American actor, writer, director, and now producer John Cameron Mitchell (b. El Paso, TX, April 21, 1963), is best known for the long-running off-Broadway rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch (starring himself as Hedwig and co-written with composer Stephen Trask) that became a Golden Globe®-nominated film in 2001. He has also earned three Obies and three Drama Desk Award nominations for his work off-Broadway and at Lincoln Center.
Mitchell is the son of an army officer and a Scottish-born housewife, born on a military base. Like most “army brats,” he grew up moving from place to place around the world with his family. His first stage role at age eleven was as the Virgin Mary in a Christmas musical at a boarding school in Scotland. He studied theater at Northwestern University but left college before graduation, moved to New York and found work understudying the role of Huckleberry Finn in Big River (1985). He then went to California and played bit parts in many television shows (The New Twilight Zone 1986, MacGyver 1987, Freddy’s Nightmares 1988, Dreamer of Oz 1990, Law & Order 1995) and educational films (Just Along for the Ride 1983, My Father’s Son: The Legacy of Alcoholism 1984).
In 1990 Mitchell returned to New York and appeared in the original cast of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation. The following year he played Dickon on Broadway in the musical The Secret Garden. Off-Broadway in 1992, he earned an Obie Award for his performance in Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me. Again at Lincoln Center in 1994, he played two gay male characters in Michael John LaChiusa’s musical, Hello Again. In Spike Lee’s 1996 film Girl Six, he had a one-word part playing a pornography auditioner (“Delivery!”).
John Cameron Mitchell had grown up hating himself because of his homosexuality, but all that was changing fast. Inspired by the memory of an East German woman – probably a part-time prostitute – who had babysat for his brother Colin while his father was stationed in Berlin, Mitchell conceived of the central character in what was to become the pivotal project of his life, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hedwig, whom Mitchell played in drag, evolved over a period of time and through many cabaret performances into a transgendered rocker who had undergone a botched sex-change operation and whose love life and career were on the skids. The final version of the show, with the songs of Trask integral to the plot, took New York City by storm and led to the making of the movie in 2001. Besides the Golden Globe® nomination, it won him Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, twenty-six other miscellaneous awards, and twenty-seven more nominations.
Although he was happy to say goodbye to playing Hedwig, Mitchell was encouraged enough to devote his energies to filmmaking, especially the kind of film that would promote sexual activity as a route to human happiness. His next project was Shortbus, about the search for love and sex in New York City’s salons, filmed without actual stars, but with actual sex scenes. The production was put on hold briefly in 2003 while Mitchell collaborated with Jonathan Caouette (an auditioner for Shortbus) on Tarnation, a documentary about Caouette’s life. Shortbus premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 and won awards at International Film Festivals in Athens, Gijón, and Zurich.
Mitchell has directed music videos for MTV, appeared in interviews on Politically Incorrect, and hosted Independent Film Channel programs.