By Kyle Fierstien
Robby Rackleff paces behind a line of four actors dressed in nearly iden- tical uniforms: crisp white jumpsuits made almost transparent from sweat, blue rubber gloves, faded yellow ponchos cinched around the waste. He pauses to force a pair of gloved hands into one of the wash basins lined up on a table in front of them, scrubbing violently with a sponge as the hands’ owner recoils. He lets the viewers know that this isn’t how he wanted to spend the day – that he wanted to show us how to make friendship bracelets.
The character he plays on IFC’s “Children of Mirror,” Curtis, an angle-, hygiene-, and water-obsessed cult leader, seems to be the ultimate expression of Rackleff ’s horrifying-but-charismatic stage and television personality – a personality that stands in stark contrast to how he actually sees himself.
“I’m probably the least comfortable being vocal in a group. When we
do big writing meetings it tends to be a little bit difficult for me to contribute at that moment.” While Curtis, or any of the other characters he plays, seems to have an uninhib- ited level of confidence, Rackleff describes himself as shy. “A lot of it is just me pushing through the anxiety of being the center of attention, when I kind of just don’t particularly like it. I don’t particularly like being on stage. I feel great after a set goes well, but everything leading up to it, leading up to the moment I start speaking, is just the worst pins and needles.”
“I grew up in the deep south. There’s a particular type of predatory alpha-male […] I was always struck by the ability of people to be such bastards, and still manage to gain traction.”
While part of the inspiration for his characters can be said to come from a personal, self-reflective place, he also points out the level of research that goes into his work. “It sort of ties back to a period when
I was reading a lot of books about dictators and cult leaders. Stuff from the Iranian revolution, to the Pol Pot killing fields, to Margaret Thatcher–I was just really interested in the language and passion and theatrics that draw people into doing really insane things.”
The many short series and short films written for television by, and starring, the comedy group he is a part of, Wham City, have garnered attention from fans who work hard to unpack the many layers presented. While unwilling to give away too any details, Rackleff admits there is at least some amount of truth to the fan theories.
“Most of the time it takes us almost a full year to make an eleven-minute video because we move fairly slowly through it to ensure that we’re mak- ing decisions that make… I mean we want there to be that depth. I can’t tell you what’s right and what’s wrong, but there’s definitely a lot of intention behind every creative and logistical decision with those videos.” One fan theory Rackleff is actually willing to touch upon: that “Mirror” ties in with author H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work. “I wanted to do something that could potentially fit into the larger Cthulhu mythos.
There’s purists and there’s people who are okay with ‘Arkham House’ and ‘August Derleth,’ and I’m sort of in between those two things.”