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'Angry Inch'-er John Cameron Mitchell

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John Cameron Mitchell
John Cameron Mitchell acts as star, writer and director of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the tale of a questing East German immigrant  

PARK CITY, Utah (CNN) -- John Cameron Mitchell created the off-Broadway hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" a few years ago, and even he was slightly shocked by its success. It became a cult favorite with a loyal following and played to consistently full houses.

New Line Cinema liked the show enough to pay Mitchell $5 million to adapt the musical into a feature film. Now that film is making the festival rounds, with Mitchell acting as star, writer and director.

CNN came to the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to talk to Mitchell, 37, about this touching tale of an East German immigrant, and learn exactly why that inch is so angry.

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CNN's Lori Blackman talks to actor-director John Cameron Mitchell

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CNN: Did you ever have any idea when you first started with this that it would become the cult hit that it did?

John Cameron Mitchell: No, I really didn't. I kind of wrote it to keep myself busy between guest-star sitcom roles. I wrote it for my friends and me and it is a big surprise that it is here at Sundance at all.

CNN: For those people that have not seen the play, how would you describe the basic storyline?

Mitchell: Well, Hedwig is an East German American, army wife, transsexual, rock n' roll singer who is on a tour of seafood restaurants. She is following around her ex-boyfriend, who is a huge rock star who stole her songs. ...She is seeking fulfillment, seeking love, seeking to fill up a hole that is left from a lot of bad experiences.

CNN: Like the experience of the sex-change operation.

Mitchell: Hedwig used to be a boy in East Germany before the (Berlin) wall came down, and the only was to get out was to marry an American GI. And the American GI suggested, "Well, why don't you get a sex change and then you can marry me and get out?" And he didn't really want one, but he wanted to be free, and as Hedwig's mother said, "Ah, to be free you've got to give up a little part of yourself."

CNN: The operation wasn't completely successful -- hence the angry inch, the inch that was left over?

"Hedwig is an East German American, army wife, transsexual, rock n' roll singer who is on a tour of seafood restaurants," Mitchell says  

Mitchell: Right. It was a bad job.

CNN: When the play first came out, it was compared to the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975). Do you agree with that comparison at all?

Mitchell: It's similar in that we have ... followers of the show. ...Some people saw it hundreds of times and know the lines. But ... I think it's a bit more serious at heart -- there's more of an intense yearning at the core of it. It's not quite as campy.

CNN: You wrote and starred in the stage version, and you also direct the film version?

Mitchell: Yes, ...it's been an on-going collaboration with a lot of people. But it is true I had to write it, direct it and star in it, which I probably won't do again. That wasn't much fun -- it was like climbing a mountain, you know?

CNN: Are you happy with the way it came out?

Mitchell: Yeah, the Sundance screening last night was the first time I got to relax. I saw the audience was enjoying it and I had a drink for the first time in six months.

CNN: Sundance is very competitive in selecting films. What was your reaction when you found out it was accepted into the festival?

Mitchell: I was thrilled. ...I think they really like the fact that it was not what you would think of, in a clichéd way, of a dramatic film. I never really think of musicals or drag or rock 'n' roll for Sundance competition. So I was really surprised and pleased.

CNN: Do you feel any pressure going into a cinematic version of the play?

Mitchell: I prefer to be like George Bush where there are no expectations, and if you did something good, it's like, "George Bush did a good job." ...I think we did a good job.

CNN: What's next?

Mitchell: I am working on a children's film with a musician/composer friend. It is going to be kind of a "Willy Wonka"/"Phantom Tollbooth"/"Secret Garden", kind of thing with very dark undertones. It's a children's novel, though I want it to be for all ages.



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