HARI NEF X HILTON DRESDEN EXCLUSIVE

Actress, model, and bona-fide trendsetter Hari Nef has made her feature film debut this week, in the electrifying social media horror movie ‘Assassination Nation.’ She stars as Becks, one of four high school girls caught up in a violent frenzy of small-town hysteria after a mass leak of private cell phone data. Hilton Dresden sat down with her to chat about the nuanced role, her dream collaborators, and how she’s carving her own path in Hollywood.

Interview by Hilton Dresden

THE MANY FACES OF DOMINIQUE FISHBACK

Jacket by Carolina Sarria

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Julia Morris @theindustrymgmt| Interview by Benjamin Price | Hair by Monae Everett | Makeup by Daniel Avilan using MAC Cosmetics @theindustrymgmt

Talent: Dominique Fishback

Dominique is a theatrical chameleon. Whether playing a prostitute in 1970’s New York on HBO’s The Deuce, or a high school girl in a violent and disenfranchised neighborhood in the upcoming The Hate U Give, or playing in a series of sketch comedies in HBO’s midnight show Random Acts of Flyness–Fishback effortlessly glides between personas. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Fishback started her artistic path in her local elementary school. Dominique has propelled herself both onto the silver screen and onto one of the most globally recognized cable networks as an inspirational young voice.

The Hate U Give, Random Acts of Flyness, Night Comes On, and much of Dominique’s personal writing and performances celebrate diversity and critique the constructed barriers between us. The writer, actress, and artist clearly has a wide breadth of talents, but what is truly spectacular is her ability to apply these to helping shed light on systemic problems in our society. Watching Dominique perform is a true joy, as you are immersed into the world of the characters she embodies and witness a complex array of emotion enfold on screen. Here, with Iris Covet Book, Dominique dives deep into the many layers of social discourse in her work, her roots as a child drama queen, and her plans to change Hollywood.

 

Jacket and Skirt by Victoria Hayes

We recently attended a screening of The Hate U Give and your performance felt so natural that it made me wonder how you first got into acting. Were you always a natural?

When I was 10 years old my mom said I was so dramatic and should give acting a try! She really believed that I could do it which was awesome! I had been writing little poems and I wanted to perform anyway. My mom tells stories of when I was 5 years old and pretending that I was the Wicked Witch of the West saying, “I’m melting! I’m melting!” When I was 10 I auditioned to be part of a children’s theater organization called Ta-Da! I auditioned three times but never got accepted…but 10 year-old Dom didn’t let it stop her, she just kept going! We got pulled into one or two scams after that, but when I was 15, I got into a company that requires you to write and perform your own material which I think helped make me into the artist that I am today.

But you know there is so much rejection and hate out there with actors, especially on social media. Everyone has an opinion or something to say about your performance, your look, or a mistake you make. It’s hard; you need a tough skin.

Speaking of exposure, social media, and having a tough skin–do you think your exposure in The Deuce and The Hate U Give has changed  your day to day life or are you still that girl from Brooklyn?

I’m definitely still that girl from Brooklyn!  Sometimes I bump into people from my childhood who say I still look the same and are surprised to see I’m still down-to-earth, but I think I am really a chameleon personally and professionally. But because of The Deuce I have had some people come up to me on the street, as well as my episode on (HBO’s) Random Acts of Flyness. I have been receiving such a great reception.

It seems like you are cast in roles that exist in chaotic and disadvantaged environments – playing a sex worker in The Deuce in 1970’s New York, convicted felon in Night Comes On, and a young girl in a rough, drug-filled neighborhood in The Hate U Give. What attracts you to these roles and what would you say is the common thread with the characters you like to play?

The characters really find me, and they refuse to let me go! For Night Comes On I was introduced to the character and the story after playing Darlene on The Deuce and I didn’t want to be typecast into tough characters all of the time because I am fun and silly…but I took the weekend and read the script considering what my agent was saying, and I just really felt like I had the experiences and authenticity to really go after this character! But I love to play dress up and dance and perform too, which I think really shows another side of me, like the photoshoot we did for this. When I was a kid I would watch I Love Lucy, and Lucille Ball was a big inspiration for me and I would stay up and watch her until 1:00 am every day! I would love to do a show like that, whether I write it myself or not.

Dress by Kelsey Randall, Gloves by Livne NYC, Earrings by Laruicci

Bralette, Pants, and Clear Jacket all by Livne NYC

It sounds like you really are a chameleon and are interested in so many genres! So back to The Hate U Give and the messages and layers that it has within it such as racism, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, etc. — how did that layer of commentary affect your performance?

Well, actually, I have a one-woman show that I wrote and have performed for the past 5 years called Subverted where I play 22 different characters, and it’s about the destruction of black identity in America. The show has a slavery-era side and a modern-day-era side, and both comment on issues like police brutality, education deficits, lack of healthy food in areas like East New York, Brooklyn where I grew up. So I was already very aware of these issues and the injustices that African Americans experience, and that I experienced, in my neighborhood or when I was working at the local movie theater just praying and hoping to be on the screen. When I was at Pace University I was often the only African American person in my classes. I remember in one of my classes this caucasian boy said that African American males in low-income communities would not be stopped by the police at random if they “dressed normally.” I was infuriated, choking on my words, debating with him, and I realized that no one around me could understand my point of view, so instead of getting mad and yelling and cursing I decided to use this as an opportunity to start my one-woman show, educate people, and have them watch and relate to a character who they normally wouldn’t. Just like the few scenes of Khalil in The Hate U Give change the way you see the representation of him later on through the movie. I graduated from my high school as valedictorian in Brownsville, BK, but when I got to Pace I was admitted as below average in a curriculum for students who needed more academic attention. Then I looked around and realized that these schools only prepare you for colleges at the same level…but we need to overcome this adversity and talk about this issue on a bigger scale.

I think The Hate U Give really achieved that and personally it took me from laughing to crying to anger…What are the main points that you want people to take away from the movie?

I would want them to take away the moments where they felt sad for Kahlil, where they laughed with him and saw his eyes twinkle at the beginning of the film, and when another (police brutality) event like this happens in America they can care about that victim in the same way. I really believe that art changes people’s minds and hearts the most and gives power to our feelings. Being able to see it, not just hear a name or see a mugshot, is so powerful.

Jacket and Pants by LEHHO, Gloves by Livne NYC

Jacket and Skirt by Victoria Hayes

As a woman of color, how do you feel about the changing castings and views of POC and women in Hollywood?

I definitely believe that it has changed over the years, and as a younger person I can sometimes only see the injustice because that’s all I know, but when you ask people who came before and hear their stories then you can really see how far we’ve come. I have been honored to have my first feature film on demand and online called Night Comes On, starring myself and this 10 year old African American girl named Tatum Marilyn Hall, and it is great to be able to watch African American girls not have to be super funny or sexy in a film, but that wasn’t possible a few years ago. It was still hard, and the director would tell us about how difficult it was to get funding with the subject matter, and as a female director, but we are fighting the fight and are very hopeful.

I am very excited to see Night Comes On, and hopefully it just means we will see even more diverse story-telling in the future. What would you want to change or add to the world of film and television if you owned a studio?

I would want to tell more stories about African Americans and people of color and celebrate diversity from the casting to the writers’ room. I don’t want to have the question of “What was it like working with a female director?” Like why does that matter if you are a woman or a person of color? I really don’t know though, and I am just researching, writing, and taking it day-by-day. I just finished writing my feature film that takes place in 1968 which is about a male Black Panther who falls in love with a girl who isn’t a part of that culture and over the course of the film they learn more about each other, and I think that is an important story to tell.

I hope we can see that soon! What can you tell us about upcoming roles or screenplays that you are working on?

The Deuce is coming back September 9, and then The Hate U Give comes out so of course I am very excited for both of those opportunities! I am very excited about my role in Random Acts of Flyness on HBO, and it’s just a really fun way to show different sides of myself as an actress. I am excited about the projects I am writing and being seen as a writer for theater, films, and graphic novels. I am excited to start my own production company one day and have longevity in the industry as a CEO.

Jacket by Victoria Hayes

WEB EXCLUSIVE – LEX SCOTT DAVIS

Leather Jacket by All Saints, Bra by For Love and Lemons, Vintage Leather Pants

Talent: Lex Scott Davis | Photographer: Raul Romo | Stylist: Mimi Le | Hair Stylist: Malaika Frazier | Makeup Artist: Rob Scheppy @ The Only Agency

Lex Scott Davis started off as a dancer but soon diverged onto the road towards acting in commercials and television and eventually starring in one of this summers blockbuster hits. After landing the role of Toni Braxton in the television-movie Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, the snowball started rolling and Davis’ career has taken off. Now starring as the lead heroine in The First Purge, Lex Scott Davis is a no-nonsense force on-screen, and her performances in The First Purge and SuperFly have proved that Davis is here to stay.

In this exclusive interview with Iris Covet Book, we learned more about her role in the latest installment of the Purge thriller franchise and how the film and her character resonated with her personal story.

Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland, then made the move to Philly, then New York, and now Los Angeles. The move to New York was challenging in the beginning,  especially when you don’t have family there. New York wasn’t necessarily the safest place either. Living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and commuting to work in the city everyday was a culture shock, but also a great growing experience.

When did you first know that you wanted to go into acting?

I went to Drexel University in Philadelphia and majored in dance and physical therapy. I started to grow out of it; I didn’t see the longevity of becoming a dancer. So in my third year in the program I decided to leave and move to NYC where I started acting classes at the New York Film Academy.

Was there a certain incident that confirmed in your mind you needed to pursue acting?

When I begin to realize that dancing had a cap to it. I think after a certain age you either become a teacher or a choreographer and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted for myself.  I understood from a very young age that I loved performing, so for me it was like ‘what can I do that will allow me to perform for people the rest of my life?’ and the answer was acting. You never run out of opportunities as an actor. They will always need some 80-year-old black lady to come in and play someone’s grandma, you know what I mean? (Laughing). 

How do you compare the differences between living and working in New York versus Los Angeles?

Well, they were two totally different experiences for me. NY was really about school and learning the craft of acting and when I moved to LA it was all about auditions and hustling for the jobs. When I first moved to LA I realized I wasn’t really as prepared as I would like to have been. I knew I couldn’t just dive straight into grabbing a professional acting job. I definitely had to work my way up with commercials and stage plays until I eventually found my way into the audition for the Toni Braxton biopic which was the first real opportunity within my first year of living in LA.

Dress by Stella McCartney

Leather Jacket by All Saints

How was it to work alongside Toni Braxton on the production of her biopic?

When I booked the movie my manager called to tell me I had to be on a plane to meet her in Vegas the next day.  I attended her show that night and she pulled me up on stage. That was our first time ever meeting. She was very involved in all the pre-production, table reads, and made herself available to us if we ever had any questions. She would do whatever it took for us to get to know her. I choose to be more of an observer and watched her every move, even when she didn’t know she was being watched (laughs). I wanted to see how she interacted with people and the little nuances that she does.  I think I learned more about her that way.

Tell us about your latest film The First Purge. What should fans know going in?

Well I think each Purge is a stand alone story, so you don’t have to see the previous movies to understand this one. And this is the prequel, so it’s setting you up for the previous ones. It’s not a horror slasher film like some would assume, it’s actually way more evolved. The film is more of an action thriller and has a refreshing storyline where we get to see young black people being the hero’s of their community. It’s really fun to watch and I don’t want to give too much away but it’s very exciting. Oh, and the music is DOPE.  

Tell us a how you prepared for your role in The First Purge?

This role was so hard, and I fought very hard to get it. I went in to audition at least four times in a pretty rigorous process. In terms of preparation–I felt I could really relate to the script because of how I grew up, the people I grew up with, and the circumstances these characters lived with that were very relatable to me.  I’m from Baltimore and was raised around the circumstances of lower income neighborhoods.

So you felt a strong connection to your character?

It’s a relatable story. Nia’s story isn’t exactly my story or how I grew up but it’s definitely a story that I know and it is close to me. I think it’s relatable to any woman in this scenario.  Nia is taking care of her brother and her household. She’s working multiple jobs to make sure her family is supported and is a strong voice for her community. I know a lot of women who are that person. Women who are trying to make things work despite their circumstances, who push for resistance against the political matters at hand that are up against them.

Bikini Top by All Saints, Pants by Stella McCartney, Heels by Jimmy Choo

Jacket by Stella McCartney, Bra by Thistle and Spire, Pants by COS

We get to see a small glimpse of you as an action hero in The First Purge. Do you see yourself playing more parts like this?

Yes, definitely. I remember one of my earlier experiences that made me want to be an actor was when my mother took me to see Tomb Raider when I was young. Seeing Angelina Jolie in a kick ass role made me say, “Oh my god, I want to do that!” She was so beautiful and so physical and strong, and that was something I could relate to at the time because I had the dance background. To see her on the same playing field as men, and showing that dominance and strength, was amazing to me.

Is there a favorite movie that you would love to star in if there were ever a remake?

I would love to be in a role similar to Charlize Theron’s character in Monster.  To be someone that is so put-together but then stripped down from all of that and completely raw. Seeing a different component of her level of acting and the layers and complexity of the role is to bring truth to the story. It’s equally as beautiful as when she’s all done up and doing her J’adore commercial. It was just a brilliant film. My mother showed me that film years ago. (Laughs)

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

Even while Toni Braxton happened for me within my first year, a lot of people didn’t see the other side when I was working at a salon. I worked for a massage therapy office, I was driving a Lyft–there were so many things going on. It certainly wasn’t easy. Yes, I acknowledge it was quicker than some to obtain, but it certainly wasn’t handed to me. There was a lot of hard work in between.

Nothing is by coincidence, and I’m a firm believer that if you truly love and are persistent in the thing you know you can do, then keep on doing it. What people don’t always see is that on a day-to-day basis actors are handed a handful of auditions a week and it only takes one of those for something to happen. My advice would be to keep being persistent and to not be defeated by the ‘no’s’. Remember those ‘no’s’ are leading up to that ‘yes’, and it’s not by coincidence. Maybe the role that passed on you allows you to find a role thats going to catapult you into that big break. Everything happens for a reason.

Bra Top by All Saints

EXCLUSIVE: EVA LONGORIA


Dress by Helo Rocha, Earrings by Bulgari

Photography by Greg Swales  | Styling by Charlene Roxborough | Interview by Olivia Munn

Inspired by David Hockney’s series of pool polaroid collages, Eva Longoria becomes a modern day Venus in the waters of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills as she celebrates the miracle of motherhood.

They say there’s no rest for the weary, but Eva Longoria is anything but weary. Co-starring alongside Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez in the remake of the Goldie Hawn fan-favorite Overboard, producing a new television show entitled The Grand Hotel, throwing her hat into the television directing ring with the ABC hit Blackish, designing an eponymous fashion line, being the face of L’Oreal, championing the Time’s Up Movement, and carrying her first child would even make Wonder Woman tired, but Longoria sees no reason to slow down. Amidst these ever unfolding projects, Eva spent an afternoon with Iris Covet Book for an exclusive photoshoot at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, channeling the glamour of the poolside scenes of Old Hollywood.

Longoria began her career competing in the pageant circuit of her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, eventually moving to Los Angeles, playing small roles in daytime TV until landing her big break in the hit television series Desperate Housewives. After eight seasons of success on the ABC show, Eva put her political interest to work by touring across the U.S. with Barack Obama on his re-election campaign, finding a personal and ardent activist voice for immigration reform. Keeping up at marathon pace, Longoria continued her work in Hollywood, while balancing multiple businesses and projects in the world of fashion and restaurants. With her first child on the way, it seems like the perfect time for Longoria to celebrate her many achievements including her greatest one to date, becoming a mother.

Eva has granted Iris Covet Book the exclusive opportunity to document this miraculous moment in her life, her first pregnancy. Interviewed by friend and fellow actress Olivia Munn, Eva Longoria is glowing and glamorous as ever, lounging pool-side in Beverly Hills.

 

Dress by Nili Lotan, Earrings and Bracelet by Bulgari

Dress by Nili Lotan, Earrings and Necklace by Bulgari

Hi Eva! It’s so funny, I was just thinking about us in Miami because usually women are so tired at the beginning of their pregnancy, but I was the one sleeping all day, and you were staying up with me all night and still getting up early in the mornings! (laughs)

I know, I have it reversed… I am so tired now! I was doing so well and had so much energy, running around directing and producing. Then about a week ago I just hit a wall and now get knocked-out four times a day. This was what everyone was talking about! (laughs)

Have you had to pull back on a lot of your projects? It felt like you had a new show to direct every day.

Yeah, my Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony was the last official thing I had to do for work, and I have some press for Overboard left to do. I was on the Ellen show the other day and I felt like I was going to fall asleep, like uncontrollable sleep, and I was like, “Ellen, if I fall asleep can you edit around it?” (laughs)

You’re growing like literal body parts inside of you and that takes a lot of energy!

Yeah it takes so much energy making a human. (laughs)

So, I heard that the cover story you shot for Iris Covet Book is the only magazine cover you shot while pregnant?

Yes it is!

I cannot believe this is your only magazine shoot while pregnant! Did it feel weird?

It was so awesome and freeing because I didn’t have to suck in! You know how it is on a shoot or on the red carpet and you have to suck in and pay attention to your posture? But this time I was just letting it all hang out! (both laugh)

You were telling me that now the dialogue has changed with the paparazzi from when they would take pictures of you before—

Oh yeah! Before I was pregnant, I would just be eating a burger or something and they would write, “Baby Bump Watch!” (laughs) When we found out I was pregnant, my husband Pepe was worried about hiding it, and I said, “It doesn’t matter, they say I’m pregnant all the time. It’s fine.” And then the paparazzi would say “Oh, Eva’s getting fat! Eva’s overeating!” and I’m like, “No, no, no! Now I’m really pregnant!” (laughs)

One thing I don’t think people realize about you is that it’s not fun to be around this constant speculation, but you just let it roll off your back and it’s so admirable. I have learned a lot from you because of that.

I think I’ve always been like that. I grew up with three older sisters so I think I developed a thick skin. I read this amazing book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and one of the agreements is to not take things personally. It stuck out to me because I really never let things get to me. I try not to be affected by a bad audition, not getting the part in a movie, having a bad breakup. I was kind of born optimistic and it was how I grew up. We were a family of four daughters who were all very sharing and loving. My parents always taught me that failure was just another step to success.

I’ve thought about that a lot, and I was talking to a friend who did not get a role recently and told her what you told me when you had gone out for some big movie and did not get the part, but right after that denial you got Desperate Housewives. At that moment, getting a big movie could have really catapulted your career and it’s hard to see that in a positive light. Were you bummed at all or did you just move on?

Well you know I really just forgot about it! Like what part? Which movie? Maybe I’m not that invested! (laughs) But no, I remember when I got that call I said, “Oh, ok no problem!” If it’s your role, it’s your role. There’s no one who can play your role and nobody can take it from you.

Right, that’s true. You’re just able to roll through so much in life and still look so freaking young! It’s so interesting to think of you as a first time mother. You are just so nurturing and it is so weird to think of you as having your first child because I feel like there’s no big change. You’ll have the baby and keep rolling. Does it feel like a shock to you?

My friends always say the same thing, that I have been a mother to so many in my life. But I’m not freaked out at all, even with all of the other mother’s advice and everyone telling me how exhausted I’m going to be and blah blah blah, I’m like… yeah, that sounds about right. There’s nothing new that is being said to me or that I haven’t already read which…I mean, unless a monkey comes out of me, nothing is really going to shock me! (both laugh)

And even if a little maltese came out of you, you would just say, “Ok, so I had a dog!” and keep on rolling. (both laugh)

Yeah, I’d roll with it! And i’m not saying it is going to be easy because motherhood is never easy, but Im just saying that I’m prepared for the challenges in the greatest way possible.

Is there anything that worries you?

Health always worries me. You just don’t know what can happen with their health at any stage of life. From the time of their birth, to walking, to teething, to their first heartbreak. I want to protect my child from everything in the world, but there are certain things you won’t be able to.

Honestly, I think one of the best ways to protect your child from heartbreak is picking the right partner and Pepe, your husband, is literally one of the best human beings I have ever met. I love him so much and he is just one of those people who instantly becomes family. I think picking a great father for your child is so important, and your son will have it made with the two of you as his parents.

He really is the greatest human being in the world and he’s an amazing dad and husband. We can talk about anything from our day-to-day, politics, world events, or artificial intelligence, but at the same time we can just watch TV and he’ll laugh at me when I turn on my crime shows. There couldn’t be a better person made for me in the world. He is such a good father, so I already know that he will be a good father to our son. It feels like we’ve been together forever, but it also feels new and fresh every day.

Speaking of spirituality and being connected to people, how does the experience of being pregnant affect you spiritually, if at all?

It’s funny because the minute I got pregnant I wanted to know everything that was happening in my body. Not only physically, like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, but also spiritually. It is the greatest change you can experience, creating another human. My friend, Deepak Chopra, wrote a book about spirituality and pregnancy and it was just what I needed because it takes you through the whole pregnancy journey and what is happening metaphysically, physically, spiritually, what your baby can hear, when he can smell. He spoke about being careful of the images you take in because the baby can absorb fear from even a scary movie, for example.

It’s true, the baby is absorbing the energy around you. I read this interesting story about these horses which were the top competitors in all of the horse races and they were clones. The interesting thing is that the horse which was cloned had an incident with a water hose that hit him in the face and from then on he was always afraid of water hoses, and then his clone was born and since birth that clone horse would freak out in the same way whenever he saw a water hose. It raises the question of where our memories lie. People think it is our brain, but it is really in every cell of our body. So it makes sense that your baby is not only absorbing the food and drink but also the energy that is around you and produced by you.

Yes— energy, thoughts, meditation. I was really obsessed from the beginning wondering what is he feeling? What is he hearing? What is he thinking?

Bodysuit with mesh by Naked Wardrobe, Choker and Rings by David Webb, Robe by Ralph Lauren, Sunglasses by Celine

Bodysuit by Wolford, Wrap Dress by Murmur and Ring by David Webb

Bodysuit by Wolford, Ring and Necklace by David Webb

I learned a lot about sound therapy and it is really interesting because you can use this sound tool with the baby and it relaxes them, and then whenever they hear it again they instantly go into a state of relaxation.

No way! Well I’ve been playing meditation music with him and I do aromatherapy. I sleep with an essential oil diffuser with lavender oil at night, but that sound therapy sounds amazing!

To switch gears a bit, you are in the remake of Overboard which is such a beloved and highly anticipated release, is it a lot of pressure on you to work on a new rendition of such a classic movie?

Yeah…well it’s funny because I don’t have as much pressure as Anna Faris! She ran into Goldie and Kurt and they were like, “We heard you were doing Overboard”, and I would have freaked out! But it’s different because it’s a change in gender and it’s a much more contemporary version of the idea. It’s current for the time. I don’t think you could do the original today due to where we are socially. It’s funny, and I am such a big Anna Faris fan. I just think she’s a comedy genius. Eugenio Derbez, who is just the biggest Latin star ever, plays a wealthy playboy with a ton of money. It was so much fun shooting with them and playing with them, and seeing the movie was so exciting. People are going to love it!

Oh, I can’t wait to watch it! So you’ve directed the season finale of Blackish which is such a big show. It’s such a big deal to direct a season finale, and I know you want to direct more, but do you have a movie that you want to do?

Well I’ve been offered a couple of movies that I didn’t really connect to. I didn’t feel like I had a perspective to offer, and as a director I think that’s everything. I just love the medium of television, the pace of television, and working with actors who really know their characters. Not too much actor directing or motivation because they really know their role better than you do. So you’re really there to create camera choreography and make it better. I’d love to do a feature film, and I’ve been looking for one, but it’s just such a time commitment. You prep for six months, shoot for four months, and edit for a year…so it’s really just two years of your life dedicated to one project, one idea. It has to speak to me and I have to have a point of view and something to contribute. There’s a relevance and a purpose for a movie to be out there, even if it is just to make people laugh. I haven’t found that perfect script for me yet.

You have a project called Grand Hotel which you produced, did you direct as well?

No, I just produced it, but I will be directing if we go to series.

Was it hard to produce it then step back and let someone else take the director’s chair?

Well that’s why we usually pick a collaborative person, and Ken Olin (This Is Us) is an amazing director and was really perfect for this project. He brought so much to this project and I was excited to work with him, observe him, and have him mentor and teach me. He was so amazing and collaborative, and I asked him all of these questions like, “Why would you put the camera here instead of here? Why would you put the lens here instead of here?” I’m super nosy and curious and not scared to ask questions. So just using that opportunity to learn from someone who has been in the industry for a very long time was invaluable.

I think that is why you can do so many things and do them so well because you are so collaborative. I think the most successful people are some of the nicest and most collaborative, and you really show that with everything you do. You launched your eponymous clothing line in 2016. What have you learned from that process as a designer?

Well I’ve been sewing since I was seven, so for me it was a natural extension of what I wanted to do in my life. I love clothing, seams, textiles, and garment construction. It was really exciting, but also a completely different language for me. It’s a totally different industry and I’m not one of those celebrities who’s just like, “Put my name on a label! Look at my shirt!” I really wanted to get into the process, not just design, but everything from sourcing to design to marketing. It’s different press, different events, and the fashion world is its own animal. To jump in and navigate that was definitely challenging but so exciting because it challenged me in a different way then acting, producing or directing.

And I had no idea that you had a Master’s degree in Chicano studies. How did you have the time to get a Master’s degree!?

When I started it I was on Desperate Housewives and we were the #1 show in the world, and I was going to night school… it was crazy. It stressed me out, overwhelmed me, and I didn’t want the news to get to the press in case I didn’t finish. I was just taking classes, but the press found out and I was like, “Great, now I have to finish!” (laughs)

So were you in a private class or being taught with other students?

Yeah I was with other students, but they were graduate courses so they were smaller classes. I was with all these 22 year-olds who were way smarter than me! I’m sure people thought I would be the intimidating one, like a big star coming in, but it was the other way around. I walked in and they were like, “So, the Oedipus theory is applicable to…” and I was like, “Wait? I’m sorry…what is that…?” (laughs)

You know, it is so interesting what your intuition can pull you towards, like when I saw you give your speech at the DNC which was so eloquent and so articulate and smart and thought-provoking and it makes sense because all of those things that you spoke about were so powerful not just to the Latino community but to minorities in general. As an Asian-American, I felt that it connected us all whether going through those experiences or not.

I loved that time of my life because Desperate Housewives had ended and I was focusing all of my time on getting Obama re-elected, and so I spent eight months on the road with him and the campaign. People don’t realize how hard it is to be President because the states are all so different. We are so lucky to live in such a diverse country, but to unite all of those states is such a challenge because of our different needs and values. Just to travel the country and listen to all of these people was such a lesson in and of itself. I encourage it on a global level to reach across our state and country borders to learn about each other. I wish everyone could do what I did and listen to the people and hear their differences, but yet realize that we are all Americans and have that commonality.

We are all human beings and we are all trying to do our best, but we live in a time where people are being specifically targeted. Specifically, the Latin community. When you spoke at the DNC you did not mince words on your stance on immigration, and now we are forced to deal with the attack on DACA, The Dreamers and deportation. It makes me wonder if you have any advice you would give to young people who may be facing this reality?

There are so many things we can do to help The Dreamers who are great citizens, have a lot to contribute, and have been contributing with no criminal history. There are many great organizations, and a lot of progress is done locally on a state level. I know this is a national topic that has been on the administration’s agenda for many many decades, but a lot of these rules, regulations, and policies are on a state level—so figuring out what you can do locally is very important.

What’s interesting to me is that you are so busy and are doing so many things but you are also a huge philanthropist and activist. We are in such an amazing time in our world right now with the Time’s Up Movement and women’s rights being up front and center. What do you think is next for gender equality, and how do we keep pushing forward so justice continues on for future generations?

I think that’s it. We have to keep putting on pressure. There’s the private sector and the public sector, and in the private sector you can hold people accountable and create change in your industry. We started the Time’s Up movement in our industry, but it is not for actors, it is for all women in every industry to make sure men and women have a safe work environment. And something like that should be guaranteed and should be a no-brainer. Everyone should have a safe work environment. That’s when you should approach the problem through many aspects whether it is through legislation like equal pay, a pipeline for leadership from more women, and then there are just so many things we have to work for in the interest of gender equality. There are so many systematic barriers which have been ingrained, subconscious biases that people never see, and just getting our stories out and hearing women’s side is game-changing.

Allowing other people to tell their story and listen and be outraged, and whether you love this person or this actor, it doesn’t matter. People that you love can have dark and disappointing sides, and the line needs to be drawn.

Out of all of the hats you wear—from acting, directing, producing, designing, philanthropy—which do you connect to the most and which gives you the most excitement?

Definitely my family and friends give me the most excitement. You would think it would be my job, but there are so many adventures, so many great things in our life that happen to us, and if you can’t share that with your family and friends then none of it matters!

 

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Hair by Ken Paves, Makeup by Elan Bongiorno @ Rouge Artists using Tatcha, BTS Video by Lavoisier Clemente, Photo Assistant Amanda Yanez, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Special Thanks to Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, Christina Vu, Kendal Hurley of Ballantines PR, Liza Anderson and Whitney Peterson of Anderson Group PR, Marcel Pariseau of True PR

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.


Jacket by Michael Kors Collection, Jewelry by Marc Jacobs, Stay-Up by Wolford

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!


Jumpsuit by Dundas, Boa by Helmut Lang, Earring by Erickson Beamon, Shoes by Aquazzura

 


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!


Jacket, Bodysuit, and Skirt Vintage Gianni Versace at My Haute Wardrobe, Tights by Wolford, Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Hair by Tym Wallace @ Master Mind Artist Management, Makeup by Ashunta Sheriff @ The Montgomery Group for Ashunta Sheriff Beauty, Manicure by Honey @ Exposure NY using Debrorah Lippman, BTS Video DP Francis Chen, Photography Assistants Diego Bendezu and Casanova Cabrera, Stylist Assistant Clair Tang, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Special Thanks to The Plaza Hotel and Pamela Sharp of Sharp & Associates.

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
Michael Kors jacket and shirt

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.


COS trench coat and trousers, Jacob Holston shirt

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.


Banana Republic cardigan, Slow Build Heavy Grind shirt, Wings and Horns trouser

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.


Vilebrequin shirt, COS trousers, Hermès bracelet

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.


Ralph Lauren sweater

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.


3.1 Phillip Lim sweater, COS shorts, Michael Kors belt

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.


Michael Kors jacket and shirt

Grooming by Mira Chai Hyde at The Wall Group using Caudal Skincare Profound Beauty Hair
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.‡

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