Emmy Rossum is Angelyne in Peacock’s New Limited Series—But Don’t Call it A Biopic

”I was interested in telling this kind of kaleidoscopic narrative of all the different stories that are out there about her,” actress tells Los Angeles magazine
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When New York actress Emmy Rossum first began popping into L.A. for auditions as a teen, she had no clue what to make of Angelyne. “I started to see a bunch of her billboards all over, and I’d ask people who she was,” she remembers. “Everyone responded with something like, ‘Well, that’s just Angelyne.’ I’d be like, ‘So what does she do?’ And they’d be like, ‘She’s Angelyne.’ ”

A couple of decades later, it’s still a little unclear what exactly Angelyne does, aside from continuing to do whatever it is she’s been doing since the 1980s—namely, advertising herself on billboards, zooming around town in a pink Corvette, posing for photos with fans (for a small fee), and occasionally running for governor (as she did last year during the recall election). 

But Rossum, 35, is starring as the self-made celebrity anyway, in Angelyne, Peacock’s new five-part miniseries, now streaming, that could finally make L.A.’s mystery billboard blonde the bona fide star she’s always guerrilla-marketed herself to be, even if it doesn’t add much clarity to the question of who she actually is. 

“I didn’t feel like I was interested in making a biopic,” explains Rossum, who coproduced the series with her husband, Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. “I was not interested in telling her life story. I was interested in telling this kind of kaleidoscopic narrative of all the different stories that are out there about her—which may or may not be true—and the tension between all those conflicting narratives.”

There are plenty of stories, all right, like the one that inspired the show—a 2017 article in The Hollywood Reporter, in which investigative journalist Gary Baum (who became a consultant on the series) uncovered pieces of Angelyne’s closely guarded past, including the fact that her real name is Ronia Tamar Goldberg, that she was born in Poland in 1950, and that she immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was eight years old. Unless, of course, those facts turn out to be false, which is kind of what Angelyne asserted when Baum’s story came out, going on KPCC radio to vaguely dispute everything that Baum and other reporters had said about her, from her profession (“I am not an actress; I inspire people”) to her birthplace (“I was born with mystique”). 

Rossum as Angelyne in a scene from Peacock’s new miniseries loosely based on the iconic billboard queen’s life. (Peacock TV)

Not surprisingly, Angelyne doesn’t seem totally on board with the Peacock show either despite the fact that she signed a contract with the network giving it the rights to use her name, her quotes, her billboards, her songs (yes, she’s released a dozen or so singles, including “Pink,” “Sex Goddess,” and “Bimbo Baby”) and assorted other trademarks.

“They said, ‘We’re going to do it with or without you, and we want you to have the money,’ ” Angelyne says, describing how the negotiations with Rossum and the network “freaked” her. Still, she adds, “I’m not stupid. I took the money.”

As far as Rossum is concerned, though, Angelyne is much more than merely a pioneering self-promoter; she’s a savvy businesswoman, a proto-influencer, light-years ahead of today’s social-media stars in shaping their own brands.

Rossum’s five-part biopic may turn a kitschy L.A. icon into a bona fide national star.

“I think she’s incredibly intelligent,” gushes Rossum, who dropped out of high school (Spence, one of the toniest private schools in New York) to pursue acting and subsequently found more than a little success in shaping her own brand. She sang with Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti at eight, had a part in As the World Turns at 11, made her screen debut at 13 in a Disney Channel movie called Genius, and has been working steadily ever since in films like The Day After Tomorrow, The Phantom of the Opera, Poseidon, and Beautiful Creatures, while also pursuing a side gig as a recording artist.

“She’s very evaluating in every situation,” Rossum says of Angelyne. “I really respect that level of care with which she has curated her image. She’s purer than some of the influencers now because she’s never sold out. According to Angelyne, companies like Playboy and Coca-Cola came knocking. But she knew that if the deal wasn’t what she wanted, she wouldn’t be able to exert the kind of control that she wanted.”

The deal she made with Peacock doesn’t give Angelyne much control either, but she’ll get that on a documentary she’s producing on her own.  “She told me, ‘I want you to be able to tell whatever story you want to,’ ” says Rossum. “ ‘It’s just, you know, never going to be my story.’ ” 

Emmy Rossum (Photographed by Corina Marie)

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