I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
A day in the life of inexhaustible multi-talent Andrew Levitas
by Jenny Bahn Photography Christopher Sachs
Elevator doors open directly into a swanky SoHo loft apartment. In New York, an apartment with this mode of entry is an unfailing signifier of the luxury that awaits, but, in this case, it’s not. Save for a mattress that greets visitors immediately upon entry and a pair of white high-tops near the wall, the space is entirely empty. No sofa, no rug, no nothing.
Andrew Levitas is pacing around in a pair of black boots and jeans, a phone pressed up to his ear. He waves for us to come inside with a free hand and quickly wraps up his conversation before walking over to make proper introductions. Strong jawed and well groomed, Levitas moves about the space with a confidence that’s tinged with a nervous, frenetic energy.
“Sorry,” he says, “I moved in here three months ago, and I’ve been too busy to get anything for the place.”
“I can’t wait for the next thing. That’s what I love the most: the part when you get that first idea.”
Countless New Yorkers exaggerate or fetishize their workload, but not Levitas. He is a creative force of nearly absurd proportions (actor-writer-filmmaker-producer-photographer-painter-sculptor), and he’s got full-fledged careers going at fever pitch in at least three of those disciplines.
“Metalworks,” his sculptural photography exhibition, is currently running at the Gallery Valentine in East Hampton after a critically acclaimed first run at Phillips du Pury earlier in the summer. Meanwhile he’s been juggling the day-to-day work required in producing three separate films, as well as working on his own, Lullaby, his debut as a writer and director.
But we’ll get to all that. With Levitas, it’s one step at a time, in about five different directions. On the menu today: editing Lullaby followed by a visit to the set of Affluenza, one of several films he’s currently producing.
Once Levitas is on the move, he rarely, if ever, slows down, constantly on his phone trying to keep up with it all. However, he does stop on the way to the postproduction studio to point out Principessa, a 50-head Italian trattoria he opened with six friends earlier this year. I use this rare break in the action to ask him about his recent artwork.
“The thing about all great art is the element of touch,” he says. “The artist has to bring a feel to the work. It’s perfect for being imperfect. And that’s stopping being the case recently.”
Levitas’ solution to this perceived disconnect between viewer and artist, spawned in no small part to the ease of production that digital technology provides, was to reclaim the medium. “Metalworks,” which took two years to complete, utilizes a process Levitas has since patented to produce photographs on transparencies, which are then melted onto hand-etched metal surfaces. Each sculpture takes anywhere from 50 to 100 hours to create, a sizeable chunk of time in a world where 5-million photos are uploaded every day to sites like Instagram, each taking mere seconds from creation to completion. Snap. Filter. Upload. Done.
Levitas is a creative force of nearly absurd proportions (actor-writer-filmmaker-producer-photographer-painter-sculptor), and he’s got full-fledged careers going at fever pitch in at least three of those disciplines.
Resisting the immediate gratification culture of our generation is the combative force behind Levitas’ work. The resulting alternative—a hands-on, blood-sweat-and-tears work ethic — has laid the formidable foundation of Levitas’s career. Citing an apprenticeship with Allen Ginsberg during college, he learned early on that you could be anything you wanted to be. “He believed you could be an actor, a writer, a painter,” Levitas told Vogue in a 2009 interview. “And it was all connected because the connective tissue was you.” This adherence to an open, non-exclusive policy is really at the heart of Levitas’ work, be it producing, writing, directing or creating art with his own hands. Levitas simply places no boundaries between these disciplines on a conceptual level, choosing simply to exist, as an artist, producing work in his own time, choosing the medium according to the message.
We arrive at the postproduction house in SoHo, where Levitas disappears into the editing room to work on his most personal project to date, the writing and directing of Lullaby. The script is inspired by Levitas’ personal experience with the passing of his father nearly 10 years ago. In the film, Garrett Hedlund plays a young man estranged from his family when he’s informed that his father is dying and has decided to take himself off life support.
“Lullaby was a really unique experience,” says Levitas. “It was the sort of thing where everybody contributed in places that they ordinarily normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so. You have actors talking about camera with me. You have camera guys talking about writing with me. It was a real collaborative effort.” This approach to directing help land Levitas a cast loaded with Oscar-worthy heavy hitters to compliment Hedlund, including Amy Adams, Richard Jenkins, Terrance Howard, Jennifer Hudson and Anne Archer.
“My only goal is to make something that’s powerful, special, an art piece,” he tells me a few hours later, while trying to negotiate his two-door convertible through Williamsburg Bridge traffic on our way out to Long Island. “I have the ability to say to my actors there’s nothing locked in, you know, there’s no right or wrong, the only thing that matters is authenticity.”
It’s nighttime now, and after a few wrong turns upon exiting the L.I.E., we pull into the driveway of Chelsea Mansion, a 1920s estate complete with moat and miniature jardin à la française that’s also serving as the location of Affluenza, one of the two films Levitas is helping bring to the screen as a producer.
“The artist has to bring a feel to the work. It’s perfect for being imperfect. And that’s stopping being the case recently.”
Affluenza is a coming-of-age story documenting a young man’s summer spent in a privileged Long Island town. The film, inspired by The Great Gatsby, reflects on the conditions of this country on the eve of 2008’s global financial collapse. Along with producing the film, Levitas is also contributing original photography to the storyline, which will represent the evolving point-of-view of the story’s young protagonist.
A production assistant comes to inform Levitas that the cast is dressed and ready to shoot. He turns to follow, his boots moving over the damp grass, two cameras strapped over his shoulders.
“I’m really happy,” Levitas muses. “I had a list of things at the beginning of the summer and they’re all checked off. I can’t wait for the next thing. That’s what I love the most: the part when you get that first idea.”