I’ve been feeling out of the loop, since I was probably one of the few who had never watched the HBO series “Girls” but that all changed with the premiere last week of season 3, “Females Only.” I was curious to see for myself what all the brouhaha was about the show. My old Sony Trinitron had conked out a couple of years ago and I hadn’t made the effort to hook up my cable again, even though I’m still paying for it. But with the premiere of the third season of “Girls,” I decided that was going to join the rest of America and signed up for HBO GO specifically so I could watch it, especially since Michael Cavadias, someone I knew from the nightlife world, had a part in the episode. He was playing Kelvyn, a drug addict in rehab. I first met Cavadias in 2008 on the WKCR FM radio show I hosted. I interviewed him and Rob Roth, his director and collaborator, when he was performing at The New Museum in “The Mystery of the Claywoman.” He was playing Claywoman, a mythical 500,000,000 year old extra-terrestrial. Cavadias has been acting most of his life and starred in the 2000 film, “The Wonder Boys,” with Michael Douglas. His role was the drag queen who was the date of the character Robert Downey Jr. was playing. Cavadias, a native of Santa Cruz, came to New York City in the 1990s to attend New York University, where he studied acting. In addition to his film roles, he’s appeared on television shows like New York Undercover and Third Watch. He was a member of The Blacklips Performance Cult, an avant-guarde theater troupe founded by Antony of Antony and the Johnsons in the 1990s based at the Pyramid Club on the Lower East Side, and is a featured performer with the Citizens Band, a noted political performance collective. Cavadias also works regularly as a DJ in New York City.
Watching “Girls” for the first time cleared up the mystery of why it has created so much controversy and was so polarizing. It’s a show that actually shows how young women live in New York City these days, and how they interact with men. Yes, many of the girls are entitled bourgeois hipsters, but why shouldn’t a television series portray this echelon of society? The criticism in the media about there being too much nudity and that director and lead actress Lena Dunham is unappealing strikes me as the typical response to women who write and portray what is really going on, an unvarnished simulation of how life actually is nowadays. I hate to throw around the term “misogyny” lightly, but one wonders why a woman who is successful and badass evokes such an outpouring of negative comments, along with a tremendous amount of media buzz and high ratings. Yes, as a self-confessed glamster myself I wouldn’t mind if the girls occasionally wore more makeup and donned some of the glitzy outfits that used to fill the screen in “Sex and the City,” but this is more than a decade later and although grunge was a movement of the 1990s, due to a horrendous economy and the digital dumbing down of our world, it makes sense that “Girls” has chosen a warts-and-all aesthetic.
Cavadias met with me in my office to tell me what it was like to be cast in “Girls.” His scene occurs early in the premiere episode of season three during the rehab scene where he breaks out into tears and is comforted by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, who is also playing an ex-addict. Since his last big role was as a drag queen, it’s nice to see that Cavadias still has a pretty face as a boy on “Girls.”
GERRY VISCO: What was it like working on Girls with Lena Dunham, and how did you get the job?
MICHAEL CAVADIAS: Lena asked me to do it.
VISCO: Did you know her?
CAVADIAS: I met her about three years before and we kept in contact. She’s wonderful.
VISCO: Had you been watching Girls up to then?
CAVADIAS: Yeah. I really loved the OCD episodes.
VISCO: Are you OCD?
CAVADIAS: No. I mean, I’m not diagnosed, but probably…
VISCO: What is it about Lena as a director that you could share with us?
CAVADIAS: The atmosphere she creates on the set is really supportive for everyone to explore and create their characters. In our scene, she encouraged a lot of improvisation.
VISCO: You were in the scene with Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth)!
CAVADIAS: She was really nice.
VISCO: Was she a diva?
CAVADIAS: No, not at all! Not in the slightest bit.
VISCO: Where did you shoot?
CAVADIAS: At an actual rehab up in Warwick, New York.
VISCO: How was the lunch that they served? Was it crappy?
CAVADIAS: There was salmon!
VISCO: Did it feel like a real rehab room?
CAVADIAS: I’ve never been to rehab. I always kind of feel like I’m in rehab…
VISCO: In terms of the show, do you feel it is a realistic depiction of young people who live in Brooklyn?
CAVADIAS: Of course it’s heightened because it’s a TV show, but I do think it’s realistic.
VISCO: Would you say the perspective is female-centric? Even as a gay man, how do you feel about the politics?
CAVADIAS: I feel really good about it. I like the way she is challenging the body image obsession in the country. I think it’s really important. She calls out the misogyny in the gay male community, too.
VISCO: Being the actor, director, and writer, how did Dunham function on set?
CAVADIAS: I’ve never met anyone who does as many things as she does. I don’t know how she does it. She seems like she’s able to focus on a million things at once. There was a lot of mutual respect, and people we’re happy to be there. Naturally, everyone seemed thrilled to be working on the show. No matter what anyone’s job was—there was no hierarchy. It was such a pleasure from beginning to end. I had to emotionally prepare myself for the week to be over.
VISCO: Is this the first big role you’ve had in awhile? What’s the last film/TV thing you’ve had?
CAVADIAS: I’ve done a bunch of smaller films. 4 or 5 years ago I did one called Becoming Blond. The last big, big movie I did was Wonder Boys. This was the first mainstream thing I’ve done in a long time.
VISCO: You went from a drag queen to a rehab victim! What’s next!
CAVADIAS: There’s a lot of things left, human or otherwise.
VISCO: You wouldn’t consider moving back to California for your career?
CAVADIAS: I don’t feel like nowadays you need to. There’s a lot of stuff going on in New York—a lot of great things.
VISCO: Would you say that the young generation in Girls is similar to the young generation of when you first came to New York in the 1990s?
CAVADIAS: There are similarities because it’s that time of life. But I think the technology thing has changed so much about culture on a fundamental level. It’s changed everybody. One thing I’ve noticed with the younger generation is that the confidence level is very high. I feel like my generation—it was Gen X. Nobody knew what was going on. I think we were a transitional generation. The generation before is “of a certain time” and the generation after is “of a certain time” but my generation–? The nineties were very transitional. In 1995 I was hosting Squeezebox and having to explain that we were doing a live webcast. I had no idea what I was talking about. Then ten years later that was…the world. Everything shifted so much.
VISCO: What do you do now other than acting?
CAVADIAS: I perform as Clay Woman. She’s a 500,000,000 year-old extra-terrestrial. She comes and gives lectures at colleges. She’s a character that I’ve been doing since the 90’s. I also DJ. I recently wrote and acted in a short film called “Junkie Doctors,” directed by Rob Roth.
VISCO: Is that fun?
CAVADIAS: I love music. Since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with different eras of music, bands, the evolution of bands.
VISCO: When was your first time DJing?
CAVADIAS: Late nineties—’97, ’98. It was at Meow Mix. I don’t think I was very good! But I got a lot better later. It was a lesbian bar. It was really fun. There was a new generation at the time of hip lesbian hangouts.
VISCO: What do you say to the people who critique Lena’s appearance and style?
CAVADIAS: I think they’re being ridiculous. I don’t understand what there is to criticize about that. She’s portraying her vision. Like, what? You’re not supposed to show certain things on TV? I think there’s a culture of always wanting to tear everything down. There’s so much people have to overcome to creatively actualize themselves. Whether it’s something big like Lena’s doing, or people doing stuff downtown—it’s a lot to overcome. In your own mind, financially…unless it’s really constructive, I don’t see the point in constantly attacking people for expressing themselves.
VISCO: Do you have any projects coming up?
CAVADIAS: I’m writing another short film. It’s not developed enough yet for me to put it in print.
VISCO: Were you always an actor?
CAVADIAS: Yeah. When I was a kid.
VISCO: Would you say that Girls is a very New York-centric show? Can people in other parts of the country relate to it?
CAVADIAS: I think it’s relatable to everyone. It’s hilarious. The writing is really good.
Now that I have my HBO GO and Lena Dunham is now gracing the cover of Vogue, I’m ready to watch my next episode of Girls and hope to figure out why there is such a backlash against a show that is entertaining and funny. I hope there continues to be plenty of nudity, sex, and that the haters out there continue to find ways to complain. One rather dubious website, calling the show a “low rated flop,” was exultant that only about a million viewers was watching the premiere of season three and Jezebel is offering $10,000 to anyone who can provide unretouched photos of Dunham from the Vogue photo shoot. If anything, this bloodthirsty blitz by the media only lionizes Lena Dunham and makes me applaud her decision to let it all hang out.