In this era of peak television, perhaps there’s nothing more peak than Ryan Murphy, and the limited series Hollywood (created by Murphy, Ian Brennan and Janet Mock for streaming on Netflix) delivers all on accounts. The series is a sort of “alternate” version of Hollywood, a what-if story, and features some of the most stunning costumes and period pieces of any series in a long time. The best part is that the limited series takes a dynamic based on truth, that of Jim Parsons’ let’s say, “questionable” agent Henry Willson, who played a tremendously large role in shaping the post Second World War beefcake era, along with an iconic portrayal by one of (this generation) of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars, Jake Picking as Roy Fitzgerald, who was molded by Willson into becoming Rock Hudson.
Brief Take received the exclusive opportunity to speak by phone to the extremely well-cast Picking, who in turn also appears in the uniquely quirky Netflix film Horse Girl, and in December will feel the need, the need for speed in the hotly-anticipated Top Gun: Maverick.
The following is a condensed and edited version of my legendary chat with the massively talented Jake Picking of Hollywood.
Brief Take: How did you feel getting to preview this series at the Netflix Hollywood Tastemaker event back in February?
Jake Picking: Oh! Nerve-racking, but also kind of liberating. Because to be able to see the first few episodes with those people felt kind of triumphant because I think it’s a show that’s pertinent to these times. It’s great that during this darker time of quarantine that it’s such a hopeful show to be rooting for, you know? As it goes on, I think that you garner empathy for a number of these characters. Not to plug it, but you know? [laughs]
BT: What was it like for you to play the maturation of Roy Fitzgerald into Rock Hudson?
JP: I think that one word is just ‘daunting’. Especially being on a Ryan Murphy set and we have legends like Patti LuPone, Joe Mantello, Jim (Parsons) and Jeremy (Pope), Darren (Criss), the list goes on. But it’s hard not to feel the presence, almost, of Rock, maybe watching the first few days. Because I’m playing such a hero, I’m playing an icon, and I wanted to pay homage to his legacy. Thank God I had such great scene partners. When Ryan (Murphy) and I first sat down and spoke, he said: “Tell me everything you know about Rock Hudson”. To see someone like Ryan that is willing to take a risk, I think that’s why he’s so successful, he is someone who’s as fervent about something as I am. To be on the same page as him was really exciting.
BT: What was it like portraying a quiet sense of confidence while constantly being berated by your on screen agent, played by Jim?
JP: I think Jim is someone…he’s so different from his character as well. I felt faith and I got to know Jim really well. He is a friend and someone I will constantly trust. We were typically in the hair and make-up trailer for hours prior to filming because we both had prosthetics on our faces. Going back to answering the question, I think it’s mainly about capturing the essence of Rock in this certain specific period of growth. I think that the tragic thing is that he felt he had to—I read somewhere that a secret isn’t one unless it’s painful to hold onto, and I think that’s what Rock was doing. He felt like he had to hold onto something and I think that’s tragic—but at the same time, I think that he was a hero because he progressed and he was resilient.
BT: What was something that you enjoyed in your dynamic with Jeremy Pope? Had you met prior to this series?
JP: I think the fact that we were both on the same page, that we were in it a thousand per cent. I had the chance of meeting with him once prior to filming, but that first day on set was him was an intimate scene. There was an intimacy coordinator on set, but we both knew that we were going to do whatever it takes to pay homage to these guys and try to capture that sentiment of being true in the moment and having the audience feel like flies on the wall.
BT: How did you feel playing the scene in which you have trouble saying the one particular line, which is apparently based on an actual event? As well, what was your favourite scene to shoot?
JP: Oh, those are good questions. That one scene, it was difficult, because an artist, and not to sound cheesy, but we should always search for that feeling of flow and intention. When the cameras cut, I’m looking for what has recently happened. But for this particular scene, the memorization was perhaps a little more rigid. Because I had to memorize it correctly yet incorrectly, the flow of it was…I was so thankful to have Janet Mock on that day. She is a true ‘actor’s director’ and it’s also so groundbreaking to have her working on this show. I think that even today, the battle is still being waged for equal representation, for women, for members of the LGBT community, so I think that it’s great.
My favourite scene was probably the George Cukor pool party. It felt existentially like an instantaneous time-warp and was extravagant and all the colours…everything about this era is so romantic. The pairing of when Dick, or Joe Mantello, tells Rock to be in charge, that was the tipping point for Rock, it felt like I don’t have to feel socially ostracized as much, that I can be myself. And he was so great, that I think that enabled me, that Rock can make that stand with Jeremy and profess his love for him. So I think that the pairing of those two scenes, and perhaps in the seventh episode with the reconciliation with Henry (Willson), that too was really special.
BT: Your portrayal of Rock Hudson was so much about the way that you drew your strength inward and though you are a bigger person, you acted more quietly resilient than outwardly strong. Do you consider your sense of physicality when performing in this series?
JP: Yeah, it became less theatre, and I was really trying to capture the essence of what Rock is going through internally. I appreciate that.
BT: I’m watching this series and Horse Girl at the same time, and similarly, you’re using a sense of physicality in a really interesting way and differently. What sort of consideration do you give to your physical space?
JP: I think that’s a good question, man. I think that what starts with me always is the history, that you can’t be present without knowing what someone has gone through or how they tick or how you think that they do, and finding a parallel with them within your own life. Really it’s whatever works, and I think that what Rock said is that: “I have no theory, I just do it”. So I appreciate that notion, I felt like I could relate to that: I just do it. But at the same time, I always ask: “How does this character walk? How does it feel like?” I think that I heard Sean Penn ask that, like he walks into a room (in the manner that) he thinks that he walks for hours. I remember him saying that and it stayed with me always.
BT: What has your own journey been like to get to a place in which you feel like you belong as an actor in Hollywood? You have spoken about how committed you were to make it no matter what, do you still feel this way?
JP: Yeah, these are good questions. I think that being on the East Coast I associate seasonal changes with what is going on, that it is weird to feel like everything is perpetually on the same realm, like we’re on a different planet. Because every day it feels the same and you get that sense of existential angst. Especially when I was living in New York City and coming to L.A., I could feel that things slowed down. But I think that I was fortunate enough to do projects in which, I think that the more projects I did, the more that I was able to find my friends within those projects. Especially this one; it is rare but I think that’s an important one. But yes, like you said and without sounding too lofty, I came here and it was like: “If I have to sleep on the beach for this, then that’s what needs to happen”.
BT: This series has an incredible cast and the group has come together extremely well. With whom do you wish you had more scenes?
JP: Oh man! Within the show, I would say that Joe (Mantello) did such an incredible job on it; he’s so integral to what happened. And he’s a Tony-award winning director, so it’s crazy to see that. And all the girls did an amazing job, and Darren (Criss), Darren! I would have liked to have had more scenes with him. I admire him from The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and Patti (Lupone)…and I could just keep saying every [laughs]…I could just go on. Like every person, yes.
BT: You’re starring in such interesting material—Horse Girl, Hollywood, Top Gun: Maverick—all in the same year. Why do you believe that this is your time?
JP: That’s a deep question. [laughs] You’re talking about purposes of why things are happening and I think that what one can hope for usually is that when someone is making a goal for themselves, they make it as specific as possible, and they envision that and they understand how it feels, tastes, touch, everything. I guess that’s really just believing in an idea. And that idea is that anything is possible and life really happens through the consequences of your own thoughts. I think that in the time of loneliness, the people with whom I’ve gotten the chance to work feel like the people that I already know.
BT: What was your experience like filming Top Gun: Maverick? Another great bonding experience?
JP: Yeah, the camaraderie there was insane. I don’t know how much I can talk about it, but the flying sequences are completely unprecedented. It’s never been shot this way before and all of the actors received real-life training from the pilots, so that was special. I think that it will translate extremely well.
BT: What have you been quaranstreaming?
JP: I started rewatching The Godfather, and I’d never seen The Sopranos, so I’m on the first season of that. And yeah! Those are my two main ones, you know? I’m trying to take this time to be outside, too, and walk around. I’m actually not in Los Angeles, I’m in Cowland right now. [laughs]
BT: What are you excited for people to see on this series? It’s being released soon! Are you counting down the days right now?
JP: When I watch something, at least growing up, I liked a lot of movies that felt heroic. Like, you’re laughing and you’re crying, you kind of go through the full spectrum and you’re rooting for something. I think what I’m referring to is inspiration, and this series is hopefully one that inspires people.
Hollywood begins streaming on Netflix on May 1