Emmy Rossum's 'Angelyne' Is Not A Conventional Biopic. Here's Why.

'Angelyne' is 'a story of the mythology that surrounds the icon that is Angelyne,' Rossum says.
by Danielle Turchiano — 

Emmy Rossum in 'Angelyne'


Emmy Rossum knows that "only Angelyne can be Angelyne." But the actor-director-producer has been enamored with the media personality and billboard icon since her first trip to Los Angeles as a teenager. That adoration, she tells Metacritic, turned into something greater as she began working on a limited series dramatization of Angelyne's life and quest for fame.

"I think to do anything like this, you have to be a little bit obsessed. And I spent four and a half years a little bit obsessed," Rossum says.

Rossum and her producer-director husband Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot, Homecoming) began developing the six-episode Peacock series, simply titled Angelyne, based on a 2017 article in The Hollywood Reporter that revealed Angelyne's real identity that same year. The real Angelyne is an actor, singer, and model who rose to fame in the 1980s after she had billboards of herself erected around Los Angeles. The billboards offered little information as to who she was, but the message was clear that she was promoting herself, and because she went to such big ways to do so, people took notice. She released albums, appeared in movies, and decades later ran in local gubernatorial recall elections. But through it all, the woman behind the image, who was often spotted driving a pink Corvette around La La Land, was an enigma.

"I first saw Angelyne's billboard when I was 13. I was in L.A. for the first time auditioning for pilot season with my mom in a Hertz rental car. I looked out the window and I saw her billboard, and I saw somebody who was so different than myself, but I was immediately drawn to her. There was something beautiful and powerful and mysterious and hyper-feminine about her," Rossum says. "And then the more people I asked about her — because I started to see her billboards everywhere — everyone would have the same response, which was they would immediately light up with joy, eager to talk about Angelyne and then tell me a totally different story about who she was. And it was this bizarre, incredible thing where everybody loves her, and yet, how can you be so known and so unknown at the same time?"

That question was front and center for the creative team, including showrunner Allison Miller, behind Angelyne. And because they all saw the woman as someone who was "unconventional," they wanted to use an equally non-traditional storytelling method. The result is a tale that jumps around in time to show Angelyne (Rossum) in her younger years, performing with the punk band Baby Blue, making the connections she needs to get her first billboard, encountering her first fans from that billboard, and moving through the industry on the rocket-ride that is fame. But the show also incorporates modern-day, documentary-style footage with Angelyne and those who were in her orbit through the years to include different recollections of events and keep up the mystique.

In that way, Angelyne is "a story of the mythology that surrounds the icon that is Angelyne," Rossum says.

"The documentary storytelling device was so important to the show because we accept documentaries as fact, but we're using it a little differently in this show: We're using it to show how hard it is to know facts about other people and that we all experience a different version of every story," Miller tells Metacritic. "The talking-head, documentary-style construction really allowed for us to be unsure, to question our own research, to question our own interviews, and even question how people remember, and maybe what their agendas are."

Miller acknowledges that in shaping the show this way, it "certainly didn't get close to [Angelyne's truth]." Instead, they "created a truth for this character based on her, to tell a story." No matter how many contradictory recollections of events were put together, scene after scene, though, she adds that the show always had to "land with Angelyne. It was very important to us that we were with her in this story. And I think that if anything can come from this, [if] people feel more empowered to live their own truth, that would be that would be a wonderful thing."

Inspired by movies from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Being John Malkovich, Miller adds that opening up the storytelling format enough to include docu-style scenes also allowed them to play in the magical realism world from time to time, including featuring "flying cars and dance numbers and out of body experiences." The show also partially recreates archival footage, including a pivotal 1987 television interview with Wally George.

In that instance, the show blends Rossum's performance with the real George's interview footage.

"In order to do that — and to do it in real time — I had to study that interview for weeks and learn every moment, every cadence, every boa flick, so that it would all seamlessly fit together and we could just put me in with the real people that were there," Rossum explains.

Rossum calls herself a "nerd for that kind of" acting challenge and notes that that is one area where her obsession with preparation and with this particular story paid off.

That is also an example of just how immersive an experience it was to portray the right details. For Miller, immersion meant an extensive research process — "an exhaustive number of interviews," she says — to learn how people thought of Angelyne, as well as how they were changed by her. 

"As she sought to become more famous, people around her drafted off of her fame, and they had their one-act plays, they had their own stories to tell about her. They're proud of the fact that they know someone famous," she explains.

For Rossum, it included meeting with the real Angelyne directly during the earlier stages of the show and then undergoing a physical transformation on the days of production.

"It was an incredibly long process, but it was one where I would sit down in the chair, and there was a pink magical fairy wand that was battery-operated and made a magical noise, and we would bless the day of hair and makeup, and then we would start the process," she says with a laugh.

That process would take a couple of hours for Angelyne in her younger years and "closer to six or seven hours" for her contemporary look. Rossum credits makeup department head Kate Biscoe, prosthetics designer Vincent Van Dyke, and costume designer Danny Glicker with helping her find the character through the physical changes.

Sharing that she felt "power in the look," Rossum says, "I think Angelyne is such a trailblazer and such a badass feminist. I think both of us are pretty instinctual, but I think she's much more in control in every room than she walks into than I am. I think she's quite brilliant — her ability to shape-shift and Yoda people and manipulate any situation. I think she also knows that her physical presentation makes people underestimate her, especially men, and I think, at a time when she rose to fame in the '80s and even now, I think she uses that to her advantage."

Angelyne is