1 of 5 | Emmy Rossum plays billboard queen Angelyne. Photo courtesy of Peacock
LOS ANGELES, May 18 (UPI) -- Emmy Rossum, who plays Los Angeles billboard icon Angelyne in the Peacock series Angelyne, premiering Thursday, said the model she plays anticipated today's influencer culture.
"Angelyne is a real trailblazer," Rossum told UPI in a recent video interview about the show, which is based on a true story. "She is the original influencer. She has an indefatigable positivity and believes that she can make the impossible possible, and I think she really did that."
Angelyne bought a series of billboards around Los Angeles in the 1980s, many of which still stood through the '90s. The billboards contributed to a sense of mystery surrounding Angelyne, who never spoke about her real name, age or past.
"She paved the way for so many women and icons who have come after her," Rossum said. "I hope that this show will honor her and bring her fame to an audience that might not even know her yet."
The purpose of Angelyne's billboards was enigmatic, too. Angelyne did book appearances and film roles, and released albums, but mainly sold them, along with Angelyne merchandise, out of her pink Corvette.
The Peacock series was made with her cooperation. It includes some biographical details that were subsequently confirmed in journalist expose's but also depicts some events in multiple ways to preserve ambiguity.
The show depicts Angelyne as a slim woman, circa 1977, who became the lead singer of the band Baby Blue. Soon Angelyne transformed herself into a buxom, voluptuous pinup.
"Names and dates have been changed in order to respect her wishes," Rossum said. "I'm incredibly protective over the woman who is Angelyne and so that felt really right to me for that to feel authentic to her."
In her career, Rossum fought for pay equity on the show Shameless and has advocated for SAG-AFTRA to review protocols for sex scenes in film and television. Rossum said it was important to her that Angelyne share in the show's potential success.
"It was really important to me that she be compensated for her incredible participation and contributions to literally everything about pop culture," Rossum said.
The men in Angelyne's life were a bit more concrete. Martin Freeman plays Harold Wallach, Angelyne's manager, who did her bidding at the expense of his family.
"He was wrapped around her little finger," Freeman said. "That changed over time, but he was definitely struck by her enough just to go all-in with her plan."
Alex Karpovsky plays Jeff Glasner, a fictionalized version of The Hollywood Reporter journalist Gary Baum, whose Angelyne expose is credited in the series. Karpovsky met Baum and filmed scenes at the THR offices.
"There was so much more that he wanted to understand about her, specifically about her motivations in present day," Karpovsky said. "In that sense, she was pretty closed off to him."
Lukas Gage plays Max Allen, the filmmaker of an uncompleted Angelyne documentary. Gage found Allen on Instagram but found him hesitant to be forthcoming after Angelyne prevented him from finishing his film.
"He wasn't willing to give me the complete truth right away," Gage said. "So it was kind of picking and choosing what I wanted to take from as an actor."
The show also depicts Angelyne's mythology as campy sci-fi. Some fantasy segments depict Angelyne as a space queen, per her own self-image. Angelyne painted portraits of herself with aliens.
"She's so unconventional that we wanted to have the same approach with the storytelling," Rossum said. "Magical moments of dance numbers and out-of-body experiences really capture the essence of who she is."
Rossum wore a blonde wig, chest prosthetic and additional makeup to portray Angelyne at different ages. The makeup time ranged from three to seven hours depending on the stage of Angelyne's transformation, Rossum said.
She worked with a movement coach to recreate the iconic billboards and listened to Angelyne's voice from recorded appearances.
"I bought her meditation tapes on eBay and I would play them relentlessly in bubble baths and on walks around the reservoir in New York," Rossum said. "Understanding her cadence and the different modalities that she uses with different voices that she uses with different people."
Rossum sang some of Angelyne's songs, too. As a singer of two albums, and star of the 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie musical, Rossum said she found it challenging to embody Angelyne's voice.
"Angelyne is actually quite proficient at hitting different notes," Rossum said. "I actually had to stretch my voice to find the different super high shadow tones that she has."
Before social media existed, Angelyne used the media tools of the '80s to promote her image. Rossum said Angelyne is a positive role model.
"I hope that people will be inspired to define themselves, create their own identity and make their outsides reflect how they feel inside," Rossum said. "There's something very profound inside a package that is a whole lot of bubblegum fun."