ONE ANGRY WIG!
Hollywood triple threat, John Cameron Mitchell, zips up his boots and goes back to his roots for his Australian Hedwig tour. He spoke to Marc Andrews.
John Cameron Mitchell, zips up his boots and goes back to his roots for the Australian Hedwig And The Angry Inch tour.
Few entertainers have as intriguing, critically acclaimed or colourful résumé as John Cameron Mitchell. Twenty years ago, he turned his off-Broadway punk musical about an East German trannie with a love for Kraut rock, Hedwig And The Angry Inch, into a cult movie in which he starred and also directed.
He followed Hedwig by writing, producing and directing Shortbus in 2006. That film foreshadowed the sexually fluid generation while garnering plenty of controversy for being “pornographic”.
JCM directed Nicole Kidman to an Oscar nomination in Rabbit Hole, and the pair teamed up again this year for the sci-fi comedy, How To Talk To Girls At Parties.
On the side he directed Scissor Sisters’ Filthy/ Gorgeous video, which was banned for its “sexual content”.
Today, John Cameron Mitchell, the 56-yearold Texan who calls NYC home, prepares to celebrate two decades of Hedwig with a tour of Australia in June and July – The Origin Of Love: The Songs And Stories Of Hedwig.
The Tony winner (and Golden Globe nominee) intends bringing “that Greenwich Village vibe” of Hedwig, and previewing songs from his next project. DNA phoned him in NYC for a chat… DNA: You’ve certainly traversed a unique career path and we’re guessing you’re happy about that.
JCM: Yeah. I rarely follow the money. I follow my heart, sometimes to my chagrin. Now my mom has Alzheimer’s and we don’t have good care in this country so one of the reasons for doing this tour is to pay for mom. It’s ironic as she found Hedwig vulgar. She did give me one of the great lines in it though: “What poor, unfortunate creature had to die for you to wear that fur coat?” and the punchline was, “My Aunt Trudie.” That was my mom’s joke. She did come around eventually and even named her dog Hedwig. Now I’m putting the wig back on to pay for mom.
This is your first tour of Australia, but is it also your first visit?
It is, yeah. It’s also my first tour, period.
Why Australia and why now?
Why not? David M Hawkins, the producer in Australia has always been trying to get me to come. He brings people like Liza Minnelli and shows like Cabaret and La Cage Aux Folles. He knows the terrain and has lined up the best theatres in the country. I’ll be trying it out; it’s kind of an experiment. These are my first shows where I’ll be doing this hybrid concert/cabaret. What can we expect from the show then?
I’ll have a really cool costume that will be modular. The rest of it will be like a rock’n’roll show where I’ll tell some stories and do some songs. There will also be some songs from my new project and my new film which will be
opening at the same time in Australia.
How To Talk To Girls At Parties with Nicole Kidman?
Yes, I’ll sing one of the songs I do in that. I’ll also sing a song or two from my new musical, Anthem. That will first be heard on podcast, which will hopefully come out by the end of the year. I’m in the middle of that right now. The shows will be very punk and rock and I’m sure my costumes will be falling off!
It’s essentially two decades since Hedwig was first conceived, right?
It’s been 20 years since the off-Broadway production and four years before that the character was born in the clubs. I stepped into the role a few years ago on Broadway and it was a blast.
You and Nicole Kidman have worked together a couple of times – notably on Rabbit Hole
– so there’s obviously some real love there between you.
Yes, and I have so many good connections [in Australia]. Miao Miao, the cabaret singer is a good friend, as is Paul Capsis. I’m going to stay for a good month and maybe DJ at a party.
Is this Aussie tour a test drive of your new show?
I don’t think of it that way. It’s more like a dilation of my cervix. That’s where [the show] is going to be born. I’m not going to leave her there, I’m going to drag her around. I’m also going to do it in Asia – for some reason I’m most popular in Korea.
You could double your audience if North and South reunify!
I was working on a Hedwig sequel at one point, envisaging a North Korean Hedwig fan who escapes and tries to find Hedwig be impregnated by her.
Where did the character of Hedwig fall into your head originally?
My dad was the military commander of Berlin in the 1980s. I lived a lot in Germany as a kid. He was there before The Wall fell and I would go visit and go East. There was a female army wife in Kansas where I also lived who we found out was a hooker, which became the flashpoint for the character, even though she wasn’t trans. I was also working in this drag rock’n’roll club called Sleazebox in New York in the 1990s and it all melted into Hedwig And The Angry Inch. The 2001 movie version of Hedwig was a major game-changer.
I grew up in the 1970s so most things were out there. Glam, punk and drag were in,
Rocky Horror Show and musicals were not unheard of in film. At the time I made Hedwig, Baz Luhrmann said to me, “We’re bringing musicals back!” But for me, they never went away. We helped reinvent it. Baz did artful karaoke and we did it in a different way with original songs and an unusual story. That’s not so remarkable anymore. The film was a flop in the US, even though it won a lot of awards. It was discovered on DVD later and became a cult hit. I never saw a cent from it, really.
Are we likely to see more of Hedwig in some form in the future?
What’s left? There could be a talk show, perhaps.
Your next movie, Shortbus was also controversial.
Shortbus was inspired by what was happening in New York at that time. It was a bohemian time just after 9/11 and a clustering together of likeminded people. There were places like that salon in the film and in some ways it was a utopia. It wasn’t about sex as much as sex was the medium for how they worked out their problems. The sex was generally terrible, but bad sex is good for drama and comedy. You’ve also appeared on TV as an actor in Girls, Vinyl and The Good Fight. Lena Dunham asked me to play her editor on Girls and I had a good time. I want to do more regular TV acting.
What issues are close to your heart at the moment?
It’s not that people are less accepting of queer people under Trump, but the homophobes feel empowered to be more open now, the same way racists are, too. There’s some weird fake coolness about it. Hopefully it’s just a burp before it disintegrates. There is a weird human need to find a scapegoat and blame your problems on them – on immigrants, the poor, queer people – anyone who is “other”. People are still dying of AIDS, queer and otherwise, around the world because of homophobia and sexphobia.
How many wigs are you bringing on tour?
Oh, just one.
Is that enough?
A six-part costume, but one wig.
That must be one hard-working wig!
It’s going to require a whole customs team to get it in! They’ll be like, “What’s in that wig?”
John Cameron in full flight as his heroine, Hedwig.
John Cameron with Nicole Kidman.