The new biopic of the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe just had its world premiere in New York last week at the Tribeca Film Festival with The Crown’s Matt Smith starring as the man himself. Director Ondi Timoner with cast crew and assembled press had their premiere party at The Eagle no less, and Queerty queried the straight man Matt on playing Robert the man, the gay world, being naked on film and his admiration for cocks…
“If the scene requires nakedness and the character requires nakedness, then it’s a choice, isn’t it? I sort of try not to over-think it at the moment. I just do it and hope it doesn’t look like shit.
I think you have to be frank and honest. You have to stand your corner creatively and you have to know where your line is. I dunno…. You hope that you work with good people.
…I would let Robert take a photo of me. I’d have probably taken my clothes of as well.
Do you have a favorite photo of his?
I love the one where he’s got the devil horns. That’s pretty brilliant. I love the one of Princess Margaret.
…the one where he’s got a finger in the [urethra]. It makes me [cringe], but I can’t help but return to the image. I didn’t expect to like the cock photos as much as I do! [Laughs]
You starred as Christopher Isherwood in Christopher and His Kind. Do you seek out these roles or do they find you?
Funny, that, isn’t it? They find me. It must be my inner gay! [Laughs] I just think those two people as well, [Isherwood and Mapplethorpe], it’s the writer and the photographer, that’s the bit that [I hook into]. Also, I’ve got quite a lot of gay friends, and I’ve always been quite fascinated by gay culture…. there’s so much I don’t know about the gay world. There are all these different pockets. And also, so many of my friends who are gay, they’ve all gone through this moment in their life—quite early, or even quite late—when they’ve had to go,
‘Oh, by the way everyone, I’m this. And you all thought I was something else. Or presumed.’
I find that quite weird. I think that’s such a difficult thing because you shouldn’t have to define yourself as anything, ever.
And I think subsequently it makes gay men quite resilient.
So having played Robert Mapplethorpe, how well do you think you know him as a person?
That’s a tough question. All I know of him is the bit that’s sort of married up with me as an artist. The same goes for Prince Phillip. The same goes for Christopher Isherwood. The same goes for Charlie Manson who I’ve just played. I know bits of him that I connected with, but can you ever really know someone from playing them? Can you ever really know someone from watching a film about them?
There’s a fine line between wanting to represent them but not making it an imitation. The bit that we’re interested in as artists and actors is the moment of ignition onscreen where the story and the character meet with the actor and his or her history. What’s really good about a story like this is you get to explore an amazing scene and culture, New York in the 70s, when it was difficult being gay. When the AIDS epidemic was just fucking insane. Little pockets of life.
If I keep getting to do that, then that’s why I keep taking jobs like this.“
You can read the full interview here. And if you want to know more about Mapplethorpe and his work and life, see Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato‘s Emmy-nominated documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures on HBO.
Below is a quick interview with Mapplethorpe shot 30 years ago for Great Artists in Their Own Words for the BBC. (The first two minutes.)