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A decade after JT LeRoy, the prolific transgender writer, was revealed by The New York Times to be the literary creation of author Laura Albert, a new documentary, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, chronicling the titular figure’s faux-life, premiered in Los Angeles on Thursday.
LeRoy’s story, which saw the apparent rise of a drug-addicted prostitute to best-selling author, was considered one of history’s greatest literary hoaxes. Savannah Knoop, Albert’s sister-in-law, even portrayed herself in public and interviews as LeRoy. But Albert pushes against the hoax characterization, and told THR, “When I saw Savannah, it wasn’t Savannah: I saw JT.”
Reaction to the true identity of LeRoy, who could count the likes of Courtney Love, Billy Corgan and Gus Van Sant among his coterie, was quick to label Albert and Knoop as two disaffected rock musicians craving influence in literary and celebrity circles. But that didn’t stop such figures as Peter Bogdanovich, Ryan O’Nan (Fargo) and Johnathan Fernandez (Lethal Weapon) from showing up Thursday night at the NeueHouse in Hollywood, part out of curiosity, part out of respect for an author who has attained a cult status among readers.
“I feel that people responded to the felt authenticity, and I really felt that [LeRoy is] who I am in the work,” said Albert. “That was created the way an oyster creates a pearl out of suffering. It wasn’t this way to meet celebrity and stars. It was a way for me to try to integrate and heal.”
Director Jeff Feuerzeig, who hadn’t heard of LeRoy or Albert prior to the break of the scandal, said he was intrigued at the so-called hoax aspect, but upon reading the plethora of think-pieces and articles written in the wake of the revelations, felt something was missing. “I had this feeling there was more to the story — perhaps much more to the story — than we were being told,” he told THR. “Because the author of the fiction, Laura Albert, on and off the page, had held her story back.”
Feuerzeig’s film attempts to fill in that voice, providing viewers with taped recordings of phone conversations between LeRoy and his numerous friends and associates in the entertainment world. Threaded through the film are interviews with Albert, in which she provides ground-view commentary on how she managed to imbue LeRoy with life for so many years.
Of the access Albert provided, she said, “Literally, I gave [Feuerzeig] the open book: everything. Things weren’t labeled: I gave him every single diary, everything.”
Author: The JT LeRoy Story opens in theaters Sept. 9.
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