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Faces of
Angels: Justin Kirk

Faces of
Angels: Justin Kirk


Conversations with the stars of HBO's Angels in America

Tony Kushner's epic play Angels in America encompasses a blue-blooded protagonist with AIDS, his lefty Jewish boyfriend, their ex-drag queen pal, a trio of confused Mormons, a fierce angel who crashes down from heaven, and the fire-breathing real-life McCarthy-era lawyer and homophobic homosexual Roy Cohn.

In HBO's six-hour adaptation, debuting December 7, Justin Kirk plays Prior Walter, a gay man living happily on a trust fund with his Jewish boyfriend. Prior loses his peace of mind and his lover when he's diagnosed with AIDS. But when an angel smashes through his bedroom ceiling, he finds he's ready to do battle.

How complicated was the scene in which you're hanging out over the city, hanging on to the Angel? That was fun. That was all green screen, of course. And at that point, actually, a lot of that stuff they wanted to do with my stunt double. Not to sound all Tom Cruisey about it, but are you kidding? How often am I going to get to hang, you know, 20 feet in the air, and scream and kick my legs? So I did as much they would let me: jumping off the bed, onto Emma, and riding up. It was fun. I know it was painful for her being in [the harness]. And then I was in that thing too: The harness was pretty painful. But one thing I love is that in this day of CGI, most of our special effects are "in the room," you know? Emma's coming through the ceiling looked better in person than it does in the picture, and it looks great in the [movie]. The ceiling falling on my head was all real. We only had one chance with it, because they had four huge, king-size mattress boxes full of debris, and they could drop it once, and if it didn't work for the shot, they would have digitalized it in later. But it did work, so that was great.

And it's not every day you get to go to heaven and tell off God, as Prior does at the end of the second half. That was a brutal day. All of it, actually, the whole movie. I know the play so well, so every scene was like, "Oh, well, now we're at that scene, putting it down on tape." Then we fly out to Rome [to shoot the heaven sequence] and there's a table with Meryl [playing an angel bureaucrat], just watching, and then I've got the speech about the children wiping the flies out of their eyes. It was a lot.

When Angels was onstage, there was a real sense of urgency, particularly in the AIDS crisis. Did you do any work to reignite that sense of urgency? No, because if you're acting, you're always in the given circumstances of whatever your characters are doing. I think you get in trouble if you try to see things on a larger scale. As soon as you start thinking about the politics of something, or what it means to a group or to the world at large, versus what it means to the person you're talking to and in your life, I mean, I wouldn't know how to act that.

One of the things that drives the play emotionally is that Louis betrays and leaves Prior behind. What was your worst breakup? Well. [Pause] I'm less and less emotionally available to people as the years go by. I would say that. But I do know betrayal--triangle betrayals where I had a relationship with a friend before the one with the lover--you know what I mean? In other words, I was more betrayed by not the person I was with but by my friend--

Who took the person you were with away. Exactly. Betrayal comes in many forms.

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