John Cameron Mitchell as Joe Exotic in ‘Joe vs. Carole’ – The Hollywood Reporter
John Cameron Mitchell is a bisexual man who has worked on stage and on screen, as an actor, writer and director. Best known for co-writing and starring in the rock musical worldqueer Hedwig and the Angry Inch – first off-Broadway, then a 2001 adaptation and then a Tony Award-winning Broadway revival – Mitchell is one of the most beloved and prolific gay artists of his generation. surname. This year, Mitchell put on a mullet makeup and lots of eyeliner to play the infamous Joe Exotic in Peacock’s limited series. Joe and Carole, opposite Kate McKinnon as Joe’s nemesis, Carole Baskin. Mitchell sat down with CHEAP to discuss their approach to superior character and find the man beneath bravery.
I read that you said you haven’t watched Netflix Tiger King. Do you know the story of Joe Exotic?
Yeah, vague. For my audition, I didn’t want to impersonate, because I thought it was karaoke or something. Both Kate and I are probably 50% real and 50% our interpretation, which puts you at ease for more emotional scenes. We don’t know him personally. I also know that he will change his tone and voice depending on who he is talking to. A lot of it was left to the imagination. I didn’t really talk to [anyone who knew Joe]but I watched a lot of his videos to let it soak. Mostly just let it happen naturally, like how you hang out with your uncle and start making love to him.
Is that your typical process?
I’m not an imposter, but it’s nice to find that. I moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I changed my accent a lot. I was familiar with that. I grew up where he grew up – Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas. And we [were born] within six weeks of each other. I know where he was, what music he was listening to. I was also a gay kid, not on a farm like him, but the boys I had a crush on.
He’s out of the mainstream, which you want to discover in the work you’ve written yourself. Is that a call?
Sure. I love playing all kinds of characters, but it’s been getting weirder lately. And I can contact [a bit to him], himself is a little sloppy with different types of projects, bringing people together – in his case, sometimes following them, while in my case hope is more benevolent. His initial wounds never healed, so he started attaching them to Carole and she did the same to him. They have confused each other with the person who hurt them in the past.
Considering their long feud, it’s crazy that they don’t actually see each other in real life that often.
They could be friends if they figured out a few things, but she decided that these owners, mostly men, were taking advantage of the cats, and she wasn’t right. He saw her as hypocritical and she was equating him, perhaps, with a lot of the men who had beaten her. It’s not him. Of course, he was more damned, because he was trying to kill her. It’s hard to relate to that. But I can relate to other things. I lost a boyfriend to addiction; he lost two husbands. I can draw those for sure. And maybe he imitated his oppressor in some way and surpassed them. He is a drag king just as Hedwig is a drag queen.
How much did your outfit and hair and makeup add to your performance?
I found my audition mullet on Amazon – within 24 hours [of Tiger King‘s premiere] there was Joe Exotic mullet everywhere. I bought this pair of jeans from someone in London with a back zipper. I flashed my asshole during the audition. Sunbathers can be a bit conservative. I said, “Come on, we can do this.” We have seen some penises [on TV] now, but [we draw the line at] ass hole.
As someone who is also a director, is it hard for you to resist the urge to direct when you’re a serious actor?
A little. We had this ritual that before every scene I would go [the writers] with ideas – usually to cut content or create a joke. In the final episode, there is a big scene where Joe gives an imaginary speech to the audience, and [showrunner Etan Frankel] let me rewrite it, block it, design it a Broadway way. TV filmmakers don’t always edit themselves; they are focusing more on the reality of it, not the big picture. And that’s what I’ve always been aware of. But I really enjoyed my directors who really pushed me crazy. I always try to be respectful and give the host what he wants, but also give him what he needs.
Joe is not happy that you were cast as him on the show.
He tweeted something when he saw a picture of me [in costume]: “He makes me look like a moth, when I’m just a hard-working gay man.” I liked that very much. Femininity is a wonderful touch in the strange world of that time and place. Unfortunately, because of all his pride, he is really struggling with narcissism.
Although weirdness is not the focus of this show, it is one focus. How has weird storytelling changed over the course of your career?
None of the people who make this show are weird, but Kate and I brought our personalities into it. I don’t think it needs to be played by a freak – Nicolas Cage could have gone mad as Joe. I don’t think there should be a hard and fast rule, but maybe gay people should take note. But it’s happening. I will still play straight people.
The edited interview is long and clear.
This story first appeared in the June issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.