Kirsten Dunst stands beneath a spotlight wearing a fringed Rodarte leather jacket that would look more at home on a Hells Angel than a movie star. Her fingers are twisted to read “blood,” and her side- swept blond hair exposes a dragon-shaped cuff adorning the perimeter of her left ear. When someone dares to suggest that it might be too much—making a gang sign for a fashion magazine—Dunst drops her runway-ready pout. “Come on, guys,” she says. “Let’s make this controversial. Let’s sell magazines!”
The actress, who, at 30, has both box-office appeal and indie clout, was born to werk it. She’s been the object of national attention since age 11, when she held her own against Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire. She’s since cemented her A-list status, not only by balancing commercial work with independent fare, but also by injecting Hollywood blockbusters with art-house talent has attracted some of the great auteurs of our time: Sofia Coppola, Michel Gondry, and Lars von Trier. In the process, she’s become America’s edgiest sweetheart.
The oldest child of Klaus, a retired businessman, and Inez, co-owner of a Los Angeles spa, Dunst was raised in a typical middle class household. Although her family had no ties to show business, Dunst’s expressiveness and abundance of energy compelled her mother to sign her up for acting classes. Before long, a 7-year-old Dunst made her silver-screen debut in Woody Allen’s New York Stories, a role that was quickly followed by another small part in Brian De Palma’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. In light of their daughter’s blossoming cinematic career, the Dunst family relocated from their native New Jersey to L.A., where Dunst has been chasing down and devouring that beast called Hollywood ever since.
At the moment, though, Dunst is busy with a more reasonable meal: a sandwich from Lamill Coffee on Silver Lake Boulevard. Across from her sits her boyfriend, actor Garrett Hedlund, whose broad shoulders—covered with a brown leather jacket over a gray hoodie—block her from common sight. Dunst looks effortlessly stylish in a flower-patterned dress and brown ankle boots, her blond hair cascading over a prairie- chic cardigan. Dunst and Hedlund met in 2010 on the set of Walter Salles’ ode to the Beats, On the Road, and have been dating for a year now. Hedlund—who’s been known to refer to Dunst as his “gal”—packs up half of her sandwich for himself before politely making his exit. Dunst, clearly smitten, watches him walk away.
Hedlund has been labeled by the likes of W and Vanity Fair as Brad Pitt’s successor, an ironic comparison when one considers Dunst’s first real- life kiss. “It was just a peck,” she says of the smooch she and Pitt shared in Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire. In the 1994 cinematic adaptation of Anne Rice’s classic novel, Dunst delivered a Golden Globe–nominated performance as Claudia, an undead woman trapped in a young girl’s body. Dunst, then 11, was tasked with channeling a grown woman’s desires, sexual yearnings, and cruel manipulations through a body frozen in pre-adolescence. Her recollection of the experience is accordingly innocent. “I remember Brad would watch lots of Real World episodes,” she says. “He had this long hair. He was just a hippie- ish cool dude. Everyone at the time was like, ‘You’re so lucky you kissed Brad Pitt,’ but I thought it was disgusting. I didn’t kiss anyone else until I was 16, I think. I was a late bloomer.”
It was Dunst’s chastity that endeared her to filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who cast the dimpled actor in her feature-length directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides, as Lux Lisbon, the small-town Lolita who—along with her sisters—reacts to her angst and isolation by taking her own life. Adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel of the same name, The Virgin Suicides offered a freshly dark, post–John Hughes look into the turmoil of adolescence, and instantly became a cult classic. In a famous scene that’s since become emblematic of the film’s romantic ennui, a doctor tells the youngest sister Cecilia (Hanna Hall) that she isn’t old enough to know how bad life really gets. “Obviously, doctor,” Cecilia responds, “you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”
The Virgin Suicides was a major turning point for both Coppola, who triumphantly emerged from the shadow of her legendary father, and Dunst, who was in the process of transitioning into womanhood. “She had that all-American blonde look and a depth behind her eyes,” says Coppola of Dunst. “She had wisdom beyond her age.” For her part, Dunst says, “I trusted Sofia a lot,” which was integral to the success of a film rife with scandalous scenes of sex and suicide. “It was the first time someone wanted me to be more sexual, to be the object of desire. I myself was starting to change, but I hadn’t yet been able to express that in a film. Because Sofia was a woman, too, I felt so much more comfortable doing that.”
The Virgin Suicides was full of visual paradox: plastic bangles adorning botched suicide–scarred wrists; a cherubic face floating in a bathtub full of blood; a gaggle of 15-year-old, chain- smoking blondes. Recently, these images have reemerged across the blogosphere, embraced by a new generation of fans smitten by the film’s winsome palette and bubbly-goth aesthetic. “I was so surprised when someone told me recently that their 14-year-old daughter loved it,” says Coppola about the film’s renewed attention. “I wondered how they knew about it since they weren’t even born when it came out. Then I realized it was probably from [style blogger and magazine editor] Tavi being into it.”
Ten years later, the tale of the tragic Lisbon girls still strikes a cultural chord. “It makes me happy because the film barely had a release when it came out,” says the director. “The studio [Paramount Classics] didn’t know what to do with it and not many people saw it, so it’s nice that it now has an audience and connects to girls the way I connected to the book.” Dunst doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that one of her most notable films came so early in her career. “To be in one of so many people’s favorite movies is all you want as an actor,” she says.
Shortly after The Virgin Suicides, Dunst starred in a string of satirical comedies including Bring it On, Dick, and Drop Dead Gorgeous. Owing to her exceptional comedic timing, the otherwise run-of-the-mill movies became bona fide hits. In 2002, she was tapped by Sam Raimi to play Mary Jane opposite Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in the blockbuster franchise Spider-Man. Raimi’s trilogy went on to gross $2.5 billion worldwide, and made Dunst a household name in the process. “I wish we could have done a fourth movie,” says Dunst of the comic book saga, which Sony Pictures rebooted in 2012 with Andrew Garfield as the arachno-friendly superhero and Emma Stone as his love interest. “We were like a family,” she says. “Plus, those movies gave me the means to not work as much, help my family, and do little indie projects that I made no money on. To many people, I’m still ‘that girl from Spider-Man.’”
Between filming the original and its sequel, Spider-Man 2, Dunst appeared in a supporting role in the surrealist romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Helmed by French filmmaker Michel Gondry, the indie favorite starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet confirmed Dunst as a rare breed: an actor willing to sacrifice top- billing for the chance to work with an auteur. On the heels of Spider-Man 2, Dunst reunited with Coppola to play the titular queen in Marie Antoinette, a grrrl power–tinged salute to the famous monarch. The film didn’t sit well with its viewers, especially the French ones: the Cannes crowd was divided when the Cure– accompanied closing credits rolled during its 2006 screening.
Photography by Frederik Heyman
When she arrived in the U.K. from Sri Lanka at the age of 10, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam only knew two words of English: “Michael” and “Jackson.” Like her idol, Arulpragasam—now widely known as M.I.A.—has since knocked the international pop scene flat on its ass, using her critically acclaimed albums to introduce subjects like Third World injustice and sexism into the public discourse. While run-of-the mill pop stars rattle on about melting popsicles and euphemistic fireworks, M.I.A. tackles archaic gender roles (the video for “Bad Girls” features fast and furious, thugged-out Middle Eastern women shredding pavement while men cheer from the sidelines—a sardonic jab at laws banning female drivers in Saudi Arabia) and discrimination by way of ginger genocide (her harrowingly raw music video for “Born Free” dramatizes the execution of red-haired boys).
M.I.A.’s roots are largely responsible for the passion that motivates her. As a member of the Tamil community, an ethnic minority in northern Sri Lanka, M.I.A.’s childhood did not involve Crocs and strolls in the park. “I think my earliest memory of war was hearing the rattling of my windows and the adults telling us to go under our beds because there were bombs going off nearby,” she says of life in the small Tamil town of Jaffna. “That night no one went back to sleep. There was a full moon against the flames. Everyone thought the war would only last for a few hours. It ended up going on for 30 years.”
M.I.A.’s father, Arul Pragasam, a Tamil activist and former revolutionary, played a significant role in the birth of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), a now-defunct militant group formed to defend Tamil rights and foster an independent Tamil state. Growing up, M.I.A. was largely estranged from her father for her own safety. The few times she met him, he was introduced to her as an uncle. As the war grew nastier, EROS was swallowed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Tigers, a more aggressive independence faction. Pragasam, weary of EROS’ violent tactics, ruptured his ties to the Tigers.
Before discovering her gift for sound, M.I.A. practiced visual arts and studied film at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. “For a working class immigrant in England, society’s expectations were that I’d become a cab driver or a supermarket attendant,” she says. “But then at home they wanted me to be a doctor. So for me, getting into art school was very liberating. It allowed me to get over the pressure. That’s why I didn’t care how I got in, I just wanted in!”
At the highbrow art institute, M.I.A. had trouble reconciling her syllabi with what was happening in the world outside of academia. “They would be talking about feminism in the ’70s context,” she says. “Meanwhile, I was raised in a culture in which I wouldn’t be caught dead shaking hands.” Failing to connect in the classroom, she preferred to wage a war of political discourse through art; she discovered that film and music could tackle social issues in ways that academic theory could not. She dug Dogme 95, the ’90s Danish, avant-garde filmmaking movement launched by directors including Lars Von Trier; the hyper-realistic, raw footage resonated with her. She preferred reality to abstraction or, in her words, “people running around in pigeon costumes.”
M.I.A. was trying to roll up and smoke her college diploma when she received a phone call informing her of her cousin’s disappearance back in Sri Lanka. “Up until that point, I was like, Fuck the war,” she says. “Fuck Sri Lanka. I live in England now—fuck all the bad shit. But when I got that phone call I was so angry that it motivated me to find out more about what was going on there.” Arulpragasam’s stage acronym stands for the moment she learned of her cousin’s fate—in a way, “M.I.A.” represents an alternate reality to her own life, the one she could have led had she remained in Sri Lanka.
To confirm her cousin’s death, M.I.A. chased down the only source that might have given her family closure: VHS tapes recorded by Tamil Tigers. The tapes included footage of war victims, interviews with Tiger leaders, and homemade propaganda clips, and were distributed through local grocery stores in Tamil immigrant enclaves. Tamil families used these tapes like newsletters that would hopefully provide insight into the safety of missing Tamil civilians. Determined to verify the circumstances of her cousin’s disappearance, M.I.A. traveled to Sri Lanka, and later Germany, visiting immigrants seeking political asylum and collecting all the tapes she could locate. At the time, they were the Tamils’ only means of disseminating and preserving their stories.
The communities she encountered in her search were supportive but hopeless. “They were never offered any therapy and the things they saw were just really raw,” M.I.A. says. “No one was really asking them about what happened, nobody really cared. So when they saw that I cared, they thought I was mad.”
The 9/11 terrorist attacks changed everything. By 2002, all Tamil tapes were considered terrorist property. “The Sri Lankan government exploited the hot topic of the 21st century to silence this whole ethnic group,” she says. “All the personal stories were lost.” Although M.I.A. hid her tapes in her mother’s attic, termites eventually consumed them.
Through the tapes she managed to amass, M.I.A. learned more about the Freedom Birds, an all-female faction of the Tamil liberation movement. She was instantly drawn to Nisa, one of many young girls tasked with guarding the Tamil communities. “Freedom Birds were all women who had no families. In Sri Lanka, when your parents die, it’s tougher for a young woman—because all decisions are traditionally made by their parents. When the decision-makers go, you become just an empty vessel.”
It was Nisa’s detached attitude, her unmistakable beauty, and her less-traveled path that grabbed M.I.A.’s attention. “All these girls had been raised in such overprotective environments,” she says. “They weren’t raised to have opinions, to be individuals, or to believe in feminism. Most of them were raised to be subservient, passive housewives. So when this dominant structure was suddenly lifted, they became the most vulnerable human beings. People were getting bombed, shelled, and droned everyday. And these women were like, ‘Fuck it! I’m just going to join so other kids won’t be in the same situation as me, and that’s what I am going to live for.’”
M.I.A.’s subsequent attempts at visual art were motivated by her desire to keep the memory of these women alive. She took stills from video closeups, particularly of Nisa, and enlarged them with the intent to summon their stories. Her first gallery show took place in 2001 at the Euphoria shop at London’s Portobello Road Market, a year after she designed the cover art for Elastica’s 2000 album, The Menace (her friend Justine Frischmann was the band’s lead singer). Most of her fine art work consisted of traditional Tamil revolutionary symbols juxtaposed with images of London’s consumerist culture. Actor Jude Law was one of her early buyers.
While sipping an espresso at Fat Radish, a dimly lit restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Alexander Skarsgård speaks with deep admiration about An Iliad, an off- Broadway restaging of Homer’s Trojan War classic featuring a well-reviewed performance by his True Blood costar Denis O’Hare. “If you’re into acting-acting, this is just the thing for you,” Skarsgård says, sounding like someone who’s into acting- acting. He looks down at his watch, worried that he’ll be late for the performance at the New York Theatre Workshop. “Do you want to run there with me?” he says, as he gulps the espresso like a tequila shot.
Once outside, the 6’4″ actor races across Houston Street, towering over the other pedestrians on the sidewalk. “We shot What Maisie Knew in Chinatown, out on the street,” he says, referring to the upcoming family drama, in which he stars opposite Julianne Moore. “It’s life, it’s real, it’s chaos, but it’s lovely,” says the 35-year-old Skarsgård with an accent that has all but disappeared after years spent embodying all manner of characters. “Let’s go for it, the light is green,” he says. We start to run across Second Street, when a car grinds to a halt inches away from him. “Shit, I’m going to miss the show,” he says, as he checks his watch again, ignoring the car that nearly turned the famous Swede into roadkill.
With broad shoulders, dirty-blond hair, and blue eyes, Skarsgård looks like a superhero—or at least a Homeric warrior—which has served him well in his portrayal of Eric Northman, the darkly sexual vampire of HBO’s True Blood, a supernatural drama loosely based on Charlaine Harris’ popular Southern Vampire Mysteries book series. In Harris’ first installment, Dead Until Dark, Sookie Stackhouse (played in the series by Oscar winner Anna Paquin) describes Eric as a “hunk—kind of like the guys on the cover of romance books.” But Skarsgård brings more to the role than come-hither fangs and a set of killer abs. There’s heft to his character’s brooding, which is no easy task given that he’s playing a 1,000-year-old vampire in a fictional world overrun with werewolves, shape- shifters, maenads, and witches.
At the end of season four, which aired last summer, Sookie, who’d been playing a competitive game of emotional ping-pong with Eric and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), suddenly removes herself from the show’s central love triangle when she breaks up with both of them. In the season finale, Eric’s protégée Pam (whom he turned into a vampire) hinted at the plot twist when she said, “I am so over Sookie, and her precious fairy vagina, and her unbelievably stupid name. Fuck Sookie!”
But that doesn’t mean the party is over. “Bill and Eric have to set aside their disputes and team up. They bond in the process; they have no choice. There’s definitely a bit of a bromance going on there,” says Skarsgård, smiling. “It’s a little like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” referring to the Wild West outlaws immortalized on screen by Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Photography by Tim Barber
Styling by Melissa Rubini
Daniel Radcliffe seems preoccupied when he enters the Hudson Diner, an unassuming bistro in Manhattan’s West Village. Visibly frustrated, he heads straight to an empty table, where he fidgets with his iPhone. “Sorry about that,” he says, emerging from his tech-coma. “I sent an e-mail and it didn’t go through, and I just got so angry! A hundred years ago, the person I was e-mailing would have needed to wait two years to get the message and now I’m pissed off because it didn’t go through the moment I sent it. It’s so stupid.” At 5’5”, the 22-year-old English actor cuts a dashing silhouette of compact physical strength. Over the next couple of hours, he’ll swear often, and enthusiastically, while discussing everything from true love to full-frontal nudity with a maturity that should no longer come as a surprise.
Radcliffe has devoted the past 10 years to bringing the eponymous hero of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books to life. In 2001, after an exhaustive search, Rowling and the film’s producers cast Radcliffe, at the age of 11, for the leading role in the franchise that has since earned more than $7.7 billion, becoming one of the highest-grossing film series of all time. “I hadn’t thought that I’d be sad at all when it came to finishing the films, but then it happened and I was weeping,” he says of his farewell to the character with whom he’s become synonymous. “When you’re doing something for that long with the same people, you kind of start thinking, God, can I do anything else?”
For Radcliffe, the series’ conclusion signals not just the end of an era, but newfound creative freedom. Though he’s one of the wealthiest young actors of our time (estimating Radcliffe’s net worth is one of Forbes’ favorite pastimes—“they’re almost always off”), until recently, he hasn’t been able to spread his wings far beyond Harry’s world. A monogamist by nature, he’s been faithful to the young wizard, choosing only to test the waters in one non-Potter film (the 2007 romantic drama December Boys) since signing up for the part. “I kept saying to people, What am I going to do now? But soon after, I was on a plane reading the script for The Woman in Black,” he says of his new film, a supernatural thriller set in Victorian Britain. “I moved on very quickly.”
In his first silver-screen part since slaying Voldemort, Radcliffe plays a lawyer who crosses paths with a wronged woman’s vengeful ghost. Given his commercial appeal, the choice was bound to baffle some audiences, as will his next project, first-time feature filmmaker John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings, in which he’ll play Beat poet Allen Ginsberg opposite Elizabeth Olsen. “I really like working with young, hungry, ambitious directors like James [Watkins, director of The Woman in Black, whose only other credit is 2008’s psychological thriller Eden Lake]. He’s got a head full of ideas and he’s made a great film.” Radcliffe’s real-life godson, Misha Handley, plays his son in the film, a casting choice that allowed the director to capture some authentic chemistry between Radcliffe and the young boy. “You’re not really talking about ‘acting’ with a kid that young,” Radcliffe says. “You’ve got to have a real relationship with him, and that comes across on the screen. It was a help to me as well.” Not only does he want to continue to work with children—he’d like to have them. “To be honest, I’m kind of the broodiest young man in the world. I want kids. They’re just so much more honest and funnier than anyone else. And we watch the same TV.”
The Woman in Black might be Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film, but he’s certainly dabbled in a variety other projects. Between the releases of The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, Radcliffe landed the part of Alan Strang in the 2007 revival of Peter Shaffer’s controversial play Equus, in London’s West End. In fewer than four months, the play was transferred to Broadway, where it ran until February 2009. Famous for its Freudian subject matter, Equus tells the story of a disturbed young man whose unconventional love for his horse borders on obsession. “It was a challenging production and I think it made people sit up and say, ‘Oh, well, he wants to do interesting work at least,’” says Radcliffe, whose performance earned him stellar reviews from the theater community. “The young wizard,” wrote Ben Brantley in The New York Times, “has chosen wisely.”
The role called for Radcliffe to strip completely naked, a brazen act that seemed to scream: Harry won’t last forever! A consummate professional, he delivered his lines in the buff while, on any given night, family members and a revolving door of respected industry veterans sat front row. “That was the least of my worries,” he says of his exhibitionism. “I’m an only child. We’ve always walked around the house naked. Some people find that weird, but I don’t. But some nights there would be some beautiful girl in the front row and I’d be like, Oh fuck, in two hours you’re going to have seen everything—there is going to be no mystery.”
His next endeavor, although less revealing than his turn in Equus, required an altogether different set of balls: simultaneous singing and cartwheeling in Broadway’s revival of Frank Loesser’s 1961 musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a satire about a window washer named J. Pierrepont Finch, who happens upon a self-help book and begins to rise up the corporate ladder by following its simple instructions. An irreverent spoof of the American Dream, the play combined a cheeky look at post- WWII capitalism, a meticulously constructed 1960s wardrobe, and over-the-top humor to great effect. The play required Radcliffe to perform eight times a week for 10 months and was nominated for eight Tony awards last year, including one for Best Revival. “Some people think that if you’re in film, you should be in film; if you’re on stage, you’re on stage; if you’re on TV, you should stay on TV. But I just don’t think that’s how it should work.”
Like so many stars thrust into the spotlight at a young age, Radcliffe could have easily checked into rehab for “exhaustion” and collected his residuals, but even though he’s admitted to overcoming a short-lived drinking problem (he’ll be sober two years this August), his off-camera activities were never debauched enough to affect his public reputation.
Growing up, Radcliffe always related more to his older colleagues than to kids his age, many of whom “turned hostile” when he became a household name. While even the slightest resemblance to the scrawny Harry Potter is enough to fuel endless teasing, actually playing him made Radcliffe a prime target for bullying. Having survived his own adolescence, Radcliffe now lends a hand to kids whose battles aren’t as public. He works closely with the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that helps prevent suicide among LGBTQ teens, a cause he’s very passionate about. Last year, the organization honored Radcliffe with their Hero Award for his outspokenness on the subject.
Due to the demanding schedule of the Potter films, Radcliffe often worked with on-set tutors, trading classrooms for private one-on-one discussions about culture and politics. “It kind of takes you back to a purer form of learning, when it was one student who hasn’t got 20 other people to deal with,” he says. “If we talked about something that we found interesting, then we could go off on a tangent and learn about that for a while—it was a lovely way of learning where curiosity was instilled rather than fear, like, I have to learn this to pass the test.” His education wasn’t limited to coursework; it bled into trailer tutorials with fellow artists and technicians.
Radcliffe’s encounters with his costars, who were often much older than he was, became the subject of an episode of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series, Extras, which aired in 2006 and painted him as an eager young actor trying to pick up a thirty-something thespian by convincing her that he, too, smokes cigarettes and has had “the intercourse.” Radcliffe plays the part almost too well, poking fun at his daily struggle to separate himself from his longtime character through innocuous acts of rebellion. “There is a huge amount of pressure placed on young men to go out, get fucked up all the time, and fuck a lot of women,” he says. “That’s what teenagers think they have to do in order to become men, which is so untrue and such a horrible idea. That’s what all my friends did—what I tried to do, with mixed success.”
Upending the expected fate of a child actor, Radcliffe did the unthinkable: Instead of derailing, he grew up to become a kind, intelligent, mature man. From the relatively safe vantage point of young adulthood, he wonders how different things might have been had he grown up in Los Angeles rather than London. “In America, you are treated as an actor first and a child second, but it’s so important that kids remain kids. Had I come over here, I think I would have been different.” He describes the adultification of today’s children as “fucking tragic—the fact that kids want to wear designer labels? I didn’t give a fuck about that. My parents were just trying to get me to not eat insects when I was 9. I didn’t know what the fuck AllSaints was. When did kids stop eating mud? The whole point of being a kid is that you get to do shit you can’t do when you’re an adult. It’s downhill from here. I’m 22 now and I realize that my best years are behind me.”
Whether or not he’s right remains to be seen, but those years have certainly been good to Radcliffe, who’s grown to become one of the most recognizable faces in pop culture—which, of course, comes with a price. “A lot of odd stuff happens,” he says of his frequent run-ins with overzealous fans. “Somebody in South America adopted my mother as his mother, for example. He’d seen my mom in some photos on the red carpet and wrote to her saying, ‘Dear Marcia, my name is so-and-so and I’m from Argentina. I’m just letting you know that you are my mother now. How is my brother Daniel?’ We also had a guy who sent a lot of pictures of me from when I was between the ages of 13 and 15, and he circled my crotch in all the photos with an arrow to it and the words, ‘Do you have an erection here?’ It’s funny shit.”
Obsession, something with which Radcliffe deals all too often, is also something to which he can relate. “I’ve been obsessed with people and fads and things. I don’t think I would ever faint or scream when somebody walked out of the theater or something like that though,” he says, obliquely referring to the throngs who greeted him nightly as he exited the theater after each How to Succeed performance.
Since his move to New York, Radcliffe has led a quiet life in the West Village, dating under the radar and focusing on work—a privilege he feels actors in similar situations might not have. “Look at all the comments that came out of the Twilight films,” he says. “I can’t remember their exact words and I am not going to try to quote them, because if I misquote them, Twilight fans will kill me. But the point is, those kids are kind of ready to be done with it. [Harry Potter] went on for 10 years and we had a fucking great time. I loved every second, and I learned so much.”
Given the commitment that Radcliffe has made to his craft, it’s easy to assume that he’d be adverse to similar commitment in his personal life. Such an assumption, he insists, would be wrong. “I love the notion that you can meet somebody when you’re young and stay with her forever,” he says. “My mom is the only girlfriend my dad has ever had. I look at them and I see how they’ve built their own mythology together. That’s what I want, to build a universe with someone. Everything that happens prior to finding that one person is kind of bullshit. You’ve got to find somebody who you love and who loves you, and then cling onto them.” He insists that monogamy with the right partner can be very exciting. “I have such a nice, happy life now,” he says. “I don’t go out all that often, especially to bars and clubs, just because it’s no longer as much fun for me. I like to stay at home with my girlfriend. We have a lovely time just with each other.”
One needn’t dig hard to discover that Radcliffe is a commitment junkie. In fact, he just might be the last romantic to emerge from his technology-dominated, sentimentally detached, and amorously doomed generation. His enthusiasm about an array of subjects—from women to film, and even to coffee—is genuine and contagious. Although he’s undeniably more experienced than his peers, Radcliffe shows no signs of nonchalance. To hear him tell it, every song, every project, and every person has the potential to change his life. “I think people should try to mix it up as much as possible,” he says. “That’s what makes us better.”
What does the future hold for the actor who managed to surprise us with each of his post-Potter choices? Delivering his lines naked while caressing a horse? Check. Dancing and singing in a musical? Check. Playing a father at 22? Check. Radcliffe’s recent resume reads like the checklist of someone who’s determined to break the speed limit on a road less traveled. And he’s only getting started.
Photography by Mariano Vivanco
Styling by Joseph Episcopo
Michael C Hall arrives to the set of his photo shoot—a sprawling Glendale estate—in army-green attire, the earthy ensemble that his longtime character, beloved serial killer Dexter Morgan, sports as camouflage to hide his alienation and blend into society. In Los Angeles, where Hall’s face seems to occupy every billboard, his nondescript apparel masks the celebrity—seems like he learned a thing or two from channeling Dexter, the enigmatic antihero he plays to such great effect on the hit Showtime series, Dexter.
The 40-year-old actor began his career on the stage. Equipped with the necessary chops—he can sing, dance, and act—Hall appeared in numerous theater productions before booking a part in the revival of Cabaret, his first Broadway role. Cabaret’s director, Oscar winner Sam Mendes, recommended Hall to producer Alan Ball for the part of David Fisher, a closeted funeral home operator in the drama series, Six Feet Under (True Blood creator Ball’s firstborn with HBO). A year after the show wrapped its fifth and final season, Hall landed the lead role on Dexter, which is currently in its sixth season.
A Miami-based blood splatter analyst, his occupation allows Dexter to access confidential information as well as solve cases—for his own vigilante agenda—which he then uses to kill the area’s most notorious killers. A childhood trauma left him not only with an insatiable appetite for violence, but also with an acute sense of alienation, which is often obscured by his always-placid disposition. As he puts it, if he could love anyone, it would be his sister, Deb, played by Hall’s real-life ex-wife Jennifer Carpenter (the pair filed for divorce in December 2010), the only non-murderous human to whom he can kind of relate.
The hypocrisy of Dexter’s actions—it’s okay to kill, so long as the person you’re offing is morally bankrupt—isn’t enough to keep the show’s zealous fans from rooting for him as he avenges the bad guys, always making sure he has proof for his (and for our) peace of mind. We like to believe that he cleans the streets while turning a blind eye to his peculiar rituals, and we look the other way as pleasure flashes across his face at the sight of his kind. We grant him immunity as if he were his own one-man secret society, for he allows us, in exchange, to indulge vicariously in our own suppressed appetites for justice without consequence.
Before being adapted for television, Dexter was a series of crime novels written by Mormon apologist Jeff Lindsay. The author has admitted publicly that he was, at first, skeptical about having Hall portray his prized antagonist, as he associated him too much with his previous role, “the gay brother from Six Feet Under.” Hall had fallen victim to the curse of the convincing actor, but what Lindsay failed to realize was that just because Hall excelled in one extreme didn’t mean he couldn’t take on another just as gracefully. The writer was later quoted saying, “I didn’t know there were actors that good, and I didn’t know Michael was one of them.” Thanks to Hall’s Golden Globe–winning performance, Dexter reached an average of five million weekly viewers last season, earning the title of Showtime’s most-watched original series.
In person, Hall appears quite handsome and charming when his infamous gaze, the “blue-steel” of sinister, is safely tucked away. He seems reluctant as he surveys the Jim Jones–inspired ranch where we’ve scheduled his photo shoot, scanning a clumsily built shack, a rickety trampoline, and rusty cages overgrown with ivy. He’s obviously worried that he’ll forever be associated with all things creepy, a concern that worsens when he meets the models we’ve hired: young women who’ll play the child-brides to his cult leader. But as he’s always done throughout his varied career, Hall welcomes the challenge of entering the world of a new character.
The photographer motions the model to put her hand on Hall’s thigh. He shuffles uncomfortably as their bodies entangle into one another on the dusty matress. His often-masked masculinity becomes overwhelming in a white tank top. His piercing eyes transition effortlessly between darkly intense and amicably placid as the shutter clicks. From the looks being thrown his way by his nervously giggling “cult girls,” it becomes obvious Hall could play the role of a heartthrob in his sleep.
The next morning, Hall meets me for breakfast at Café 101, a ‘30s-themed Hollywood diner on Franklin Avenue. His mask this time is a baseball hat, pulled all the way down so that it covers the top-half of his face. Not long after his oatmeal arrives topped with a sad, brown banana, I begin to probe him for secrets, using the theme of this issue as an excuse. “I have a childhood secret,” he offers, smiling.
Back in the second grade, he and his friends hung out by a creek near their homes in Northern Virginia, until a construction crew threatened to replace their sanctuary with an apartment complex. “We took it upon ourselves to drive them out and get them to stop building the complex,” he says. “We did all kinds of things to their equipment when they weren’t there. The tamer version of what we did involved spreading a concoction of peanut butter and jelly all over their truck’s console, steering wheel, and shifting gears. When we got particularly adventurous, we’d pee all over the tractor seats, and, you know, it got progressively worse over the course of a few weeks.” While describing the exhilaration he felt from hiding his youthful rebellion from his parents, he looks every bit the part of Dexter—albeit a milder version.
Hall’s mainstream success is being the lovechild of HBO and Showtime, who aren’t bad parents to have in this industry. The actor has marked his territory in contemporary television by starring in two of the most reputable networks’ highest regarded series. By abandoning traditional television’s repetitive formulas and refusing to give into predictability, Six Feet Under was among the first of its kind: a cinema-quality drama that didn’t have to end in 90 minutes. Centered on a dysfunctional family running a funeral home, Six Feet Under examined death from the perspective of characters who were born into its casualty. The series concluded in 2005 after five years on the air, leaving behind a loyal following and well-deserved critical acclaim for Hall.
Fittingly, Six Feet Under ended its run with an episode that revealed the way each of the show’s characters would eventually die. Of his exit from the show, Hall says, “I had a conversation with Lauren Ambrose [who played David’s sister, Claire Fisher, in the series] the day after the finale aired. We were both like, ‘This is probably it, right?’ The last thing I thought I’d do was another television show. I certainly thought that I’ve been spoiled beyond the ability to appreciate any other experience in TV, given how sublime Six Feet Under was.”
It didn’t take long, however, for Hall to sign a contract with his “dark passenger.” About landing the part of Dexter only a year later, he says, “I felt so lucky. I felt like I had shit on both of my shoes.” His tone tells me that this is meant to be a pleasant thing. “It’s not supposed to happen this way.” Although Hall’s two most celebrated roles couldn’t be more different on paper (one cleans up the mess the other makes), they’re both deeply rooted in secrecy. As Dexter Morgan, his secret threatens to send him to death row, but as David Fisher, his secret—his homosexuality—is less destructive, although no less closely guarded for it. Whether by design or coincidence, Hall has become the poster boy for mortality, which can’t help but affect his personal life. Does he see a therapist? Hall nods to confirm. “It’s probably affected my psyche in ways that I can’t really appreciate or articulate, but I haven’t completely lost my mind or anything,” he says. “I still understand that it’s all make-believe.”
With Dexter’s new season comes a much-needed antidote to the monotony of Sunday nights, this time by tapping into some spiritual territory with its biblically charged villains and Dexter’s newfound curiosity about his divine purpose. Never before has America had a sweetheart that was an antagonist of such intensity. I turn to Hall for his secrets of making the self-rationalized character so relatable. Chalk it up to modesty, but he says it’s the darkness within us all—and not his superb acting—that’s responsible for Dexter’s popularity. “I can definitely relate to the simultaneous burden and exhilaration of behaving in some taboo way,” he says. “I think we all have a bag of shadows that we drag around with us. Maybe not as formidable as Dexter’s, but I think that’s a part of what we relate to. I can relate to a sense of compartmentalization, a sense of compulsion—I mean, I’m compelled to do things, but thankfully, it’s not killing and chopping people up.”
Hall admits that besides their mutual compulsion to misbehave, he shares with Dexter a search for authenticity, as well as an appreciation for anonymity. “He has a sense of lacking authenticity or faking of all human interaction. I mean I strive for authenticity in a way that he does. I know what it is to feel that I’m wearing a mask to suit whatever situation I’m in, I think we all do that.”
The increasing number of morally wayward characters stealing screen time from traditionally loveable protagonists—Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, The Sopranos’ Tony Soprano, Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson, Californication’s Hank Moody, to name a few—suggests that we, as a nation, are fascinated by—and perhaps envious of—those who embrace their darkness, disregard authority, and abandon all principles except that of nature: survival of the fittest. There is a visible shift of empathy from the hero to the villain, making the anti-hero the new hero. “I think we live in a time where a lot of people feel an increasing sense that they have no control over their world,” Hall says. “So there’s a vicarious thrill to spending time with a character, who in his own way, and in his own little corner of the world, has taken some form of control.”
Unlike Dexter, Hall is effortlessly “connected” to the world and those who surround him. For example, the man can carry a tune—and he’s not ashamed to let people know. “I sing,” he says. “But that’s no secret.” He has an authoritative voice that resembles a historian. (He is fittingly narrating a series on the History Channel about the Vietnam War) The thick quality of his tone must be what allows him to portray such a believable master manipulator. Even when he jokes, his voice carries such a tone of assurance that it makes you question his deadpan sarcasm. “Why did you close your little book?” he says. “Are you done with me?” with a steady stare. He is very funny, but seriously.
Even in 2009, when Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma—something he shared with the world at the Golden Globe Awards when he accepted his trophy wearing a beanie to cover his hair loss—he was able to break the ice. “It is nice to have a justifiable excuse for accessorizing,” he announced, immediately cutting the otherwise palpable tension. Fortunately his illness went into remission soon after and he is now fully recovered. “I’m more comfortable with a society that values life, but also doesn’t deny the existence, the inevitability of death,” he says.
Hall has since been lending his name to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization that raises money for research to find a cure, and to support fellow survivors battling the disease. His face is currently plastered across billboards in Hollywood to raise awareness about the foundation’s Light the Night Walk, an annual event that takes place around the world.
Then there are, of course, the other billboards, the ones for Dexter, in which Hall is flanked on either side by blood-splatter wings. It suggests he now serves a higher purpose than just getting off on human-stained plastic wrap. But what does it all mean? Will Dexter begin to see what we’ve seen all along: That he is the embodiment of divine intervention. “I want to believe in divine intervention,” Hall says before leaving the restaurant. “It’s hard to definitively say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions like that, but there are facts of my own story or other peoples’ story that seem to have been guided by a knowing beyond their individual mind.”
We instantly fell in love with Brie Larson when she semi-assuredly sat on a cake, dressed as Princess Valhalla (red booty shorts, a Thor-like plastic helmet, and a blonde wig that would have made Rapunzel blush), at the bizarre request of a comic-book nerd with a pastry fetish. She let him ogle her via webcam as she asked, “Wait, before I do this, help a lady out. Do I hate this, or do I like this?” We loved it. At the time, her character, Kate—of Showtime’s critically acclaimed series United States of Tara—was going through a phase of exploring while exploiting herself on the Internet. Didn’t we all?
Created by Diablo Cody, the hyper-verbose, Oscar-winning writer of Juno and Jennifer’s Body, and based on the original idea of executive producer Steven Spielberg, the story followed Tara Gregson (Toni Colette), a wife and mother of two with Multiple Personality Disorder. In times of distress, Tara would often transform into one of her three main “alters”: T, a sexed-up, 16-year-old brat; Alice, a June Cleaver–inspired ’50s housewife; and Buck, a short-tempered, beer-guzzling alpha-redneck.
Larson played the unfortunate daughter of Colette’s erratic character, who turned into T and pressured her daughter to smoke pot, then turned into Buck and beat up her boyfriend before eventually becoming Alice, only to wash her foul mouth with soap. Given the circumstances, it’s remarkable that Larson was able to inject so much self-effacing humor and sharp-tongued sarcasm into these otherwise dire situations. Unfortunately, like so many unsung classics before it, United States of Tara was canceled before its time.
Following her brief fling with television, Larson has been busy filling her now blank schedule with a diverse slate of film projects. First, she’ll play the daughter of Woody Harrelson in Rampart, a crime drama based on James Ellroy’s story about a crooked cop nicknamed “Date-Rape Dave.” Also awaiting a release date is East Fifth Bliss, an independent comedy in which she plays Michael C. Hall’s young temptress. After that, she’ll appear in her most anticipated project: 21 Jump Street, a big-screen adaptation of the TV procedural starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Johnny Depp.
Larson was only 9 when she realized her passion for acting, and moved to Los Angeles. One of the youngest students ever accepted into the American Conservatory Theater, she quickly proved her parents weren’t foolish for uprooting the family. She appeared in sketches on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and took on the role of Bob Saget’s daughter in Raising Dad, a short-lived sitcom on the former WB network. At the tender age of 13, she ventured into music and promoted her own tracks on the Internet, which caught the attention of Tommy Mottola from Casablanca Records, who then signed her to his label without meeting her. Various guest appearances in TV shows followed, before she landed a small role in 13 Going on 30, which served as her entrance into film. Her other recent projects include the video-game inspired comedy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, with Michael Cera, and Tanner Hall, a boarding school drama starring Rooney Mara.
Though Larson has a lot to juggle, she appears carefree when she arrives at the shoot. Dressed in a plaid skirt, Doc Martens, knee-high socks, and a sleeveless cotton shirt she’s tied into a crop top, she looks more like a schoolgirl skipping class than the in-demand actress that she is. Couture instantly transforms her, adding a timeless allure to her innocent charm.
By the time she gets her bright blue lipstick applied, Larson has already started humoring us, relaying horror stories from the night before, when she was required to attend a “very LA” event. When it comes to her place in Hollywood, if Larson feels like a deer caught in headlights, then her peers are a cackle of hyenas. It frightens her, the insincerity of so many scripted beauty queens who compete with each other for the attention of photographers, stepping and repeating all over each other. Fortunately, Larson is not the kind of girl who knows the brand of her nail polish or her mascara—the reason behind her self-proclaimed disorientation at certain red carpet interviews.
In fact, Larson doesn’t waste much time thinking about events. Instead, she’d rather go foraging for mushrooms (she is in a mushroom club, which is exactly how it sounds). While she’s inarguably beautiful, it’s her charisma that’s most magnetic. Her attractiveness gets slightly overshadowed by her coolness as she charms us with her honest mannerisms and wicked sense of humor.
Larson’s ardent approach and her boundless perspective for creative expression are clearly beyond what ‘Young Hollywood’ has to offer nowadays. She is refreshingly articulate and mature enough to poke fun at her chosen occupation. “There’s no way that auditioning hasn’t done something to my brain that has changed me in my everyday life—it’s just not possible. It’s something that I think about all the time. I feel at times like the Looney Tunes characters when they run off a cliff and then they’re running on air, until they look down and they fall.”
I meet Larson the next day at Flore Vegan, an unstuffy café in Silver Lake. While picking at lettuce leaves from my plate of salad, she considers the magnitude of her past three years. She recalls receiving the screenplay that would herald a new chapter in her young career. “I just remember reading it and being like, The part has arrived, and you are on your merry way! Everything is revealed and understood,” she says mocking her big break, what then seemed too good to be true. Not long after her audition, she received a phone call from Tara’s producers informing her that they’d cast someone else. “I fainted, because I honestly believed this was it,” she says. “It was like being left at the altar.”
Discouraged, she considered getting a “real job,” possibly as an interior designer. “I thought maybe this was a clue that I should not sit around and watch movies all day. I just felt so lost.” As luck would have it, she received another phone call from the show’s producers, asking her to audition again; they were recasting the part of Kate. She went through the distressing process once more only to land it this time. “When I was cast, everybody had already done the pilot together. All of a sudden I was there with bigger leagues, and I was thinking, Oh my gosh, I hope I’m doing this right.”
At the show’s premiere, Larson finally met Tara’s executive producer, Steven Spielberg. She was about to enter the theater, when she ran into the film legend, who was blocking the entrance. “It was as if the Great Wall of China came down. I was like, I can’t walk that way. And I actually started to scoot behind him, up against the press wall, just to not even touch him, like he was an electric fence,” she says with lingering astonishment. “He accidentally stepped on my foot and I instantly went, Oh sorry! And he looked at me and said, ‘Brie! I’ve been wanting to talk to you.’ And I’m like, You know my name?” Spielberg showered her with well-deserved praise, almost none of which she remembers given the sheer panic that flooded her in the moment. He told her there that it was his kids who insisted he hires her; which had a great impact on Spielberg’s final decision. “He was like, ‘You’re killin’ it, as they say.’ That was pretty incredible,” Larson says, still in disbelief.
After three years spent working together, the cast and crew have grown into the unlikely family they were meant to portray, especially Larson and her on-camera brother, Keir Gilchrist. “He’s actually staying at my place with his girlfriend. He’s such a badass,” she says. She’s just as effusive with praise for her on-screen mother, Academy Award nominee Toni Colette. As it turns out, Larson’s admiration for the actress manifested long before their first encounter. “I’d watched so many of her movies but it wasn’t until I saw The Hours [in which Collette shares a deeply-felt kiss with Julianne Moore], and her amazing performance in it—so brief, but so impactful—that I realized what an a great performer she was.” Shortly after, Larson researched the actor, and noticed that she’d played wildly disparate characters in many of her favorite films. Larson admired her chameleon nature. “That’s when something clicked for me,” she says. “It is such an interesting and exciting way to go about it. That you’re not some brand, but ever-changing.”
She spent a good portion of her time on set trying to impress Colette. When they were about to film a scene in which Tara’s alter, Alice, tries to put soap in her mouth, she saw it as her chance to bond with the actor, “Oh my gosh, Toni Collette was going to put stuff in my mouth. I felt like I needed to prove that I was super badass and that I was real, and serious about it and wasn’t just some kid.” In a poor attempt to seem tough, Larson refused to film the scene using the substitution suggested by the prop team and insisted on using real soap instead. She thought the plan would surely secure a few points with the star, but instead it backfired uneventfully. “They were like, ‘That’s a really stupid idea. You’re going to have to do this 20 times.’” Even Colette wasn’t impressed by Larson’s wasted bravado. “We ended up using yogurt.” Larson says. “It was still gross. And I realized after the first take, that that soap was a bad idea, but I was trying to be super-cool.”
From her humble (and humbling) beginnings as a teenage pop star to her recent success on television and in film, Larson’s been testing the waters across artistic outlets—she’s even begun writing and directing her own short films. Though she is still on the greener side of experience, she will, undoubtedly, soon find herself on the set of a high-profile project, rolling her eyes at a rookie actress trying to convince the crew into doing something unnecessary, all in the name of impressing Brie Larson.
Celebrity sorcerer David Copperfield once made the Statue of Liberty disappear. He’s walked through (yes, through) the Great Wall of China. With his trademark smolder, he even wooed supermodel Claudia Schiffer, to whom he was engaged for six years. The 55-year-old New Jersey native is the proud owner of eleven Guinness World Record, 21 Emmys, and a chain of 11 islands in the Bahamas. It’s safe to say he lives a, well, charmed life, which is why we were so excited when he invited BULLETT to hang out in his magic archive in Las Vegas.
Check out the behind-the-scenes footage in which our Editor-in-Chief Idil Tabanca, Creative Director Sah D’Simone, and Art Director James Orlando team up with the King of Magic to create images that are beyond enchanting. To see the results of the shoot, pick up BULLETT’s Cosmic Issue, on stands now.
The gloomy London afternoon is illuminated by Ewan McGregor’s arrival to the North London townhouse where he is set to transform into various, equally eccentric characters. The 40-year-old Scottish actor appears, cheerful and animated, sporting a mustache that suggests he is a proud graduate of Dali’s Academy of ‘Stache Twisting. After our initial introductions, the shoot begins. About an hour later, having relocated to the garden, I hear laughter coming from the studio. I run inside to see who tripped on the strobes this time, only to find the actor in tight pants, deliberately showing his butt crack while striking a mock-sexy pose for the camera. McGregor has the crew doubled over in laughter as I surreptitiously snap a photo.
A few hours pass before McGregor calls me out. “I wanted to ask you something,” he says. “Did you take a picture of my ass crack?” Busted! I feel mortified. He probably thinks I am going to sell it to TMZ. This is bad, real bad. He thinks I am a perv, a creep. “Yes,” I say, blushing. I’m already preparing a lengthy speech that would go on about my morals as they relate to privacy, and that I would never show it to anyone but I probably should not have done it anyways. I can actually delete it right now. Does he want to delete it himself? Would that make him more comfortable? Shit, should I throw the phone in the pool? Instead of reprimanding me as I’d expected, he says, “Can you send me that photo? I want to email it to my publicist as a cover option.” The accompanying photo shoot was never intended to showcase McGregor’s assets—besides, we’ve seen it all before to great effect in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, and Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine. Yet the peculiar exchange serves as an icebreaker, setting into motion the conversations that would reveal the true identity of this fascinating man.
It seems like just yesterday that I was in film school and my screenwriting professor distributed the Trainspotting script. He claimed that there were some movies, grand and full of spectacle, that feel like “the cinematography was done by God,” yet they don’t come close to exploring the real human condition. And then every once in a while there comes a film that, without such extravaganza, tells a story so honest and original, so affecting and resonating, that it reminds us about the true priorities of filmmaking. I knew exactly what he meant.
These humbly budgeted yet brilliantly written and acted films have the rare formula of bringing together organic aspects of filmmaking. And a desirable ingredient in this mix has always been Ewan McGregor. Beginners, a profoundly moving story inspired by the experiences of its director Mike Mills, is the most recent example. “I have a feeling about this film,” he says. “The subject matter makes you think and it gets in touch with your emotions, for sure. But also, just the way it looks and sounds and flows, there’s something very moving about it.”
Exploring a unique father-son relationship, the story follows McGregor’s character Oliver as he copes with his father coming to terms with his homosexuality following his wife’s death. Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 75, Oliver’s father has four years to enjoy this newfound sexual freedom. As Oliver watches his father rediscover life through the process of dying, a quirky French actress, played by Mélanie Laurent, helps him endure the cards he’s been dealt. The freedom to improvise and experiment with emotions in this year’s word-of-mouth champion allow McGregor to flaunt what comes naturally: innate, raw talent.
The iconic Joseph Campbell book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, which comes up during a brainstorming session between BULLETT and McGregor, inspires the visual direction of the accompanying photo. In his deeply philosophical masterpiece, Campbell deconstructs the journey of mankind through religion and mythology. George Lucas’ Star Wars (McGregor portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in the franchise’s revamp), is one of the many films that were profoundly influenced by Campbell’s ideals.
Campbell’s terrifyingly exhilarating theory is that every hero gets one “call to adventure,” a turning point in life that comes in many manifestations and serves as a formal invitation to fulfill one’s potential. Defined by its risks, the journey that follows is meant to initiate the most significant self-transformation in a hero’s life. To do this, our hero must leave home and take a journey into the unknown. Should one deny their call to adventure and remain still, Campbell claims, then they will be cursed for the rest of their existence with leading the opposite of what their life was meant to become—a mundane, nine-to-five existence.
The idea fit McGregor like a glove: the man doesn’t just walk on the path to his adventure—he runs through it like a crazed bull with a red cloth attached to his horns. His call to adventure came in the form of a passion and talent from within, so grand that it was impossible to contain. He started to take on one courageous role after another. The risks that any actor would take only once or twice in their career became a constant trademark for McGregor. He has immersed himself in characters as disparate as they are detailed. Gay, straight, drug addict, rock star, villain, leading man—musical, drama, comedy, thriller—he has done it all and more. “Heroes come in all shapes and forms, and no matter what your calling is, pursue it,” he says. That was the message. As we interpreted our own version of Campbell’s theory, the characters that McGregor suggested we explore were, in a way, alter egos that represent the other directions his journey could have gone in a strange parallel realm.
McGregor’s path has been neither straight nor narrow. When he first told his parents he wanted to act, they were concerned, especially his father, a P.E. teacher who was blessed with two sons: an athletic superstar and a drama kid. Recalling Tim Burton’s Big Fish and Mike Mills’ Beginners, two films that McGregor starred in, which explore in-depth father- son relationships, I was curious to know why he’s been drawn to the subject. He recalled his father’s fears of him not being able to support himself while running after his highly improbable dreams. “I tried,” he says. “I wasn’t very sporty, but my older brother, he was good at cricket and rugby. So he was more like my father, I suppose. And then he got accepted into the Royal Air Force and became a pilot, which is something that I think my father would’ve liked to do himself. So my brother was much more like my father. And he understood me less, because I was interested more in music.” After his first job, McGregor called his father and told him he booked the part (Lipstick on Your Collar) and would get paid £24,000. “There was a real moment of relief in his voice. I mean, he was always very supportive, but I think he was probably a bit worried that it wouldn’t work. And once he sensed that it would, he has since been great.”
In addition to his career, McGregor also assumes multiple roles in his everyday hurdles: doting father, loving husband, generous friend, notorious prankster, adventurous free spirit. Assuming the latter, he recently went on a journey of self exploration through Campbell’s highest recommended reboot recipe: wandering, the ancient method of simply going far, far away for a long, long time. The story comes up when I ask him whether he’s ever been to a fortuneteller. About seven years ago, McGregor and a friend took a three-month trip, traveling the world on their motorcycles. He regards the journey as an ultimate life-changing experience.
While staying in Prague, he encountered a psychic who told him he would fall in love during this trip. Happily married, McGregor briefly worried trouble was ahead. “I thought, shit… You know, I’m married. I’ve got two kids at home. The last thing I need to do is to fall in love with a girl. I took it with a pinch of salt. And then, on that trip, I met my daughter, Jamiyan, who we adopted from Mongolia. So the fortuneteller was right. But you know, it wasn’t the kind of girl that I’d been thinking about at the time.” Like heroes, love too comes in many shapes and forms.
With the expertise of a pro gambler, McGregor always puts his heart and soul into projects that don’t necessarily bring a fortune but surely produce acclaim. He has no boundaries, complaints, or excuses when it comes to his job. Whether the role demands him to pull down his pants and shake his penis, dive into a nasty toilet in search of a heroin baggie, or makeout with Jim Carrey, McGregor conquers each task gracefully.
While discussing the unexpected turns his career has taken, McGregor reveals that his astonishing portrayal of Curt Wild in Velvet Goldmine was an intimidating challenge as the character is based on a combination of two megastars: Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. I ask him if he tried the “method acting” thing, which unexpectedly brings up an epic memory. It will teach you to never drink and method act.
When Velvet Goldmine was in production, David Bowie—whom Jonathan Rhys Meyers‘ character was based on—did not want anything to do with the film. Iggy Pop, however, was supportive of the production. “Iggy Pop was very happy for us to use his music. I got to sing a couple of numbers. David Bowie didn’t want us to touch it at all because he felt that he didn’t want the insinuation that he might have been having sex with men.” A while after the film came out, McGregor was invited to a Versace event where Iggy Pop was set to play. He went with the hope of meeting the musician. When he got there, however, he realized he’d downed a bit too much of the sweet nectar. As Iggy started to play, he made his way to the front row. “I’d spent a long time with a choreographer working on his movements and studying his concerts and feeling like I had Iggy Pop in my bones while filming those scenes. So when I was watching him, I felt like some kind of kindred spirit between us, you know?”
After the show, McGregor went to his dressing room to bond with the musician, where it quickly became clear Iggy Pop had never seen the film nor had he any idea who McGregor was. “So this spirit that I felt we shared was shattered, and in my drunken state I went… I did him to him, you know?” He found himself dancing in Iggy Pop’s dressing room—as Iggy Pop. “The alcoholic fog sort of cleared and I could see myself doing it, and I went, What the fuck am I doing? And Iggy Pop was sitting there going, ‘Yeah, that’s cool, man.’ I didn’t know what to do. It was so embarrassing. I think I just shuffled out of the dressing room and got the fuck out of there as quickly as possible.”
Back at the shoot, the photographer calls out expressions to McGregor. “Funny, sad, pissed off, timid.” His face transforms through the roller coaster of emotions effortlessly. “Excited, disappointed… sexy?” He valiantly attempts a model pout, and then bursts into laughter, embarrassed, as if being sexy is the one thing he cannot fake—it just comes naturally. Someone throws “Christopher Walken” into the list of emotions. McGregor starts to speak like him. An Al Green song begins to play. He sings along in a lovely voice as his congenial companion, a rescue dog, Syd enters the frame again, his curly hair covered in lipstick from the adoring fans on set.
McGregor sits on a vintage suitcase for a picture. It makes a cracking sound and shakes. I gasp, but he doesn’t fall. Instead he gets up and apologizes for ruining the already decayed prop. So genuine and humble, it does not even occur to him that he is a star, and that obviously, we are concerned for his safety. When it comes to McGregor, there is no hint of entitlement or inflated sense of his own importance, unlike many of those who live in the public eye. He has figured out some kind of a secret formula for attaining the best of both worlds: pursuing his passion without sacrificing his authenticity.
McGregor has undoubtedly stamped his presence on some of the most iconic films of our time. His intrepid career promises to secure itself among the best while his courageous choices will forever be renowned for their quality. McGregor is a director’s wet dream—immensely talented yet without vanity. Having assumed numerous real life personas, he has mastered the craft. He can—and pretty much has—played everyone and everything.
But who would play him? What if the tables were turned and someone made a film about him, and he found himself in Iggy’s shoes? What genre would his life be and who would he want to play himself? “Cate Blanchett,” he says. “She could play me. That would be good, wouldn’t it?” He goes on to explain how such a film would be quite dull. “It’d be like a long, slow, indulgent French film about mood.” Surely enough, his humble response fails to calculate the vast interest an Ewan McGregor biopic featuring an androgynous Cate Blanchett spazzing out like McGregor spazzing out like Iggy Pop would generate.
The BULLETT crew arrives at his estate, and Walken resists the doorbell. Having forgotten about our appointment, he finally peeks out and mumbles at us angrily, presuming that we are paparazzi. When we remind him about the interview, he relaxes and adopts a friendlier attitude. He invites us in, and we get comfortable by the fireplace. He recounts the good old times when Tarantino was a scrawny teenager, and offers his thoughts on extraterrestrial life and the apocalypse.
BULLETT: There are tons of websites and online campaigns that promote you running for president. What’s the fire behind all of this smoke?
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: I don’t know. I don’t have a computer, and I don’t really know much about it. I wouldn’t know how to go get information. My wife has a computer. I don’t even have a cell phone. There is some website that claims I eat the most hot dogs. I’m supposed to be a champion at that, and go around to tournaments. I don’t know what that is. The president thing is one of those things. Somebody put that out there, and I don’t know where it came from. It wouldn’t happen, beyond being a joke. Nobody would go for that.
Your voice, your eyes, and even your hair have all become such trademarks that most people can recognize you with their eyes closed. What are some of the advantages to having such recognizable personal traits?
I guess it is an asset. The hard thing about being an actor is getting them to point the camera at you. If you point a camera at something, it is automatically interesting. So I guess getting people to notice you and point the camera at you, those are good things. On the other hand, it is limiting sometimes. There are lots of things I can’t play, like the President of the United States. Nobody is going to ask me to play it. I think a simple reason is that I have show business stamped all over me. I’ve been in show biz since I was a little kid. I think it shows. It is very hard for me to play the guy next door. You know, I don’t get asked to play real people much. Usually I get asked to play some crazy guy who wants to take over the world, or some kind of eccentric guy, and certainly a lot of villains. I regret that. I wish I could get those parts, but I never have. I never played the part of the guy who gets the girl, either. Usually for me, it has been someone who is a little strange. Even though I’m not strange. I’ve been married for 42 years.
I’ve heard that you’re actually very approachable. If you got approached on the street and were handed a script by someone you didn’t know, would you give it a chance? What would you look for in it?
People do send me things a lot—unsolicited scripts and stuff like that. I usually glance at them, but the truth is that an awful lot of people have a script they want to make into a movie. I was in the dentist chair a while ago. My dentist was telling me while he was drilling that he’d written a screenplay.
I hear you write. Are you planning on directing any of the scripts you have?
No. I’m the kind of actor who, if someone asks me, “What’s this about?” or somebody asks me what to do, my response is usually, Do whatever you want. That wouldn’t be good for a director. If I was the director and somebody asked me, “Where should we put the camera?” or, “How do you think I should play this scene—should I find it funny, or is it a terrible thing that’s happening to me?” I would just say, Do whatever you think! That’s not a good way to direct.
If they made a film about your life, who would you want to play you? Who would write the film and who would direct it?
Well, there are all these marvelous directors. Some I’ve never worked with, but if you made a movie, of course you would want Scorsese or Spielberg, Sydney Pollack or Mike Nichols. If you wanted somebody to be in your movie, of course you would want Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro and lots of other terrific actors. You would want the best, but that doesn’t necessarily happen. I certainly know a lot of young, terrific actors. I did a play last year with Sam Rockwell, and I just did a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. There are great young actors around.
You often appear in memorable cameos rather than the heavy leading roles, and you almost “Walkenize” the film with your presence. Is this an intentional trademark for you or does it just happen this way?
I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of myself as an actor. I started in show business when I was a little kid. You sing a little. You dance a little. You sing in line. I always thought of myself as more of a performer or an entertainer. When I became an actor, it was sort of by accident. I was in the chorus of a Broadway musical, and they were looking for an actor in a play. Somebody said, “Why don’t you go down?” I got the job, and suddenly, I was an actor. I’d been an actor, a singer, and a chorus boy. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I got fired. I took some classes. So when you talk about “Walkenize,” it may just be that I don’t know how to do anything else. When I’m in a movie, it’s kind of like, “That’s Chris!” It always has been. I think I’m lucky to be recognizable in some way, but in a movie, if someone says, “Be in my movie,” sometimes I’ve even said to them, I don’t do a lot of stuff. Whatever the guy’s name is in the script, it’s basically going to be Chris playing whoever it is. There are actors who are like chameleons—they can change. Some can even change their appearance, and they’re very convincing as various people. I’ve never been able to do that.
Harvey Keitel was instrumental in Quentin’s first movie, Reservoir Dogs. Quentin was very young, and I’ve known Harvey for a long time. I was in California, and he said, “I’ve got this guy, he’s so talented, and he’s got this terrific script.” He brought Quentin over. I don’t know how old he was—I thought he was a teenager. He was kind of goofy, and Harvey was saying, “This guy’s going to be very important!” I thought, Okay, but I really thought he was a very shy teenage kid. A couple of years went by and sure enough, he was this gigantic talent. That’s how I first got to know him. Then he did Reservoir Dogs, and then he wrote a script called True Romance, which he wasn’t in and he didn’t direct, but that was his script. I was in that, and then he asked me to do that wristwatch speech in Pulp Fiction. They had shot the whole movie and everybody had gone home, and the film was wrapped. I came to California. I had this big speech and I knew my lines. There were very few people in the crew. All the other actors had gone home except the little boy I had talked to, and we shot the whole thing in a few hours. I think at lunchtime, everybody went home. So I worked with Quentin in a movie, but really for a couple of hours that day. I still don’t know him very well.
I didn’t know Spike Jonze. He called me and he said he had seen, I think, Pennies From Heaven, which was a musical movie that I had done a long time ago. So he knew that I had been a dancer, and he sent me the DVD of the song, and he said, “We’re going to shoot this in the course of one night in a hotel in downtown LA.” He said, “You’re going to have to learn this number,” so I went. I can’t remember if it was California or here, but I think I spent two weeks with the choreographer.
And the choreographer was Mickey Rooney’s son?
How does your wife feel about your dancing skills?
That’s how my wife and I met. We were in the touring company of West Side Story. I was Riff and she played my girlfriend [Graziella] in the gang. She was a dancer, so we met working together. I guess I was 21 or something like that.
Our Fall issue is called the Cosmic Issue, and I have a few questions about our cosmos. In an infinite universe, what holds greater comfort: truth or myth?
Big questions, you got me! I can tell you something about my own life. Every time I make plans it’s a mistake, because every time I think I know what I’m going to do, something happens and my plans get changed. I guess I stopped doing that. It seems smarter for me to just have a sense or intuition about which direction to go in, but every time I think I know what’s going on, I am pretty soon set straight. So if you talk about the future and cosmic things, I have to admit my ignorance.
Do you believe life exists outside this planet?
How could it not! Someone had an interesting remark about that. They said that infinity—the universe supposedly is infinite—it just means it goes back as far as it goes forward, so consequently, no matter where you are in this universe, no matter what time in its history, a billion years ago or a billion years ahead, you are in the center. If there are no limits, then everything is in the center. They said if you came to planet Earth a mere billion years ago—the Earth is supposed to be eight or nine billion year old—the only life you would find was this bacteria that made grooves in rocks. That was the only thing alive: cell life. That was only a billion years ago. So if these beings from other places came, they might not even notice us. We might be like grooves in rocks. That doesn’t mean that they’re not out there, it just means that the likelihood of us bumping into them, distance aside, is very low. In terms of time, of course. Civilizations come and go. The idea that two would bump into each other is a pretty long shot. Maybe there are lots of beings around, it is just that we don’t bump into each other.
Do you think the world will end in your lifetime?
No. It was supposed to end last week, wasn’t it? I keep thinking, That crazy guy! [Harold Camping] I occasionally watch those religious people. That guy, it is interesting to watch him. He is so powerfully boring. Then I heard that he had predicted the end of the world a few years ago and it didn’t happen, and he said, “Oh! I made a mistake.” I wonder what he said this time.
Can you predict the future in three words?
Most certainly not. I am optimistic. Like many people have said, I do believe that… nature prevails.
That’s two words.
Nature will prevail.