John Cameron Mitchell
"Can we go outside?" asks John Cameron Mitchell when we meet in Florent, a funky Manhattan bistro. Conducting an interview alfresco is a risky proposition under any circumstances in New York, but especially so in this case, since Mitchell's an off-Broadway star.
However, considering he's usually covered by a half-pound of makeup, a feathered Farrah 'do and costumes so gaudy you'd think Cher's closet exploded on him, it's possible no one will pay any attention to him anyway. Mitchell is the star and cocreator (with Stephen Trask) of the smash musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the tale of a transvestite quasi-punk diva whose botched sex change and pursuit of stolen songs lead to an odyssey of self-discovery. Mitchell's stage performance as Hedwig has wowed critics and audiences alike, and now it's been immortalized in a feature film that the writer/actor also directed. Mitchell is aware that comparisons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show have already begun, and while he appreciates them, he doesn't really see the similarities. "Tim Curry gives a genius performance in Rocky Horror, but Hedwig isn't quite a full-on camp vehicle like that. I think Hedwig is more realistic than Rocky Horror. It is a little 'heightened,' perhaps, but you believe this character could exist in the real world." Hedwig is a relatively modest indie production (it debuted to enthusiastic audiences last January at Sundance) and Mitchell is not inclined to make claims about its broader possibilities as a hit with mainstream moviegoers or as a Rocky Horror-type cult classic. "It's more important to me that the people who might be moved by it get to see it," he says. "I hope it will broaden some minds." Whatever happens, he has no desire to turn playing the glam diva into a cottage industry for himself a la RuPaul. "It was fun at first, but the drag became a bit of a trap. I've been putting the wig on for seven years. The first time was powerful, but the thrill is gone."