In the middle of New York Fashion Week, I headed New York's G-Star showroom to interview Vincent Gallo. The director/artist/actor/musician/everything is the face of the Dutch brand's autumn/winter men's campaign, and seeing his image blown up in black-and-white inside their building, you were reminded just how many different faces he's had in his 50 years.
Not just campaigns past with YSL and Calvin Klein (back when he, like Kate Moss, was accused of being the face of heroin chic), or any of the rest - this is also the guy caught on film with fellow artist onetime bandmate Jean-Michel Basquiat, and somehow documented breakdancing at the dawn of hip hop too. Richard Avedon, no less, said Gallo had the most unique face he had ever photographed. Whatever your view of what he actually does, Gallo's got an authentic patina of downtown cool few, if any, can match.
Waiting, alone, for our interview, in jeans and jean jacket just like the posters, he seemed to be inhabiting his latest role with enthusiasm. And perhaps he was, in a way, by being a most unlikely spokesperson - by being Vincent Gallo. He said that I'd have to follow certain conditions for our conversation to continue: not record anything, not quote him on anything, sign a contract guaranteeing I wouldn't reuse anything elsewhere, and allow him to record everything so he wasn't misrepresented.
After that, everything was easy. I put my pencil down, turned off my recorder and decided to just have a conversation with him for the 15 minutes that were alotted.
He saw my cup of Jamba Juice and asked me what the smoothie brand was about. He then recommended a raw fruit juice place in the East Village (rather than quote him on the name, I'll leave you to find it yourself). He also spoke to me in some detail about the optimum temperatures for preserving such drinks' nutrients.
Next, he asked me where I was from, which led to a story about his experience in Montreal in the 1980s. Falling in love and motorcycle racing were both involved. Serious, Grand Prix bike racing was one of Gallo's early jobs in a trajectory that has seen him do almost every other one going. For all the attention his numerous exploits have got since, one thing that seems to have passed many people by is that, in the last couple of years, in films like Essential Killing and Coppola's Teatro, he's done some of the most acclaimed (and awarded) acting of his life.
Being interviewed, especially by the UK press, was one performance he said he just didn't want to go through. (I had asked him, as time ran out, what was behind his approach to our interview). That didn't mean he didn't like working with good people and nice clothes. It just meant that, once he'd done what they wanted, he liked to use his earnings to go on and do the things he wanted to. If I could even pretend to guess what on earth those things might be, he wouldn't have been Vincent Gallo.