An expansive six-part Andy Warhol series, 11 years in the making, launches on Netflix this Wednesday, March 9th, executive produced by Ryan Murphy, continuing his incredible run of supporting and creating untold queer stories at Netflix (Circus of Books, A Secret Love, and Halston). The Andy Warhol Diaries sees writer-director Andrew Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times, The First Monday in May) adapt Warhol’s posthumously published Diaries with a focus, not on the celebrity parties, but on Warhol’s personal life; humanizing one of the most prominent and enigmatic figures of the 20th century.
“I wanted to adapt it as a love story”Andrew Rossi
Within the pages of the Diaries are frequent references to two men, Jed Johnson and Jon Gould, whom Warhol had longterm romantic relationships with. Skillfully weaving a stunning array of archive footage, home videos, photography, letters and poetry, and interviews with those close to Warhol, Rossi determinedly but delicately uncovers the artist’s love life while examining how Andy’s queerness influenced and resonates in his work, giving particular emphasis to his later, often overlooked masterpieces. Using AI technology, a recreation of Warhol’s voice narrates the series throughout, from his childhood in Pittsburgh, to his arrival in New York in 1959, through the avant-garde counterculture of the 60s, to attending Reagan’s inauguration in the 80s and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes on MTV. Read our ★★★★★ review of the series.
Ahead of the series premiere, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with Andrew Rossi about
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: what window did you feel that the Diaries offered you into Warhol’s life and work, and what did you particularly want to draw out from them?
Andrew Rossi: “I started the process of making the Diaries as a series back in 2011. When I reread the Diaries on tour with the film Page One, Andy’s voice came through to me in such an intimate way, especially when he talked about his love life; his pursuit of Jon Gould, and his feelings about Jed Johnson. So I immediately knew that I wanted to adapt it as a love story and that the celebrity parties and the events, weren’t as interesting to me as the romantic side of Andy. So that was always my focus.”
Tell me about using the AI technology to recreate Andy’s voice. It was a very bold move. How did you come up with that idea and when did you know that it was going to work?
“In that moment when I was reading the Diaries, alone on tour, I would go back to my hotel room or I would go to a coffee shop, and I just felt that Andy was in my ear, in my head, and in my heart. There have been so many portrayals of Andy—whether it’s David Bowie, or Jared Harris, or others—in which the actor kind of steals the show, usually in a good way. But my focus was so much on humanizing Andy and understanding this new side of him, that had not been revealed before, so I didn’t want an actor to come in the middle. I wanted it to be coming from Andy directly. 2011 was a moment when voice cloning was first starting to emerge as a valid tech. But it wasn’t until 2020, when I hired the company Resemble AI to take a data set and create an algorithm, that I could start inserting the text of the Diaries in and start to see if it felt right and to tune the balance of how mechanical he was with how human he could be.”
I think it works beautifully and it does recreate the experience that you were describing of hearing him in your own mind, he takes us through the series and a lot of the time I forgot that it wasn’t really his voice. Can you give me an insight into exploring Andy’s queerness through what we read in the Diaries and also what we don’t see in the Diaries, because you bring in poetry and letters and personal photography and video too?
“For me, queer longing is the key to Andy’s worldview as it comes through in the Diaries. It is a sense that he wants to fill a void in his life that perhaps is a response to having no role models in his immediate world for long-term domestic partnerships in the 1970s and 80s. It’s something that Alan Wanzenberg says did exist, but it was bizarre for two men to be together. So he’s looking at a heteronormative media, with Hollywood films like Rebel Without a Cause, or Mommie Dearest, or The Outsiders, and trying to see himself in those often female protagonists and storylines. I immediately found his descriptions of those movies to be an incredible window into his aesthetic sensibility and also his feeling of queerness butting up against a hetero mainstream world.”
“I tried to unerase Jon, I wanted to bring him back”Andrew Rossi
“The poetry that Jon Gould wrote was another revelation for me because it’s coming from someone who’s in the closet, who lives a double life, and is trying to create a language in connecting with Andy who’s this older man that he has love for, but has to hide. The poetry, and the ways of abstracting their love and talking around it, become another code system to understand the artwork and to see how symbols are contained in something like The Last Supper series and The Big C painting. To see how there’s so much meaning in things that operate in one way on the surface, but then when you come to know them better, contain this love. So the archive, understanding the depth of Andy’s relationship to Jon, and triangulating that with the paintings, that was all part of the scripts that I wrote in order to make sense of this and to bring it to life.”
It is an unapologetically queer series, from its focus on the relationships, to the work of Andy’s that you’ve chosen to include such as the Sex Parts and Torsos Polaroids of hustlers and porn stars and the other more explicitly queer work. What were your guiding principles there?
“To begin with, I wanted to focus on Andy’s late career artwork, which is often ignored. It comes about in a moment when he’s viewed as not in his prime anymore, and so people have not given it the same art historical analysis. It’s also at a moment, as Benjamin Liu his assistant says, he’s coming to peace with his homosexuality. So there’s incredible meaning and vulnerability in the Shadows series, in The Last Supper, in the Rorschach paintings that I wanted to have as a fulcrum in every episode, to make sure that the vividness of Andy’s queer point of view on the artwork would come through at least one or two major times each episode.”
I like that you got a lot of your contributors to read from the Diaries themselves. Warhol is someone that pretty much everyone has an opinion about, so what were your guiding principles for who you wanted to speak to and what kind of insights were you looking for?
“I was looking to have a balance between people who knew Andy at the time, and knew Jon Gould and Jed Johnson, the main characters, as well as some art historians who could speak incisively on the later work and on Andy’s queer dimensions as an artist. So that became the guiding principle for me, it wasn’t about the celebrities or the parties, it was about Andy’s love life and who could speak authentically on what these people mean to him.”
I was particularly surprised to see Andy smile so much. I think that’s something that comes through more in the private, home video and photography that we see. What surprised you the most as you were assembling the film and doing your research?
“In the archival footage that I was able to get of Andy in Cape Cod—this Super 8 film of an excursion that he took with Jon Gould, Vincent Fremont, Christopher Makos, and Peter Wise—you see Andy at the dinner table shaking party favors, laughing, and being so joyous with Jon. To me, it was a revelation to see Andy in that sort of joyful, unguarded manifestation. Also the photographs that he took. There are almost 20,000 snapshots in collection and the most photographed person is Jon Gould. It just speaks to his connection to Jon and his love for him. That’s a very important revelation, because a lot of people don’t view Jon as having had an authentic relationship with Andy or remove him from the record, but I tried to unerase Jon, I wanted to bring him back.”
By James Kleinmann
The Andy Warhol Diaries premieres on Netflix on March 9th 2022.