“My joke was I used to be a Tour de Force. Now I’m forced to tour,” says John Cameron Mitchell—best known as the writer, director, and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch—over a murky phone connection. It sounds a little like he’s in the bath. He seems relaxed and congenial. It sort of feels like I’m talking to an old Hollywood star. His manners are exemplary, but he’s also down-to-earth and ready to discuss everything from Shortbus (a heartfelt, sex-positive indie mission-statement film Mitchell directed in 2006) to his mother’s mounting medical bills which have pressed him into ceaseless work.
“It’s a great privilege to do these concerts,” he says. “But these last few years have just been non-stop raising money for her care. I’m actually with her right now and she’s happy. I just want to keep her happy and cared for, but the amount of money needed for that, in this country, has kind of crippled me.”
Earlier this year, Mitchell toured Australia with a Hedwig live show, which he describes as “a massive project with wigs, makeup people, hair people, tour band members, managers—you know what I mean.” In Portland, for a one-off appearance, he’s planning on doing something a little more intimate, a “quick fun thing” at Revolution Hall. “I mean it’ll be a long fun thing.” Mitchell says. “It’s two movies and some songs.” He and the audience will watch two of his films back-to-back (Hedwig and the film he directed earlier this year, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) and Mitchell will provide a “drunk director’s commentary.”
If he’s read the negative review I gave How to Talk to Girls, he doesn’t mention it (manners!) and despite disliking that film, I would love to gain some clarity on the choices behind casting Nicole Kidman as a punk. Also, Hedwig and Shortbus were so influential for me that I will probably be interested in whatever Mitchell does for years to come—especially if what he does involves him “having a nice bottle of Barolo next to the screen telling stories. Turning the sound down and turning it up and just having a hoot along the way.”
“In effect, the Revolution Hall show is kind of a wrap party” he says, referencing the Hulu TV show he’s been acting on, Shrill—a comedy series based on Lindy West’s book partially about her experiences working at the Mercury’s sister paper The Stranger. “I play Gabe, the boss.” Mitchell explains. (Me: “So you’re playing Dan Savage?” Mitchell: “No.”) “It’s more inspired by the book than a direct translation. My character is a former grunge record label guy who used to be in bands and is always ranting that the ’90s was better than today.” (Me: “So you’re playing Sean Nelson?” Mitchell: “No.”) “I actually got to write my own character. I didn’t write the dialogue, but the writers quizzed me about his background. I think he might have had a Kill Rock Stars kind of label. Maybe he sold out. He’s the editor of the Weekly Thorn now. There’s a certain unease. His mantra is, ‘Question authority but don’t question me.’”
One more cool thing: Mitchell will also, at intermission, sing a few songs from his upcoming anthology podcast Anthem: Homunculus, accompanied by the guitarist from Hedwig, Ted Liscinski. Mitchell says that Homunculus is loosely based on his life. “It’s about a guy doing a telethon on his phone because he has a tumor and he’s out of insurance.” No word yet on when Homunculus will hit podcast airwaves, but Mitchell assures me it will be sometime next year.