American author Laura Albert took pseudonyms to a new level when she created the persona of “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy”, an outspoken young boy who lived an adolescence of sexual assault, prostitution, pimping and hard drugs. Under JT’s name, Albert wrote the raw cult novels “Sarah”, “Harold’s End” and “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things”. When the books started gaining attention by publishers and celebrities alike, Albert decided to dress her sister-in-law, Savannah, up to look like LeRoy and send her as her surrogate to public events. Soon the entire world believed that Savannah was actually LeRoy, who was believed to be the author of the novels. The real author, Albert, acted as LeRoy’s British roommate and assistant, “Speedie.” It all came crashing down for the writer when the New York Times printed multiple articles dispelling the “literary hoax.” In the explanatory documentary, “Author: The J.T. LeRoy Story”, Albert takes us through what brought her to this charade and why, to her, it wasn’t a charade at all.
The film continuously cuts between today’s Albert talking directly to us, videos and photos of Albert’s younger years, and phone calls between “J.T.” and his psychologist, publishers, his celebrity friends and journalists. It was easy, at times, to get confused as to when events actually happened because of the incessant mixing of past and present in Albert’s stories. The similarities between Albert’s own troubled past and LeRoy’s make it easier to see how the boy came to exist in Albert’s mind. The cast of celebrities that mixed themselves into J.T.’s life added surrealist fun to the film. There were recorded phone calls to J.T. LeRoy from Courtney Love of Hole, Shirley Manson of Garbage, Italian actress Asia Argento and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins, who also became an intimate friend of Albert’s. With each celebrity that came into the mix, LeRoy became a little bit more alive, and Albert hid behind him until the very end.
The further in you went, the documentary felt more and more like a memoir told by Albert about LeRoy’s fake memoirs. She never felt comfortable in her own skin, and J.T. LeRoy felt even more uncomfortable in Albert’s skin, so it was difficult for her to admit to being the author of the book except to a few intimate friends. When the Times made sure LeRoy’s gig was up, Albert had to not only face the hundreds of people who believed that Savannah was LeRoy and that LeRoy was the writer, but the numerous celebrities that had put their reputations on the line to back up the story that the character was a real person. She wasn’t about to grovel, apologize or cry to the public, however. To Albert, after all, J.T. LeRoy was a real as she was. His “history” presented in Albert’s books belonged to LeRoy even if he wasn’t real, and it belonged to the books themselves. The film ends by hinting that however unreal the character may be, a piece of writing is always unto itself, not the writer. The writing is alive itself and has its own past and future, separate from the author.