“As you get older, you treasure the beautiful things of the past but also see things more clearly.”
TRQ: John Cameron Mitchell, Born April 21, 1963
Performer, writer and director John Cameron Mitchell, most widely known for his film Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), was born in El Paso, Texas. The son of an army general, he grew up in cities around the world. Mitchell came out to his generally supportive family at the age of twenty in 1983. From 1984 to 1988 his family lived in West Berlin, and the Mitchell family’s German babysitter, who also worked as a prostitute, would inspire the Hedwig character years later.
Mitchell studied theatre at Northwestern University, but left before graduating. In California he appeared on television in small roles, but in New York, he appeared in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation in 1990. In 1991 he appeared on Broadway in The Secret Garden, and a year later in Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me, a role for which he won the Obie Award. In 1994, he played two gay male characters in John LaChiusa’s Hello Again at the Lincoln Center. Mitchell was steadily accumulating notoriety and positive critical for his acting.
In 2001, however, Mitchell showcased the range of his talents with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which he wrote, directed and starred as the title character. Mitchell had already performed as Hedwig at a drag punk club in New York and off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theater in 1998, for three years. He adapted the successful stage musical, described as one of the best rock musicals of all time, for the screen, and added genre-spanning songs by Stephen Trask, to tell the story of an “Internationally ignored song stylist” who has suffered a botched sex change operation with a punk-infused flair.
At the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, Mitchell won the Best Director Award and Hedwig took the Audience Favorite Award. So convincing was Mitchell’s portrayal of Hedwig that many were surprised to learn that Mitchell had not previously done drag.
Following Hedwig, Mitchell wrote, directed and produced Shortbus (2006), which featured explicit, naturalistic sex. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and went on to win awards at several international film festivals.
In 2010, he directed Nicole Kidman’s Oscar-nominated performance in Rabbit Hole, a film adapted from David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Mitchell had responded personally to the story of a family impacted by the death of their four-year-old son, because his own brother had died at the same young age.
Mitchell continues to be ever prolific as he redefines cultural relevance. Recently, Mitchell’s Broadway performance and production of Hedwig has earned Tony Awards. Intermittently, Mitchell has work with actors such Marion Cotillard and Jude Law in fashion films for Dior. He has also directed Cynthia Nixon and Peter Sarsgaard in an off-Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth. In 2018, he worked with Nicole Kidman again in How to Talk to Girls at Parties. He returned to acting with roles in Shrill, Girls, Vinyl, The Good Fight and Mozart in the Jungle. His musical podcast project, Anthem: Homunculus, stars Glenn Close, Patti Lupone, Marion Cotillard, Laurie Anderson, among others. Mitchell’s current television project examines community, politics and casts democracy as suspect by liberals and conservatives alike.
Mitchell has planned to take Hedwig back on the road with the tour Return to the Origin of Love: The Song and Stories of Hedwig.