Still beating

Laura Albert and the ballad of JT LeRoy
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About a boy? The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things
PHOTO COURTESY OF WILD BUNCH

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM/LIT A few weeks before our scheduled interview, Laura Albert mails me copies of 2000's Sarah and 2001's The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Inscribed on Heart's title page is a note: "Thanks for being available to revelation." The volumes are signed "Yours, LA and JT" — the latter, of course, referring to JT LeRoy, the identity under which Albert penned both books.

That secret's been out since late 2005, and has been dissected over and over. It even inspired a Law and Order episode. LeRoy, and his fantastically tragic back story (just out of his teens, he'd survived drugs, homelessness, and prostitution en route to becoming the lit world's hottest wunderkind), were Albert's creations. She was the true author behind the best-sellers listed above, plus 2004's Harold's End, dozens of magazine articles, an early script for Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003), and numerous other works. (Meanwhile, the androgynous "JT" that had been appearing in public was actually the half-sister of Albert's then-partner; she wrote her own tell-all in 2008.) On Albert's website, there are tabs marked "Who is Laura Albert?" and "Who is JT LeRoy?" Both link to Albert's biography.

Years have passed since l'affaire LeRoy, and Albert has moved through the experience in her own way. (Her business card lists her as "literary outlaw.") Later this summer, Sarah will be reissued as an ebook, with a fairy tale-inspired cover by artist Matt Pipes. Albert also is working on her memoirs (though she doesn't like to use the word "memoirs"), and tells me there's a documentary forthcoming from Jeff Feuerzeig, who made 2005's critically-acclaimed The Devil and Daniel Johnston. This weekend, Asia Argento's 2004 adaptation of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things screens as part of the Clay Theatre's midnight-movie series, with Albert and producer Chris Hanley in person, plus Argento via Skype.

Sitting in her San Francisco kitchen, Albert eyes my tape recorder and admits she'd rather focus on the film, not JT — though it's a topic that inevitably arises. Argento, Albert says, encountered Heart the way many LeRoy readers did, via word-of-mouth recommendation.

"She read the book and she didn't know anything about JT. At the same time, a small publisher was putting out the book [in Italy], and they wanted to bring JT over," Albert recalls. "It was a weird coincidence. They were putting on an event, and they wanted to get someone to read. They had contacted Asia, and she already knew about the book, and she wanted not only to do this event, but to make the movie. It's funny because I thought Sarah would be the first [to become a film], because it was already optioned by Gus [Van Sant]. But Asia moved really fast. We went over to meet her, and I had turned down a lot of people. My feeling was, it's my baby and I'm giving it up for adoption, and I saw that this was someone I could give my baby to."

Argento, the daughter of famed Italian horror director Dario Argento, is best-known stateside as an actor; previous to Heart, her directing experience was limited to short films and 2000's flamboyant Scarlet Diva. Once she decided to helm the movie, her decision to star as the free-spirited, needy, sometimes-cruel single mother of the story's young protagonist was an obvious choice.

"I had concerns about that, how much she would take on the role, how much it would become her. It's ironic, because I had given myself over completely to Jeremy, to JT, to Jeremiah," Albert says. She pauses. "Did you see that French film, about the guy who assumes different characters?"

"Holy Motors?"

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