Most viewers first knew Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto as the sinister Sylar on NBC’s “Heroes.” He plays another dark and complex character in “Chaperone,” a 16-minute short written/directed by Pittsburgh native Sam Max, which is now streaming through Jan. 30 as part of the virtual Sundance Film Festival.
Max – not the name they grew up with, but a professional name they use – grew up in Regent Square before moving to O’Hara Township.
Max, who identifies as non-binary, acknowledges that the film’s plot line is deliberately vague: an unnamed character, Chaperone (Quinto), takes a younger man, Client (Russell Kahn), and they go to a house location where their relationship becomes clearer. . The content of the film may disturb some viewers.
“I want people to really engage with the mystery and the unknown of the film and feel surprised by it,” Max said, explaining that the story was set at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. “I felt a lot of isolation and I was thinking about the heaviness of the moment and also the idea of being surrounded by death.
Max was involved in choir and musicals at Fox Chapel High School (Class of 2013) and studied acting at the University of Evansville in Indiana. But by Max’s senior year of college, their interest shifted to directing.
After college, while staying with Max’s mother – Pam Rosen Keen, CEO of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Home Lemieux Family Center – Max wrote a play that served as a calling card for the entertainment industry.
“I was taught when it comes to my career, just follow the path of least resistance,” Max said of the move into writing/directing.
Max, who is based in New York, was first introduced to Quinto before the pandemic as the pair were developing a script for a possible TV series. That project was put on the back burner by the pandemic, but Max sent Quinto the script for “Chaperone,” which Quinto agreed to film for five days last summer in New Jersey. Max said “Chaperone” is one of 50 shorts chosen to play at the Sundance Film Festival from 10,000 submissions.
Max said visually, “Chaperone” is informed by their upbringing in Pittsburgh.
“How the natural environment interacts with the industrial environment in Pittsburgh is always something very instructive for me in how I think about writing the environments that interest me,” Max said. “I continue to feel inspired by western Pennsylvania and the Rust Belt qualities of the place.”
“Chaperone” is included (along with a Q&A on the film) in Sundance’s $50 Explorer Pass which can be purchased online at https://festival.sundance.org/tickets/.
‘Chaperone’ isn’t the only project with a Pittsburgh tie at Sundance: Dakota Johnson’s film ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth,’ filmed in Pittsburgh last summer, largely at Pittsburgh Mills, will have its premiere at the festival – online screening tickets are sold out – and is expected to sell out to a distributor, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Four years after being ordered to series by NBC and later moved to HBO, writer/creator Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey” follow-up “The Gilded Age” is finally making its debut. It was worth the wait.
Premiering at 9 p.m. Monday on HBO and HBO Max, this lush costume drama will feel familiar to “Downton” fans, but new characters, situations and locations set it apart.
“Downton” was all about up/down, an element carried over from the HBO show, but “The Gilded Age” mostly focuses on the theme of old versus new.
In 1882, young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson, daughter of Meryl Streep) travels from Doylestown, Pennsylvania – somehow via the Strasbourg Railroad? – in New York after the death of his father. She moves in with her silver old aunts, the imperious Agnes van Rhijn (Baranski) and the sweet Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon, playing against type). Marian quickly gets instructions on who she can associate with.
“We only receive old people in this house, not new ones,” says Agnès. “Never new!”
Of course, this proves difficult when the new Russians build a mansion across the street. George Russell (Morgan Spector, “The Plot Against America”) is a ruthless railroad baron and his scheming wife Bertha (the excellent Carrie Coon, “The Leftovers”) desperately wants to be accepted into the old crowd of silver headed by Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy).
Don’t worry, “Downton” fans, the show’s HBO home doesn’t mean “Gilded Age” is awash in profanity or graphic sex. A character bares her breasts in episode four, but otherwise ‘Gilded Age’ might as well be on PBS but will probably benefit visually – the huge sets! wonderful costumes! — by having an HBO budget.
One of the main reasons to tune in is that several Broadway stars, first and foremost Baranski (“The Good Fight”), are back in grande dame mode as Agnes. The pitch for her was surely something like, “You get all the best lines, like Maggie Smith, but with more screen time!”
In the first five episodes made available for review, Agnes’ dialogue is awash with zingers. His most resonant line for viewers in 2022? “I’m not concerned with facts, not if they interfere with my beliefs.”
“Gilded Age” differentiates itself from “Downton” with the story of Peggy Scott (Denee Benton, 2014 Carnegie Mellon University graduate; more on her later this month), a young black woman who comes to Marian’s aid at the start of the series and ends up working for Agnès. The show acknowledges and addresses the racism of the time in polite New York society. “Gilded Age” makes Peggy a character with an agency. She has her own story about her professional ambitions and her conflicts with her family (Audra McDonald of “The Good Fight” plays Peggy’s mother).
“The Gilded Age” is by far the best new series of 2022 and sets the bar high for the shows to follow.
‘Archive 81’ hits #1 spot
Netflix’s Pittsburgh-filmed supernatural thriller “Archive 81” premiered on January 14 and zoomed to No. 4 the next day and on January 18 the show was No. 1 on the “Top 10 in the United States” list. Today” from Netflix on the streaming service’s homepage.
No word yet on a second season renewal, but it seems likely.
You can reach TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or facebook. Ask questions about TV via email or phone. Please include your first name and location.