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Emmy Rossum climbs inside the psyche of a mysterious 1980s performance artist whose obsession with fame at all costs gives modern-day influencers a run for their retweets
Who is Angelyne? Well, that’s a good question—one that’s not so easy to answer.
Long before social media and the advent of the “influencer,” there was the media personality who rose to prominence in mid-’80s Los Angeles thanks to controversial billboards that started popping up featuring the buxom blonde starlet in suggestive poses. She somehow maintained her allure and air of mystery for decades, until a 2017 Hollywood Reporter article pulled back the curtain on the poster girl. While Angelyne dabbled in acting, rock ’n’ roll and even politics (she finished 29th in the 2003 California gubernatorial race), what the cult figure was best known for is simply being a projection of other people’s dreams and fantasies.
“I got the chance to meet with Angelyne, and the one piece of advice she gave me about playing her was, ‘I’m a Rorschach test. I’m a mirror. Whatever you see in me as an icon, that’s what I am, and that’s what you play,’ ” says Shameless’s Emmy Rossum, who takes on the role in a new limited series created by True Blood writer Nancy Oliver and produced by Rossum’s real-life husband, Mr. Robot mastermind Sam Esmail.
Recently, TV Week sat down with Rossum to discuss how she went about portraying the one and only Angelyne. Showcase
TV Week: When you and Sam were figuring out the tone for the storytelling, what was that process like? Because there’s a very compelling wavelength that the show exists on, where the drama is blended with a sense of the absurd and playfulness… Emmy Rossum: The first time I saw Angelyne, I was 13 years old. I was driving around L.A. with my mom and I saw her billboard. I was just immediately drawn to the impact of her image, her strength, her beauty, her power—and this sense of playfulness and whimsy, like you say. And huge amounts of mystery. When thinking about approaching the story, we started to think about how unconventional Angelyne is, how she broke every barrier, how she’s so hard to define in one way, all of the different stories that exist about her and how those stories fuelled the mythology of her fame. We wanted to play with lots of different kinds of storytelling: hyper-realism and moments that feel equally authentic to us which are pure fantasy. Because Angelyne is the ultimate fantasy. She is whatever you want her to be. She’s an enigma in that way. She’s playful and spreads joy and hot pink everywhere she goes in her Corvette. We wanted to play with those extremes.
In the process of adopting her psychology, do you think you walked away with any actual insights into who she is beyond her performative aspects? Because she is just always performing. I have in my heart a story of a feminist icon who broke every barrier, who is the original influencer. She is, I think, completely authentic and uncompromising, and she has a fierce commitment to the positive and this immense belief in herself. Her life was not without challenges, but I think we imagine a lot of different reasons behind the mystery of “Who is Angelyne?”
Hair, makeup and costume are always important, but in this case, you’re looking in the mirror and almost seeing a different person. How much has that changed the process for you as an actor? It’s all theoretical until you put it on. I had these incredible makeup artists and a prosthetics team who completed this transformation. After the first seven hours, they spun me around in the chair and it was completely unfamiliar. It was terrifying to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. And then it was wonderful and liberating to be able to step into a body that is completely different than my own and feel all of the power and hyper-femininity that comes with her image. It was pretty wild.
ShowcaseWere you able to dial into that distinctive voice of hers pretty quickly? I’m still in and out of it, to be honest. I love it and I find myself ooh-ing at my 10-month-old daughter all the time. But I listened to her meditation tapes, which I found quite profound and deep—I bought them on eBay, because that’s the only place that I could find them. And I would just practice the voice constantly. I learned that she’s different in interactions with different people, different interviews, different performances that she’s given, and that there were different modalities to be found with the character at different moments. That was really illuminating.
If this show does have a commentary to make on fame and pursuing fame, what is it? I think what’s so interesting about her is that she’s kind of done the impossible, which is maintain her mystique and her enigma and her relevance for decades. She’s a person who raised her hand and said, “I’m going to be famous for me, for my essence, for my energy, for the hyper-curation of my image, my control of that, and how that makes people feel, and I’m going to spread love and joy everywhere I go.” Of course, fame comes with its challenges, right? With exposure comes interest from the public. I really think that Angelyne is an incredibly authentic and powerful, trailblazing woman. I hope that people will see that while fame comes with its challenges, the honour to be an artist is to spread your message and your energy and image to people and to have them walk away having a feeling of positivity and joy and whimsy. I think there’s great meaning in that, and I think it’s quite profound.
Angelyne airs Wednesdays at 6 p.m. & 12:10 a.m. on Showcase