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Angelyne Star Emmy Rossum on Portraying the Pink Neon Glimmer of L.A.'s Billboard Queen

Shameless alum Rossum now plays the titular Los Angeles icon who wanted to control her own story.

by | May 18, 2022 | Comments

The California Tourism Bureau is forever in debt to a woman known singularly as Angelyne.

While the film and TV industries might have helped build the mystique that Hollywood — or Los Angeles in general — is all blondes and bikinis and sports cars and sunglasses, she wrapped it all up into one image, selling the allure through neon-pink billboards and a revved-up Corvette.

But who actually is Angelyne?

“What is so fascinating about her is how she could be so known and yet so unknown,” said actress Emmy Rossum, who portrays the pop culture icon in Angelyne, a biographical limited series premiering on May 19 on Peacock that she also executive produces.

The former star of Showtime’s Shameless said she became enamored with her subject — who she described to Rotten Tomatoes as “a living, breathing piece of art” and, as Angelyne described herself, “a Rorschach test or a mirror” — when she was 13 and first came to Los Angeles for auditions. All over town, she’d see billboards of a buxom blonde with sunglasses and a bouffant, frequently posing on a flashy vintage car like she was an older, naughtier version of the Rydell High Pink Ladies.


(Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock)

The magic of Angelyne was that she really wasn’t selling a product. Those billboards, along with her trademark pink Corvette that she drove around town, made her a brand way before Vincent Chase was one.

Ironically, given her shtick, Angelyne was always fiercely private about her real life behind the fishnets and miniskirts. A 2017 investigative profile in The Hollywood Reporter attempted to do away with that by revealing details of her backstory, such as her brief marriage, her childhood as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and her actual name.

This article serves as the basis for the Peacock series, which showrunner and executive producer Allison Miller lays out via a mix of mockumentary-style interviews, edited news footage, and flashback scenes that depict Angelyne’s rise. Girls alum Alex Karpovsky plays a version of THR reporter Gary Baum, although the show calls the character “Jeff Glasner.” Karpovsky said he learned “a certain type of sort of interrogating techniques that journalists use that I just never really thought about” while studying Baum for the role; a way of softening up interview subjects to create a sense of intimacy and illicit honest answers out of them.

ANGELYNE star Emmy Rossum

(Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock)

Showrunner Miller, who was raised on artistic-style mainstream films that suspend belief like the Charlie Kaufman classics Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, says she wanted “an unconventional method of storytelling” because “Angelyne is unconventional.” But also, she said, focusing on what she calls “talking heads” helped with the debate of whether we can ever know “someone’s truth.”

“It gave the characters the ability to contradict each other, both in the way it’s edited and in what they’re saying to each other and informing each other,” Miller said. “It really gave us the opportunity to say what we wanted to say, which is we don’t know who she is. Only she can say who she is; someone can’t tell us who we are.”

Rossum, who has a background as a singer, prepared for the part by figuring out Angelyne’s cadence since it can be Marilyn Monroe–like breathless or heat-seeking missile cutting depending on the conversation. In addition to working with a singing teacher and vocal coach, she found copies of Angelyne’s old meditation tapes on eBay as well as other audio. “I just closed my eyes and listened to hours of her speaking in different situations,” Rossum said. The actress would draw bubble baths, just like Angelyne does in the show, and listen there or take the recordings for walks around the reservoir near her home in New York City (unlike Angelyne, she did not do this while walking in sky-high heels).

She asked actor Rami Malek, who starred in her husband Sam Esmail’s USA Network series Mr. Robot and won an Oscar for portraying Queen singer Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, about his experiences with prosthetics and in depicting real people. He told her “just do the work, and the rest will just happen,” something she said she didn’t truly understand until her first day wearing all the prosthetics, hair, and makeup.

“They turned me around and I didn’t recognize myself, and I found this utter liberation and ability to go into my own imagination and fantasy and I found it really, really remarkable,” Rossum said.

ANGELYNE stars Martin Freeman and Emmy Rossum

(Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock)

Still, noted actors making a think-piece project about the meaning of fame and our addiction to it, might seem to be a little navel-gazing. And Los Angeles, like a lot of cities, has lots of artists and creators who are known on a local level, be it Dennis Woodruff, the actor who — like Angelyne — is known for driving around the city with a synonymous set of wheels, or Kenneth Lovell Moore, the street artist known as the Crenshaw Cowboy thanks to his habit of displaying his found art instillations next to that entrance of the I-10 freeway.

Miller said Angelyne is the “quintessential L.A. celebrity, because you have to come here to see her.”

Martin Freeman, who plays Maurice Wallach, the billboard owner whom Angelyne convinces to do her bidding, said there is “a sort of immortality to fame” that makes it intoxicating. And, while there’s a lot of talk in the show and in real life about what Angelyne actually wants — a record contract? a movie deal? — he said, “She’s genuinely put herself out there on a certain level. So she, obviously, just wants to be famous for no other reason than being herself.”

Angelyne key art

(Photo by Peacock)

As for Rossum and her adoration of her subject, she said, “I’m not trying to define who Angelyne is.” Instead, she said, “I was so interested by playing all the different possibilities for why she became Angelyne and investigating all of those stories, side by side.”

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