The day I went to meet John Cameron Mitchell in his apartment, he had glitter stuck to his face and two ice packs in his freezer for the knee he injured on-stage during a performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
"I was doing Neil Patrick Harris’s superhuman choreography," said the 51-year-old actor, who took over the lead role after Harris's Tony-winning run in the Broadway revival. His leg has recovered, but Mitchell still performs in a knee brace. "I actually like the show much better with it," he told me.
Mitchell is drawn to things that are a little... broken. Hedwig, the character he created in the '90s, is an East German singer left with an "angry inch" after a botched sex change. Her one-liners are hilarious. But she's reeling from a bad breakup, and is abusive toward her current partner.
Since creating the character, Mitchell has lost his father to Alzheimer's, and his ex-boyfriend Jack Steeb to addiction. He says those losses have informed his "new" Hedwig. But he also says playing Hedwig now, in his 50s, is a lot more fun than it was two decades ago.
"I think things are dishonest if they're not aware of sadness," he said. "Humor without sadness underneath it feels cheap and aggressive."
Sitting on his upholstered couch in his rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan's West Village, we talk about being an openly gay actor in the '80s, the healing that comes with watching parents age and why he says Jack Steeb was the best man he ever knew.