HTSI editor’s letter: Mescal, Marlon and Renaissance masters
Like gajillions of others, I first noticed Paul Mescal when he came to our attention in the television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. As Connell Waldron, Mescal delivered a nuanced performance projecting a character whose muscular confidence was tempered with emotional vulnerability – his Connell seemed to embody the crisis in modern masculinity. For some, that kind of role so early in a career might become a millstone, the kind from which one may never escape. In the years that have followed, however, Mescal has resisted the expectation to follow the actor’s path to take on parts instead that show his versatility and range. I loved his performance in The Lost Daughter, the sort of part that a more “ambitious” actor might have considered inferior. And while his latest, Aftersun, very much finds him in leading-man mode, his performance alongside the 12-year-old Frankie Corio is brilliantly generous – I love an actor who doesn’t seek to suck the focus in every scene.
In this edition of HTSI, however, we’re celebrating Mescal’s more macho attributes: he is currently starring as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, the role first undertaken in 1947 by Marlon Brando. Excited though I am to see Mescal slathered in motor oil and wearing a white singlet, I’m also fascinated to see how he will interpret this icon of bravado. “I’m interested in the two extremes. Like the extreme of male vitality, brutality and physicality. I’m interested in that as a shape and why men choose to be that way,” he says in his interview with Beatrice Hodgkin. Brando also brought a fluid sexuality to many of his roles, and was one of the first big-screen actors to explore the classic stereotypes of gender. I expect Mescal to bring a similarly limpid virility to this production – in many ways, Stanley is a part that he was born to play.
Another Christmas treat: Louis Wise has interviewed artists who are taking inspiration from the Renaissance. From Chris Oh’s tributes to Flemish-painted saints, to Ella Walker’s quattrocento-style paintings, the art landscape has taken on a whiff of the Medici. Natalia González Martín, who grew up in Spain, says the Catholic influence in her work is undeniable. But theirs are not the tropes of religious 16th-century works: Walker’s figures are less likely to be captured in a pose of divine subordination than in a music video, while there are mascara smudges on González Martín’s holy shrouds. The more you look at the Renaissance masters the more you feel their influence everywhere from Beyoncé to Succession. As González Martín says: “You cannot avoid them if you are looking for references on ways to paint.”
On the subject of influence, Ajesh Patalay has looked at the year in food through a cultural lens. In the 12 months that saw a British prime minister “outlasted” by an iceberg lettuce and television audiences drooling over The Bear, the subject of food, restaurant culture and etiquette has never seemed so loaded. My favourite food story, or at least the most bizarro, was the one featuring Olivia Wilde’s salad dressing. According to her nanny, the actress and director supposedly left her fiancé Jason Sudeikis to cook dinner for her lover Harry Styles, taking a salad and her special dressing with her. The report was dismissed as being “false and scurrilous”, but Wilde did acknowledge that she does indeed have a special recipe. The only culinary “special” I would be able to bring to a new paramour would be oatcakes and a tub of supermarket hummus. I clearly need to spend more time in the kitchen if I plan on seducing Harry Styles.
In the meantime, we’re off until the new year. If you have yet to buy your presents, be sure to check out our online gift guide, as well as the few last-minute suggestions here from Rhodri Marsden and Clara Baldock. However you’re spending it, I hope you have a wonderful time. From all of us at HTSI, we wish you very happy holidays.
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