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.
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.
“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.”
“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.