Questionnaire: Alison Pill
Published December 8, 2008
Alison Pill and Emile Hirsch asactivists Anne Kronenberg and Cleve Jones. Photo by Phil Bray.
On Friday, Gus Van Sant’s biopic about Harvey Milk—San Francisco’s infamous “Mayor of Castro Street,” who was assassinated in 1968—went into wide release. The film, which has been getting all sorts of Oscar buzz, has no shortage of elements to appreciate; after all, in addition to some legitimately insightful cultural, historical and political commentary, the film introduced us to the amazing Anne Kronenberg, Milk’s tough, funny, and incredibly smart “dyke-on-a-bike” campaign manager. Twenty-three-year-old actress Alison Pill plays Kronenberg in the movie, and she gave us the inside story on what it was like working with some of the film’s real-life characters – not to mention a few of the heaviest hitters in Hollywood.
Activist Anne Kronenberg and actress Alison Pill. Photo by Phil Bray.
Lucy Madison: How much did you know about Harvey Milk before you started working on the project? Alison Pill: I knew basically nothing; I had heard of the “Twinkie Defense” and that was about the extent of it. At first I was really ashamed, but then I started talking to anyone else who had bothered to be honest, and nobody else really knew about him either. I was just like, that’s impossible! That we missed this huge, amazing figure. And, also, that we hadn’t been aware of the fact that thirty years ago if you shot two people in cold blood, you’d only get seven years in prison if one of them was gay.
LM: What was it like to work with Anne Kronenberg, who you were portraying in the film?
AP: It was amazing. We shot the whole movie on location; we shot in Harvey’s camera shop, and in City Hall. Anne was there quite a bit, and I got to meet and hang out with her. She’s an amazing woman—super-smart, super-funny. She was like the den mother.
LM: In the movie, you get a pretty palpable sense of the barriers between even the gay and lesbian communities during this particular time. You were essentially the only woman in Milk.AP: Yup! [Laughs] Yeah, I mean it’s like, me and Anita Bryant footage. I think another movie could be made about the confluence of events involving women’s rights, and women’s lib, and the gay rights women. We only get to hint at it, but the complete segregation of the gays and lesbians at that time was so extreme. It was like, a couple blocks and suddenly it’s a no-go zone if you’re a lady. Harvey did such an amazing job of trying to build these coalitions that actually worked. LM: And the group of men you were working with wasn’t exactly a bunch of neophytes.
AP: Well, it was nice to have the support of the single woman [Anne Kronenberg]. It was a fun set to be a part of, but definitely, in the scenes where I have to take charge in the midst of this group of men—or to talk to, you know, Harvey-slash-Sean as an equal – [laughs] it was intimidating
LM: What did you think of your Anne Kronenberg wardrobe? AP: I loved it! It’s the sign of a great wardrobe designer when you suddenly feel great in what you’re wearing, even if it’s stuff that you would never feel great in otherwise. And to manage to get Joe Cross into those tight-ass pants, you know? Everybody else said I looked really … [laughs] I heard the term ‘ugly’ used about my clothes and hair. I’m like, I don’t think you get it; I think it’s literally the sexiest look I’ve ever had.
LM: I have to ask: Did you use a wig or was that your real hair?
AP: That is my real hair. That was the result of a perm every shooting day. I’m such a person for bright ideas; I was like, ‘A wig won’t work!” so I was in hair for three hours a day. It was worth it.