People wonders what this Quebec-born lad hides behinds his mummy of tattoos covering 80% of his body; and what is in his mind to put on this immortal skin. But the body in ink, to Rick Genest the Zombie Boy, just makes sense.
Diagnosed with a life-threatening benign brain tumor, Rick Genest at the age of 15 underwent a surgery that many had not survived in the past. Between death, blindness or living vegetable, the Almighty gave him none of the above; instead he gave him life. Defying the odds, he literally jumped off of the Grim Reapers deck of cards and began a new life. The squeegee kid on the streets on Montreal had his first tattoo and became obsessed with body modification. By age 21, he was renamed Rico The Zombie Boy.
Together with now retired tattoo artist Frank Lewis, the masochistic prince tortures himself with painful tattoos and obsesses over death is in a constant in battle with his inner demons. His shocking exterior is an expression of his inner struggle between good versus evil, life and death, anarchy against authority.
Let’s discuss your history. How did you get introduced into doing such iconic fashion moments such as the Thierry Mugler campaign, which led to the Lady Gaga video? After many years of working on my tattoo, it started to take more shape. It wasn’t uncommon for people to take pictures of me. I was doing side gigs and modelling for photographers. I was someone who would standout in shoots. My first fashion magazine was through a guy I met in the street; named Ludo with Tuxedo Agency. He had me to take some flicks and published it in a magazine called Dressed To Kill. It ended up being a big enough magazine to get the attention of Nicola Formichetti, from there on out he kept inviting me to work along with him and his projects which ultimately got me to the Lady Gaga video.
You story continues to grow. How has this attention parlayed into an acting career? You just completed a movie with Keanu Reeves? We were on film location in Budapest. It was my first role with a line. I have done movies with what is called figuration before. But this was my first big production with a speaking role and it is scheduled to come out in November.
What was your role in the movie? I understand there is an action scene? Well, I haven’t seen the final cut, so let’s hope it makes it. It’s a really large budget film by Universal Studios. It’s going to be a 3D movie. The set was huge. I was really excited because I love Pirates. It’s a Pirate and Samurai movie, which is something I was very happy to be part of.
You recently were the focus of a body modification documentary. Can you share with us your role in this film and what does body modification mean to you?
Body modification means freedom, controlling your image to me. Many people in your life try to push you in a certain direction. It may be teachers, parents or authority figures that push you in places that may not work for you and you have to be able to break away from that and be yourself.
On the world platform, we became aware of you with the Lady Gaga video, Born This Way. How was it working with the most influential pop artist of our time? She’s rock and roll. I had the opportunity to work wither on two different sets. She is just a blast, full of energy, very open arms to everyone on the set.
In the video, Lady Gaga tapped into your essence by emulating your look with creating a make-up look on herself, in which she became a ‘Zombie’ as well. How did you feel about Gaga pulling parts of your essence into her ‘Little Monster World’? When we got there, it was a big surprise at first. We had a memo and originally the draft we had at first was supposed to be a Unicorn character in the clip and I was supposed to be a Punk Rock Unicorn hybrid. But, I thought the final result was great and I was extremely flattered to see her pull me into her whole ‘Monster Project’. Tell me about the underground world, which seems to bring a smile to your face. It seem that when you are thinking about your friends and this underground world you have embraced, you have a big smile behind the bones. This world is not exposed to the mainstream and you are the conduit that can bring this world to us.
As Lucifer’s Blasphemous, we started as an idea and we did a couple of shows. But since I have been catapulted into the mainstream, I am really travelling and our projects have gotten put on the sideline. But, we are still working on it. We are putting the finishing touches to a new electric chair. My friends are working on it and keeping busy while I am away. Down the line we are planning a bigger show.
I understand you have some other hidden talents, such as writing. And you are working on conceptualizing a possible comic book series? I have always been kind of an astronaut with my ideas. As far as the comic book goes, I am still playing with the whole Lucifer’s Blasphemous concept with The Executioner and The Zombie with the eternal battle of between the two. It’s like a Roadrunner and Coyote kind of series where one is always trying to kill the other except for he never dies.
Can we discuss your tumor and eventual tattoos? I’ll say, living life everyday at its fullest when you got nothing to lose. This is after you realize how fragile life is, and you start grasping reality every day. Being surrounded by every day is living on the edge; no pun intended. I was living on rooftops and under bridges and every day was one day at a time. That’s when I started my project.
This project brought you into a complete different direction. How did it connect with your moment in which you faced with going through a very serious surgery? How did your brush with death affect your life? Tell us what you want to tell us.
In the face of death… I had a pretty hard life before the surgery as well. When it was going down like that… I couldn’t deal with it. I was saying, “No way!” I was being born in this world just to be put back down. That was hard to deal with, so I fought it. I said no way. Don’t believe in any religious propaganda or anything. But when I was under the knife, I prayed to God. I told God that if I get a chance in my life to come through this I would do my best to change the world. I just fought, I fought, I fought my whole life! And I have a lot to pay back.
We do feel that you take this seriously and that’s why this was not an easy question to ask nor answer and I thank you for sharing that with us because this is a point of curiosity, in which we know that it made a major impact in your life. And sometimes speaking about this can help somebody else that is going through the same process. Let’s go back to more highlights in your career and things that are coming up. Tell me about your Carnival act and the bed of nails?
I am going to bring you back to when I was about 22. By then I had me sleeves done, my chest piece, I had the outline of my ribs. I had some bugs going up my neck and my face just started looking like a skull. I started to look more like a Zombie. The work started to show. I was approached by some different cats to do some shows. I did a couple of side-show gigs. I was in this movie called Carny starring Lou Diamond Phillips. We had a couple of headshots together. I was one of his side-show acts, he bought me on MTV Canada in less than 2 years, I performed with his troop. Prior to his act, I was featured in Bazaar Magazine looking like a Zombie. The summer before last, I was invited by Wayne de Graff, who has one of the two major traveling Carnivals in Canada, to live under a tent with other freaks. The show was based on the Seven Deadly Sins with seven freaks with seven different attributes. I was Sloth because I’m the dead guy. And that was one of the best times of my life, it was the real Carny deal, not just playing it in a movie. So, I got to do that fro two and a half months before that ended. Working with friends in Montreal, people were taking pictures, one thing led to another and it worked up to fashion. Speaking of puzzle, it seems that your puzzle was hidden under a lot of make-up recently and that you have this interesting contract with Dermablend. There is an interesting video on their website with you removing their make-up which looked like your original face. How long did it take to put it on? It took a good three hours to apply and to completely cover me up. And we only had one shot to take it off. For those who had not seen it before, you didn’t know what to expect for the first time viewing it. It made an impact. You should all go and see it at gobeyondthecover.com.
Speaking of role models, who are some of your idols? Who do you listen to? Who’s in your iPod right now? Some of my favorite artist would be. Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, Keny Arkana and Las El Dianos… revolution music… power to the people. It looks like you are becoming a Master of Multi-Media as you go further into film, recordings and music videos. It seems like you are capping things off with a fashion line of your own.
Can you tell me about your clothing? So when I first started working in fashion; what really grabbed me was working alongside of Nicola Formichetti, who brought me into the upper scale of the world. He invited me to a couple of events that really touched me. There are real artist that create whether it’s couture, or the clothing itself or make-up artist, video artist and all of these different talents brought me into their world and included me in charity events that collected money for good causes.
So do you feel you have a voice and a platform now? That made me feel like I did.
So, now that you have a voice and a platform, can you tell me about your upcoming fashion line named Zombie Boy Gear? I have always been a DIY kind of guy. I have sewed my own leather… patched pants, studded things, studded gloves, hats, jackets. Studding leather and sewing. It’s just what Punk Rock kids do. When you don’t have much, make your own. You need an imagination. Same with music or graffiti… you got to make your own to get by.
So you feel like you have not lost that imagination and you can channel this into a lucrative fashion line? Yes. It’s the same with tattoos… you got to build from the bottom up, stay strong in what you believe in. There definitely a niche market that has not been filled as of yet.
There are a lot of skull and skeleton t-shirts and things that people wear. Are you planning on becoming the Ed Hardy of skull apparel and things that are frightening? Until a couple of months ago, I didn’t know who Ed Hardy was. I am just going to be myself and do what I do.
What is your driving force? What is your mantra? I always had a hard head and I am very persistent. For better or worse you reap what you sow. The fearless generation… I’m saying… we gotta stick up to our bullies. Especially, in the age of my youth, everyone says with all the protests going on… what has the industrial revolution left for our generation? I’m saying that to not fall for that not having anything to gain. We can take the world back. Being independent is power and we got to find the power in ourselves.
Interview by Ty-Ron Mayes
Rick Genest a grandi dans la banlieue de Montréal. Durant son enfance, les médecins découvrent qu’il a une tumeur au cerveau; il sera opéré à15 ans. Cette confrontation avec la mort provoque un déclic, mais, par respect envers ses parents, il attendra ses 16 ans avant de franchir le pas, débuter sa métamorphose et rejoindre le monde particulier des artistes à l’ancienne, dans la lignée des cirques Freakshows du siècle dernier.
Tout change en 2010, lorsqu’il accède à la célébrité internationale en se faisant repérer sur Internet par Nicola Formichetti.Ce dernier, directeur artistique de la maison Thierry Mugler et styliste attitré de Lady Gaga, est séduit par cet artiste hors norme; il décide de le faire apparaître dans le vidéoclip Born this way de son extravagante collaboratrice.Les choses s’enchaîneront ensuite à une vitesse étourdissante pour ce jeune homme décalé, passionné de films d’horreur: mannequinat pour Mugler, plusieurs apparitions dans des magazines prestigieux comme Vogue et Vanity Fair, campagnes publicitaires…
Rick Genest (Rico pour les amis) a bien voulu répondre aux questions de NOUN dans le cadre d’un entretien exclusif. Il s’est dévoilé avec pudeur et simplicité, à partir de son hôtel à Zurich.
Vous êtes un mannequin et artiste célèbre dans le monde entier. Découvert par le styliste de Lady Gaga, Nicola Formichetti, vous vous êtes retrouvé en moins d’un an à défiler pour Thierry Mugler. Comment tout cela s’est-il passé?
Eh bien, je dois vous dire qu’à la base je n’étais pas complètement étranger au monde de la photographie. Mon look de squelette vivant m’a toujours permis de trouver facilement du travail, dans des bars, dans des spectacles (…). J’ai décroché de petits rôles à la télévision, posé pour des magazines de tatouages et fait une apparition dans une vidéo de mode, The Spirit and the Flesh par Gibran Ramos; j’ai joué dans un film, Carny, avec Lou Diamond Philips. National Geographic, Bizarre magazine et d’autres publications ont rédigé des articles sur moi. Et puis un beau jour, un homme prénommé Ludo m’a arrêté dans la rue et m’a proposé de poser pour un magazine de mode, Dressed to Kill. C’est cette séance de photo, précisément, qui a attiré l’attention de Nicola Formichetti. Il m’a embauché pour travailler avec la marque Thierry Mugler, puis m’a demandé de figurer dans Born this way de Lady Gaga.
Quelles sont les raisons précises qui vous ont poussé à choisir des tatouages d’une beauté si dramatique? Vos motivations découlent-elles de votre maladie quand vous étiez enfant?
Les tatouages que j’arbore sont les vecteurs d’un message exprimant ce que je ressens; en anglais, le terme précis est «transitive pictograph verbalization». Plusieurs raisons expliquent mon choix. En premier lieu, le mythe du zombie trouve son origine dans les histoires de gens enterrés vivants à l’époque des épidémies de peste; or, durant mon enfance, cela s’est quelque part avéré vrai pour moi. Je suis tombé gravement malade, j’étais affecté physiquement et mentalement, j’étais un peu comme un zombie (…). En outre, ces créatures sont souvent considérées dans l’art littéraire et cinématographique comme le symbole d’une xénophobie latente. Cela s’est également appliqué à moi: au cours de mon adolescence, j’étais souvent rejeté, détesté ou incompris. Enfin, le zombie incarne la rébellion: contre le consumérisme à outrance, contre les lois mêmes de la nature. À cet égard, je tiens à citer le philosophe William James Durant qui dit: «Une grande civilisation n’est conquise de l’extérieur que si elle est détruite de l’intérieur.»
Quelques années plus tard, et vous voilà donc en train de défiler pour les plus grands noms de la mode. Pouvez-vous nous raconter votre premier catwalk?
Je me rappelle que le podium était impressionnant et la musique assourdissante. J’avais un voile sur le visage, donc je ne voyais pas grand-chose, sans compter que les lumières étaient tamisées et qu’il y avait de la fumée partout! Mais je me suis beaucoup amusé, et le show a eu un succès retentissant.
Est-ce que le monde de la mode est aussi fou qu’on le prétend?
Laissez-moi vous dire que le monde du show-business dans son intégralité est généralement fou. Donc oui, des jargons bizarres, des habits dans lesquels j’ai du mal à rentrer!
Êtes-vous déjà allé au Moyen-Orient? Si oui, avez-vous des anecdotes à partager?
J’ai seulement transité une fois par l’aéroport de Doha, au Qatar. Mais je vous assure que, d’après ce que j’ai pu voir à l’atterrissage et au décollage, la ville m’a semblé incroyablement belle. C’est un paysage que je n’avais vu que dans les films.
Photograph by: Dave Sidaway , THE GAZETTE
Lawyers for Rick Genest, best known as Zombie Boy, and 20th Century Fox Television have settled a legal dispute over copyright infringement of the tattooed Montrealer’s body art.
Genest, a local hero and model who has appeared in Lady Gaga’s Born This Way video and catwalks from Paris to Toronto, has copyrighted his skeletal body tattoos. Actor Evan Peters sports similar body makeup in FX’s American Horror Story and his character goes on a shooting rampage.
Copyrighting the body art was a process that began last year, said Genest’s Montreal legal counsel, Colin Singer. “When someone has an extensive creation, it is intellectual property. There is extensive intellectual property in Rick Genest’s persona,’’ he said, noting details of the settlement are under wraps.
“Horror Story has aired in dozens of countries, potentially exposing Fox to hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyright infringement damages and erasing or obscuring the Zombie Boy body art in future airings of the episode would have been extremely costly,’’ the Hollywood Reporter noted.
Twentieth Century Fox Television, producer of FX's American Horror Story, has settled an under-the-radar copyright fight with a model whose tattoo artwork was allegedly stolen for a key scene in the Emmy-winning series.
Rick Genest, a Canadian model who appeared in Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" video and has been called "Zombie Boy," is known for his distinctive skeletal body art, which he has copyrighted. An early episode of the first season of FX's hit series American Horror Story featured a scene in which a student played by Evan Peters dons extremely similar skeletal body makeup and goes on a shooting rampage in a high school before committing suicide.
(Genest also is a spokesperson for L’Oreal's Dermablend line of cosmetic products and recently helped relaunch the Paris-based Mugler Men’s fashion line.)
Sources say lawyers for Fox and Genest have been working out a settlement to avoid a lawsuit ever since. Horror Story has aired in dozens of countries, potentially exposing Fox to hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyright infringement damages, and erasing or obscuring the Zombie Boy body art in future airings of the episode would have been extremely costly. At the same time, a court could also have found the two pieces of body art dissimilar or ruled that the Horror Story scene was a protected fair use.
But now the two sides have now come to an agreement to end the dispute. Terms are not being released.
“For complete clarity, I was not approached by Fox to license what I consider to be the use of my likeness or my copyrighted body art in American Horror Story,” Genest tells The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. However, I understand that there was no intent to connect me with the character in their show and I am pleased that I have come to a resolution of this matter with Fox.”
Fox declined to comment.
If the case sounds familiar, that's because it echoes claims brought last spring by a Missouri tattoo artist who created boxer Mike Tyson's distinctive facial mark against Warner Bros. over a similar tattoo on a character in the studio's The Hangover Part II. That case settled after a judge denied an effort to halt the film's release but called the studio's legal defenses "silly." The dispute generated national headlines and questions about whether body art and tattoos should be subject to copyright protection.
American Horror Story was a hit in its first season on FX, was nominated for several Emmys and won for best supporting actress in a miniseries for Jessica Lange. Its second season premieres on Wednesday.
Genest was represented in the case by attorney Richard Dermer of RAM Management, as well as Dorothy Weber at Shukat Arrow Hafer Weber and Herbsman in New York and Mathieu Bouchard at Irving Mitchell Kalichman in Montreal.