Vinyl — Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter spin a stunning rock ’n’ roll tale on HBO

vinyl-hbo-bobby-cannavale-olivia-wilde Lori Acken
VINYL — Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde. photo: Macall B. Polay

We like it, like it, yes we do! Vinyl airs Sundays at 9/8CT on HBO beginning Feb. 14.

When Olivia Wilde was a kid, she crashed her journalist parents’ dinner party to demand that one guest vacate her spot at the family table. The interloper? Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. He told the upstart to go to bed.

Several decades later, Jagger would witness Wilde’s mettle once again — on the set of their seductive new HBO series, Vinyl.

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VINYL — Olivia Wilde. photo: HBO

Since 1995, Jagger had mulled a feature film that would delve deep into what he knew best: the gritty reality of the music business and the characters who made it crackle and hum. Eventually he brought the idea to his friend, movie-industry legend Martin Scorsese, a master of blending music and cinema into intensely affecting experiences. Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street collaborator Terence Winter came aboard in 2007 and, a year later, delivered a tentative script to Paramount Pictures. Then the stock market crashed — and with it, studios’ interest in making grand-scale films. Finally, the trio reimagined the story as a weekly series and brought it to an eager HBO.

The fruits of that patience and partnership are unveiled when the group’s love letter to the cultural kaleidoscope that was 1970s New York premieres on Valentine’s Day. Extending its pedigree to a cast of tested actors clearly in their element (you’ve never seen Ray Romano or Andrew Dice Clay like this) — and the offspring of Jagger, famed music-video director Julien Temple, and Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan — Vinyl is a visual and auditory feast with an achingly human story at its core.

Wilde and Bobby Cannavale dazzle as Devon and Richie Finestra. A lifelong music aficionado, the heart-on-his-sleeve Richie is founder and chief of American Century Records, a company suffering rock ’n’ roll’s assault on its bubblegum roster even as Richie adds younger talent-spotters to his payroll. Haunted by a lost friendship and addictions he barely holds at bay, Richie’s solace is his suburban life with Devon, a former Andy Warhol intimate and mother of the Finestras’ two kids.

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VINYL — Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde. photo: Macall B. Polay

“Devon and Richie got sober together, and they’re both sober within this world — this debauchery,” Wilde explains. “It is revealed through flashbacks why they have to be so careful about their sobriety together. When Richie breaks that promise, their entire world falls off its axis.”

The moment that happens is a gorgeous testament to the collaborative nature of cast and crew in bringing these characters to life. Removing a whiskey bottle from the reeling Richie’s grasp, Devon locks eyes with her husband and brings the bottle seductively to her mouth, leading him to believe that her devotion extends to a shared fall off the wagon. “That moment was really exciting to create, because it wasn’t originally in the script,” Wilde says. “I arrived on set that day and said, ‘Marty, I want to do something. It’s kind of bold.’ He said, ‘Show me. Just go for it.’ It became the defining moment of Devon.”

“What attracted me to the show in the first place is that it’s all very much high-stakes,” Cannavale added during an HBO cocktail party at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “Everything that’s happening in the show — Richie’s circumstances, the circumstances of the record label — is very desperate. Same thing with this relationship. They’re everything to each other. That was a conversation that we had — like, we need to fight for this relationship at all times. We really need to portray this relationship being on the edge of a cliff.”

Wilde says that Jagger, Scorsese and Winter (who haunted famed punk rock incubator CBGB as a Brooklyn-born teen) committed themselves to showing an equally unvarnished New York circa 1973. “It was much grittier. It was much more dangerous,” she says. “It was something that can only be told honestly from the perspective of people who actually lived it.”

It shouldn’t surprise, then, that concert sequences are each a tour de force, shot with a dreamlike intimacy that lets the viewer climb both into the room and inside Richie’s mind as he revels in the sensations that drive him most.

“That’s who this guy is — his entire reason for being, in his mind,” says Cannavale. “It’s the music. He is connected to the music in a very visceral way and on a very primal level.”

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VINYL — Bobby Cannavale. photo: HBO

“Scorsese has a real talent for marrying music to the tone and energy of his pieces,” says Wilde. “That’s why he’s such a natural fit for this project — because the palpable, just heart-pounding energy of that music is what this show is all about. This revolution that was created in rock ’n’ roll, and how that affected our culture.”

Cannavale calls The Last Waltz, Scorsese’s 1978 homage to the Band, “the best music documentary ever made” and says Scorsese sought equal intimacy for Vinyl‘s music-centric scenes. “You just sort of stand back and stand in the middle of it, and you let the music wash over you. He’ll take care of the rest,” Cannavale says. “There were times where I didn’t know where the camera was. That’s very much his style. He’d put the camera in places and not tell you where the camera was and say, ‘Just enjoy the music.’ Those New York Dolls scenes, that’s pretty much what I did was just stand there and take in the music. Same with the Led Zeppelin scenes. That’s really a testament to Marty.”

Cannavale says enjoying the music came naturally to him.

“I’m somebody who wakes up in the morning and puts music on,” he smiles. “I grew up like that. My mother was like that — she always had music on in the house all day long. I have music on all day long. Much the way Marty was discussing the soundtrack to Richie’s life, this sort of internal soundtrack, is what he wanted to convey. We talked a lot about that. I don’t usually like to talk a lot about what I bring from my own life into it, but I do think about music pretty much all day every day, as it relates to my day-to-day life.”

Wilde recalls a scene at the production’s re-creation of New York nightspot Max’s Kansas City that featured actors playing Bob Marley and the Wailers, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. “I said, ‘Are we just stacking this scene with a bunch of recognizable names or did this actually happen?’ and the producers said, ‘No, this was just another night at Max’s,’” she marvels. “We’re telling a story about a time when people didn’t realize they were making history.”

Wilde said that becoming a mother herself (son Otis, 22 months, was named for Otis Redding) just four weeks before filming lent further nuance to her performance. “I felt this really intense kind of inspiration and bravery,” she says. “Once you have a baby, you realize you’re capable of absolutely anything. It affected the choices I made within the character work — and it definitely affected my confidence in working with people that I was so incredibly honored to be around. ‘I just birthed a child — what did you guys do?’” [Laughs]

The fashion-loving Wilde says Devon’s wardrobe — assembled by award-winning costumers Mark Bridges (Boogie Nights) and John Dunn (Boardwalk Empire) — bolstered her confidence, too. “Each of them brought in real vintage, which has been such an education for me — learning about Ossie Clark and Halston. What I love about the ’70s fashion for women is that it was really about celebrating our sexual power. What I really love is that the men are in heels just as high as ours — so everybody is complaining at the end of the day!”

Vinyl airs Sundays at 9/8CT on HBO beginning Feb. 14.

3 Comments

  1. This message is for Terrence Winter. Mr Winter in your current series vinyl I saw you talk about the fact that 1973 was a year when everything was happening but after you spoke I think I need to point out a couple little facts for you. If you plan to imply that hip hop was a creation and musical movement in 1973 you are absolutely INCORRECT. Please do not re-write musical history. Kool Herc, the real first guy that got the idea of extending breaks on his fav funk n soul records did NOT start till 1977 . I know you don’t want to lie about facts but let me ask you. Is this series a story of the diverse new sounds happening in the 70s or is it a show about Djs, music promotion and the birth of hip hop. I’ve been a DJ formerly having played many places in NYC in the 80s. I started in 1978 and was a member of ROCKPOOL, a record pool that basically was unlike all the disco record pools and was the only pure alternative music record pool specializing in all the new labels. Now before you produce a TV show that will basically have mass appeal, I urge you to stick to the truth. Hip Hop did NOT begin in 1973 – PERIOD. The label most responsible for the growth of hip hop was SUGARHILL Records. The average viewer will believe whatever you tell him but I thought you would make this as real as possible. I think you need to re-examine your source and maybe you should speak to Claudia Stanten who ran A and R at Sire Records. I am very surprised that no one put you in touch with her as she is just about the Sharpest, most successful woman in the music industry during the mid to late 70s right thru the 80s and when you can sign and I’ll just name 3 huge bands she signed then I’m pretty sure you can rely on her for the real truth about the punk/ synth pop/ Alternative/ Hip hop and Grunge movements. Now if you want to continue to portray inaccuracies (I don’t want to call you a liar) it’s YOUR SHOW but if you want to fine tune it and talk to the greatest AnR executive I ever knew I can get her in touch with you. One talk with Ms. Stanten and you will be completely impressed with her experience both in A n R and as a DJ at Mudd Club, Danceteria, Area, Amazon Hotel. The list is endless. In return I want nothing but to help you and to help Claudia who developed and beat Cancer. You have my email attached to this message and I will immediately get you her contact and if you aren’t impressed with Claudia I will give you all my DJ equipment and my entire record collection. Just do me a favor and do NOT imply that hip hop evolved in 73. It came years later. I would hope you would take advantage of Claudias genius or you can continue making things up as you go along and not telling the story truthfully I believe you need a strong club DJ historian and Claudia Stanten is that person. Ultimately it’s on you but if you want utter fact and truth when it comes to DJing then you owe it to yourself to speak with her. I mean she only signed The talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Madonna, The Smiths and a ton of others. That’s all. The balls in your court, is it going to be truth or fiction? Thank you, Mr. Winters

  2. I had never actually bought HBO before (just watched on the free weekends), but I will now because of Lori’s article. I gotta see this.

    Maybe Lori can review the American Crime Story series too? After one episode I am hooked.

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About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.