![Alt Text](https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/56c346b607eaa09d9189a870/e77af3d0-6059-4fc8-86fd-0142699d1db3/181_Flaunt_RhythminRetrograde_EmmyRossum_Cover.jpg) You’re iconic. You exceeded yourself. Exceeded even words. Exceeded the stuffy trappings of youth, the humdrum of ‘all grown up,’ the stale imprint on the sofa. Now, you’re an aura. You exude self-assurance. You’re everyone and no one at the same time because you’re so autonomous and piercing. You’re larger than life. Late at night, when even you, an icon, wonder about this stratosphericism’s longevity—about maintaining the vibes—you ask Andy Warhol, as you pore over his diaries, about this whole ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ thing. Confidently, Andy smirks back, just like how he’d later be paraphrased in that Lou Reed / John Cale ditty after he died: I like lots of people around me
but don’t kiss hello
and please don’t touch
And that’s it, right? Being famous is about being omnipresent, but just out of reach. Like that warble belt of atmosphere that circles, cushions the earth—only satellites and space cruisers bursting through... said zephyrs’ fame durations flashing and flaring and burning out in a hot instant.
But even if Andy didn’t want to kiss any odd person who recognized him, that didn’t mean Andy didn’t see them. Rather, he saw everyone’s own would-be iconography. And, on any given day, had Andy sought some Factory reprieve in sunny Los Angeles, he’d likely have seen this sentiment manifest—all blonde and bombshell and bold and insatiable—her pink Corvette slinking down Sunset Blvd., as the rock clubs and go-go joints emitted their neons, their dreaming, their moments and mistakes.
You see, Angelyne—performance artist and LA icon—has touched us all. Whether we’ve been dwarfed and awed by her self-promotional billboards, her “famous for being famous,” or indirectly via the hyper-instantaneity of brash sexuality and self-perpetuity of the social apps, their chronic listening in on us Angelyne is fabric to Americana, and Americana is a playground to Angelyne.
It is in this unique, self-refractive chamber that actor and singer Emmy Rossum determined to mine a story—not a story of any one individual, but that of the conflicting, conflated, doubling back, and doubling down of mythology-making Angelyne has crystalized. A six-part limited series—under the helm of Rossum’s femme-engined production company, Composition 8—Angelyne will make its debut on streamer, Peacock, early this summer.
Rossum has been pounding the performative pavement for a couple of decades, having started as a child in ballet and opera—where it is understood that she sang in six different languages across several productions—and theatre. Her industry breakout, following a handful of film roles, came with 2003’s Mystic River, nominated for six Academy Awards (two netted), and from there, she started etching her groove across the entertainment scape in the shape of thrillers, drama, sci-fi, and comedy.
Rossum’s most searing entertainment imprint, though, is likely that of sister-cum-matriarch, Fiona Gallagher, on hit television series, Shameless, which chalked up numerous award nominations, and 11 beloved seasons (9 of which featured Rossum). Despite the crudity, substance abuse, dark comedy, and dis-functionality of the South Chicago family saga, Rossum instilled in the series a complexity and tenderness that would be hard to argue was not the backbone of its success. For we can enjoy depravity as spectators, but only for so long. Without a nuanced, meaty center, there’s no nutrition in our viewing, and far too much else to graze on. Rossum, then, was the artichoke heart of Shameless. Worth all the peeling and reedy layers.
Since Shameless, Rossum has blessed screens alongside Liam Neeson (Cold Pursuit), and as a guest in the final season of mind-bender, Mr. Robot. She has also pivoted, as is oh so popular in the modern age, to directing—landing an episode of TNT’s Animal Kingdom (2017), and Amazon Prime’s Modern Love (2019). In May of last year, Rossum welcomed a baby girl with her partner, Sam Esmail, creator of the aforementioned Mr. Robot.
Rossum’s baby, a room over, is testing her own vocal range at the commencement of our Zoom conversation, but quickly quiets as the actor begins to soothingly radiate and reminisce about how Angelyne—
model, musician, muse, mogul—came into her life. About how Angelyne’s uniquely American ascent and culturally proliferative footprint—or heel print, rather—warranted a spotlight (or several, depending on who’s holding it, and who you ask). Rossum is awesome, and that’s not only fun to say, but it ripples through her ouput. Here is a cellularly rhythmic enchantment with narratives—with their complicity in healing and power and myth-making. Here is Angelyne, whom Rossum is exactingly careful to not supplant a POV—ready for her close-up.
Tell me about your first encounter with Angelyne?
I had first seen an Angelyne billboard when I was thirteen years old. I was in LA for the first time with my mom, auditioning for a pilot season, in a Hertz rental car. I remember I saw an Angelyne billboard for the first time, and I was so struck by the image. I had never seen a woman like that. So much woman. Her name, the phone number. And then I started seeing the billboards everywhere, and I would ask people, ‘Who is this woman, Angelyne?’ And everyone would light up and give me a completely different answer. I was so fascinated by this, and I definitely saw her pink Corvette a couple times.
I thought about her for a long time, and then, as more and more stories would come up about her, I started thinking that that was a story. How could you be so known and so unknown at the same time? Especially because she rose to fame at a time before the rise of the Internet, when you could really self-actualize and create your identity in a way that maybe broke from historical facts of your past.
And despite the flashy facade, there’s a depth to Angelyne?
I was just fascinated by the woman that she was, and her meditation tapes, and even though she’s kind of this punk-Barbie icon fantasy confection, I think there’s something deeply poignant and resonant about her—what she actually has to say about self-actualizing, about defining yourself. Being an advocate and a gay icon. Being a camp superstar. And not allowing anybody to define you. I think that I find in her as an icon what an icon is supposed to do—to speak deeply to everyone in a very specific and personal way. So that’s why I wanted to tell the story about this mythical LA unicorn.
You use the term ‘self-actualization’. Do you find there’s a difference between that term versus self-mythologizing?
I suppose there are stories that we tell ourselves, and then there are the stories that we tell the world. And some are personal, and there’s overlap there. We’re in this moment where we’re thinking a lot about identity—about who gets to decide that, to define that. I think that we’re at this moment, also, in culture where—especially in this country—where we’ve stopped listening to the other side. And we’re so deeply rooted in our rightness—or our rightness—that it becomes really hard to bridge the gap at all when we don’t have empathy. I think the interesting thing about Angelyne is that she’s kind of like a mirror. Whatever you see says more about you than about her. And I think that people see her very differently.
Do you feel that ‘mirroring’ crosses over to social media?
I think a lot about social media, too, now, also being a parent. My understanding is that even with tweens, 90% of the images they’re putting out are doctored or filtered in some way. I think about what we covet with images. We covet a certain amount of love that when we double tap on a picture, a heart shows up. We literally send likes and love, and I think about that a lot in terms of what it means—the simplicity of that, and the power, the slightly disturbing nature of that.
It’s said that over time, the amount of images we encounter in our day to day has infinitely scaled. Do you think all that volume has diminished their potency? Or are they just as impactful?
I don’t know. I think about the kinds of images that we are shown repetitively and how it slowly starts to inculcate us to a certain way of viewing beauty, or power, or a certain kind of aspirational life. I think it creates a ‘compare and despair’ mindset that I think is very, very easy to feel a loneliness, a yearning—and that is hard.That’s why I guess I feel lucky to do what I do. One of the reasons I started my production company a couple years ago, and this Angelyne is the first thing that we’ve made... my company is called Composition 8, which is based off a Kandinsky picture that’s named after music. That’s a super super strong image that has a lot of explosive color in it and tension in it. It’s not called Emmy Rossum productions because I really do think that we are stronger when we work together with others, when we have harmony.
And you’ll hope that strong and purposeful creativity balances out all the garbage?
Yeah. Or at least for people who aren’t seeing stories that are reflecting their hearts, their souls, their guts—that people that are creating right now can make them feel seen. That if we can connect to one young woman, you can honestly save a life. Not to sound like... I really do believe that about creative work and art.
Yeah, there’s nothing afoul in espousing that.
Well, we aren’t curing cancer, right? But hopefully, we’re doing something that can help someone feel less alone.
You mentioned the inspiration and motivation you get from collaborative efforts, and yet one of the things that compelled you to the Angelyne story is this brash self-conviction. And it could be said that self-conviction is a very necessary ingredient for success, especially, perhaps, in the creative arts. What’s your take?
I started at the opera when I was seven, and I was a very very, small part of those productions. Maybe in one out of every five productions, I had a solo line, or I was understudying the boy that got the solo line. And then to work your way up in the business, and get bigger parts, and then to get an opportunity to start a company, and play a bunch of women, and get to tell the stories that really move you—that move us—is a gift. I really believe that this is a collaborative medium—that we are nothing without support. I do not do this in a vacuum. I have a lot of teachers. On this show, I had a movement teacher, I had a vocal teacher, I had a dialect coach. I always work with an acting coach. I think the smartest people know what they don’t know and ask for help. That has always been my motto. But I also think that I like to be an engine, that I am pretty indefatigable.
And storytelling is that indefatigability’s expression?
I think there is an element of dedication to a role and to a story where you can lose yourself. And I think there is a precipice. I like to toe up to that line... to see both sides of it when I’m on the top of it. I believe that in order for work to be great, and my heart and soul are all over every role that I do. And that’s just how I do it.
And where do you think personal connection has been beneficial to you over time? Has it made your performances more potent?
It’s a very instinctual thing for me. It’s not a scenario where I’m thinking about the end game—like, ‘Oh, this is what I have to do in order to make it work.’ I am a person who is deeply imaginative and empathetic. I also have a lot of osmosis with other people and with roles that I play. I don’t ever believe the role is me, and I don’t ever think that I am the role. The roles are rather something that exists like a beautiful and comfortable coat that I live in for a certain amount of time, but I think it’s really important, especially with a child now, to be able to take that coat off when I come home. I have certain breath patterns that I do that can elicit emotions very, very quickly. That’s a useful tool for my job. And that combined with intense sense memories can take me from zero to 100 very quickly. I have breath patterns that can take me out of that too, that can take me down from those places. I’ll have a cold shower that will bring me back to myself. That’s really important too.
The series is full of all these conflicting accounts, and that’s of course purposeful. I wanted to see if you felt that that’s invoking the literary device of an ‘unreliable narrator’, or are they just that—conflicting accounts—each with their respective piece of the puzzle?
I don’t think of this as a biopic. I think of this as more, to come back to something you were saying earlier, as more about mythology. I think about the myriad stories that are told about Angelyne, about the icon that is Angelyne, that Angelyne sometimes tells about herself—conflicting stories she tells about herself. This was researched from every different way. We went right to the source, we took quotes from her, we met and interviewed her, we spoke to a lot of people that had known and worked with her. We were also inspired by her incredible, bizarre art, and the stories she’s told herself. And then little tidbits of what people say on Reddit. I think that when you think about fame, and the fame machine, what’s so interesting to me—and unique about Angelyne—is that she has never tried to dispel any of the rumors about herself because she is so smart. She’s a brilliant businesswoman and she knows that that only furthers her goals, which is this mythological iconography of... I think she is living, breathing performance art.
Beyond fame, there is now this micro-fame anomaly with social media... Do you feel the unhealthy gradient there has steepened?
I keep coming back to the word ‘mystery’—which I covet when I think of fame. That I wish we didn’t have to peek behind the curtain and see the Wizard of Oz. I think there’s a lot of transparency now and oversharing, and I liked the eras of Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis, when there was an element of fantasy. I think that’s missing now because of the ease with which we can now follow our favorite celebrities. So, I suppose, as a consumer of the content, I wish there was more of that. As a person on the other side—there is a certain element that you give up when you are lucky enough to do what we do, and you are lucky enough to do it on a big scale, where you do have the opportunity to potentially reach people, and touch people, and share in that way. There’s positives and negatives to everything. But I don’t think one can be without the other. And there’s certainly no going back.
It could be said there are universal truths to good storytelling, despite untold stories or underrepresented voices. What universality speaks to you the most?
I love a good survival story. I also think that, yes, there may not be a new story, and yet there is a new way to tell a familiar story. A familiar story will hit you in all the right places, but I really think you can push so many boundaries in terms of story structure, in terms of point of view, in terms of character. I really think there are a lot of new places you can go even if there is a certain beat to tell a story to make it feel emotionally satisfying.
It could easily be said that actors are understood to be in touch with a vulnerable side of themselves. I think the idea of vulnerability, of being vulnerable, has had a real wider proliferation in popular psychology of late.
Vulnerability is a superpower.
You mentioned the detractors, and some of the negativity that Angelyne was subjected to, with her chosen mission, or her art. What do you think the series and her character, in particular, say about vulnerability?
I want to be very specific and clear that I don’t feel that the TV show... that only Angelyne can answer that. Our show isn’t about a character. It’s about the mythology and iconography—it’s not about a woman. That’s why we’re very clear on the: ‘I’m an icon, not a woman.’ I think in terms of the character there’s something very tender and child-like and inspirational about her, the way that Allison Miller created the character, and Lucy, our director, helped me shape her. At different points in her life, you see her more and less comfortable and in touch with her own vulnerability.
And how about your own vulnerability?
My own personal vulnerability, I would say, is something that I tap into, and rely upon, in terms of telling my story and shaping my world. It’s my honor to be able to share that part of myself in a scene. I’m not into drugs, because I really like feelings and, for me, there is a beautiful catharsis in being able to tell a story. I like to be able to be on that rollercoaster of feelings. I like that there is a script which is like a seatbelt. I like that I know where I get on the ride, and I know where I get off the ride.
Do you think that that connects to survival? That vulnerability and survival work hand in hand?
Well, it’s interesting, because are they antithetical? Or are they necessary for each other? Historically, you would have thought that vulnerability literally means that you could be pervious to something perilous. When I try to think about feelings—in terms of also when you’re psyching yourself up to play a role that’s more challenging or emotional, when you’re steeped in positive affect or negative affect, I think that it’s really easy to qualify feelings as good or bad. And I try to think: they’re just all feelings. Some of them will feel more pleasing than others, but they’re all just sensations happening in your body, and they ebb and they flow. I think we need to take the shame out of all feelings. I think we need to take the shame out of a lot of things.
I do think it’s a cultural disability that we’re so compelled to compare, like you mentioned earlier, and it’s usually a better or worse, or good or bad thing. Maybe Angelyne demystifies the good or bad?
I see a very empowered person who is kind of a renegade, and bold, and a real trailblazer. I see someone who was way ahead of her time, who knew that people would underestimate her based on her looks in every room she’d walk into, and used that to her advantage. She had so much control over her image, because she knew the power of an image, and if you think about any great, iconic image, it’s most likely very curated. I think about Robert Doisneau’s black and white photography—those people weren’t actually kissing in that square (“Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville / The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville”)... you know what I mean!? But it has this moment of sweeping fantasy. And that’s what I think is so interesting—even though it was created out of fantasy, it elicits a real feeling. And I think that’s equally valid.
It doesn’t matter, right, if the resonance is what it is?
Right. I’m not really any of the characters that I’ve played, but somehow, there’s some kind of transference—just like when I watch anybody that I love—it makes you feel something. There’s a little bit of you in everything.
Photographed by William Lords
Styled by Mia Fiddis
Hair: Jennifer Covington-Bowers
Makeup: Yumi Mori
Flaunt Film by Renee Nabinger
Location: Classic Car Club Manhattan