At last night’s New York premiere for “Vinyl” — HBO’s upcoming series about the 1970s New York music industry — P.J. Byrne, who plays the wildly-groomed music lawyer Scott Leavitt, told Variety that he has very strict requirements for the roles he accepts.
“I like to work with a minimum of two icons before I show up on set,” he said with a smile, referring to the show’s executive producers. “To have the great Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, and Terence Winter — who, if he’s not an icon now, will be one shortly — those guys were a wealth of knowledge.
“Growing up in the ’70s in New Jersey, New York was this scary place of dreams,” he added. “And now to be a part of this world and tell that story is exciting. And also to have mutton chops.”
Scorsese directed the two-hour premiere that screened with his signature full-throttle flourish, and he, Winter and Jagger certainly don’t skimp on the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll or violence. “Vinyl” has been in production for close to a decade, and at the premiere, which was held at the Ziegfeld Theatre, showrunner Winter told Variety that there was “an overlap” between the start of this series and the end of his previous show, “Boardwalk Empire.”
“I got involved in 2007. I got a call from Martin Scorsese, who said, ‘I’m working on this music project with Mick Jagger. Do you want to be involved with it?’ And I said, ‘uh, yeah, I do.'”
According to Winter, “Vinyl” started life as “a sweeping epic that spanned over 40 years, and it was a three-hour epic period piece, and timing wasn’t right. We had our project up and running around 2008, and suddenly the economy collapsed, and the appetite to do a massive period piece set in the music business sort of waned,” Winter explained. “And we thought, ‘well, we already have ‘Boardwalk Empire’ going, why don’t we try reinventing it as a series?,’ and that worked so much better. It gave us much more real estate to work with.”
“Vinyl” stars Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Juno Temple and Ray Romano, and revolves around the world of American Century, a record label that’s on the verge of collapsing due to Cannavale’s character’s drug problems. Viewers get an inside look at how to cheat artists out of their royalties, cook the books and other classic music industry malfeasance. And as with Winter’s previous work — he was a head writer on “The Sopranos” and wrote the script for “The Wolf Of Wall Street” — the often toxic masculinity is neither explicitly celebrated nor condemned.
“I’m just honest in the storytelling. I’m not trying to make it seem one way or another or clean anything up,” Winter said. “I’ve had the same policy in everything I do; I present the facts and let audiences decide what they think is good or bad. I don’t take a position on any kind of behavior. This is the actual reality of how it was, and you make of it what you will.”
Getting into character was not an arduous task for Temple, who plays Jamie Vine, an assistant at American Century’s A&R Department who is hungry to find a career-making star. “I listened to great music, tried on some great wardrobes, read some great books, like (Legs McNeil’s) ‘Please Kill Me.’ I did all the things I’d want to do in my real life. This didn’t feel like research. This felt like the most enjoyable experience ever.”
Though books about the ’70s scene, like Stephen Davis’ Led Zeppelin tell-all “Hammer of the Gods,” often depict the era’s women as groupies and prizes to be won, Temple says “Vinyl” has a more equitable and progressive take.
“To me, I feel like the female characters on the show are unbelievably strong, and that’s another reason why I signed on to it. In the pilot, she felt really fearless and brave,” she said. “She felt like she was going to make a difference. I think Terry is going to be really wonderful about that, and the arc with all of the female characters throughout the show, is just as important as the male characters. I think it’s an even balance.”
After the premiere, the cast and celebrity guests including Danny McBride, Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage attended the afterparty at Cipriani’s, where they were served beverages and small hot dogs and other finger foods by a waitstaff attired in Aerosmith, the Doors, the Ramones and other classic rock T-shirts, while a DJ played era-appropriate hits with a heavy emphasis on the late David Bowie.