“He was obviously a little broken in some way,” declares Jim Parsons about his role of Henry Willson, the foul-mouthed and abusive agent on Netflix’s “Hollywood.” The series, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, reimagines the film industry of the 1940s and depicts Willson as a sexually abusive and manipulative puppet master to the young Rock Hudson (Jake Picking). The role is a radical departure for Parsons, who won four Best Comedy Actor Emmys for playing Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Parsons above.
The actor, who also serves as an executive producer on the series, admits to knowing almost nothing about the real life Willson. Parsons relied heavily on Robert Hofler‘s book “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson” to learn about Willson’s past, and found some striking parallels between the book and some his scenes. “It was absolutely my bible through the whole piece,” Parsons recalls. “I was reading it in tandem while I was working on it and I would see certain scenes, the spirit of them recreated in our show that I had read about earlier.
In exploring Willson’s life, Parsons believes that the agent’s manipulative and predatory nature was the result of being forced to remain in the closet while also having an insatiable thirst for power in the film industry. “I think surrounding himself with beautiful men whom he tried to make famous, I think all that came together in a way that got really ugly,” Parsons concludes. “He felt better about himself when he lorded his power over these men.” Although Parsons does not try to excuse Willson’s actions, he does attempt to humanize him. “We’re all capable of so many of those things,” he explains, “and to most of our credit, we don’t give in to some of those desires or predatory, power-hungry things that Henry Willson did.
Parsons had to endure hours in the makeup chair to more closely resemble the real Willson. The process, which was something entirely new to the actor, gave him some distance from the darker material he had to play. “I felt further away from myself,” he says. “It helped make the process of exploring Henry and playing these scenes as much of a playground feeling as anything I’ve done in many years, in some ways forever.”
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