DIGITAL COVER: TANNER REESE
Top, Short and Pant by Prada
Top, Short and Pant by Prada
Jacket by Dsquared2
Photography by: Emilio G Hernandez
Styling & Interview by: Marc Sifuentes
Creative Direction: Louis Liu
Grooming by: Benjamin Thigpen
Some might call it fate when an 11-year-old Diego Boneta won a televised singing competition with his rendition of a classic Luis Miguel hit song “La Chica del Bikini Azul”. Fast forward 20 years later, and Boneta is not only the star of the three season Netflix hit series Luis Miguel: The Series, but was an integral part in creating the series as Executive Producer to the project. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Boneta recreated and re-recorded some of Miguel’s top hits for the series, a nearly impossible task for those that understand the complexity of Miguel’s catalog of music.
Boneta spoke to Iris Covet Book about the time and preparation involved in playing the legendary crooner and the craft of perfecting a beloved real life character while still making it his own. Boneta also discusses the inspiration behind producing, starting his own production company, and his determination to open more doors for Latino actors.
Suit by TEDDY VONRANSON, Jewelry by Konstantino
The Luis Miguel series has been a huge hit for Netflix for three seasons, but I want to go back to the beginning and talk about your process preparing to play the role of this international superstar.
Of course. Well, when I got offered the part I knew the challenge it would entail because Luis Miguel is somebody who is still very relevant and more importantly still alive. Normally a show like this happens once the artist has passed away. I knew that there was only one way to do this right and that was to really take the preparation part seriously, even more seriously than the actual shooting. It was the first time that I worked on a movie that was a full transformative role and becoming someone else is very, very intense.
It’s me becoming someone else, and not only acting but also singing. I basically took a year to just work on that. I had a vocal coach, Ron Anderson, and then I had my acting coach, Juan Carlos Corazza, helping me on the acting front, and I was also an Executive Producer on the series! It’s the most demanding project I’ve ever been a part of.
Some people might not know that you originally are from a musical background ,you were in a singing competition show at eleven years old and starring opposite Tom Cruise in the movie musical Rock of Ages. Did you know that you would have to take on the responsibility of re-recording all of the songs in the series in your own voice?
I sat down with Jamie Foxx one day,I’ve been a big fan of his work and his Oscar winning performance in the movie Ray about Ray Charles, I think he absolutely crushed that movie, and what he told me was, “the key is to do everything.” You know, he told me if we recreate all the songs, don’t stop there. I needed to recreate the music videos, the album covers,even the prop pictures on the set had to be me. He was also the person to say I needed to sing in the series. You know, Luis Miguel has crazy pipes. He’s one of the best singers of all time. And I wanted to give it a shot. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it. Ron Anderson, who was the vocal coach of Rock of Ages, helped me try to replicate the sound of Luis Miguel. It was like learning how to sing again. Going from changing your vibrato, to seeing where you have to place your voice to sound closer to his tone, to how to pronounce his vowels, where he places each vowel. It was crazy, and that’s all I did for a year.
Full look by Thom Browne, Jewelry by Konstantino
If you didn’t have the musical background, do you think you would have taken on that challenge or is that part of your personality to push yourself out of your comfort zone?
I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it without having a musical background. Because Luis has one of those voices that, I mean, what that man can do with his voice is insane. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without having my 20 years of vocal training.
A key part of the success was having Kiko Cibrian, who produced a lot of Luis’ records, produce this soundtrack. All the songs were re-recorded, all the instruments were re-recorded. So I wasn’t just singing over recorded tracks. Kiko made sure we re-recorded every single song. A lot of those songs were written and recorded back in the 90’s by Kiko, so it was incredible to have him as the music producer for all three seasons of the soundtracks.
And what about Luis Miguel? Did he have any advice for you during the recording process?
Well, I met him before we started shooting. There’s actually a scene in season three that recreates when we met. He shared some very personal stories with me and he told me ‘this is just for you for no one else, use it for your interpretation’. We hung out a few more times and he got to listen to the songs. He was extremely nice and very supportive. After seeing the show he said, ‘Man, you killed it.’ Hearing that from the person that you’re playing, I don’t think you can get any better than that.
Full Look by Alexander McQueen
You prepared for this role for over a year, when did you feel that you had mastered the part?
I’d say whenever we started doing rehearsals in Mexico City, before we started shooting with the director. He’s really the one that found the tone for the show. In those rehearsals, in talking to him, going over the scenes and just playing with the script, that’s where we found it.
Just knowing and having that confidence that there was nothing else I could have done to prepare anymore. I had done my homework and no one knew the character better than I did. That gave me the freedom and the confidence to know that I was ready.
You also put in the work to be in a makeup chair for 4 to 6 hours a day getting your prosthetics on. What was that experience like?
That was a whole different ball game because it’s not just putting on the prosthetics and then boom you’re the part, you know? Studying him and being him for 33 years of his life, from 17 to 50 years old. Studying each of those stages of his life, changing the mannerisms and the way he spoke throughout his life.
The hardest part was trying to understand and imagine what life must have been like for him. The prosthetics consisted of six hours of makeup, wigs and body suits everyday to become that older Luis Miguel. The team behind it was amazing. Bill Corso is a two time Academy Award winning special effects makeup artist alongside Alfredo Moda, an amazing Mexican makeup artist.The fusion between both teams was a really cool experience, and they paid attention to the smallest details
Full Look by Zegna
This series is your first project as an Executive Producer, and I was reading that Mark Burnett called you and threw out the idea. Had the thought of being an EP ever occurred to you before this project? Is that a role you were interested in?
I worked with Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages and observed how he did business and how he manages his career in-between making movies. He was always working on the next thing and working through pre-production on another. I thought that’s what I wanted to do.
Mark Burnett and I worked together on a TV show called the Dovekeepers, back in 2014. And I told Mark I really wanted to get into producing. It’s not something that I want just to have a vanity credit. I actually wanted to learn all the in’s and out’s. So when Luis Miguel came around, he called me and said ‘I have the perfect project. There is no script but I know you’re very familiar with the music, with his life, with his story. Be a part of this production team and let’s do this together.’
Producing together was the best part of the learning experience. Fully learning before there is even any scripts, no actor, no one cast yet. Really shaping this project from the very beginning. That was the best part and I got a big satisfaction out of it.
Full look by Casablanca, Jewelry by Konstantino
So tell me more about your production company Three Amigos. What is your team’s vision?
We see it as a media company because of our focus on television, film, books, and broadcasts. We want to find projects that show Latinos in an uplifting light. We are so excited to team up with some of the best filmmakers in the industry. At the moment, we are working on a romantic comedy with Paramount called At Midnight, it’s something of a fusion between Hollywood and Mexico. Today, with more opportunities through streaming services, the business is realizing that people don’t really care as much about the language as they do about a relatable and interesting story. Spanish is a global language. There are a lot of hugely successful Spanish speaking shows watched all over the world and we are looking forward to being a major player in bringing quality content to a global audience.
Full Look by Dries Van Noten
There has always been a lack of representation in Hollywood for the Latin community, and a lot of the roles that were out there leaned towards a certain stereotype. Did you ever have to confront a time where there were roles being pitched to you that were not a good fit for you as a representative of the Latin community.
I think times have definitely changed from when I first moved to LA in 2007. There are more roles and better roles. But back then, yes, it was difficult to get good latino roles.
There are plenty of actors of different races out there that can play different nationalities, and so can we. So yes, I think things are better today. I think they’re moving in the right direction. There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of room to grow and improve and that’s why I’m so passionate about my production company Three Amigos, which is creating those vehicles for other actors as well.
Suit and Pant by Zegna, Jewelry by Konstantino
Dress – Paco Rabanne
Styling by Marc Sifuentes
Interview by Evan Ross Katz
Melissa Barrera, one of the leads on Starz’s Vida and the upcoming film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, opens up about her journey to success and prioritizing her Latin roots within and outside of her work.
Dress, Belt and Boots by Versace
“It feels like so much more than an acting job,” Melissa Barrera says of her starring role on Starz’s hit series Vida. “I feel like it was a gift that I was given.” Barrera stars as Lyn Hernandez on the series which was recently renewed for a third season. “Barrera’s performance in particular blooms with searing clarity,” Vox wrote. The Hollywood Reporter called Barrera’s performance “absurdly funny.” The A.V. Club called the actress “a force to be reckoned with.”
“It’s important to see Latin stories out there and to see the dreams that our people have and how hard we work. There’s more to us than just the negative things you see in the media or what certain people want to say about Latinx people.” But it’s not just Barrera’s work on Vida. Whether her upcoming role in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical In the Heights, her time on popular telenovelas like Siempre Tuya Acapulco and Tanto Amor or in regional theater productions in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, much of the conversation with Barrera seems to circle back to her Mexican roots—and it’s no coincidence.
“I’m Mexican. I’m fully Mexican. I was born and raised in Mexico and now I happen to work in the United States. And I am proud to be a part of this Latinx wave of shows and films that are finally starting to get made and people that have never seen themselves represented on screen are finally getting to see themselves and I get to be a part of it. So I feel that it is important to wear my identity on my sleeve and be one of the faces of this movement and help people see themselves because a lot of people have felt erased in their stories or their stories are never told. I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine to be a voice for those people who have not had one for so long. And I want to.”
Dress by Off-White
It’s this passion that emanates from Barrera, who thinks long and hard before responding to questions, constantly aware of the possibilities and pitfalls of a first impression and desiring to represent both herself and her roots with pride. This, according to her friends that I spoke with, is the Melissa they’ve always known.
Though acting and singing seemed like the natural trajectory from an early age, Barrera did not limit her possibilities. “There was a point where I wanted to be a doctor,” she says, adding that architecture, interior design, even biomedical engineering were all career aspirations at various times. “I even at one point wanted to be a secret agent. I’ve wanted to be so many different things throughout my life. But that’s the thing about being an actor, you get to be everything.”
She started auditioning for local regional productions in high school and was quickly cast in a musical version of Romeo and Juliet in Monterrey. That was her first taste of the rigor of the theater: working six days a week, with two-shows a day often the norm. It didn’t dissuade her, only making her hungry for more. She furthered her education attending New York University to study theater. She left New York University’s prestigious CAP21 musical theater program two years in after making it into the top 20 on La Academia, a popular Mexican competition reality series that catapulted her star meter.
“That show definitely prepared me for the industry. It was a very difficult experience because it brought all my insecurities to the surface. It made me doubt if I had what it took to be in this business. It made me fight for it really hard. I’m very grateful I had that experience, even though sometimes I have PTSD about it. Whenever I have to sing in public I get stage fright and I never feel good enough because of all of the harsh judgments I had while I was on that show.” But she’s careful to stress the positives that came from it, like learning to fight for her dream. It’s also the place where she met her future husband, musician Paco Zazueta.
Dress by Georgine
That show proved a career springboard, landing her roles in a number of popular telenovelas. “I’ve always felt that telenovelas, especially in Mexico, are looked down upon as a genre….but I personally love them,” she says, describing the rigor of the production process as boot camp. “It’s literally shooting 30 scenes a day, one after the other, and it forces you to go through a crazy rollercoaster of emotions, more so than anything else I’ve ever done. I think because of that school of telenovela, it made everything that’s come after much easier for me.”
And thankfully, the “everything” that has come after has been plentiful, from Vida to a recently-announced contemporary reimagining of the opera Carmen opposite Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan, to the upcoming In the Heights, a role Barrera has been eyeing for over a decade before she was cast. “I remember going to see it on Broadway at least ten times. I remember the first time that I saw it, what I felt, it was as though my heart was going to explode with pride and hope. All my dreams of being on Broadway after seeing that show just felt so much more tangible.” From there, she set out to be casted, attending open calls for the show, but never quite landing a spot…until now, nearly a dozen years after the show’s first bow on the Great White Way.
Dress by Tom Ford
“It’s going to be very different from the stage version,” she says of the movie, set for release next summer. “It’s been updated to reflect the situation of immigrants today, so it has appropriately been adapted to take place in 2020.” For Barrera, it’s about leveling out the audience with the content, noting the disparity between Latinx content consumption and shows casting Latinx actors, created by Latinx people and/or telling Latinx stories. To that end, Barrera says she hopes to begin producing her own work down the line. “Because [Vida creator] Tanya [Saracho] gave opportunities to people like me, I’m going to make sure that I follow in her footsteps.”
And with that, Barrera is back to set to shoot the final week of filming In The Heights. Though she’s not filming any scenes on this particular day, she says she just wants to be around it all, near the cast, watching the process unfold around her. Like much of the pride Barrera so often spoke about, it’s not necessarily about her, but about who she can be to and for those who come after her.
Dress by Victoria Hayes
Interview from Issue 12 of IRIS COVET BOOK available in stores and online by clicking —> HERE!
Fashion Editor/Interview: Marc Sifuentes
Photo Assistants: Ben Kasun, Jai Castillo
Location: The Stonewall Inn
A sharp tongue, quick wit, and great timing have often been the ingredients necessary to make a movie star, but the ability to spin those talents into a career of longevity and diversity are far rarer.
Born and raised in Houston, TX, Jim Parsons followed a winding path of community theater, small gigs, and part-time commercial acting until his break-out role as Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”. While many actors struggle to break free of such well-known characters, Parsons’ talent and industry acumen have helped produce a portfolio that includes a starring role and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Ryan Murphy’s “Hollywood”, an independent production company with his husband, Todd Spiewak, and numerous accolades for his role in Netflix’s The Boys in the Band.
In an interview with the multi-hyphenate, we got a look into the road map that turned Parsons into the well-known and well-accoladed actor and producer he is today. With us, Jim explores a perspective shift of a young man interested in community theater in Houston to an artist trying to make ends meet in New York, the untimely death of a father that inspired a new chapter in his career, and wrestling with his identity as a gay man in a world just starting to normalize his identity.
Parson’s outlook, unique in its optimism and trust in himself, is ultimately infectious and inspiring. From coping with personal tragedy to starting a new chapter in life, Jim Parsons has always tried “not to grasp the sand too hard and just let things happen,” and it seems to have worked so far.
Suit, sweater and shirt by Gucci
When you were growing up in Houston and you became inspired to get into the world of the arts, was it always in the form of theatre that you were drawn to?
Yes, it was immediately. I knew that I wanted to be an actor. My mother had these children’s books “What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?” type of books, and for years I would say I wanted to be a movie star. I don’t know what I meant by that, and I don’t know what triggered it. I know I was in a play in first grade which obviously made a big impact. But I don’t actually remember that being the turning point.
I will say that my love of theatre is just a fortunate act of circumstance. We had plays in our school, and I did them, but that was the only outlet I had for acting as a youngster growing up in Houston. It’s not like my parents were getting me into auditions for local movies or anything, we didn’t even know how to do such a thing.
Houston has an incredible art scene. But, growing up there, I wasn’t exposed to the arts until I was in high school. I worked as an usher when I was around sixteen for the big theatre spaces in downtown like Jones Hall, The Wortham or the Alley Theatre. So, I think it’s interesting to hear when you became aware of these outlets particularly the more underground ones, like the now-defunct independent theater company, Infernal Bridegroom Productions?
I honestly wasn’t very motivated during my junior and senior years before going into college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I wanted to get into. I mean acting seemed very risky and luckily my parents were never discouraging to me, but they weren’t people who came from a situation where acting was even an option. Like they wouldn’t have pushed me in that direction either. So, my first year at the University of Houston I personally didn’t do theater, but I was around people who were doing it. And by the end of my first year, I felt very strongly that I needed to give it a shot. There was nothing else in my life going on. It’s kind of like when people always ask you if there is anything else you can do. I felt at that point in time there really wasn’t anything calling me. Everything else sounded like I was just settling.
What were you going to college for at the time?
I don’t know what it’s called anymore. Something in the communications department like radio and television. I guess I thought that maybe I would go into broadcast, like a weatherman or something. But looking back, it was naïve that I didn’t realize that you needed to major in journalism, or you needed to major in meteorology you know, and the on-camera stuff would be obviously secondary to that.
Infernal Bridegroom came from eventually being in theatre at the University of Houston I was brought to them by another classmate that was already involved. I had been doing some college shows and I was really having a great time, but I found the idea of doing things out of the scholastic environment, with a different group of people and surroundings, really exciting.
IRIS: Looking back now, what advice would you give to young actors that are just starting out. Do you think it still stands true today to say yes to everything? Which in your case, also meant working for free a lot of the times?
Yes, I do firmly believe that saying yes to as many things as you can is really the key. It’s easier said than done because the hard part is making sure you find the right people or situations that have opportunities to offer.
Just like any other job, there’s only so much you can teach, only so much you can theorize about. But when you’re acting on a stage with lights on you and people staring at you, there’s no substitute for getting used to that unless you are doing it. So much of it is about building confidence. That’s what it was about for me. And then, of course, if you want to make a career out of it, there does come a point in time where you have to decide I’m no longer working for free. I don’t remember ever saying I’m not going to work for free anymore that never happened for me. Hell, I’d still work for free depending on what the project was.
Suit and Shirt by Canali
IRIS: What was the main motivating factor that pushed you out of Houston and to New York?
I remember I was really getting to do a lot of work in Houston, and I was very happy with it in many ways, but there was a practical side of me that was like, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this,” since at the time there were so few people that were able to make a living off acting in Houston. So I kind of felt strongly that it was New York or LA.
I went to grad school and did a showcase in New York, and I knew a couple of people living here already. So a friend let me live with him, and it just kind of made sense. It’s funny going over any of this with you just how much scarier it sounds to me looking back than it did at the time. It felt like I didn’t really have much of a choice at the time. I felt this is just what I needed to do, this is what I am going to do. But looking back, I know all these things fell into place, all the fortunate things that happened or people I met. It’s now so easy to see the thread being pulled and things completely changing for me. So that’s the advice I would give a young actor – let your ignorance be your bliss and keep going.
IRIS: I read that you were doing some commercial work and then you ended up with a contract with CBS. So then would you say that your first big break was the “Big Bang Theory?”
Yes and no. It was definitely the big break in the obvious way of a lot of people seeing the show and being a consistent, well-paid acting job, but honestly it was the little things that came together. It was the commercials, the off-Broadway plays. They weren’t things that a lot of people were seeing, and they weren’t providing enough of a stable income, but I met great people. Again, it goes back to building the confidence. It felt like I was on the right journey and that was crucial for me. I think it’s so hard to wonder when or if anything is going to happen, and it is these little paths along the way that kind of give you a tiny little shove. They all add up. When I did get the audition for “Big Bang” I felt it was the appropriate time. I didn’t know if I was going to get it, but I didn’t feel like I was unworthy. I felt like, “I’m here and I’ve been working and I’m trying to get things going.” And so that’s what I would say about the big break. It was all the tiny little ones before that.
IRIS: I was thinking about being a lead in a successful show like Big Bang, which is in syndication and can be seen anywhere in the world on any given day. Did you ever feel you might want to break away from being Sheldon for fear of being typecast?
What I realize now, as far as typecasting goes, is if that if they want to typecast you, there’s really not a lot you can do to stop them. I was fortunate enough to find a few people who are interested in working with me on other things and taking a journey on projects outside my realm. That’s where I’ve been very fortunate, and I feel so very grateful.
I never would have wanted to stop playing Sheldon because of the association with him or the show, or for fear of being typecast. I knew it was the end of the line for me, not because I didn’t want to do it anymore, but because I felt it had run its course. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I can’t imagine something I could list that I’m more grateful for than that entire experience. But twelve years was a long time for me to play a fairly intense character. He’s a big personality, you know? I was going to be 47 when those twelve years ended, and my dad had died when he was 52, and that just gave me a very unique perspective. I said to myself, “you know what? What if you’ve only got six years left to live?” And looking at it like that, there’s other things that I need to get done.
Suit and Shirt by Berluti, Shoes by Gucci
IRIS: Which brings us to your latest venture as the head of your own production company. It has already produced some pretty successful shows for Netflix, HBO and Fox. How did you start this new foray into producing?
I did not know if I wanted to do it at first. I did not know exactly what it meant to do it. I am still five years into this and still learning what it means to do it. But I did feel it was a real gift, and I wasn’t afraid of failing at it. I felt that no one was going to care if I succeeded at it or not, but if we have this opportunity we should take it. I use the word ‘we’ because my deal is very specifically both mine and my husband Todd’s. I would not have done it without him. I knew that for sure and if anything, I’ve only learned that to a greater and greater degree as this has gone on. Todd wasn’t in the business until he met me. He sees things much differently than I do. When we’re looking at something at the production company, I can see his brain work differently, receiving information about shows or scripts or whatever. He’s very good at dealing with all the different personalities involved, I’m really not, and that’s been one of the main reasons this has been a successful venture so far.
IRIS: Speaking of your husband Todd, I was watching an interview where you were talking about you two meeting on a blind date nearly nineteen years ago and I was curious, when did you know that he was the one? Was it love at first sight?
No, but I did know very soon. I won’t say that night only because I was always a little too stable for thoughts like that. He would argue with me on that one. I would say within a couple of weeks after the first blind date almost nineteen years ago, I knew that this was very much worth pursuing, and I knew that I thought he was very special. You know, we met November 15th, and by the end of December I had basically moved into his apartment. It was really the most romantic time of my whole life. I’ll never forget he took off a week from work for the holidays in December and I had never had so much fun as running around New York with him. I remember going to the coin cashing machine at the supermarket on New Year’s Eve, and he had two pillowcases full of loose change that we dumped into the machine, and that’s what we used to go out that night. I remember we got pizza and bought alcohol. I don’t know, everything was just through rose-colored glasses that’s for sure. We just had our 18th anniversary together.
We got married in 2018. But you know back in 2002 when we met, gay marriage was barely a thing. It wasn’t legal yet. It was a long evolutionary process for me to care about getting married, it really was. It took me a long time to realize that, not having seen examples of gay marriage, I had lived so much of my life without that dream. It was part of the reason it became important for me to do it. I really wanted our relationship to contribute to the visibility of gay marriage and help people have that dream too, if that’s what they want.
IRIS: I want to make sure we talk about “The Boys in The Band.” The Broadway production was such a big hit, I’m curious, what did you have to do mentally to creatively switch between the stage to the screen?
Before we were actually working on the movie, I was kind of overly anxious about it. I had such a profound summer working on that play. A huge part of it was just that I love playing that role, I loved getting to be in that play and I really loved getting to work with a group of all gay actors, director, writer and producer. I think it was just a gay extravaganza.
I always think of my first times, and I imagine a lot of gay people do depending on where you grew up and when you grew up, like the first few times you walk into a gay bar and you immediately feel like, “Oh, I don’t have to hide anything here.” Only when you feel that do you realize the depths to which you’ve been hiding certain things just to get along and to get by. I hope a lot of that has changed by now. I think that is why I was all the more surprised at how powerful working with all of these gay actors was. There’s a language spoken in shared experiences. So, I’m only telling this because all of that made me very anxious to work on the movie because it had been such a wonderful experience as a play, I was worried we might mar the production.
We were very fortunate that we only had to do a few days of rehearsal because we had all done the play not long ago. We all knew this stuff and it quickly became clear within a day that it was going to be great. It was thrilling. I felt myself relax more and more, knowing I can do these lines a million different ways and calibrate it or just completely change it. I would give them options.
On Broadway, the actors are utterly responsible for getting the story told and it does affect me. The number of risks I’m willing to take, the number of things I’m willing to try in the spur of the moment. It’s calibrated because I can’t risk the point not getting made. But with the movie I thought there is so much freedom to be explored here because the director and the editor have to put this shit together at the end. I can do eight completely different takes of a single scene and then they can pick and choose, and they will tell the story. But I can take some of that responsibility off my shoulders. I knew that we could all trust ourselves because we knew the story that had to be told.
Suit and Shirt by Alexander McQueen
IRIS: I watched The Boys in the Band the day it came out on Netflix and still remember one of the final scenes where you’re about to walk out the door, talking about the loss of your father. It was such a strong scene. Did the memory of your father ever come into play during that scene?
Yes, I feel like my father affects all of my work in all ways. So, when it’s specific like it was there and it’s a character who also has lost their father then yes, I do think it is more obvious in my head. But I really do think about him everyday, and not in a sorrowful way. And not always even just celebratory either. I don’t know. I feel his presence, I firmly believe that. I always have, from the moment he was taken from us I felt that he was with us and always would be. I have never veered from that or doubted that. There can be a real gift to these tragedies if you’re able to appreciate your life more with these beings that are no longer.
IRIS: Do you think you get your dry sense of comedic timing from your mom or your dad.
My dad. No that’s not fair, I shouldn’t say that so quickly my mom would be insulted. She is very funny because she was a teacher. She was the talker; she was the more showman of the two of them. He was a quiet one. He had a very dry sense of humor. He had really good sense of timing. He knew when to throw in commentary, as it were. He knew when to throw in his one liner. I definitely didn’t appreciate it at the time. I mean some of it was dad humor, but it was being applied, I see now, very skillfully.
It’s interesting the older you get, especially when a parent is gone, you are able to see them as human and not the parental figure. I found it really frees me to get a clearer view of him which is another blessing of the tragedy.
IRIS: You did mention earlier you’re about to start a new movie.
Hopefully! Everything’s crazy now, as you can imagine, but a couple of years ago we had optioned a book called “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words” by Michael Ausiello. I was on vacation when I read it. I don’t know if I really intended on crying so much during the vacation. And then Todd read it and reacted similarly to me, but he was the one to have the idea of optioning it for our production company and for me to star in the movie. I said I didn’t think that was a good idea. I thought it was a great book, but I wasn’t wanting to go through that heartbreaking experience. But the more I thought about it, I knew he was absolutely right; it is rare that I read anything that affects me at this level. So, we did option it, and it came out in the trades or whatever. We thew around director names, and one of the top dream names was Michael Showalter. We felt that he would be such a good fit for he clearly knows comedy and he clearly knows good entertainment. He has this grounded foundation of human connectivity. Anyway, the news came out that we had the option and, lo and behold, he contacted us. I couldn’t believe it came true!
Jacket and Suit by Salvatore Ferragamo
IRIS: You have been lucky to have had a lot of great things fall into place it seems.
The universal system is always that fine balance between striving and letting go, and it can be hard when it’s important to you. I remember being in an acting class towards the end of graduate school, a class about auditioning, what it means, the practicalities. It wasn’t the most interesting acting class, but it was the most harrowing and stomach-turning class. I remember the teacher telling me the whole career of an actor is like trying to hold sand. If you squeeze too hard, you lose it. You lose a lot of it. It was such a good example and I always remember it because it bears repeating time and time again.
It’s true for love and dating too. You have to both try to not grasp the sand too hard and just let things happen. There is only so much you can do. Now why did you get me started on this?
IRIS: I’m going to start thinking of opportunities using that metaphor. See? You’re already helping me cope!
Well, that’s what I’m here for. I’m glad I can help the people!
Suit and Shirt by Teddy VonRanson
Photographer: Greg Swales
Stylist: Marc Sifuentes
Jacket, Shirt & Jeans by Linder
Boots by Teddy VonRanson
Jacket, Jeans & Boots – Teddy VonRanson
Shirt by Linder
Trench and Shirt by Teddy VonRanson
Linen Union Suit by The Salting
Shirt and Pant by LaQuan Smith
Sweater by LaQuan Smith
Shirt and Pants by LaQuan Smith
Jacket and Jean by Linder
Dress and Coat by Versace
Photographers: Fionayeduardo @fionayeduardo
Art Direction: Louis Liu @herecomeslouis
Styling: Marc Sifuentes @marc.sifuentes
Hair: Austin Burns @austinkburns
Make-up: Agus Suga @Agus Suga
Production Assistant: Benjamin Price @benprice4real
Location: Colony Studios @colonystudios
Interview by Regina Moretto
Top by Marc Jacobs
Hunger Games alum Willow Shields deftly navigates her acting career with the confident beauty and grace of an ice skater.
The beguiling illusion of easy jumps and spins requires many hours of handwork and tenacity; quite similar to the dedication, preparation and training expected of an actor, which makes watching this young star transcend new roles all the more intriguing. Starting out with a box office smash at the early age of 12, surrounded by the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the precedent was set for Shield’s strong work ethic which helps drive her blossoming career.
We sat down with Shields amidst her busy schedule to talk about her latest project; Netflix series Spinning Out. Spinning Out, created by Samantha Stratton, is a series based on a figure skating Olympic hopeful struggling to balance her dreams of competition and the state of her family’s battle with mental health all while her dream of winning takes a dizzying hold. Never one to remain idle for too long, Shields shared with us a few additional projects her fans can look forward to seeing her in soon.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I started acting when I was about seven but working on my first big film and experiencing the creativity and tight knit community involved in the acting world was when I knew I would love this job.
What was your first big break into entertainment?
I did an episode of a show called In Plain Site when I was about eight and that was my first experience on set. But I guess my big break into entertainment was two years later when I did the first Hunger Games film.
Fans know you from your role as Primrose Everdeen in The Hunger Games, can you tell us the best part of working on these films?
I truly feel like I learned so much from working on these films. I grew up on set for five years learning from the most brilliant actors from Jennifer Lawrence, to Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and so many more but aside from being able to watch and learn from them everyday I was also able to witness other brilliance from the technical side of filmmaking watching our director Francis Lawrence working. I feel like after those films I had more of an understanding about filmmaking and every detail that goes into making a great film.
Being cast in Hunger Games at age 12 and being surrounded by a cast of seasoned actors, what are the most important lesson you learned on set with this crew?
To work hard, show up on time but to also give yourself room to be creative and have fun at the same time.
Do you have any funny or memorable Hunger Games stories you could share?
We had so many cast members as a part of our whole series that there was always so many fun stories being told everyday on set. When you’re in a room with Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson, you know you’re gonna be laughing all day with those two.
Jacket by Zadig & Voltaire
Tell us about your new Netflix series Spinning Out and how did you land the central role as Serena Baker?
Spinning Out was a very exciting project for me after reading the script. The story elements are something I’d never seen in a show before and it deals with a lot of pivotal emotional and physical stories that I feel need to be seen.
I fell in love with the character of Serena because she feels like a real teenage girl who’s very complicated. She has a very unusual home life and deals with a lot of emotional ups and downs between her family life and her time in competitive figure skating. It felt like a bit of a dream come true to play a figure skater as well.
Your character is training for ice-skating competitions, did you have any formal training in your past?
I did not. I came into this show with zero ice skating abilities but I trained for about two months everyday prior to filming the show. My goal was not only to be able to do as much of my own skating as possible but also experience what it was like to train that hard everyday. I came home black and blue all over my body from falling everyday but it helped me understand my character Serena and how figure skaters train.
The show brought on Sarah Kawahara, a former figure skater and Emmy winning choreographer who has worked on “Blades of Glory” and “I, Tonya”…what was it like to work with Sarah on this series?
Sarah is phenomenal. We were all so excited to work with someone so brilliant in this specific field. She helped us train in Toronto and choreographed all of our routines. The coolest thing about Sarah is she was right there with us on set when we filmed these scenes so any detail that was off she was able to help us fix in order to pull off all of the intense skating involved in our story.
Did you have any difficulties learning to ice skate or learning the choreography for the series and how did you work through these challenges?
It’s definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I trained for hours everyday and was so determined to learn as much as I could. But one of the most challenging things I did was for the final episode of the show I did a portion of my routine in front of an actual crowd of about five hundred extras so it really felt like a performance for me. Which is both stressful and exciting.
In what way is the character you play in this project different from the roles you’ve played in the past?
Her athleticism is unlike any character I’ve played in the past so that’s very different for me. But just like any young woman she’s full of so much life, emotion, drive, and confusion in her teenage life so those were similarities that I’ve seen in characters I’ve played in the past.
The series seems to focus on mental health. What steps did you take to ensure your role was true to her character when handling her mother and sisters disorders?
My first step was to allow room for Kaya and January (my sister and mom in the show) to dive into those emotions and have room to experience that. I tried everyday to approach playing Serena in a very honest way, I thought through a lot of what she would go through on a daily basis living with her mom and sister who are both bi polar and how hard that truly is for a young woman who is struggling herself with things. But at the end of the day they love each other more than anyone and that was most important to portray.
Top and Skirt by Marc Jacobs
How have your fans reacted to your role in Spinning Out?
They are so excited! It feels great to have fans that follow and appreciate any project I’m a part of.
Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects When Time Got Louder and A Fall From Grace?
I am currently filming When Time Got Louder in Vancouver and it’s been an incredible experience. Our story is complex and raw following my character Abbie and her family including her brother Kayden who has non verbal autism. Abbie leaves home to go to school and falls in love with a girl named Karly while at college but struggles with being away from Kayden after being there for him his whole life.
Do you have any other projects coming down the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Nothing I can talk about yet haha
Do you have a daily mantra?
Just to be open minded and open to learning from your accomplishments and mistakes throughout everyday.
Photographer: Emma Craft @emmacraft
Stylist: Angel Emmanuel @angelemmanuel
Photo Assistant: Michael Decristofaro @m.decristo
Editor in Chief: Marc Sifuentes @marc.sifuentes
Creative Director: Louis Liu @herecomeslouis
Interview by: Dustin Mansyur @dmansyur
With his fringed masks, rhinestone suits, and shoegazing lyricism, Orville Peck is every bit the part of “lonesome outlaw”. Reimagining tropes of tradition, Peck’s take on country music reinvents the genre as a decorated landscape ready for queer expression.
Orville Peck is a nomad. Like a cowboy on a cattle drive, home is an elusive feeling; the masked musician who’s been described as every imaginable synonym for “enigma” feels happiest hanging his hat just off the highway in a roadside motel. The open road is a part of his DNA, having traversed and inhabited several continents, countries, and cities as a boy. His incessancy for wanderlust belies a romantic narrative spun in the stories of his songs, lulling his listeners on a quixotic journey through a memoryscape evocative of another time and place.
Releasing Pony in March earlier this year, Peck’s sincere approach to his storytelling and lyricism is reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Patsy Cline, intimate and unadulterated. His vocals are as hypnotic and coaxing as a desert oasis on Route 190 through Death Valley. Somewhere between the inexplicable pain of loss resides the unparalleled elation of love and lust. It is the proverbial longhorn skull and rose motif. As a queer artist who croons about gay hustlers or doomed love affairs, his sincerity is the foundation for his music’s transcendency, appealing to longtime country music fans while attracting a younger, more diverse audience to the genre. In an era demanding the commodity of content, Peck deciphers himself apart from the formulaic clout of music industry contemporaries through his visceral ability to be truthful. It is this vulnerability that cannot be faked nor bought, and an even rarer quality for a performer as sensitive as Peck, fearlessly weaving the stories of his experiences and muses into the embroidery of his album; Pony is forthcoming and unapologetic. While the illusion of his shrouded pageantry may have him pegged as the “musical outlaw”, coupled with the intimacy of his music, it creates a contrasting dichotomy that is equal parts mystifying and infatuating.
Ready to saddle up and lead a cavalry of change in the country music industry, IRIS Covet Book shares a conversation with the artist just before he embarked on the European leg of his tour.
Listening to your album, really took me back to my experience as a gay person of color who grew up in the rural Midwest on country music, struggling to find acceptance in the 500-person town I was raised in. Because of your music’s authenticity, one might easily assume you had a similar experience. Where are you from and what was your experience like growing up?
I mean I grew up in a bunch of different places, by the time I was in my early twenties I reckon 5 different countries and many many cities. I’ve lived in Africa, in Canada, in the States, and in Europe—so I moved around a lot. My parents were both from kind of humble beginnings and whenever they did kind of have any money they would put the emphasis on traveling and getting to go and experience new places and cultures. So I think I grew up with a pretty diverse view of the world, in general, but especially in music and art. And I think country music always connected with me because, not only did I love the instrumentation and the themes, but I also related to the environment that it’s set in. I was born and grew up in a desert area, so there were obvious connections to it. As a young gay weirdo, I was really drawn towards the campness of it, the bold storytelling, the theatrical nature of it, which also ran kind of congruent with a lot of sincerity, heartbreak and loneliness which are all kinds of things that I felt and I still carry around with me now.
It’s funny because country music has this stigma surrounding it that it’s supposed to be for well-adjusted conservative, aggressive, white men. It’s sad because like you said yourself, a lot of queer people of color or marginalized people that grow up in small towns feel outside of country music. But the stories within country music—even going back to artists like Patsy Cline—I think those stories speak clearly to people like us. I think also that’s why it’s so obvious that someone like Dolly Parton is such an icon for gay people because she’s someone that had to blaze her own trail and really really convince people to listen to her by dressing provocatively and wearing crazy wigs and essentially being, you know, like a drag queen. But, she could also write some of the most heartbreaking gut wrenching songs of our whole civilization. I think country music has always been written by outsiders and it’s always been for outsiders. I hope to help to break that stigma down because it’s not supposed to be only for white men in trucks or whatever.
How did you break into the music industry; was it something you always imagined you’d be doing?
I was a performer since I was about 10 years old. I started with acting and I was a dancer for a long time and I’ve always been a singer. There were always instruments around my house, I never had formal lessons but I taught myself how to play guitar and piano. I think I just always knew that I was going to be a performer in some way. I’ve been in a bunch of different types of bands all through my twenties, but I knew that I always wanted to make country music and I always wanted to really sing and I never had the confidence to do it for a long time. Then I took a break from music for about 6 years at one point and then when I came back to it I knew I wanted to do country music because it had always been in the back of my mind.
You’ve toured extensively with punk rock bands. Do you find a correlation between the genres and your approach?
Definitely, there’s a similar rebellion, of course. I think there’s a similar aesthetic in some ways. The punk that I grew up loving was early seventies kind of punk. Those people all had pseudonyms; they all had costumes that they wore. You know they spent more time on hair and makeup than most musicians probably do now. So I think that there’s a lot of correlations between country music which is essentially pageantry and drama mixed with vulturous sincerity and heartbreak and I think that that’s kind of what punk is too.
Returning to country music, did it feel like you were returning to your roots in a way?
What I do now feels so easy in a way because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s the easiest thing to just be yourself. The best qualities about you are the most sincere ones. Of course, I still struggle with insecurities about it and I have self-doubts, but the older I’ve gotten, it’s become easier for me. Even though I’ve been a performer for so long and been doing it as a job for a long time, I think this time I can really sit back and enjoy it for the first time because it’s become fun and easy to be myself.
You’re about to embark on your European Tour for “Pony”. You’ve described yourself as a “born drifter”, which kind of furthers the romanticism of your musical canon and persona. What is it about the open road or a nomadic lifestyle that calls you?
I’ve just always felt anxious. As I’ve said, I moved around a lot when I was younger, so I think the idea of moving to new places and kind of making your home wherever you are—that’s always just been part of me I suppose. I find it very hard to put roots down. Oftentimes I’ve tried to stay in cities for long periods of time and I’ve always kind of gotten anxious and not really known where my place is. Part of what appeals to me now is that I’ve learned to really find the adventure in it and not look at it as a downside. When people ask me where I’m from and I say lots of places, it’s not to be obtuse or enigmatic, it’s just because I genuinely feel like I have left little pieces of myself in all these different places that I’ve lived. That to me is so special because I can go back to those cities and feel like I’m right back at home in a way that I’ve gotten to meet incredible friends and family all over the world. So I think those are things that appeal to me about it. I’m just someone that’s never been able to sit still.
Do you feel most at home when you’re on tour?
Yes, I do. I definitely feel most comfortable. When I’m stuck in one city and I have a lot to do like I am right now— I’m about to leave in two days again for tour—but I tend to have the most anxiety and stress when I’m stuck in one place. I do feel at home on tour; I just feel at home when I’m traveling.
What is your song-writing process? How often do you write? Is it an ongoing discipline or something you do only when you apportion studio time for it?
I’m kind of writing all the time. It’s all different. Sometimes it’s an idea just based around a concept for a song. Sometimes it’s based around a melody that I have in my head. Other times it’s based around one lyric or a line that I want to try to incorporate. Oftentimes I start from more of a visual or kind of an emotive place where I know what kind of vibe I want the song to be or what emotion I want to evoke for the person listening to it. Then I go from there by making it personal to me and hopefully telling a good story at the same time.
Pony was released in March earlier this year and received with splashy critical praise as well as excitement from your fans who’ve been waiting for it since your single release of “Dead of Night” in 2017. What are you most proud of about the album, and can you share any personal anecdotes from the recording process?
What I’m most proud about and just generally about the past year is that I’ve been able to express myself as an artist. That includes collaborating with people, which is something I never used to be very good at doing. I’ve learned in the past year to really embrace that. And I find it really fun and exciting now being able to work with people on videos, visuals, aesthetics, stylists… as an artist I think it’s really important. Then in addition to that, getting to do what I’ve wanted to do since I was little, which is to be a singer and really sing, and sing about heartache and things that are important to me and things that are sometimes difficult for me to sing about. I think the bonus of that is everyone enjoying it; it’s more than you could ask for and I find it very fulfilling.
I’m curious if you ever struggled with proclaiming yourself as a gay artist right from the start or did you ever feel that you would embark on your career and let it come out naturally? How important is it to your brand?
I’ve never struggled with it. I think it’s important to me and it’s also not important at all in a way. As an artist, if I’m going to write songs with any kind of authenticity they’re going to have to be from my perspective and my experiences. And my perspective and my experiences happen to be of someone who has been with men. To me it’s kind of a non topic in a sense, but not because I’m dismissive of it, but because to me I’m just following in the footsteps of every other singer and songwriter who sang about the people they were with and sang about their problems. I just feel like I’m being genuine to myself so of course it’s going to be about men if that’s who I’ve been with. So I think on one hand it’s a huge part of who I am, what I do, and what I sing about. I’m completely proud and open about being gay and being part of that community, but I also think it could hold just as much weight if it wasn’t my background either.
What has been your greatest internal or professional challenge that you’ve had to overcome as an artist thus far?
My biggest challenge I guess has been trusting and really believing in myself I guess, which is something I learned through the help of other people a lot more in the past couple of years. I always was a creative child. I knew what I always wanted to do; I knew that I could write songs and I knew I could perform and make people smile and clap. But I think I still had a lot of barriers and defenses up,and in some ways I still do. I just never had much opportunity to really collaborate with people growing up, so that’s been a big learning curve for me. It’s interesting because I used to think that opening myself up to working with other people or even really opening myself up to sharing personal things about myself through my art would in some weird way dilute me as an artist. But it’s only just really enriched me as an artist and made it far more exciting. That’s been a struggle for me but it’s been a nice struggle in a way — It’s important to be far more open than I used to be.
Was there a defining moment in your career that proved to be a turning point or breakout moment that propelled you to the next level?
I think a lot of artists and creative people struggle with the fact of embracing that they’re going to do this for real or whatever. Like of course you have to supplement art with an income and usually that means working some job you’re not really interested in and that’s kind of soul sucking. But it’s also about a state of mind, just fully deciding one day that you know you are going to do it for real and you are going to own it. Even though I was a performer since I was very young, I still had those fears. It wasn’t until maybe my mid-twenties that I decided that I’m only going to be an artist and everything else is purely to facilitate that. It’s just that mine is a change of mindframe and a “jumping-out-the-airplane” thing. You just have to do it.
Queer people working in media and entertainment have enriched the sector, and provided more representation for fans who identify with and relate to what you’re creating as an artist. When you were growing up, did you have any queer icons you looked up to?
Definitely, I was a fan of the obvious ones like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. I grew up loving dance and theater so there was no shortage of queer icons in that world. But I also grew up with a lot of icons who weren’t queer, I never felt outside of those people being references or inspiration for what I do. I never let the fact that I was gay define anything about me as an artist. Of course it’s enriched me in lots of ways, but I never let it be a barrier.
Now that you have this platform and visibility, how do you hope you can influence a younger generation of LGBTQ fans through your music?
It’s really lovely when I hear from young queer or trans people that tell me I represent something for them in country music that they never thought was there, or that they never felt a part of. If I can be that for someone, then I feel completely honored and thrilled by that. I hope that people feel welcome to express themselves and be a part of anything that they feel they want to be a part of, and not feel like the color of their skin or their gender, sexual orientation, or anything else should limit them. I think as marginalized people we tend to have to stand on the sidelines and be a fan from a distance or feel like maybe we don’t belong. I hope it inspires people to take up more room and get on and be a part of it because it is part of them, it’s already part of them, and there’s no invitation needed.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews the landscape of country music is diversifying to include many new types of sounds and voices. How important is it to you to expand the genre and/or to receive acceptance from the mainstream country music industry?
I think it’s important to me in the sense that country music has always been diverse and there’s always been people of color making country music, there’s always been gay people making country music. Unfortunately, those things haven’t been able to be very visible. So I think it’s been a long time coming now that those different perspectives in country music are visible. I think it’s happening quite quickly now, and those walls put up by industry people in mainstream country music are starting to crumble. We’re getting a lot of weird new voices in country music, some have always been there, but they’re starting to creep through the cracks now. I think that’s great because it’ll just start ending the stigma about who country music is for.
You’ve talked about your mask as having dual-purpose: an element of showmanship and a tool that allows you to be more raw / exposed as an artist. How did you arrive at the mask? Did you create the first one or did you work with a stylist or designer to engineer the look?
It’s all me and I make them. I think it was just my version of following in the footsteps of many country performers who had bold, camp, flamboyant visual imagery to their performance. There’s a huge lineage of that and a lot of them are very straight, conservative people in country music that would wear bedazzled rhinestone suits. Dolly Parton would wear 3-foot high wigs. It’s all in that sphere, so I’m definitely not the first person to do it. Maybe for newer country musicians it’s not as common, but that’s basically where I’m coming from.
Do you connect more with your audience because of the mask?
I think so. I think it eliminates a certain amount of pretense. I think it destroys the mask that people walk around wearing everyday, which you know, isn’t a real necessarily mask. I think it eliminates a lot of bullshit especially. It’s the same as when people feel so comfortable around a drag queen or someone like that. Something about it just puts people at ease and makes them feel like they can be comfortable and be themselves. That’s what I experience in my shows with people and they all look like they’re really connected to the performance because of it I think.
You’ve been described as a musical “outlaw” and the mask reinforces this idea. In a way it’s reminiscent of a bandana-wearing bandit hero, like Zorro or the Lone Ranger. Do you think your audience responds or relates to it because of this idea of a hero-like figure?
I think so. I think people project a lot of different interpretations of it. That’s what I love about it and that’s also why I hate to talk too much about it because I don’t want to put too much narrative on top of it. I actually like that people can have their own interpretation of it. Some people look at it and think of the Lone Ranger and then some people look at it and see an S&M mask and it’s like, well that tells me a lot about that person. That’s what I like about it—that it is open for interpretation. And it allows people to be involved in what I do. For a fan to feel involved in it and that they can get a piece of that too, then that is what you could only hope for as an artist. People not only enjoy what you do but they’re invested and they feel a part of it. Some of the musicians, visual artists, actors, filmmakers, and authors that I still respect to this day are people that made me feel like I had some ownership of what they did as well.
The dichotomy of being an openly queer artist while hiding your physical features is a striking juxtaposition. Do you think you’ll ever “out” yourself physically from under the mask?
I don’t know. To me I don’t feel like I’m hiding at all. I feel like I wear my heart on my sleeve in a lot of ways. We’ll see what that evolution is. At the moment I’m really happy just doing my thing as I’m doing it.
Your music explores the nostalgia of Americana and its sound. It’s a staple source of inspiration for many iconic popular country and folk-rock ballads. Having such a diverse international background, what inspires you most about Americana?
I think it’s the seemingly normality. I think Americana as we’ve been told to believe is apple pie. It’s very clean and neat with a picket fence. The reality of American culture is far weirder and darker than that at times. It involves a lot of trauma and craziness. I think that’s the part of Americana that I find far more fascinating. I think that is the real Americana. I always talk about how I love motels because the idea of this like chic version of a hotel that is on a highway and it’s very cheap, there’s no questions asked and sometimes people live in them for months at a time. That doesn’t even exist anywhere else in the world and that’s like a whole culture of America that is of its own. I find that really fascinating and I think the people and characters that inhabit those kind of worlds are really interesting.
So many artists reinvent themselves over the course of their career. With your musical training, background, and musical influences being so diverse – Do you think you’ll stay exclusively a country music artist or begin to incorporate other sounds into your work?
I think I’ve always been kind of incorporating different sounds into it, but at heart I’m a country boy and I’ll continue to be a country musician. I think I’ll always try and push that to not leave it strictly in what other people’s idea of what country music is.
That darkness has, in recent times, become much more visible. Concentration camps have quickly become a new norm in America under the current administration. Trans rights have been challenged through rollbacks on protection for military service and healthcare provisions under the Affordable Care Act. Do you foresee this escalating its target on more LGBTQ+ people?
Unfortunately, I think I do. I think across the board not just with LGBTQ people, but also people of color, women, and marginalized people. In America we’ve been allowed to believe that things are changing but at the root of it nothing has been changing. Now that’s become more obvious to us and I think, strangely, not to sound flippant about it, but I believe that’s where this resurgence of cowboy aesthetic has actually come into play in our culture. To me being a cowboy has nothing to do with wearing a cowboy hat or being a rancher and roping cows or charging steers. I think being a cowboy is being someone who is intrinsically, innately on the outside of things and given a bad rap, maybe getting the short end of the straw, and forced to live on the outskirts of town. But instead of letting that be a negative, it’s about finding the power within that and the adventure and the freedom. The idea of getting on a horse and riding into the sunset, I think that sounds really beautiful for people like us right now where we can find our posse of rebels and cowboys, make our own rules and essentially live as outlaws. Those all sound like motifs and pastiche kind of ideas, but they do hold bearing. I think that is what being marginalized is about. It’s about not assimilating to the status quo, finding our community, our power, and charging ahead in the face of whatever. I think it’s a powerful thing, and I actually do believe that is why we’re seeing so much cowboy imagery in fashion and sub-culture and because there is something adventurous and powerful about that.
You alluded to this earlier in our conversation and in previous interviews drawn upon similarities between the Old West and the present state of affairs today saying, “We lived in a recent time when we hoped everything was going to be okay, that the powers that be were going to sort it out. But now everyone’s fending for themselves because they’re disappointed. Everyone’s on their own horse, doing their own thing.” So, if we’re all on our own horses, do you think we are equipped to become a calvary for change?
I think so. I do like to believe that. Listen, I have lived in countries other than America where I have seen, witnessed, had to live through massive social change on a really huge scale. I think it comes through perseverance and I think it comes to sticking to your guns and not swaying from who you are and what you believe in. I do believe that is powerful enough to make change because I’ve seen it happen. I think it’s time for all our posse, to find our community, and do exactly that—form a calvary and stick to who we are in the face of no matter what for change.
Coat by Philipp Plein
Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Grooming by Nina Soriano | Production by Ben Price | Video Director of Photography Johnny Vicari | Model Dagsen Love @ Wilhelmina Models
Photographed at Baby Love Studio – Brooklyn, NY
Coat by Philipp Plein
Shirt by Philipp Plein, Scarf stylist’s own
On the brink of a summer tour promoting the release of her 11th studio album with Blondie, the punk/new-wave/rock goddess, Debbie Harry,
shows no signs of slowing down.
Blazer by Vivienne Westwood | Fox Fur Leopard Print Boa by Georgine | Sunglasses by Le Specs Luxe
Photography by Nicolas Kern | Styling by Britt McCamey | Interview by Roger Padilha
Ever since she injected New York City’s ground-breaking, underground music scene with her infectious presence, Debbie Harry found her rightful place as Queen of Cool, and for the past 41 years has reigned as a trailblazing pioneer within the realms of pop culture, fine art, high fashion, and music. Arriving at Splashlight studios with an entourage of one, the low key Harry informs us there is no need for the more discreet side entrance. Instead she prefers to stand in line and check in with the front desk security like everyone else. This drama free attitude seems in line with her polite demeanor upon entering the set with a shopping bag full of past Blondie tour t-shirts and introducing herself to everyone on the crew. “Hi, I’m Debbie. Would anyone like a t-shirt?”
At the age of 71, Harry and her world-famous, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Blondie, have released their eleventh studio album entitled Pollinator. Since their debut album in 1976, through the band’s signature look and pioneering new wave/punk music, Blondie has become an internationally recognized and praised band. With her photogenic face, two-toned hair, and punk style Harry quickly rose to the level of fashion and pop culture icon. Debbie quickly became a muse for Andy Warhol, the late fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, and famed fashion photographer Steven Meisel, to name a few. She was and remains very influential across music genres, and Blondie’s song Rapture became the first #1 song in the US to feature rap, thanks to her influence by friends Fab Five Freddy, and hip- hop pioneer, Grandmaster Flash.
Frontwoman Harry and guitarist/conceptual mastermind Chris Stein were the founding members of Blondie, along with drummer Clem Burke, whose powerhouse playing always distinguished Blondie’s sound. Their newest project, Pollinator, is a fusion of pop and disco with that ineffable Blondie sound. The newly released album is mostly comprised of collaborations with outside performers and songwriters. The list of collaborators include Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, Charlie XCX, Sia, Laurie Anderson, Joan Jett, The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, comedian John Roberts, and Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. The album’s first single, “Fun”, sets the tone for the album, with a music video that features technicolor footage of an astronaut flying to Mars cut with scenes of the band performing at a psychedelic rave in space.
The album title, Pollinator, refers to Blondie’s creative cross-pollination over the years with many other icons in the industry. With the fabulous collaborations between Blondie and other artists throughout the studio album, Pollinator is a veritable hive of delicious tracks and beats to enjoy. The Rage and Rapture Tour kicks off on July 5th and features the acclaimed alternative rock band Garbage.
Though the tunes were culled from disparate sources, the feel of the album is impressively unified, with a playful nod to 1978’s groundbreaking Parallel Lines. Harry, Stein, Burke, and company took this raw material and deftly transformed it in the studio into an album that’s quintessentially Blondie. The emphasis is on arrangements that are fast and fun, lyrics that are romantic and teasing, and synth-stoked hooks that evoke the New Wave era. It was Grammy-winning producer John Congleton (Franz Ferdinand, St. Vincent, Sigur Ros, David Byrne, War on Drugs) that brought the late 70’s attitude out of Blondie again. He found himself having breakfast with Debbie and Chris in the summer of 2015. “We hung out for an hour, talked about music, about where they were as people and what they thought a Blondie record should sound like these days. We were simpatico on that.”
“I had more of a deliberate agenda than they did,” says John. “Their agenda was the best agenda: they still love each other; they like playing music, so let’s have fun. At the end of the day Blondie doesn’t have anything to prove. My agenda was more dogmatic. I didn’t want to make a pastiche lifestyle record or a modern pop record that sounded like Blondie being influenced by what’s happening now. I wanted to know what it’s like to be Blondie at this age.” Debbie, Chris, and Clem joined by band members bassist Leigh Foxx, guitarist Tommy Kessler and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen have embarked on a new Blondie summer tour.
Leather Trench by Georgine | Bloomers by Miu Miu | Tights by Falke | Patent Pumps by Laurence Dacade | Earrings by Orchid & Art Deco
We were fortunate enough to chat with the legendary rockstar at Splashlight Studios in Manhattan during her exclusive Iris Covet Book photoshoot.
How have you managed fame as an artist? Do you find that the commercial aspect of making music gets in the way of artistry?
Being a more private type, fame has sometimes been disturbing. But as a commercial artist, it is the goal isn’t it? To become known and get your music out into the world market.
I feel like I see your face and image every day on t-shirts and instagram. Are you ever overwhelmed by the global impact of the band and the image you played a definitive part in creating?
If I stop to think about it, yes it is overwhelming. That’s all part of the game though, isn’t it?
You’ve always seemed to be very reserved and a bit of an introvert in person, but yet you have been able to get onstage and perform in huge venues in front of millions throughout your career. What is the process you undergo to change into that onstage, larger-than-life persona?
I don’t really think of myself as an introvert but I have been described as being very polite. I was encouraged growing up to be well mannered and able to listen to others. To not always have to be the center of attention when in social situations. On stage it’s a different story…….it’s MY stage.
On Debbie: Jacket by Marc Jacobs | Skirt (Worn as a dress) by Comme des Garçons from New York Vintage | Tights by Falke | Pumps by Laurence Dacade
On Chris: His Own Clothing
Never satisfied to rest on your laurels, Blondie’s incessant need to fly the flag for cross-genre rock never relinquishes because your punk spirit never died. How do you keep your punk spirit alive?
Punk spirit…just stubborn I guess. Always have been. Independence has always been important to me. I grew up in a sheltered home and was always wanting to see more of the big bad world.
How was it collaborating with all of these amazing, boundary-pushing artists such as Sia, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, and Joan Jett?
Collaboration has always been something I enjoy doing. It can be so much fun tossing ideas around. I loved working with Dev Hynes and Joan Jett, whom I’ve known for years. Sia actually wrote the song [on the new album] and I only met her briefly at a Saturday Night Live party. I’m happy the way it all came together. It was a different approach for us, to draw in all of these things. I feel like we did what we did back then, and we put out these sounds and ideas and now have come full circle. We are pulling it back in, continuing this ongoing chain of events, this circular motion.
You will be touring the country with the legendary rock band, Garbage, fronted by Shirley Manson. Tell us about how this tour collaboration came to be, have you worked together before?
I don’t think we ever worked together before, but I met Shirley many years ago in Scotland when she was singing with Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. Years later we ran into each other at Gary Kurfirst’s office. We were both being managed by Gary at the time. Shirley and her band Garbage are one of my faves.
40 million album sales and countless accolades later (including a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2006 and NME Godlike Genius Award in 2014) has cemented the band’s importance. After all of the success, what inspires you to keep creating new music?
One of the most inspiring things to happen in the last year has been the David Bowie release after his death. I only hope that I can be one-tenth as creative as he has been, and to leave a parting gift of music or art is truly what art is about.
Jacket by Song Seoyoon | T-Shirt by Han københavn
Two of the original members of the band have been replaced with other musicians over the years, how has the new dynamic of Blondie shifted the energy of the band?
Good question. Blondie has always been, or tried to be, a true ensemble situation. Input by musicians or actors in a group is extremely valuable, but not always easy. We have one fucking great band now, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear us play the new material.
When you first moved to New York, it was a much more dangerous and rough city, but that energy also helped fuel many creatives at the time. Now that NYC has gone through so much gentrification and commercialism, do you think it’s possible for artists to make profound music and art in the “new” New York City?
Food for thought…that’s what cities and colleges supply. So why not, in spite of all the odds against it, why can’t a fresh, alert mind be creative in any circumstance. Although chaos is famous for being the founder of great creativity.
Which album or song are you most proud of? And beyond that, what are you most proud of in your life?
I don’t think I can limit myself to one album or song, they all seem connected to each other for me. As for my life, I’m amazed that I actually achieved my dreams and that I’m still at it.
You’ve done 11 albums with Blondie and 5 albums as a solo artist, not to mention compilations and collaborations on other artists’ albums. How do you stay inspired? Is there anything you feel you haven’t said through your art yet?
Knowing what you like and what excites you is the most important part and Blondie is really the only group I’ve ever been in with the exception of singing with the Jazz Passengers for about four years. Fortunately, now I’m on a collision course with environmental issues. As I’ve gotten older and climate, clean air and water have become more important issues for us, I want to do my part to draw attention to these problems and their solutions.
The world lost a great contributor to the arts recently with the passing of your friend Glenn O’Brien. Glenn was very supportive of Iris Covet Book and agreed to be interviewed for our first issue. He was always very generous to emerging creatives. Can you share a favorite memory you had with Glenn?
Oh yes, Glenn was a great writer and a keen observer of the arts. He had such a wonderful style: dry and funny, so sharp. I will miss him. Before he passed he gave me his newest book, LIKE ART which I have enjoyed thoroughly. I have had lots of good times hanging out with Glenn and Chris. Just talking and making fun of things like on TV Party when they were co-hosts. I feel lucky to have known him.
Blondie really incorporated so many different genres and types of music that it seems unfair to call you just a Punk pioneer as many people do. What would you like your music legacy to be?
A lot of the music that I’ve made over the years was never even recorded and maybe this is something special. Food for the spheres. Blondie albums and Deborah Harry albums have had a lot of different musical and cultural influences but this is the city we live in and the world of today. Let’s face it, we can know as much as we want about all the cultures of the world. What we need is time travel.
Patent Coat by Miu Miu | Earrings by Ana Khori
Art Direction by Louis Liu | Editor Marc Sifuentes | Hair by Adam Markarian | Makeup by Yumi Lee @ Streeters | Manicure by Narina Chan @ Wilhelmina Artists for Chanel Le Vernis in Roubachka | Set Design by Mila Taylor Young @ D+V Management | Editor’s assistant Ben Price | Filming by Scott Keenan | Video editor/post production YaYa Xu | Special Thanks to Splashlight Studios NYC
Interview by Pauline Snyder-Goodwin | Photography by Jhane Hoang | Styling by René Garza | Art Direction by Marc Sifuentes | Hair and Makeup by Tonya Riner
Simone’s success didn’t come easy. Her journey to becoming a decorated Artistic Gymnast contained many challenges and crossroads along the way. But her passion and determination in becoming an elite gymnast prevailed. Following a brief period in a foster home in Columbus, OH, Simone’s grandparents officially adopted her in 2003, in Spring, TX. To Simone’s surprise, she discovered there was a trampoline in the backyard of her grandparent’s house. This was just the beginning of her journey towards becoming one of America’s most decorated gymnast with a total of 19 medals won; 4 gold and 1 bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 14 World Championship medals.
Women’s gymnastics is a dangerous sport which also has a short career span, with women reaching their gymnastic peak during their high school years. In 2012, Simone sacrificed a traditional high school education, along with the social life that comes with it, by switching to homeschool. This decision was not easy for Simone, but it allowed for more training hours to continue mastering her gymnastic skills. Eventually, Simone would achieve mastery and effortless execution of even the most difficult gymnastics skills. She has an arsenal of amazing tricks she can do, but one of the most jaw-dropping is a tumbling skill she executes on the floor exercise simply called “The Biles”. It earned the namesake because Simone was the first female gymnast to accomplish two back flips followed by a half twist in competition.
Simone released her first book; Courage to Soar: A Body In Motion, A Life In Balance, at the end of last year. It’s a tell-all book where she opens her heart and soul as she takes us on her life’s journey from her early childhood to that rainy night in Rio where she would hold an American flag twice her size at the closing ceremonies. She was the first American female gymnast to be awarded this privilege. Who knew that the tiny girl with big muscles would accomplish such a feat and become an inspiration for little girls the world over.
We had the honor to catch up with Simone to learn more about her, her life’s passion of gymnastics, and her new book. The World Champion Centre, your family’s new gymnastics facility opened May 2016 in Spring, TX. What was the inspiration behind creating this gym? The idea of a gym started when my mom was closing out her former business and decided to start a new business venture. Her vision was to build a gym and have all the equipment that I would need for training since the Olympics was my goal. It has been so great having the facility available to me and I love having that support from my family and The World Champion Centre community.
How does The World Champion Centre differentiate itself from other gymnastic facilities in the Houston area?
I believe The World Champion Centre is different from other facilities in the Houston area because it is multifaceted. We offer gymnastics, Artistic Olympics for boys and girls, Acrobatics-Silk program, Tumbling & Trampoline, the Warriors Program, Recreational and Preschool, Taekwondo and dance.
We also offer schooling for our gymnasts from 3rd grade through high school, and our pro-shop and cafe lend to our goal to satisfy each customer and make them comfortable.
Please tell us about the Academy at WCC.
Our Academy is a wonderful addition to World Champions Centre! We have two teachers that are master’s prepared. They tailor the student’s lesson plan to fit their individual needs and follow NCAA guidelines to ensure easy access to the universities. Students that are currently attending The Academy range from 3rd grade to high school. The Academy is a non-profit school which depends on donations for funding.
How old were you when you took your first gymnastics class? When did you first start competing?
I was six-years-old when I started gymnastics classes and was competing only a year later at the age of 7.
Do you remember doing your first cartwheel? Who taught you?
I remember being three-years-old when my brother taught me how to do my first cartwheel. I was hooked!
What lessons can students learn from gymnastics that they can apply to their everyday life?
Students can learn balance, discipline and organization, determination, mental and physical toughness, respect for their teammates and coaches, dedication to the sport, and most of all forming strong friendships and teamwork. That’s one of the things I love about gymnastics, aside from the flipping, soaring, and jumping, the sport is about teamwork, strength, and organization.
At what moment did you realize you wanted a career in gymnastics?
I fell in love with the sport from day one!
Best advice you can give young girls wanting to become an elite gymnast.
I would tell them to set goals for themselves and to not give up, even on the bad days.
Are you involved in any youth programs in your community?
Yes, I partnered with Mattress Firm Foster Kids, a donation-driven program that has given more than 610,000 items (clothes and school supplies) to foster kids and their families.
Who’s been your life mentor? What’s the best advice they have given you?
My mother has been my life mentor and the best advice she has given me is to “be the best Simone” that I can be. Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, is your first book.
What motivated you to write it? What do you want readers to take away from this book?
I wanted to write my book because it is important to tell my own story. There are many things written about me but my fans should hear my story from me. I hope that my readers will get a little insight into my life and maybe be inspired to work harder in whatever sport they are involved in.
Mary Lou Retton wrote the foreword to your book. Tell us about this collaboration.
I first met Mary Lou at her invitational meet in Houston and I absolutely adore her. Mary Lou is one of the pioneers of Women Gymnastics and she is an amazing and powerful gymnast.
When did you first meet Mary Lou and what was that like?
I was very young when I met Mary Lou, I was about ten-years-old and we did not speak but I was in awe of her and I remembered her telling us to always stay focused and envision the routine before you “go” for it. From that day forward, and while in Rio for the Olympic Games, I think of that advice and it has really helped me as a gymnast.
In your book you talk about a field trip you took with your daycare class on a rainy day. Please tell us about that event.
I was attending Kids R Kids summer camp and it was field trip day. The plan was to go to an oil ranch. It was raining that day so the teachers needed a backup plan and they chose Bannon’s Gymnastix gym because it was close to us. I was excited because this was my first time in a gym. All the equipment was a dream come true. I was showing off all my tricks and copying what I saw the girls in the back doing. I remember this was an amazing field trip because I was sent home with a letter from the gym inviting me to join. At the age of three you were placed in foster care until your grandparents adopted you.
Any advice you would like to give to foster parents?
I knew that we were taken to stay with another family but did not quite understand why because I was young. I later learned that my mother had a substance abuse problem and had difficulty taking care of us. My short time in the foster care system was good and we were blessed to have been taken in by my grandfather and grandmother while my mother received help. My advice to foster parents is to give the child or children a chance and to love them.
Tell us about the nickname you earned in third grade.
My nickname at school was “swoldier” (classmates coined this term from the words ‘swollen’ and ‘soldier’) because I had defined muscles and was very strong. I had more muscles than any of the boys in my class, and I was very self-conscious of my body because of it.
At the 2011 Visa Nationals, you missed making the Junior National Women’s team by one spot. Please share with us this experience and the emotions running through you during this competition.
My goal and my dream was to make the National Women’s team. Missing that opportunity by one spot was devastating, but it made me even more motivated to get back in the gym and work even harder.
In your experience in women’s gymnastics, do you think there’s a significant advantage to having a woman vs. a man as a coach?
I have had both men and women coaches and I am comfortable with both. I believe it is who you are most comfortable with that will give you an advantage and who will push you and encourage you. You need a coach to teach, guide, and understand you.
Aimee Boorman was your coach since the beginning of your gymnastics career. What was the key to this successful relationship?
As a coach, Aimee knew and understood me as a person. She knew what I was capable of doing and knew that I needed a challenge to stay focused. Aimee managed to keep me motivated to push through the numerous repetitions during training.
You haven’t lost an all-around meet since 2013. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio you took four gold medals and a bronze setting an American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single game. How do you stay humble?
I am blessed to be consistent with my performances in competitions. My mom makes sure that we pray and go to church routinely and thank God for the body and gift he gave me. Life at home is the same. I am still responsible for doing chores in the house and keeping the same routines once I am at home, which helps me stay grounded.
You chose Samba music for your floor exercise routine at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. What motivated you to make this selection?
My choreographer helped me with selecting my floor music, and because I like upbeat music, it felt like the perfect choice for that routine. We debuted the music at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, WA and there was such a great response from the crowd that we decided to keep it for my floor exercise in Rio.
What was it like being a part of the “Final Five” team?
Being a part of the final five was amazing and a dream come true.
Do you have any good luck rituals you do prior to competing?
I do not have any rituals prior to competing, but I do take along my turtles and my St. Sebastian pendant with me because they are my good luck charms!
What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing gymnastics?
When I am not doing gymnastics I love spending time with family and friends and watching Netflix.
Do you have any furry friends at home?
We have 4 German Shepherds: Maggie, Lily, Bella and Atlas.
Who’s on your playlist?
Right now I am listening to a lot of Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, Drake, and The Weeknd to name a few.
Your favorite place to go to in the world?
I love visiting Belize because it is where my mother’s family comes from. It is a true connection to family and that is just very special to me.
When you’re not training or competing what’s your favorite food you like to eat?
Oh it would have to be pizza! That is definitely my favorite cheat food.
What would Simone Biles be if she wasn’t an Artistic Gymnast?
If I did not do artistic gymnastics I would probably be a dancer or in track and field. It would have to be something creative and physically involved, but still not a far cry from artistic gymnastics! .
Stylist Assistant: Dustin Bice | Special thanks to Brie Costello, Janey Miller and Ashley Laury | World Champions Centre Gym located at 28865 Birnham Woods Dr, Spring, TX 77386
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simon Biles available at Barnes and Noble, published by Zondervan Press