QX meets Harold Finley who speaks of the inspiration behind his hit play A Thousand Miles of History:
What inspired you to write a play about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol in the first place?
When I was a kid I remember being given The Warhol Diaries by someone in my family and everyone said they were so big, no one read them from cover to cover: I read them from cover to cover three times! I just thought what an extraordinary time, what extraordinary people they all were and then I stumbled upon the fact that they were friends and that they had this odd relationship. I thought, ‘wow, what a great story!’
Did you have to do a lot of research before writing?
Yes, I did a huge amount of research, I read lots of different books. I actually was fortunate as well, people were very kind in introducing me to people who had known them. I even met Andy’s lover’s twin brother! [Laughs heartily] It was surreal and strange but he was just the funniest, most charming man and even people like Vincent Gallo were incredibly helpful though limited in time. He said to me ‘I will help you but you are only allowed to ask me one question.’ But his answer just kind of changed everything.
Did you go to New York?
I went to New York several times to do research. I visited where Jean-Michel lived in the last years of his life, and there was this extraordinary man named Charles Lesley who, with his lover, had started this foundation in the 80s basically rescuing art work from gay men who were dying of AIDS. These men’s families were coming from the mid-West of America or the south of the US and they didn’t know their sons were gay, they just knew their sons were dying so they would come and deal with the estate and basically they would just chuck out all this art which, to them, was just pornography. They rescued hundreds of pieces by Robert Mapplethorpe, by Keith Haring – a lot of Keith’s very private work was very sexual, I was able to see a lot of Keith’s work which I’d never seen in books before and that really, really was extraordinary.
How long did the creative process take?
Seven years! I wrote the first draft very quickly, which is very strange, I mean I wrote the first draft incredibly fast, in like three weeks I think, and I always say, for me, writing is very easy and very quick. Re-writing takes years.
Do you think Andy was gay?
Oh Andy was so gay! That was the impression I had from when I started the project. I always knew because Andy always claimed to be a virgin and it was all incredibly clever: Andy was such a performer but he was so gay. I probably found out more about Andy’s sex life than I really wanted to. He did have this incredible quality where women fell in love with him, women adored him and particularly women of a certain age. I think they all wanted to take care of him.
And what’s the next step for the production?
There’s a lot of talk and a lot of buzz going around, I definitely want the production to live on and Michael Waters who plays Jean-Michel, he and I have very intense conversations about it. There are actually some people in Spain in Madrid who are interesting in doing a Spanish-language production which would be really fantastic and interesting and I know it will live on, I am very excited about it and dedicated.