The Importance of Being “Hedwig”

John Cameron Mitchell is a a writer, actor and filmmaker best known for his feature films "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." "Hedwig," originally an Obie-award-winnning off-Broadway play, is the story of a transgendered East German rock star chasing after an ex-lover. The film version won Mitchell a best director award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy." His other films include "Shortbus" and the soon-to-be-released drama "Rabbit Hole."
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: Was “Hedwig” harder to produce as a play or a film?

John Cameron Mitchell:  Oh, well, you know, it was in all kinds of forms, other than those two, I mean, it started out, like really like a band, you know, in rock clubs and was in a more of a cabaret setting, it was in a sort of pseudo-cabaret theater setting, then it was a theater, then it was a film, and it’s been in concert, you know, which is a whole different thing.  We’re preparing to have it on Broadway, which will be a different... so to me, I don’t, I don’t differentiate them by, in terms of, you know, one’s more successful than the other.  They all have their challenges, they all have their rewards, and to me, they’re complementary.

So I just enjoy being able to, to try it in different venues and also enjoyed seeing other people do it as well.  I’m never micromanaging about other productions.  Some people get very uptight about protecting their property, and "it can only be done this way."  To me, that kind of kills it, makes it a museum piece.

Question:
What was the personal significance of the “Hedwig” story for you?

John Cameron Mitchell:  Well, you know, it was really my composer and I, I mean, from the beginning, I mean, I was playing around with some ideas and new I wanted to make a rock theater piece with the Plato’s story of the origin of love as the central metaphor and met with a few composers and then Steven Trask, the songwriter, came on, and we really developed it for many years together. So, bits and pieces of both of our lives came, came through, his struggling music career, my growing up on the army bases, it’s not really an autobiographical story in terms of facts, but it’s definitely emotionally auto-biographically.  Moving around a lot as a kid, and my father being the military commander in Berlin before the wall came down and... there was, you know, there was a woman who was our babysitter, a German divorcée living in a trailer park, who was my brother’s babysitter and a prostitute on the side and I didn’t really clock that until later.  But she was the original inspiration for Hedwig and then, you know, other characters in my life were grafted on her.  But, you know, probably her, her aesthetic came from other people, but her emotional core just came from my own, you know, sort of feeling like a citizen of the world kind of seeking out inner, you know, interaction and connection in a chaotic kind of, you know, sort of, I don’t know what to call it.  Kind of an understanding that we’re all very much these hybrids of all the people that we’ve met, you know?  And men, women, lovers, mothers, fathers, and reinterpreting the myth of the origin of love as a kind of collage of all the people we know, rather than just two halves.

So, you know, it’s still something that, my interpretation of changes, you know, when I look at it, as I age, you know.

Question:
Now that “Hedwig” is returning to the stage, do you view the show differently?

John Cameron Mitchell:  I don’t know yet, because I haven’t really, you know, entered that realm yet.  It’s interesting to think about it in terms of writing and directing, but I really don’t know till I get there.  But it’s a kind of an ageless character, could be, you know, she really could be telling her story at any given time, you know, in her life and, you know, I could be doing it in a wheelchair at some point.  But I don’t, I don’t know.  We’ll see.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


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