US filmmaker Gus Van Sant tells Warhol's early life in new musical 'Andy'

Main actor playing Andy Warhol in the new musical by American film director Gus Van Sant.
Main actor playing Andy Warhol in the new musical by American film director Gus Van Sant.   -   Copyright  © Filipe Ferreira
By Josephine Joly  with AFP

American film director Gus Van Sant is now turning his hand to theatre with a new musical about the early life of pop art icon Andy Warhol.

The new musical called "Andy" plays today at the Dona Maria II National Theatre in Lisbon. It is the first foray into the art form by Van Sant, who is keen to explore other forms of artistic expression.

Best-known for films such as "My Own Private Idaho" and "Good Will Hunting", the Palme d'Or winner had even written the script for a film in which actor River Phoenix, who died at the age of 23 in 1993, was to play the role of Warhol. But this time, the project has gone ahead. 

"I had been working for a while on a Warhol project and I hadn't completely decided on the exact format. I was just trying to put together the greatest hits of Andy's life, to sort of explain his rise into the art world during the sixties," Van Sant said.

In "Andy", Van Sant recreates the beginning of Warhol’s career through a fictional narrative built from facts and memories, but also from imagination.

© Filipe Ferreira
The new musical by American film director Gus Van Sant tells Andy Warhol's early life.© Filipe Ferreira

A young Portuguese cast brings Warhol's encounters with the likes of American writer Truman Capote, actress Edie Sedgwick, art critic Clement Greenberg and musician Lou Reed to life.

For Diogo Fernandes, who plays the legendary artist, it is "the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition".

"The dream of going abroad to work internationally, not only in the United States, but in European cinemas, doing theatre abroad, in English. It was always my dream," Fernandes revealed.

"And for that dream of mine to come to Portugal and me being part of that... I have no words, it's too much."

In his filmography, Van Sant made other forays into the biographical genre, with a film about the last days of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain ("Last Days", 2005) or another about gay rights activist Harvey Milk ("Milk", 2008).

"Very few people really knew who Andy Warhol was," said Fernandes. "I think he was a shy boy, fascinated by American culture and wanted to be a star, but never imagined the impact he would have."

"Andy" will play at Portugal's national theatre from September 23 to October 3, ahead of a European tour.