In 2005, the literary world was stunned to learn from a New York magazine exposé that JT LeRoy, the queer sex worker turned best-selling writer from rural West Virginia, was actually the alter ego of Laura Albert, a middle-aged woman from Brooklyn. While pseudonyms and pen names are common enough, not only were LeRoy's books purported to be inspired by true events from his life, but Albert also took her ruse even further by roping her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, into playing LeRoy at public events. After several years as the wunderkind of the literati, LeRoy's facade quickly came crumbling down, sparking multiple documentaries and a tell-all from Knoop, upon which the upcoming, long-awaited film JT LeRoy is based.
In this dramatized version of the LeRoy scandal, Laura Dern plays Albert, who, after receiving widespread acclaim for 1999's Sarah, the first book from "JT," is pressured to put a public face to the name. She enlists Kristen Stewart's androgynous Knoop, the younger sister of her husband (Jim Sturgess), to play the part, and thus the pair embark on a years-long global tour of scamming. As seen in the film's first trailer, released Thursday, Knoop relies on a blond wig, a hat, oversized sunglasses, and a slight Southern drawl to embody LeRoy, while Albert tags along, sporting a bright red wig and a British accent.
The film, which was directed by Justin Kelly, also stars Diane Kruger, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Courtney Love (who struck up a friendship with the person she thought was LeRoy and is still friendly with Knoop). Several months after its well-received premiere at the close of last year's Toronto International Film Festival, JT LeRoy will arrive in theaters on April 26.
In 2017, Kelly and the real Knoop, who cowrote the film, spoke to W about adapting Knoop's story for the screen."It's intense. In a way, the project was an exercise in taking something you remember and layering it over, and over, and over. The only thing I can think to compare it to is where you look at a photograph and the photograph becomes the access point to your memory," Knoop said. "In making this movie, it's like a snowstorm of transposing memories over each other."
The duo also spoke about how both Dern and Stewart had to move between multiple different personas throughout the film. "You constantly have Laura Albert switching between playing a 20-year-old West Virginian gender-fluid person on the phone and this loud British woman, 'Speedie,' in person. Laura Dern had to navigate those three roles," Kelly said, while Knoop added, "For both 'JT' and 'Savannah,' Kristen really embodied her research into the dual characters. She's a master at copying gesture—she would do this mouth thing, and I was like, 'That's me!'"