My impulse was to write the last black play ever for myself. I really believed if I put it all into one play, people would leave me alone.
Gina Gershon first came to my attention suspended upside down on a rope wearing glitter and a black wig. Later that evening she scared the wits out of me by driving us through the snow at breakneck speed while blasting Elvis Costello and chain smoking. We eventually arrived at a diner in the middle of nowhere, where I had to order lots of mashed potatoes to calm down. Since then she has been my extraterrestrial flatmate, international pal, and photographic muse. We have made crazy short films, written dubious country songs, and danced the wild fandango. As far as pals go she is definitely lightning in a catsuit.
Gina and I share the same sense of humor (sometimes impossible for others to fathom) and the same hunger for the moment. We have traveled from Russia to Jamaica in search of other members of our tribe and found many along the way. Maybe you too will become seduced by Gina and her antics in her new movie Prey for Rock and Roll. If so, you can join the international pal club and go bonkers too.
[A Cabaret veteran and longtime jammer with her musician friends, Gershon recorded all her own vocals and played most of the guitar for her starring role in Prey for Rock and Roll as Jacki, founder and leader of an LA grrl group (based on the late-’80s punk band Lovedog). Gershon also produced the film, which comes out from Mac Releasing in the US in late September/early October. Prey is Gershon’s 19th film. This interview was conducted by phone between Dave’s home in London and Gina’s hotel room on St. Bart’s, where she was taking a well-deserved vacation.
Dave Stewart Gina. I always knew you were a musician at heart, from the very first time I met you.
Gina Gershon I know, you kept telling me, “I don’t know why you’re not doing music.”
DS You were always strumming a guitar, making up crazy country songs like “It’s a Good Job Jesus Loves You Because You Can’t Count on Me.”
GG Which one was that?
DS Tom Petty came up with that mad title for a country song.
GG That’s a good one. Jesus is always there for those guys.
DS You’ve got the country singer in your soul. I watched the rough cut of Prey for Rock and Roll and you’re spot on in the rock and roll stuff. Movies are usually so wildly out of synch with reality, but you were very believable. That must be because you were already there in spirit, right?
GG I think so. What I like about the movie is that it’s so universal. At some point everyone feels like a loser, whether you’re a photographer, director, actor, or musician. What do you do when you feel that you’re not making it? That moment when you say, What am I doing with my life? You just have to keep going. That was the important message in the film. And doing the music was the most fun. I kept calling you saying, “Why haven’t I been doing this?” I’m glad you liked it. I can’t wait for you to see the finished version of it. That it sounds authentic to you is all I care about.
DS When is the finished film going to be at the cinema?
GG Late September or October, I believe, in the States. And then hopefully the tour is going to come together and I’ll play some music across America, which will be really fun. You’ll have to come see the show.
DS So, Gina …
GG Yes, Dave.
DS How do you feel about being perceived as a gay icon in the lesbian community and yourself being torn sexually?
GG (laughter) I’m not torn sexually … I guess I am torn sexually. Well, I’m torn emotionally. What do you mean?
DS (laughter) Not any idea? Because the characters that you are prone to play—
GG Oh, the characters. I didn’t hear the word character.
DS —they’ve got this dual thing going on. Like in Prey for Rock and Roll, you’ve got a boyfriend and a girlfriend.
GG Yeah, my character is open to everything.
DS But this has happened in a few of your roles.
GG Yeah, in Showgirls, for instance.
DS It seems like when you come out of playing a bisexual character in a movie for a while, your brain is like scrambled eggs.
GG That’s why I come and see you, to become normal again.
DS (laughter) Yeah.
GG Together we become normal. Then we’re more like eggs over easy—lying around singing songs, laughing.
DS I know that when I come off a music tour it takes months to get back to the idea that I’m not going to be using all of my adrenaline at nine o’clock at night. But coming out of filming a movie must be a mindfuck on so many different levels: you go from playing a character to shopping in the supermarket and visiting your auntie.
GG Sometimes going back to a “normal” life can be jolting. But you know what’s funny? It hasn’t stopped yet, because as soon as I finished filming Prey I started to work on the sound track, and I produced the movie too so I’ve been working on it straight through. Until it opens I won’t feel like it’s done.
DS Even if your movie is done in the physical sense, something of that character has gotten inside of your psyche for the rest of your life.
GG Yeah, but in each role, you bring out a different part of yourself. Making the film has spurred me on to keep doing music. I hadn’t forgotten how much I loved music, but taking that part, all of a sudden I had the physical experience of getting out and singing and playing in front of people. It’s the greatest thing ever.
DS Now that you’ve established yourself as part of American culture, are you going to start the Gina Gershon brand? Gina Gershon merchandising?
GG I’m working on a little Gina Gershon doll. I think we should all make ourselves dolls. We could have a doll camp. (laughter)
DS I’m going to be the refugee camp for a lot of writers, directors, and musicians who are being gobbled up by the fact that the industry is becoming more and more like a giant King Kong poster.
GG Everyone is talking about how the industry has to change. You should say more about the Artist Network, because it’s so right on.
DS What’s happening is that a lot of artists are grouping together who have learned skills, like making a film with a digital camera. You know, baby boomers who have realized that they’ve got a talent. Together, we can shoot a movie that we can actually pay for. The idea is to draw artists into helping and working with each other. If you approach lots of musicians and say, “Look, I am trying to make this low-budget movie and we need some music,” you’ll find that artists will be the first to bend over backward to help other artists.
GG But then the business part of it always seems to get in the way and convolute everything.
DS Yeah, but what if it were a business where the people involved understood the artists and liked to collaborate, rather than doing it as it’s done now commercially, where the collaboration is interfered with before it’s even started? That’s what’s come back to front, is the business side getting so involved.
GG You’re amazing that way; you’re an artist but you also understand the business side of it.
DS At the end of the day I can only take so much of the business. A lot of people in music and film are really talented people and they collaborate on intelligent and creative projects, and I’m sure they would like to have a new project they could work on and not have to work in the structure that’s available at the moment.
GG I was talking to Robin from the band the Davey Brothers about just this last night. I’m going out to London; we’re going to work on a song there, and we’re thinking about doing a video. We were also talking about his movie. I’m in for anything they do, because I think they’re so amazing. They really have the right idea. I love it, too, when I go to your house and all these artists are there running around. It’s so much fun. The process is the greatest thing but then to translate it into the actual product, while dealing with all the insanity of the huge budgets and the zillion people talking, to just keep it pure and simple and get your idea across in an easier way—that’s the key.
DS With the massive budgets, the process is not even fun. And you can feel that in the end product half the time.
GG Yeah, you do the work and it’s great and then all of a sudden it seems to get lost.
DS The pyramid has turned upside down: marketing has become the biggest thing, and all the way down at the bottom of the pyramid is the original idea and the creativity. At the end of the day I think that the general public can see through that. It’s like a big empty chocolate cake: outside it’s all rich and chocolatey but there’s nothing in it.
GG You set out to make a chocolate cake and you end up with a strawberry marshmallow upside-down tart.
DS (laughter) What’s the next project that you’re excited about? The tour, I suppose?
GG The tour, which will be really fun. And then I want to keep exploring music, to write music with different people. If there’s a great acting project then I’ll take it, but if not I’d rather keep writing music and singing and seeing where that takes me. Because doing movies, I could wake up and think, Oh it would be great to work with Martin Scorsese or some other really great director, but you can’t just call him up and say, “Let’s work on something tonight.” You have to go through scripts and processes and getting the money and agents. What I love so much about music is that I can work with Linda Perry or work with you. I can make some calls and the next night we are all there playing and having a great time. And if something happens beyond that, fantastic, and if not, you are having an amazing time that night and that in itself is tangible. So you can actually work with the great people you love, just you and them without all the other stuff getting in the way. Creatively it’s more immediate.
DS I think what’ll happen eventually is what we’ve been talking about. Eventually, like the farmers who’ve had their land taken by the banks because there’d been a drought or something and they couldn’t afford a tractor. The artists will form a bank so that they can have all their money in one place, and publishing all this stuff will come through the bank’s online account, but the Artist’s Bank can also fund projects. So you can either invest money in aluminum or you can invest money in Jim Sheridan’s new movie. I think that sounds like a crazy big idea but—
GG No, it doesn’t. It sounds like a really simple idea. I mean, there has to be a way that everyone can work hard and actually see a profit instead of owing people money at the end of it all.
DS It will be very funny: you’ll go to the bank and say, “I’m going to make a country album.” And everyone who invests in the Artists’ Bank will get an email saying. “Gina Gershon is going to make a country album.”
GG I’ve kind of gotten away from the country thing—but yeah, whatever it is. In a way it’s difficult right now, but it’s also an exciting time because there’s no other choice but to reinvent the way that things are done.
DS There’s a saying: Even the bad times are good times.
GG Well out of the bad times. Out of chaos, comes calm or a new idea.
DS I want to start making one-minute shorts. Advertisers are a bit worried because of TiVo and things like that, where the ads can be chopped out, but that should just encourage people to make their ads more creative. What if I made a little one-minute film with you and then we said, “Who wants to put their product’s name at the bottom of the screen?” We’d do the creative thing first and then shop around for the baked beans or whatever. As long as they’re not horrible products, we wouldn’t mind. If I were a forward-thinking company and understood the way products take off … Remember that Budweiser “What’s up?” commercial? Seeing something nuts and inventive really drives people to sit up and listen.
GG Sometimes the business end of it just wants to keep going with what’s been proven, the formula that works.
DS But it is always the one who goes beyond that who is the biggest winner.
GG Yeah, and once the new actually gets out there and people respond, which takes years and years, then it becomes the staple and everything else follows that. It’s the fear of the unknown. It takes creative thinkers to say, No, this is the unknown and it’s good, you gotta check it out.
DS Let’s talk about Prey and your role as lead singer in a band that never made it. How much and what kind of research did you do to play the Cheri Lovedog character? I mean, you had already known loads about rock and roll and you have lots of friends who have been in bands, which probably helped.
GG Well, the music was a little more hardcore than the music I am usually around and play, and so when I would play and sing—for one thing, I couldn’t dance around in a certain way. Portraying Cheri was getting into a very specific style and time period, that kind of LA, punk-rock, ’80s scene, so I had to just move my head around and play the guitar a little more aggressively. I listened to X, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Patti Smith, that kind of music. I love the way Patti Smith sang, when she’d sing me like may, sounding a little bit English and kind of snotty. I listened to Cheri’s favorite bands too, just tapped into the stuff she was listening to. And I worked at a tattoo shop for a couple of months, with Mark Mahoney. He gave you your tattoos, right?
DS That’s right, that where I got my tattoos… . The supporting actresses are all really good as well.
GG Aren’t they great? I had to beg Drea [De Matteo] to do the movie. Drea did the original play. When I came on as a producer, I called her and basically wouldn’t get off the phone until she said she would do it. That role in particular I thought could be so cliché, as well as the character of her boyfriend, played by Ivan [Martin]. I knew that we needed really good actors to do them. And Shelly Cole, the girl who played the drums, that was her first movie, and she never knew how to play drums before. She kind of wildly learned how to play in a couple of months—to play well enough to fake it, anyway.
DS That’s pretty good. The movie has moments that remind you exactly of being in a band. I remember after the Go-Gos’ first album, when they had that rush of success, that you could feel a lot of that excitement, that, “What’s gonna happen?” kind of thing, the real excitement of playing and all the bits in between that you don’t see, what goes on in a band’s life, like when the band’s in rehearsal and somebody turns up late and we’re all pissed off. Or that really desperate effort to just get a gig, or try to pay the rent.
GG Did you ever go through a period of time where you were scraping for food and trying to get gigs?
DS Oh, yeah. One time when I was in a kind of poverty-stricken rock group, we got a gig at Glasgow University in Scotland, but we didn’t have a van or anything so we persuaded the local butcher to lend us his van. We had to sit in the back with all our instruments and all this dried blood running around the back of the van. It was a horrible thing. So the drummer got out this awful Brut aftershave and started sprinkling it about to get the smell away, so it smelled like blood and Brut. Then he started drinking the Brut, so by the time we got there he was completely pissed, because it’s like neat alcohol.
GG On Brut aftershave, that’s hysterical.
DS When we got onstage he was so drunk he started a fight with the bass player in the first number, and by the second number the bass player had hit him on the head with the bass, and the drummer picked his drum kit up and threw it off the stage, and the spike from the bass drum went into this girl’s leg who was sitting cross-legged in the front, and we got thrown off. So we drove all that way and we only got to play a song and a half.
GG (laughter) Who knew that Brut was so potent?
DS My God, yeah.
GG You can drink it and smell nice at the same time.
DS And later, Annie and I lived in a squat for nine pounds a week between us, trying to get gigs and all that stuff.
GG Was this before you called yourself the Eurythmics?
DS Even before the Tourists. We had a band before the Eurythmics called the Tourists.
GG I didn’t know that.
DS We were really broke; we ate a lot of rice. We lived above a record shop, and below the record shop was a rehearsal studio where a lot of punk bands rehearsed, like the Adverts, the Slicks, the Sex Pistols. This was 1976. We used to go to this local place down the road and watch bands play. It was an amazing period. When Nevermind The Bollocks came out, it was like a floodgate; suddenly there were 400 bands. The Clash did this great thing: they put a poster up all around London just with a drawing of three chords, you know like those little charts where you can see how to play a chord? Three chords, and then it said “Now, go form a band.”
GG That’s genius. Do you think people actually went out and did that?
DS Oh yeah.
GG Did you ever play that sort of music?
DS I was crazy about the Clash and the Sex Pistols. The record shop below our squat only sold punk music and heavy Jamaican dub music. It was great. As the Tourists, we played very fast and furious.
GG That sounds like fun. Were you friends with Joe Strummer then too, or did you meet him later?
DS l’ve known him on and off. Just recently we recorded a duet with him and Jimmy Cliff, and we wrote a song together with Bono as well for the Nelson Mandela concert that’s coming on November 30, and then he faxed us the lyrics, and not three days later he died, a tragedy. But let’s talk more about the tour that you’re planning.
GG You have to come. I was thinking about the songs today. I’ll play songs from the movie, obviously, and I’ll play some of my own songs, and I’ll do a couple of covers. I want to do different songs in different cities, depending on how I feel.
DS Will you be in New York?
GG The idea is to start in LA or San Francisco and work my way east as the movie is opening, around the end of September, beginning of October. So I’d hit eight or nine cities and then end up in New York by mid- to late October. If you were in New York, you’d have to jump up and play a song with me. That’s what I want to do, wherever my friends are, have them come up and play something. I want it to be really fun, because who knows if I’ll ever be able to do it again.
DS Hey, listen, it’s your decision whether you want to do it again. You can do it again anytime.
GG I hope so. But this being the first, I want to have a really good time. I started interviewing bands. I met these guys in LA, and I’m going to meet some other people in New York.
DS Some players?
GG Yeah. We don’t have a lot of time, so I’ll go in and show them the songs and they can learn them quickly, but I’m thinking that after this I’d like to actually put together my own band. I’m so used to playing with my friends at different times and writing with different people, but to have an actual band that gets used to playing together would be a whole different experience, I imagine.
DS Yeah, that’s the whole thing. And if you put together a band, it’s best to do something with it, otherwise they’ll all disintegrate. Like if you get actors together to do a film and then the film is not happening, they all just go away again.
GG Remember that time that you played on Letterman? It was Lou Reed’s birthday, and afterward we, you and me and Lou and Bootsy Collins and those girls, we all went and played at some weird little dive where Lou wanted to play. I played my Jew’s harp and you played the guitar and Lou sang.
DS Yeah, it was great. About a month ago [my wife] Anoushka and I went to see Lou play this amazing set where he did a lot of talking in between and took you through a kind of history. It was right in London in a really nice theater. He played lots of different tracks in a very different way, and his guitar playing was really good, his singing was really good and he looked amazing, 60 and belting it out.
GG He’ll be 90 and still be playing, and we’ll just be off our rockers.
DS I’ll be in the old people’s home for loonies.
GG (laughter) We should make some sort of pact that we’ll all be in an old people’s home together.
DS In Jamaica.
GG Yeah, in Jamaica. We’ll just be coloring all day, and drooling. I don’t think we’ll ever really get like that, though, because being in your seventies and eighties is not what it used to be. Sixty is the new fifty, and fifty is the new forty, and forty is the new thirty. It’s all gone down.
DS Well I’m 50 and I feel like the new 53.
GG I was 53 last year. I decided this year I would be 32. But you seem like a 14-year-old kid to me still.
DS Well, yeah.
GG That’s the great thing about music or doing whatever it is you like to do, as long as you keep that sense of play. We’re still just like little kids. That’s why we all have fun when we’re together.
—Dave Stewart is a musician best known for his work with Annie Lennox as the Eurythmics. An award-winning producer of music, film, and photography, Stewart is also an artist, filmmaker, screenwriter, and frequent collaborator with musicians from Marianne Faithfull to Gwen Stefani. Among many other projects, Stewart is working to establish the Hospital, a multimedia creative center in London’s Covent Garden, and recently cofounded the Artist Network, an independent media company that serves the creativity of its members.
Originally published in
My impulse was to write the last black play ever for myself. I really believed if I put it all into one play, people would leave me alone.