Michael Angelo in conversation with Bruce Feiler, New York Times bestselling author of Walking the Bible and The Secrets of Happy Families
Let me begin with the question on everyone’s mind: Your name is Michel Angelo. (And that’s your real name, right?) You’ve just made your first short film, and it’s about Jesus. Is this your version of the Sistine Chapel?
Michael Angelo is my real, given name. Its a tricky name to be saddled by, especially as an artist. I used to think I might have a better chance at success if i changed it, but at some point in my life I just said, "Fuck it. This is who I am and this is the name I've got and it worked for him so hopefully it will work for me. So far I think I made the right decision and it's a bit late in the game to change it now!"
Is it my "Sistine Chapel"? I think my Sistine Chapel was The Lipstick Portraits, a project about saints and sinners, Heaven and Hell, heros and victims, and how we are so programmed to think we know which side to the fence someone is on based on how they look.
This piece is about courage and empathy. It's a secular look at Jesus' desert experience, where he is tempted by "sin", and his ultimate rebirth as a more evolved being. Carlos Christo begs the question, What is sin, really? To me, the biggest sin is not having the courage to do what we know in our hearts is the right thing. This film talks about the idea that if we are more courageous and empathic we can really start seeing the beginning of a new world. We need to encourage the masses away from reality TV, fast food, easy money and get back to doing things that hard way. It's happening, we just need to bring more people into that fold.
Now the next most-obvious question: Your film stars Carlos Leon, an actor and personal trainer who is best known as the father of Madonna’s first child, Lourdes. This is getting very meta. Why did you choose him?
Carlos and I have been friends for almost 20 years. He trains me and I cut his hair. Those are really intimate relationships and we have some really meaningful conversations about life and what it's about. Through the years of working on his hair, there were moments I would look at him and be blown away by how much he looked like Jesus. Especially the Jesus you see in Latin communities. So telling this story together made perfect sense. Plus, we both have tricky associations with icons.
Your film is being released just as the Catholic Church has chosen its first Pope from the Americas. Is the world ready to view Christianity through the prism of Latin America?
I'm not a religious person, but have I great respect for any organization that asks its followers to love their neighbors as themselves, assuming they do their best to live that. The Catholic Church is such a broken institution...If they could just find a way to live their own mantra it would be wonderful. I don't really care what language that mantra is spoken in.
Some people might be offended by the overtly beautiful, even sensual imagery in your film. What do you say to them?
Beauty and divinity are inexplicably intertwined and have been forever. Have you been to Florence?? There's certainly nothing vulgar or sexual about this piece at all. Its about courage, love and understanding.
You’re obviously a man of many interests – beauty, fashion, art, photography. What surprised you most about making this film, and do you have plans to make another one?
I guess my biggest surprise was how little work a director really has to do. When I do hair and/or makeup I'm a one man show. When I do a photo shoot it's also very easy for me to bring the whole package and work alone. With filmmaking there's so much more teamwork involved. Directing is about communicating ideas to a talented cast and crew who does the hard part of bringing them to life for you. It's hard for me to sit back and let folks do their thing, but I am smart enough to know that's how you get the best out of people. I'm in production on my second film, Reflecting Adrianne, a narrative short about a man with an alter ego that is a woman. He's a dork and she's a lunatic. Thank God I have an insanely talented team on that. . .