“Vinyl,” the new punk drama HBO series about sex, drugs and rock & roll in 1970’s New York is the brainchild of Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese. Who knows this world better? Completing this dream team trio is “Boardwalk Empire” screenwriter Terence Winter, who is also an executive producer.
Stepping in the lead role and the center of almost every scene is Bobby Cannavale, who plays Richie Finestra, the beleaguered and drugged out head of American Century Records, who will do anything to wrestle his company back from German investors and get his record label back on top. Passionate about music even as he’s hit bottom, Finestra makes the rounds of music clubs to discover the next big thing in the world of punk, disco and hip-hop. Steeped in historical details, like the re-creation of clubs and bands of the period, and featuring a pounding rock soundtrack, the series is very much the collaborative work of the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and Rolling Stone lead singer.
Scorsese directed the two-hour pilot, which screened at the star-studded premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater last week, at which Jagger, Scorsese and Cannavale all walked the red carpet. Olivia Wilde, who plays Finstra’ wife, looked sensational and mysterious in a revealing Valentino gown and a birdcage veil, while in an adorable moment, her actor boyfriend, Jason Sudeikis, took photographs.
Other cast members on the red carpet included a hairy Ray Romano, who plays the head of promotions in the show and has some of the funniest scenes with Cannavale. Other cast members on the carpet included James Jagger, son of Mick, who plays Kip Stevens, the Brit lead singer of the punk group Nasty Bits, who seems to have his father’s snarl and attitude down well.
He’s also got some hot sex scenes with Juno Temple, who plays an ambitious record label assistant on the prowl for talent and a chance to break through the glass ceiling in a macho industry. Another stand out is Jack Quaid, son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, who plays a geeky junior music executive with a talent for saying the wrong thing.
Other cast members I spoke to on the carpet included J.C. Mackenzie, Birgitt Hjort Sorensen, P.J. Byrne, Max Casella, Emily Tremaine and Annie Parisse.
Parisse, who looked stunning in a black jumpsuit, doesn’t appear in the show until the third episode, but she told me she plays an executive at a competing record label with a past. I asked her about the period clothes and makeup she wore, and she told me it fulfilled one of her actor fantasies: “It’s one of the first times in my career where I go into costume and hair and make up looking one way and I come out looking like a completely different person.”
Parisse’s character, a former secretary to Richie, is a complicated, ambitious woman, especially for that period. “1973 was one of the first moments where women were moving into the professional work force in leadership positions en masse,” she told me. As for meeting the superstar rocker, she told me one day she was in a read through when one of the producers came up to her and said he’d like to introduce her to someone. “I said, ‘Oh, ok,’ and I turned around and just about hit the floor. It was Mick. It’s all I could do to keep myself together. If you told me a year ago that I would be standing in a room meeting Mick Jagger, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Emily Tremain looked like she stepped out of a disco scene in the show in her retro-Pucci mini. She plays the record label receptionist. “It’s a great part because I get to see everything that goes in the office and in and out of the elevator,” she laughed “I’m a gatekeeper.”
She added that Jagger was closely involved in the show. “He did a lot of approval of wardrobe and was at a lot of the table readings. I would look across the table and see his name and see him sitting there. It was pretty cool. One day he came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and said we’re trying to figure out music for your scene coming up,” she laughed.
Cannavale, whose turbo-charged performance is the heart of the series, explained how he immersed himself in the period. “We had a lot of time. I’ve been attached to this almost four years, and so I just worked really closed with Marty and Terry and Mick. I did a lot of research. I hung out with all of the right people. I had access to everybody you can imagine. And I just sort of put my head down, got into the zone, and worked really hard. That’s what I do.”
The show’s superstar rocker told journalists of the ten-part series, “It was a movie project first about the music industry and about these characters. It had a lot of incarnations with movie scripts and then we never really were satisfied.”
Jagger added, “The original script was very long and sprawling and it would have been a very long Martin Scorsese movie, so we decided to make it into a series rather than a movie.”
When journalists probed him about whether the sex and drug scenes mirrored experience in his life, Jagger laughed it off. “Remember it’s a drama series, so you concentrate on the characters and the narrative. You don’t concentrate on what things were really like or what they weren’t really like. Of course you have to get that right, that’s a given but it’s not really about that,” he said. “It’s about the unfolding story and the way the characters worked together.” As for all the drugs you see, especially all the coke, “Don’t forget, it’s a movie!”
As a proud dad, he said of his son’s performance, “He’s really good. He’s excellent. He’s very good in the part. And he gets better as the series goes on. He’s got more stuff to do.”
After the screening, the cast and guests moved the celebration to Cipriani’s 42d Street. A-listers included Glenn Close, Edie Falco, Chris Rock, Paul Rudd, Tom McCarthy, Harry Belafonte, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Dinklage, Taylor Hicks and Cannavale’s girlfriend, a very pregnant Rose Byrne. Meg Ryan hung closely to a quiet corner and looked terrific in a fitted jacket, but refused photographer’s requests for photos.
Bobby Cannavale, who graciously posed for selfies with every guest who approached, left at 1 a.m. with his handsome son Jake.
James Jagger mixed with guests and pleasantly told me I could take a photo. “Why not? Everyone else has,” he said good-naturedly. When I told him what his proud father said, he demurred. “There’s not much I do in the beginning episodes. My character develops more as the series goes along.” Since he was chatting with two attractive young women, I never did get to ask him if his father gave him any pointers on playing a rock star.
The ten-episode first season of “Vinyl” debuts February 14 on HBO.