'Vinyl' Star James Jagger on Following in His Father's Footsteps, Sex Scenes and Why He Loves 'Getting Naked'

Niko Tavernise/HBO
“I had a punk phase as a teenager, which a lot of kids do, but it stuck with me,” says James Jagger (center) in Vinyl.

In a straight-on photograph, it's not so obvious. But when James Jagger is singing, sneering and pouting on HBO's new series Vinyl, he's the spitting image of his pops, Mick -- executive producer (with Martin Scorsese) of the show. Vinyl, which premieres Feb. 14, explores the fictional story of Richie Finestra, a label head trying to save his company in the sex- and drugs-saturated world of early-1970s New York. Jagger plays Kip Stevens, the heroin-addicted lead singer of a punk group called The Nasty Bits. But this isn't a case of nepotism gone wrong: The role is perfect for him. Son of Mick and Jerry Hall, the London-raised Jagger, 30, has experience as an actor (Stealing Summers, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) and musician (he fronted the band Turbogeist) -- and of course, he brings more than a little of his family's history to the role.

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Was it difficult acting in your dad's project?
He wasn't there any time I was working, so it didn't feel like I was working for him in any sort of way. I didn't feel uncomfortable.

How did you research the role?
I don't know them personally, but there were people in the punk scene I could identify with for the role: Stiv Bators, Iggy Pop certainly, Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders maybe -- a little bit of his attitude.


In the first episode, Kip is both an addict and a ­potential star. What ­happens with his character?
It gets worse before it gets better, let's just put it that way. You see more of the human side to Kip as the show progresses. It was really enjoyable for me to portray this guy -- he's a total asshole, but he's also got hopes and dreams. It was nice to be able to show there's more than one facet than this sort of demonic, ruthlessly competitive, ambitious [character]. He's a sweet guy, deep down.

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Who wrote The Nasty Bits' songs?
Me and some old bandmates from Turbogeist wrote a couple of songs in the pilot, and a few other people. We had a great band recording them. [Sonic Youth's] Lee Ranaldo was kind of producing it with these fantastic musicians: Wayne Kramer [of The MC5] played guitar on one track, and [New York Dolls'] David Johansen did vocals for the Dolls stuff [that the show uses]. We tracked them at [Jimi Hendrix's Manhattan studio] Electric Lady, which was such a surreal experience.

There's a pretty serious sex scene in the first ­episode. Had you ever done one before?
Once before, yes. They can be really awkward; they can be really funny. It depends on the circumstances of the scene and whether you're comfortable with the person you're doing it with. At the end of the day, it's work, and we're adults, so we should be able to get over the fact that we're naked.

How are they funny?
What's not funny about being naked? I feel it's worse for girls than it is for guys. We don't tend to be as self-conscious. Man, I love getting naked. (Laughs.) Any opportunity, as far as I'm concerned!

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of Billboard.