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Film and TV

Meet Savannah Knoop, the real JT LeRoy played by Kristen Stewart

Scarlet Pestell August 8, 2019
Savannah Knoop feels lucky to have Kristen Stewart play the "gender-bending" J.T Leroy.

Savannah Knoop feels lucky to have Kristen Stewart play the "gender-bending" J.T Leroy.

Genderfluid artist Savannah Knoop became the centre of one of America’s greatest hoaxes when their sister-in-law wrote a book, J. T. LeRoy, about an abused teenage boy and asked Knoop to pretend to be him to the media.

The cult book series, written by Laura Albert, told the fictional story of JT LeRoy, a poverty-stricken, sexually abused boy from rural West Virginia.

Knoop was persuaded by their sister-in-law, Albert, to begin appearing publicly as JT LeRoy.

In shades and a wig, pretending to be a man, Knoop became famous for fooling the media—even partying with Courtney Love, Winona Ryder and Bono as JT LeRoy.

The media hoax is now the story of Hollywood movie, JT LeRoy, starring Kristen Stewart as Knoop—who has co-written the film.

PinkNews spoke to Knoop—who uses they/them pronouns—at Dalston’s Rio Cinema screening about how they wound up playing the teenage boy and what it’s like to see Kristen Stewart tell their story. Watch the interview below:

Kristen Stewart plays JT LeRoy

Two decades since the media hoax, queer actor Kristen Stewart is the new embodiment of JT LeRoy.

Knoop says they feel honoured to have Stewart play them with “so much integrity, care and nuance” thanks to her also being queer.

“She completely understood the context of the story,” they explain.

“I felt like she really gave that character so much depth and spent time absorbing all of my mannerisms, as well as JT’s mannerisms.

“My mum watched it and said: ‘She gets you, she’s the James Dean of our time, she really played you.'”

Is JT LeRoy a man?

Although the book series was about the life of a teenage boy, the gender of JT LeRoy was heavily questioned in the press as Knoop began to appear as the character.

News outlets began switching between he and she pronouns for the hoax persona but Knoop says it wasn’t as simple as ‘he’ or ‘she.’

Looking back, Knoop has decided JT LeRoy’s character would be non-binary.

“At the time, gender-non-conforming language wasn’t used but looking back on it now, that’s how JT was presenting,” Knoop tells PinkNews.

Queering Hollywood

Knoop never imagined that pretending to be JT LeRoy would cause a media storm, let alone provoke a Hollywood feature film starring Kristen Stewart.

“It was a blind sure I’ll do it again, sure now I really identify with the character,” Knoop explains.

“I wasn’t ever thinking about how this fit into the great literacy hoax.”

The hoax became so complex, Knoop admits they began to struggle separating JT LeRoy’s persona from their own identity.

But after watching Stewart take on the fictional character of JT LeRoy, Knoop is finally able to separate themself from the book’s character.

“One of the things that I realised was that’s the character of JT and Savannah were completely different and that’s partially thanks to the acting of Kristen Stewart,” they explain.

“From the outside its a no-brainer, they are navigating the world so differently.”

More: GenderFluid, JT LeRoy, Kristen Stewart

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