Ondi Timoner’s Mapplethorpe is a period piece that extends from the start of controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s early period of experimentation and discovery (both sexual and artistic) in the ’70s up to his death from AIDS at the close of the ’80s — when his infamy was at a high point thanks an obscenity trial centered around his work.
Despite the space in years, the film is reflective of modern times as threats against public funding of the arts continue and puritanical views about sex stand their ground in an ever-raging culture war. But it doesn’t effort to make that connection crystal clear or paint Mapplethorpe as little more than a symbol of a movement for his stubborn refusal to turn his lens away from the gracefully composed dick pics and S&M imagery that captivated him (and others). Instead of focusing heavily on the issues, Timoner teams up with actor Matt Smith to focus on Mapplethorpe, the man. Flaws and all. Talent, curiosity, boldness, and all.
UPROXX had the chance to meet with Smith during the Tribeca Film Festival, asking what it was about this character (and this cause) that drew him to the project, how he created his version of Mapplethorpe, and whether he puts any weight into how people react to his own work.
When did you come to this project and what was it that attracted you to it?
Smith: Well, I think I came to it a few years ago, actually. It was him. It was his art, really, and the complexity of him as a man. His sexual life, where he came from and his journey towards being the artist that we know him to have become.
Yeah, you know, it was a film that was set in a period and place in New York that I was very interested in and I thought it felt like a challenge.
Were you really up on his art prior to taking on the role? Was it something that fascinated you before?
Not really, no. No. No. We don’t quite have the same sense of him in England as you guys do in New York. I mean you get it. You do and you don’t, but I became completely fascinated by it, I have to say. And I just think it’s brilliant and vivid and totally memorable.