenne has starred in a litany of noteworthy television shows, theatre productions, and films including the American Horror Story series, the critically acclaimed The Most Happy Fella in New York City, and David West Read’s play The Performers opposite Henry Winkler, Ari Graynor, and Alicia Silverstone. His performance in Steven Soderbergh’s award-winning Behind The Candelabra, with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, was multi-layered and added a new dimension to his on-screen acting reel. Whether it is singing and dancing onstage, or marrying Lady Gaga in a demonic hotel in American Horror Story: Hotel, Mr. Jackson brings new life to each character he plays.

Cheyenne will soon be on our television screens once again as one of Ryan Murphy’s elaborately crafted characters on American Horror Story: Cult, a new comedy series entitled American Woman, and he continues to work on his own writing, music, and an upcoming project in animated voiceovers.

In addition to all his artistic accolades, Jackson is fully immersed in several charities focusing on a variety of social issues. Cheyenne is a strong advocate for LGBT rights, marriage equality, animal welfare, and HIV/AIDS research. He is an international ambassador for The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and serves as the national ambassador and spokesperson for The Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Harvey Milk High School. Jackson also actively supports “The Trevor Project” and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Cheyenne Jackson sat down with IRIS Covet Book to discuss his journey as a small town boy on Broadway, our current political discourse, and dressing up as Wonder Woman.

How did your professional path as an actor take you from regional theatre in Seattle to the Broadway stage?

I had never had the guts to make the move to NYC up until 9/11 happened… and I didn’t want to waste any more time in my life. I was 27 years old at the time, which is considered late to be “starting”, I knew it was now or never. I decided to head to New York City because it is the home of Broadway. I was determined, I was prepared, and I was lucky. My first broadway audition was for Thoroughly Modern Millie and I booked it. I was on Broadway after six weeks of being in NYC. I was in the ensemble, was understudy to the two male leads, and it was heaven!

How did you make the jump from the theatre stage to television?

Tina Fey came and saw me in a production of DAMN YANKEES at the New York City Center when I was starring alongside Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski, and she asked to meet me afterward. She said she liked my “big midwestern face” and my comedic timing, and I joined the cast of 30 Rock a few months later. It was the most amazing four years of comedy and television training. Baptism by friendly fire, as it were.

How young were you when you knew you wanted to be performing? Were there any signs as a child that you would be in the entertainment world?

As young as I can remember. I sang from the time I was 2 years old, and I knew music would be a big theme in my life. By the time I was 7 years old I was making my own Wonder Woman bracelets and tiaras out of cardboard, so there were signs that entertainment was in my future.

What is your favorite movie/musical and why?

It has to be Mary Poppins because it’s perfect and it reminds me of being a little kid when everything was safe and worry-free.

When your agent offers you a script or an audition, how do you decide which roles work for you?

For me, it is definitely a gut feeling that I need. If I find myself reading the material out loud rather than in my head, that’s usually a good sign. Then there is the logistics. I’m a new dad of twins so now I tend to pick things that will hopefully not take me away from them for too long. I took 6 months off to be a stay-at-home dad, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

You’ve had your time on the television screen, the stage, and the big screen, but is there a “dream role” that you would like to play?

I don’t think it’s been written yet. I’d love my own half hour dramedy series. Something that is topical, irreverent and funny. Like Veep on HBO.

Do you ever think of getting into the world of producing or directing?

I do sometimes. I love the whole process of film and television. I could definitely see myself pursuing something behind the camera at some point.

Speaking of behind the camera, how did you find yourself working with writer and producer Ryan Murphy on the American Horror Story series?

We met after he saw me in Xanadu on Broadway and he hired me for the second season of GLEE. We’ve worked together ever since. His mind is such a mystery to me, and I’m so thankful for him.

Can you tell us about your role in American Horror Story? What can we expect?

All I can tell you is my character’s name is Dr. Rudy Vincent and that I’m having a lot of fun this season. I’m sworn to secrecy, even in press, to give specifics, but I will say it was great fun to play a doctor. I learned a lot. It’s my third year on the show and it’s my favorite season so far.

Is there a dream actor that you would like to work with in your lifetime?

I’d love to have the opportunity to work on a project with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicole Kidman, or Robert Downey Jr.

What has been one of your favorite collaborations in your career?

I have a few so far. It was great working on Behind the Candelabra with Michael Douglas, 30 Rock alongside Alec Baldwin, a pilot called The Onion News Network with Jeffrey Tambor, and an episode I had with Gwyneth Paltrow on GLEE. These are just a few of the highlights.

When not on set or rehearsing for a role, how do you like to spend your time?

With my kids and my husband in a big dog pile in our TV room. I love traveling and I love to be outside. My mom lives in Laguna so we spend time with her.

Last year you became a father of two, how have they changed your outlook on life? Is it what you expected?

I always knew I was going to be a father. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been certain of. When it finally happened it’s as if my life began when they were born. Cliché? Maybe. True? Absolutely. It’s just so profound. My work is still important to me but my perspective has changed…the urge to provide for my family is stronger than ever, but the insignificant stuff I used to sweat in my career means so much less now that I know what’s really important.

You met your husband during at an AA meeting you both were attending, how did you two help each other cope with addiction during this period?

We were both newly sober and definitely at turning points in our lives. We found each other when we needed each other the most. In life, we just have to help each other get through this life together. He’s a magnificent person.

What advice would you give someone struggling with alcohol addiction?

Reach out and get help. There is no shame in asking for help; in fact, asking for help and admitting you need help actually takes more bravery than anything else.

What began your involvement with amfAR and Hetrick-Martin institute? Can you tell us about that work and why these charities are close to your heart?

I became personally affected by the disease when a friend of mine was diagnosed with HIV. I felt a desire to get more involved and help in any way I could. I contacted amfAR and asked how I could help. The Hetrick-Martin Institute came to me and asked me to come tour their facility and meet with their team. I went on the tour and loved the work they were doing, and I’ve supported them ever since.

You are involved with over a dozen charities focusing on social issues which include LGBT rights, marriage equality, animal welfare, and HIV/AIDS research, why do you find it so important to give back in this way?

Because I know how lucky I am to have what I have and live where I live. Giving back gets me out of my head and helps me focus on something other than what’s going on with me. I need to be of service in order to feel good about myself; it’s as simple as that.

Given the current state of the world in politics, environmental concerns, social change, etc. what advice would you give to anyone who want to get involved in giving back to their communities?

If you want more peace of mind, more relaxation, more harmony in your head, you should do some charity work. Being of service is the best way to get out of your own way and get some much needed perspective in this crazy world.

With the rhetoric coming from the White House that trans people should not serve in the military and legislature that will allow discrimination based on sexual orientation, are you worried that the LGBTQ community is in serious jeopardy?

How could one not be when under this abhorrent man that is our president? But I have faith in our community, and what I do know is that all this has lit a fire in many people who were previously fairly politically dormant. People are more awake than ever.

As a member of the media, and of the gay community, what do you think is your responsibility to the country when Hollywood and the LGBTQ world are under fire?

The best defense is to live out louder than ever. I am an open honest person and I live it out loud. I’m a gay father and I’ve been out of the closet for 23 years. I have no secrets and I treat people the way I want to be treated, and that’s what Jason and I are teaching our children. Live through example. Be open. Be interested in others.

What is next for you and your career? More music? More film? Maybe something completely different?

American Horror Story: Cult airs September 5th. American Woman airs early next year on Paramount TV. I’d love to continue to work on great television shows and continue to tell stories. I would also love to make more music. I am going to start writing again; I have a lot more to say now. I will always be open to making movies. Currently, I am getting into voiceover work now as well. I’m shooting my first animated pilot next month and have had the opportunity to work with some of the best animated voiceover artists in the country. It turns out I have all these voices in me. Who knew?

What advice would you give to a young actor/singer who is trying to make it in Hollywood or on Broadway today?

Be open. Do your homework. Be kind. Get a thick skin. Don’t google yourself. Don’t be an asshole. Work on your mix. Get it strong and consistent. (Singers will know what I’m talking about!)


Full Look by Calvin Klein

BLONDIE

On the brink of a summer tour promoting the release of her 11th studio album with Blondie, the punk/new-wave/rock goddess, Debbie Harry,
shows no signs of slowing down.

Blazer by Vivienne Westwood | Fox Fur Leopard Print Boa by Georgine | Sunglasses by Le Specs Luxe

Photography by Nicolas Kern | Styling by Britt McCamey | Interview by Roger Padilha

Ever since she injected New York City’s ground-breaking, underground music scene with her infectious presence, Debbie Harry found her rightful place as Queen of Cool, and for the past 41 years has reigned as a trailblazing pioneer within the realms of pop culture, fine art, high fashion, and music. Arriving at Splashlight studios with an entourage of one, the low key Harry informs us there is no need for the more discreet side entrance. Instead she prefers to stand in line and check in with the front desk security like everyone else. This drama free attitude seems in line with her polite demeanor upon entering the set with a shopping bag full of past Blondie tour t-shirts and introducing herself to everyone on the crew. “Hi, I’m Debbie. Would anyone like a t-shirt?”

At the age of 71, Harry and her world-famous, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Blondie, have released their eleventh studio album entitled Pollinator. Since their debut album in 1976, through the band’s signature look and pioneering new wave/punk music, Blondie has become an internationally recognized and praised band. With her photogenic face, two-toned hair, and punk style Harry quickly rose to the level of fashion and pop culture icon. Debbie quickly became a muse for Andy Warhol, the late fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, and famed fashion photographer Steven Meisel, to name a few. She was and remains very influential across music genres, and Blondie’s song Rapture became the first #1 song in the US to feature rap, thanks to her influence by friends Fab Five Freddy, and hip- hop pioneer, Grandmaster Flash.

Frontwoman Harry and guitarist/conceptual mastermind Chris Stein were the founding members of Blondie, along with drummer Clem Burke, whose powerhouse playing always distinguished Blondie’s sound. Their newest project, Pollinator, is a fusion of pop and disco with that ineffable Blondie sound. The newly released album is mostly comprised of collaborations with outside performers and songwriters. The list of collaborators include Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, Charlie XCX, Sia, Laurie Anderson, Joan Jett, The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, comedian John Roberts, and Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. The album’s first single, “Fun”, sets the tone for the album, with a music video that features technicolor footage of an astronaut flying to Mars cut with scenes of the band performing at a psychedelic rave in space.

The album title, Pollinator, refers to Blondie’s creative cross-pollination over the years with many other icons in the industry. With the fabulous collaborations between Blondie and other artists throughout the studio album, Pollinator is a veritable hive of delicious tracks and beats to enjoy. The Rage and Rapture Tour kicks off on July 5th and features the acclaimed alternative rock band Garbage.

Though the tunes were culled from disparate sources, the feel of the album is impressively unified, with a playful nod to 1978’s groundbreaking Parallel Lines. Harry, Stein, Burke, and company took this raw material and deftly transformed it in the studio into an album that’s quintessentially Blondie. The emphasis is on arrangements that are fast and fun, lyrics that are romantic and teasing, and synth-stoked hooks that evoke the New Wave era. It was Grammy-winning producer John Congleton (Franz Ferdinand, St. Vincent, Sigur Ros, David Byrne, War on Drugs) that brought the late 70’s attitude out of Blondie again. He found himself having breakfast with Debbie and Chris in the summer of 2015. “We hung out for an hour, talked about music, about where they were as people and what they thought a Blondie record should sound like these days. We were simpatico on that.”

“I had more of a deliberate agenda than they did,” says John. “Their agenda was the best agenda: they still love each other; they like playing music, so let’s have fun. At the end of the day Blondie doesn’t have anything to prove. My agenda was more dogmatic. I didn’t want to make a pastiche lifestyle record or a modern pop record that sounded like Blondie being influenced by what’s happening now. I wanted to know what it’s like to be Blondie at this age.” Debbie, Chris, and Clem joined by band members bassist Leigh Foxx, guitarist Tommy Kessler and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen have embarked on a new Blondie summer tour.

Leather Trench by Georgine | Bloomers by Miu Miu | Tights by Falke | Patent Pumps by Laurence Dacade | Earrings by Orchid & Art Deco

We were fortunate enough to chat with the legendary rockstar at Splashlight Studios in Manhattan during her exclusive Iris Covet Book photoshoot.

How have you managed fame as an artist? Do you find that the commercial aspect of making music gets in the way of artistry?

Being a more private type, fame has sometimes been disturbing. But as a commercial artist, it is the goal isn’t it? To become known and get your music out into the world market.

I feel like I see your face and image every day on t-shirts and instagram. Are you ever overwhelmed by the global impact of the band and the image you played a definitive part in creating?

If I stop to think about it, yes it is overwhelming. That’s all part of the game though, isn’t it?

You’ve always seemed to be very reserved and a bit of an introvert in person, but yet you have been able to get onstage and perform in huge venues in front of millions throughout your career. What is the process you undergo to change into that onstage, larger-than-life persona?

I don’t really think of myself as an introvert but I have been described as being very polite. I was encouraged growing up to be well mannered and able to listen to others. To not always have to be the center of attention when in social situations. On stage it’s a different story…….it’s MY stage.

On Debbie: Jacket by Marc Jacobs | Skirt (Worn as a dress) by Comme des Garçons from New York Vintage | Tights by Falke | Pumps by Laurence Dacade 
On Chris: His Own Clothing

Never satisfied to rest on your laurels, Blondie’s incessant need to fly the flag for cross-genre rock never relinquishes because your punk spirit never died. How do you keep your punk spirit alive?

Punk spirit…just stubborn I guess. Always have been. Independence has always been important to me. I grew up in a sheltered home and was always wanting to see more of the big bad world.

How was it collaborating with all of these amazing, boundary-pushing artists such as Sia, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, and Joan Jett?

Collaboration has always been something I enjoy doing. It can be so much fun tossing ideas around. I loved working with Dev Hynes and Joan Jett, whom I’ve known for years. Sia actually wrote the song [on the new album] and I only met her briefly at a Saturday Night Live party. I’m happy the way it all came together. It was a different approach for us, to draw in all of these things. I feel like we did what we did back then, and we put out these sounds and ideas and now have come full circle. We are pulling it back in, continuing this ongoing chain of events, this circular motion.

You will be touring the country with the legendary rock band, Garbage, fronted by Shirley Manson. Tell us about how this tour collaboration came to be, have you worked together before?

I don’t think we ever worked together before, but I met Shirley many years ago in Scotland when she was singing with Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. Years later we ran into each other at Gary Kurfirst’s office. We were both being managed by Gary at the time. Shirley and her band Garbage are one of my faves.

40 million album sales and countless accolades later (including a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2006 and NME Godlike Genius Award in 2014) has cemented the band’s importance. After all of the success, what inspires you to keep creating new music?

One of the most inspiring things to happen in the last year has been the David Bowie release after his death. I only hope that I can be one-tenth as creative as he has been, and to leave a parting gift of music or art is truly what art is about.

Jacket by Song Seoyoon | T-Shirt by Han københavn

Two of the original members of the band have been replaced with other musicians over the years, how has the new dynamic of Blondie shifted the energy of the band?

Good question. Blondie has always been, or tried to be, a true ensemble situation. Input by musicians or actors in a group is extremely valuable, but not always easy. We have one fucking great band now, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear us play the new material.

When you first moved to New York, it was a much more dangerous and rough city, but that energy also helped fuel many creatives at the time. Now that NYC has gone through so much gentrification and commercialism, do you think it’s possible for artists to make profound music and art in the “new” New York City?

Food for thought…that’s what cities and colleges supply. So why not, in spite of all the odds against it, why can’t a fresh, alert mind be creative in any circumstance. Although chaos is famous for being the founder of great creativity.

Which album or song are you most proud of? And beyond that, what are you most proud of in your life?

I don’t think I can limit myself to one album or song, they all seem connected to each other for me. As for my life, I’m amazed that I actually achieved my dreams and that I’m still at it.

You’ve done 11 albums with Blondie and 5 albums as a solo artist, not to mention compilations and collaborations on other artists’ albums. How do you stay inspired? Is there anything you feel you haven’t said through your art yet?

Knowing what you like and what excites you is the most important part and Blondie is really the only group I’ve ever been in with the exception of singing with the Jazz Passengers for about four years. Fortunately, now I’m on a collision course with environmental issues. As I’ve gotten older and climate, clean air and water have become more important issues for us, I want to do my part to draw attention to these problems and their solutions.

The world lost a great contributor to the arts recently with the passing of your friend Glenn O’Brien. Glenn was very supportive of Iris Covet Book and agreed to be interviewed for our first issue. He was always very generous to emerging creatives. Can you share a favorite memory you had with Glenn?

Oh yes, Glenn was a great writer and a keen observer of the arts. He had such a wonderful style: dry and funny, so sharp. I will miss him. Before he passed he gave me his newest book, LIKE ART which I have enjoyed thoroughly. I have had lots of good times hanging out with Glenn and Chris. Just talking and making fun of things like on TV Party when they were co-hosts. I feel lucky to have known him.

Blondie really incorporated so many different genres and types of music that it seems unfair to call you just a Punk pioneer as many people do. What would you like your music legacy to be?

A lot of the music that I’ve made over the years was never even recorded and maybe this is something special. Food for the spheres. Blondie albums and Deborah Harry albums have had a lot of different musical and cultural influences but this is the city we live in and the world of today. Let’s face it, we can know as much as we want about all the cultures of the world. What we need is time travel.

Patent Coat by Miu Miu | Earrings by Ana Khori

Buy Pollinator at http://www.blondie.net/ or stream on Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon

Art Direction by Louis Liu | Editor Marc Sifuentes | Hair by Adam Markarian | Makeup by Yumi Lee @ Streeters | Manicure by Narina Chan @ Wilhelmina Artists for Chanel Le Vernis in Roubachka | Set Design by Mila Taylor Young @ D+V Management | Editor’s assistant Ben Price | Filming by Scott Keenan | Video editor/post production YaYa Xu | Special Thanks to Splashlight Studios NYC