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Our latest Longreads Member Pick is now free for everyone: Matt Siegel’s love story about identity, sex and finding companionship:

It was an acquaintance and former editor of one of those gay lifestyle magazines who advised twenty-year-old me to tone it down if I ever wanted to find a boyfriend. This coming from a man obsessed with anything Disney-related; the walls of his West Hollywood condo adorned with carefully framed Snow White and Fantasia animation cels. “You don’t need to tell them how much you love Belinda Carlisle on your first date,” he said. “But I do love Belinda Carlisle! That quavering vibrato!” I whined. “Well,” he said, “they’ll find out eventually, and by that point they will love you, Belinda and all.” While I hate(d) him for saying it, I understood the algorithm: gay men are attracted to men, so the more you resemble a man, the more desirable you will be to a gay man. [Insert frowny face emoticon.]

PUBLISHED: March 4, 2014
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7343 words)

The Last, Disposable Action Hero

Hollywood studios are increasingly focusing on creating expensive action movies with less costly unknown actors. For some of these unknowns, it's a chance to skyrocket into fame, but it's not that easy:

Hollywood has gotten creative in its hunt for the next big action star. Producers have considered scouting high-school football games. Brett Norensberg, an agent at Gersh, decided to structure a significant part of his practice around recruiting mixed-martial-arts fighters, professional wrestlers and martial artists. His list includes a karate whiz named Leo Howard, the star of Disney XD’s “Kickin’ It.” “He’s just turning 16. He’s almost 6 feet tall, and he’s got an eight-pack. He’s a thicker Keanu Reeves. The sky’s the limit for him.”

These efforts, though, belie a truth about action heroes: Almost any actor, even some of Hollywood’s most scrawny, can be physically transformed for the part if he’s willing to put in the hard work. The studios know this, which is why any inexpensive unknown can be chosen. The cast for “300,” including a post-“Phantom of the Opera” Butler and the relative newcomer Fassbender, were put on a brutal program with Mark Twight, a trainer whose workouts incorporated medicine balls, kettlebells and rings to emphasize the athleticism of the Spartans.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 28, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3801 words)

In Drag, It Turns Out, There Are Second Acts

Inside the long career of RuPaul Charles, "the world's pre-eminent drag queen."

RuPaul Charles zoomed down Sunset Boulevard in a 1979 red Volvo he inherited from his mother. He wore a pinstripe suit and an open-collar shirt revealing a wedge of shaved chest. “Hollywood is an idea,” he said, as the Bee Gees blared on the radio. “It’s not a real place.” He stared down the road through oversize sunglasses. “It’s more of a concept,” he continued. “So, to step behind the curtain of the dream factory, things are never what they seem to be, and that is by design.”

PUBLISHED: Feb. 21, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2400 words)

The Secret Life of Johnny Lewis

Johnny Lewis was a Hollywood actor who starred in series such as The O.C. and Sons of Anarchy. He soon began exhibiting troubling behavior that led to a grisly murder:

In late October 2011, Lewis lost control of his Triumph motorcycle near Twentynine Palms. At the hospital the staff checked him for signs of a concussion, but he was allowed to leave after tests came back negative. Michael Lewis, however, noticed that his son’s behavior was becoming erratic and bizarre. Had the accident shaken something loose in his brain? he wondered. The elder Lewis scheduled two MRIs, which Johnny refused to undergo. Friends picked up on Lewis’s change in behavior, too. During an acting class in December, he kept speaking in a vaguely British accent. “I asked him about it because I was confused,” Tucker says, “but he shrugged it off.” By the new year Lewis’s behavior would turn from curious to dangerous.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5380 words)

Longreads Best of 2013: Story That Should Not Be Overlooked

Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) teaches media studies and writes Scandals of Classic Hollywood for The Hairpin, amongst other things.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 19, 2013

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our story picks of the week, featuring the Hollywood Reporter, New York magazine, Wired, Oxford American and the New York Review of Books, with a guest pick by Teddy Worcester.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 29, 2013

Animals Were Harmed

An investigation reveals that the “No Animals Were Harmed” credit at the end of movies has come to mean almost nothing, and the American Humane Association has faced complaints about its lack of oversight:

“Last week we almost f—king killed King in the water tank," American Humane Association monitor Gina Johnson confided in an email to a colleague on April 7, 2011, about the star tiger in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. While many scenes featuring “Richard Parker,” the Bengal tiger who shares a lifeboat with a boy lost at sea, were created using CGI technology, King, very much a real animal, was employed when the digital version wouldn’t suffice. “This one take with him just went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side,” Johnson wrote. “Damn near drowned.”

King’s trainer eventually snagged him with a catch rope and dragged him to one side of the tank, where he scrambled out to safety.

“I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!” Johnson continued in the email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “I have downplayed the f— out of it.”

AUTHOR:Gary Baum
PUBLISHED: Nov. 26, 2013
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7075 words)

The Vulture Transcript: 'Arrested Development' Creator Mitch Hurwitz

Hurwitz offers serious advice on creativity and writing, as well as a brief history of how he came to cast actors like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera:

“And Michael Cera, I had seen him in a pilot and I reached out through the casting director, like, ‘there was this kid in this pilot, can you please try to track him down.’ Two weeks went by, and we’d seen all these — you know, kid actors in Hollywood, a lot of them come up through that Disney channel, or through — back then it was Barney. So you get really, like, these hammy kids. Precocious, you know. So I’m waiting to hear, and finally the casting director says to me, ‘great news, Michael Cera likes the script.’ And I’m like, ‘who’s Michael Cera?’ ‘The kid that you wanted us to get.’ ‘That was Michael Cera? We’ve been waiting to see whether this 12-year-old likes the material? Good, uh, I’m glad he likes the material.’ And, you know, that’s Michael Cera — you know what I mean? Only Michael Cera would be as a 12-year-old, ‘Yeah, I like this. This is good.’ It’s such an important part — television is so much about continuing to work with people, and I mean, that was just fortune. All of them.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9861 words)

Voice & Hammer

The story of Harry Belafonte:

"Belafonte was first. First black man to win a Tony; one of the first to star in an all-​black Hollywood hit (Carmen Jones, 1954); first to star in a noir (Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959—​'best heist-​gone-​wrong movie ever made,' says James Ellroy); first to turn down starring roles (To Sir, With Love ; Lilies of the Field ; Porgy and Bess ; Shaft) because, he said, he’d play no part that put a black man on his knees or made of him a cartoon. We’re here in this screening room to watch a forgotten hour of television for which he won the first Emmy awarded to a black man for production, for being in charge.

"When I found the show in the archive, I thought it would be more of what I believed I already knew about Belafonte. The albums I’d bought were labeled 'easy listening' or 'folk,' as in harmonizing trios who wore matching sweaters. Then I watched. My eyes went wide. I started shaking my head in disbelief. I think I gasped. I was wearing the archive’s cheap headphones, sitting at a monitor in a dark room. Other researchers hunched over screens, all our faces flickering blue. I laughed. I slapped the desk. My eyes watered. Goddamn. I felt like I was watching a different past, one in which the revolution had been televised. Goddamn. As if that was what TV was for. A signal. This, I thought, this."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8283 words)