In “Trouble”, director Gus Van Sant puts Andy Warhol on stage

11:15 a.m., Feb 2, 2022, amended to 11:36 a.m., Feb 2, 2022

He wonders if he hasn’t spent his life directing biopics. “I did Harvey Milk, last days on Kurt Cobain, but also Elephant Where Drugstore Cowboy on lesser-known people, explains Gus Van Sant from his office in Los Angeles. Let’s say that these are always antibiotics, atypical biopics…” The latest, devoted to the indisputably famous Andy Warhol, does not arrive in the expected form. The prince of independent cinema, dubbed in Hollywood and Cannes, arrives at the theater for the first time.

Before becoming a recognized director in the 1990s with My Own Private Idaho and Will HuntingPalme d’or at Cannes in 2003 for Elephant, this visual artist by training shot short films, painted, made music while earning a living as a soundman or production assistant in advertising, and had never approached the stage. “But I was interested in what could be seen Off-Broadway, he specifies. The plays of Sam Shepard or Samuel Beckett, for example.”

A show created in Lisbon

written by his own hand, Trouble: a show about the life of Andy Warhol, was created last September in Lisbon and then performed in Rome and Antwerp. Visible next week in Reims, then this fall in Paris and Toulouse, this musical is in fact an old project. “I had considered, in the 1990s, a musical film for which I had met several relatives of Warhol: his assistant Fred Hughes, actor Joe Dallesandro and Paige Powell, who worked at the magazine Interview. It didn’t happen and, to be honest, the script wasn’t terrible.”

But this project was still in his boxes when the Boca, the Lisbon biennial, offered him to design “something akin to performance”. “I thought it was an opportunity to rework this script.” Although hampered by the pandemic, his play is touring with a troupe of young Portuguese actors. “They are between 17 and 27 years old when they play older characters. This choice allows us to mark a distance with reality, to approach the facts through the simulacrum. And then Warhol was always surrounded by young people that fascinated him is a central theme in his work.”

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All play in impeccable English with a touch of a rather pleasant Latin accent. With ardor, alternating theater and song, they alternately embody Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist who tried to assassinate Warhol, Truman Capote, the great writer whom the artist met several times, luminaries of art (Leo Castelli ) and a handful of relatives like Edie Sedgwick or Fred Hughes.

“Of course, that Warhol is gay interests me, it had to be represented. But this show above all tells about the art and business aspect with the tension, very marked at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, between abstract art and pop art. I I didn’t represent Lou Reed, who I knew a little about, because the Velvet Underground is another story that deserves its own play.”

Soon other biopics?

Does Gus Van Sant know about the Andy Warhol movie that Jared Leto is about to shoot? “Yes, because Jared contacted me to tell me about the character when he found out I was doing this musical. I have no doubt that he will be perfect in this role.” That the subject escapes him on the screen does not bother him at all. “My desire for cinema is intact, even if I feel that nothing will be like before and that everything becomes Netflix, Amazon, regrets the 69-year-old director. But making my project on Andy Warhol a reality is not a stopgap, rather a very exciting experience as it is strange and a little crazy to repeat scenes to deliver them to the public without going through the stage, always quite long for my films, of editing.”

I feel that nothing will be like before and that everything becomes Netflix, Amazon

Will the experience have a sequel? “Maybe! I could write a play, I would like it, or put on someone else’s, it would be new for me. In fact, I don’t know. Like everyone else, I lived the last two years day to day. I went back to painting every day.” He shows us a large abstract painting in yellow tones that sits above his desk: his “Monna Lisa”, he says, with a smirk.

However, he has just shot Opening of Something That Never Ended, “a fiction financed by Gucci”, visible on the brand’s website. He is also working on a secret documentary and has other projects in the pipeline. Other gay heroes, artists? “We could imagine other biopics, yes. On Jean Genet, who marked me a lot, or on RuPaul and John Waters, who would be perfect in musical comedy, or even on Pete Buttigieg, this minister of Joe Biden who is married and father of a family…”

“Trouble”, February 4 and 5 at the Comédie de Reims (51) as part of the FARaway multidisciplinary festival.

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In “Trouble”, director Gus Van Sant puts Andy Warhol on stage