Ryan Raftery, who has mounted buzzworthy productions based on Anna Wintour, Andy Cohen & Martha Stewart, is tackling President Donald Trump's daughter in a new project.
Ryan Raftery has carved out a career by creating his own brand of bio-musicals targeting the likes of Anna Wintour, Andy Cohen, Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart. For his next act, the writer-producer-performer has set his sights on another pop-culture phenomenon: Ivanka Trump.
Raftery is set to debut his one-man show inspired by the fashion designer-turned-White House senior advisor on Feb. 23 at New York's Public Theater, with a scheduled run through March.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Raftery, who will first reprise his headline-grabbing Wintour musical on Sept. 4-5 at Feinstein's/54 Below, explains how he has adapted Trump's story for the stage -- with some creative liberties. "It's a Manchurian Candidate story where her father is doing business in the '80s with the Russians and something goes wrong, and they basically kidnap Ivanka and turn her into a sleeper agent," Raftery says of the plot. "She doesn’t realize this her entire life. Kind of like in Jordan Peele’s Us, there’s a moment in the show where Ivanka’s other personality, which has been dormant as far as she knows, finally reveals itself to her. This is after her father’s been elected and the personality basically says to her, 'I’m revealing myself right now because I’m letting you know I have one goal and one goal only and that’s to get our father re-elected.'"
It's the first time Raftery has mined a political personality for a show, and he says it feels like a natural progression considering the current landscape: "The thing that’s fascinating now is that politics has always been a form of entertainment, but now it is entertainment, not just a subset of it, because of what we have going on in the White House right now and the way that [Donald Trump] acts like a petulant child, the way that he uses social media. It's literally show business, and it's really scary."
But he's quick to say that his goal is not to frighten. "My number one goal is to make the audience laugh. If they’re thinking, too, that’s a great thing," explains Raftery, adding that his preparation for this show is much different than the others. "Ivanka is a girly girl, so I’ve never really had to prepare physically for a role like this before. Like costume-wise, learning how to walk in heels. The makeup has to be perfect, the hair has to be perfect, but I work with a really incredible team of people who have worked with me on these other shows before, and I’m already working on the voice."
After recently wrapping up his final performance of a two-year, multi-city run stepping into the shoes of Stewart, Raftery spoke to THR about his process, his team and what it was like to run into Wintour out in the wild.
How do you choose who to build a show around?
Anna was the only one that kind of suggested herself to me. The rest of them I had to think about who I wanted to play next. I feel very strongly about playing alternate genders because as a writer, why should I write with one hand tied behind my back? I love the idea of writing for women, I love the idea of writing for men, and I love the idea of playing both of them. The shows are not all one-person shows. The Anna Wintour one has one other character who plays Grace Coddington. Originally it was André Leon Talley, but for the five-year anniversary that we’re performing in three weeks, I’ve changed out characters where now it’s Grace Coddington because of the success of that documentary The September Issue. Then the Andy Cohen show, the Housewives were obviously all characters, as was Anderson Cooper. Then Martha, her daughter was a character, Snoop Dogg was a character and there were ancillary characters. Calvin Klein was a three-person show [with] Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren as well. Ivanka is going to be just me, and Jared Kushner’s going to be played by a life-size cardboard cutout. It's eerily accurate.
What sparked your interest in acting?
When I was growing up, I certainly didn’t know anyone in show business, so I never knew that it was really a ble career choice. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer and I realized that everything about law that I was attracted was the performative aspect of it. I grew up loving that movie A Few Good Men, with Tom Cruise screaming in the courtroom. When I was in high school, I got a job interning at a law firm and I never saw the inside of a courtroom. I was always inside a copy room making copies or redacting contracts. Then as I got older, I realized I wanted to try and do it.
How do you prep for a character? What’s your process?
It depends on how well known the person’s voice and likeness is to the public. For instance, Anna Wintour, everybody knows exactly what she looks like, but many people do not know what she sounds like. She has kind of a quiet voice, so I made sure I looked like her and I created a voice for her. Calvin has kind of a scratchy voice and a Bronx accent. I grew up in Brooklyn, so I was able to do that. Martha I worked very, very hard on because everyone knows exactly what she looks like and sounds like, so I worked very hard to get her voice down. I’ll do the same for Ivanka. I’m already working on her voice, but it really starts with research. I read everything I can find, I watch a ton of interviews, just get their mannerisms down; it’s just a ground-up kind of thing, you just have to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Did you impersonate anyone as a kid?
I’ve always been kind of a good mimic. I used to like make people laugh in school by imitating teachers. I’m able to pick up on people’s ticks, which really makes a good mimic. Like when you watch someone do an impersonation of someone you go, “Oh, yeah. He does always do that. He does always lift up his right shoulder.” That kind of little stuff always jumped out to me and made me particularly good at it.