Hollywood offers a fictionalized take on history, capturing what the 1940s would have looked like if marginalized actors, creatives, and producers hadn't been pressured to conform to the strict expectations inherent to stardom.
Ryan Murphy's new Netflix series alludes to historical figures like Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), the first Chinese-American movie star, or Rock Hudson (Jake Picking), an actor who had to keep his sexual orientation a secret for his entire career.
Jake Picking plays Rock Hudson in the new Netflix show, 'Hollywood.'
From Eleanor Roosevelt to Vivien Leigh, the new Netflix show evokes the spirit of some of the greatest stars to ever appear on the big screen.
Hollywood charts stories, experiences, and anecdotes that never made it to the canon, character traits that had to be strategically eradicated, bringing to light the parts of the stars' identites that were considered to be too steep to be of the fans' liking. Much like the rest of Ryan's oeuvre, the show weaves together facts with fiction.
Take Rock Hudson, an Illinois-native who took up delivery jobs around the city before meeting Henry Willson, the man who would help him become a celebrity.
According to Vanity Fair, the influential agent taught Rock everything there was to know about stardom. He showed him how to smile without drawing attention to his gums, sent him to acting and vocal lessons, and gave him strict instructions to walk and talk in a more masculine manner.
"There was something very marketable about it [...] He saw them as commodities, and things to be shaped and molded from his own personal factory," Jim Parsons, the actor playing the much-dreaded actor in Hollywood, told Vanity Fair.
Henry exercised a great deal of control over Rock's career and his personal life. He gave him a stage name audiences would find more appealing. He even instructed the young actor to dress up as a life-size Academy Award for the 1948 ceremony, a publicity stunt that almost cost him his life. According to Vanity Fair, the full-body paint ended up causing severe breathing difficulties.
The sacrifices did pay off eventually, and by 1952, Rock appeared in movies like Scarlet Angel, Horizons West, or The Lawless Breed. By the end of the decade, he was mentioned on the same page as James Dean, Charlton Heston, or John Wayne — the biggest names in the industry.
Jake prepared for the role by carefully studying Rock's body language and mannerisms.
"I watched his films on silent to study his body language. I listened to his interviews while I was driving in my car to study how he speaks," Jake told The Advocate.
A lifelong Rock Hudson fan, Jake approached the role with a heightened sense of caution. He paid an equal amount of attention to the various archival documents preserving intricate details about Rock's personal and public life.
"Being on a show that reflected an era I was already in love with was surreal. The era itself was incredibly romantic, the colors, even in the way people spoke [...] There’s a certain level of obligation I felt, playing someone who’s such a hero, an icon," Jake told The Advocate.
"It was hard not to, in the first few days on set, to feel the presence of Rock watching, and I had to remind myself to just be present and listen," the actor added.
Stream Hollywood on Netflix now.