When billboard queen Angelyne took over the L.A. scene, her mysterious hyper-pink visage spread across the city as a prominent presence for decades. It took much later, in 2017, for the central mystery who is Angelyne to be solved. Between her hot pink Corvette and the self-defined ads of a person, an image, for her own sake, she was an enigmatic figure that in so many ways prefigures our own era’s infatuation with ‘the image’ and the importance of a self-defined brand.
With Peacock’s Angelyne series set to premiere and explore the icon’s rise to fame (and later revelations), I spoke with series star and producer Emmy Rossum. We chatted about Angelyne’s mystique and revolutionary self-creation, its relevance in our era, her unique ability to build such loyalty from so many, and more.
Angelyne debuts May 19, 2022 on Peacock.
I’m slightly obsessed with the Angelyne story, because it’s fascinating to me. You’re wearing so many hats here, what brought you to this project?
Emmy Rossum: I fell in love with Angelina. First time I saw her billboard [was] when I was 13, and I think I was just immediately drawn to her. She was so different than I was… I think that she’s a little bit like a mirror. She serves to kind of show us what we’re needing her to be for us, and for me I saw an empowered woman in her body who was completely adored by all of Los Angeles, and kind of spread this pink fairy dust everywhere she rode around in this hot pink Corvette. I was so fascinated by the mystery of ‘who is this person that makes everyone smile? And everyone will tell you a different story about them?’
I thought… how can you be so known and yet so unknown at the same time? I think that’s the crux of the story. For me. She’s an incredibly unconventional woman who’s a trailblazer in many ways, and so I think the opportunity to bring to life a playful and kind of equally unconventional story that captures her essence in this kind of kaleidoscopic narrative of all the different stories about her, that exist alongside each other, that was really what was so exciting for me.
Absolutely. The her story’s so interesting to me is that now we have Instagram influencers, people who are essentially famous for their image in the age of the internet… but Angelyne literally did that by willpower alone decades before everyone else, and I wanted to ask about your take on that.
ER: I mean, I agree with everything you said. I think that… here’s a woman who has transformed her outside to authentically reflect how she feels inside. She is part old-Hollywood-throwback, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Holliday, and she’s part 80’s-punk-rock Barbie doll… and a little bit of Alan Watts-spiritual guru. So I think that she’s like you put that all into a little Hello Kitty-Easy Bake Oven and then popped out this icon.
And you’re right, she did [have] this rise to fame in the 80’s, long before the explosion of the internet when you could really self-actualize, and define and create your own identity and image in a way that probably broke from any historical facts that might have defined your past. That is what I find most impactful about her, her commitment to that is really admirable.
I love the scene where she meets Hugh Hefner. He had so much power at the time, and I wanted to talk to you about that scene and what she was doing in it.
ER: Well, this is our imagination of what that meeting would have been like. She is obviously on record as famously having turned down Playboy Magazine, and I suppose alongside our Director, Lucy Tcherniak, and [Executive Producer] Allison Miller, as women we kind of got together and said ‘what would that have looked like, if she couldn’t have ultimate control over the narrative about her, and her image in the piece?’
Angelyne was someone who projected a very… kind of provocative image, and yet was incredibly chaste. So there’s like a real duality there, very compelling, and somebody who didn’t do nudity, which we found fascinating. And I think our version of that meeting is that she goes to have it done her way, and if not, she’s going to dress him down. I love the fact that he’s surrounded by all of these backup-women, and she is surrounded by all of these backup-men. And, you know, she is someone who idolizes Marilyn Monroe, who considers Marilyn Monroe to be her art-mother of sorts, and Hugh Hefner was famous for having built and created Playboy Magazine off images that he got of Marilyn Monroe without her consent. In my mind, that’s what she goes there to dress him down about, and if she’s not going to leave feeling good and authentic with the piece the way that she wants it, then she’s just going to leave him in the dust. And she does.
I loved that she had that group of men backing her up, men who would do anything for her. As portrayed, but also in real life, she had a lot of effective power over so many people who would do anything for her. Why do you think she had that effect?
ER: I think Angelyne is a little bit of a mystery and a little bit of an enigma, and I think there’s something really sexy about a mystery. There’s something very kind and soft and magical and whimsical about her, and then I think there’s a real kind of power-feminist-renegade in there, too. Both of those things can exist simultaneously.
I mean, these are human relationships that she had, and some of which we imagine that she had… our version of Angelyne is… this show is obviously not a biopic, right? It’s trying to capture her essence with playful and creative storytelling, leaning into this kind of kaleidoscopic narrative of all these different people that tell stories about her and the stories that she tells about herself, so I was kind of really drawn to her as I think so many people are.
I can definitely see that. I’m also fascinated by the scene where she’s in a legal proceeding with Max, and they start to read ‘the truth’ about her. There’s this building, subtle rage there as these things she’s trying to leave behind are being publicly stated as facts about her. I thought it was very powerful.
ER: I think that, when presented with these things about herself, that feels quite tender when stated so baldly, to her. She has a lot of feelings about that, about the ownership of that story. She had a lot of challenges to commit to this larger-than-life kind of fairy-tale storytelling that she finds [in order] to be freed from some of those more painful memories.
That’s why I love that, in the end of the scene, she takes the power back and makes them all disappear and, in fact for a moment, can have control, because I think she really is in control of every room that she walks into. Even if she is kind of thrown off of that power for a moment, she finds a way out of it. Her fierce commitment to the positive, and to her own version of the truth, is, I think, really, really unique.
You can catch Angelyne on Peacock May 19, 2022.