Wagging the Dog, The Art of Social Activism- All Over The Guy
By Thom Fowler
Posted 08/06/01 06:44:38
All Over The Guy is the new Don Roos (Bounce, Broken Hearts Club)/ Lions Gate film written by and starring Dan Bucatinsky (The Opposite of Sex), Richard Ruccolo, Adam Goldberg and Sasha Alexander (Gretchen on Dawson's Creek) with Doris Roberts(Everybody Loves Raymond), Joanna Kerns (Growing Pains) and cameos by Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow. All Over the Guy is about the unlikely coupling of the most likely couple, Eli (Bucatinsky) and Tom (Ruccolo). Eli likes action figures and Tom's parents are alcoholics. How could these two NOT get together? In the meantime, Eli's best friend Brett (Adam Goldberg) falls in love with Tom's friend, Jackie(Sasha Alexander)
Before starting this interview at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco, Richard Ruccolo who plays Tom wanted to take a short break to go outside and smoke. I told him that in San Francisco you have to stand 500 feet away from any building when you smoke. He got that "figuring things out" look in his face and was stumped as to how he was going to get 500 feet away from any building until he said, "really?". Of course not, but I told him he shouldn't smoke. "You must be an ex-smoker. They are the worst". I am in fact an ex-smoker but I'm sure there are plenty of people who never smoked who agree. I never really understand that logic. An ex-smoker who made a choice to live a healthier life shouldn't remind others that smoking is really not a smart thing to do. I don't know if smokers realize that we are doing them a favor. So he ran outside and smoked.
The Sony Metreon is a weird building. It's this super hi-tech shopping/entertainment center with a megaplex and a Starbucks. It feels more like an experiment in behavioral psychology than any kind of a social space. When you walk in, a friendly virtual assistant soothingly reminds you, "please remove credit cards from their protective wallets. Your first stop will be Starbucks. You must shop in at least three stores, have dinner and then see a movie. Please do not look out the windows. The outside world is an illusion. All truth is in this building. Please do not look out the windows..." It's more than creepy. But it's a good place to have what was one of the weirder interviews I ever conducted. Sentences flowed across four mouths, never quite starting or finishing so naturally I had to provoke them a little bit. Starting with Richard and his smoking was just the beginning. They probably thought I was a total asshole after the interview but the effort was well worth the discussion about queers in media that ensued.
The collective wisdom of the group, after our heated discussion about smokers and non-smokers is that 1) You can have the right not to smoke and 2) You can have the right to not kill people. So why don't I just put that in my pipe. I'm glad that in this age of tyranny, that I have the right to not smoke in spite of the overwhelming social and governmental pressure to light up. Dan gently reminded me that, "The job of a movie maker is not to promote America's positive values". Director Davis chimed in "when its not part of the character and its glamorizing cool, that's when [representing smoking on film] is a problem. I wasn't talking about smoking on film, I was just reminding Ruccolo that he shouldn't smoke. As one human being to another. This wouldn't be the only time during this interview that it turned into a trial. I think when I asked Ruccolo if he smoked because it made it him look cool that everyone was pushed to the defensive edge.
This movie is about a gay couple and I am a gay writer so I'm close to the subject, to say the least. I have my own opinions about the representation of queer life in the media like most people but I was raked over the coals a bit when I asked Sasha Alexander about the "made for TV, sanitized prime time homo" on Dawson's Creek. She was thrown off a little bit by that but not as much as when I told her I hated Dawson's Creek. Kidding around, she said "I hated that show too before I was on it". Ruccolo counter-attacked, "You don't watch TV and you hate the show?" and a quick right hook from Bucatinsky, "If you don't watch TV how could you hate anything on TV?". Wow, they had me stumped.
You don't have to actually watch a show to get an impression of it through all the other media devoted to promoting the show. I mean, there isn't a shred of punk rock in the whole show. How could I be the slightest bit interested in that milk toast soap opera? Sure I appreciate its groundbreaking stance but it's ground that didn't need to be broken for me. Maybe when the character goes to college, America can get a whiff of the seedier yet more visible parts of queer culture. "Eric McCormick overdoses at the circuit club while being barebacked (fucked without a condom) by three guys who's HIV status is unknown." Clever dialogue is a stretch, much less maturity. Even Queer as Folk completely misses the mark and goes for "character by committee". Fortunately, All Over the Guy is the antidote to watered down reality with its multi-dimensional characters shown in the context of their whole life and not just as abstractions in a rainbow colored tableau.
"How can you hate [Dawson's Creek]?" Sasha asks me. You can't hate that show, it has a great message. It had the first male kiss, the first teenage male kiss and it's really a made in America, huge international show." I totally agree of course, but what good would it do for me to say it. Fortunately, they kept on about it. I asked Bucatinsky why he didn't just make a movie about Brett and Jackie, hoping he would talk more about the importance of queer cinema. We got close when Davis answered, "The whole point of it was that these two straight people thought that just because they had gay friends that automatically they would get along which is so typical."
Keeping the bar high for queers on television is not an easy job. Greg Berlanti, a gay writer and film maker (Broken Hearts Club) who leads Dawson's Creek is constantly challenged, Bucatinsky says, "to keep good story lines on a network show that has advertisers pressuring you."
Alexendar had nothing but praise for the show that pays her own bills. Happy advertisers, happy Sasha. "[Dawson's Creek] has had a really hard time because there's a lot of shows like that that are tailored towards a younger audience that don't really allow gay characters on the show. I think they've done a really great job by not only incorporating [a gay character] but having him come out on the show, deal with his parents and he's a sophomore and a junior in high school. So they're dealing with issues at a young age that I don't think most people, WB in this case, would take a risk on but they have and they tackled it and they allowed him to go with his boyfriend to prom and take it a step further."
I can still hate the show for what its not but I appreciate it for what it is. It's important to have even a foot in the door that's more than Billy Crystal's character on Soap (The first openly gay character on television, mind you). Now what would be revolutionary would be to have an openly gay actor play an openly gay character on prime time television. It's like it's okay that the character is gay because the actor is not so it's not really a gay person on TV. Don't worry America, gay people are just a figment of a writer's imagination, you can all safely retire to your stucco and broadband cable in peace. The world is as it should be.
Bucatinsky reminded us that "the teen suicide rate among young homosexuals is just so high that I think any kind of visibility, any kind of role model any kind of acknowledgement that you're not alone [is a good thing]. I think its great every time there's a television show that acknowledges a part of a community that America doesn't necessarily get to see all the time. I think its great there is a show that has as its topic, as its main character and as its theme these characters whose experience is something that people don't necessarily see every day. I think it's really important."
"My goodness, imagine these boys in high school, petrified high school students, its just torture no matter what you are and to be able to have something that makes you feel not so alone is just so important" says Davis.
Bucatinsky, who is gay and plays a gay lead, co-stars alongside Richard Ruccolo who is not gay. I figured Dan would have an easy time playing a real person who was also gay as opposed to the token queer for comic relief, i.e. the flaming florists and hairdressers who squeel and carry on like squeemish girls (an insult to girls, even) but I didn't know how Richard got into his character. Okay, as cute as he is, I let my mind wander a bit. "[Playing a gay character] wasn't much different than playing any other role." Richard said. "I didn't bring any stereotypes to the character at all. It was basically playing a role about a guy that was in fear of commitment that happens to be an alcoholic and happens to be gay. There wasn't any mindset I got into while playing the character that he was gay or not gay. It wasn't the most important part of the character."
But is it risky, or evolutionary, to play a gay role, whether straight or gay. Will American audiences think of Ruccolo as a gay actor? "I don't think it's a risk to take anymore at all. You have to talk about shows like Dawson's Creek and Six Feet Under (a new show on HBO with a gay character) and Will and Grace. They are so groundbreaking now. Especially characters like Eric McCormick who aren't bringing cliched, stereotypical homosexual characters that are making it mainstream, that its making it a lot easier to play gay characters. I don't think it pigeonholes anybody anymore."
Dan elaborated on Richards's comments. "Its not treating the characters as groundbreaking that makes them groundbreaking. The act of treating characters as matter of fact is what's groundbreaking. Whether they are effeminate or not effeminate, whether they are typical or not typical that they are treating them as matter of fact is what's groundbreaking about our movie, television characters, and the sort of movement that's going on right now."
No doubt that queers are getting wider and more realistic portrayals in the media. As realistic as anything is portrayed at any rate. The media is a powerful influence in society and greater exposure can only be good for us in the long run. What I wonder about is how gays and lesbians relate to media images of themselves. Is a gay character on Dawson's Creek to garner a gay audience or to influence a straight audience? TV theoretically, is not supposed to be used for social change, but for entertainment. However, if you can do both then more the better.
There are so few strategies for breeding tolerance that I suppose if you want to affect the legislature, you will first have to change the world with the hammer you have in your hands. Gay writers and producers have a mighty hammer at their disposal and I'm glad there is not only creative support but also financial support through ratings and ad revenue for an alternative to the old formulas. I can see that very soon gay characters will be unremarkable in their gayness in part because of the groundbreaking work Bucatinsky and Berlanti are able to do. Bucatinsky told me that All Over The Guy only got made because a "couple of private investors believed in the film and wrote a check for half a million dollars." So studios aren't exactly clamoring to produce a gay film but the support is out there. Or maybe Bucatinsky just got lucky.
Making the film, however, wasn't a grueling exercise in queer theory and social activism. It seems everyone thinks making their movie was like summer camp, Parker Posey said that about The Anniversary Party and Anne Hathaway about The Princess Diaries so I had to ask ...
Julie Davis, "absolutely, and we shot it during the summer.
Dan Bucatinsky: "Our executive producer Don Roos who some people might remember from writing and directing The Opposite of Sex would come around every single day on the shoot at 3 o'clock with ice cream sandwiches. Everyone got an ice cream sandwich and it just kind of helped the morale sort of the like the good humor man coming."
I'm convinced that someone somewhere did a workshop for directors, "Making the set like summer camp, keeping your actors coming back for more". Hey, we're movie stars, this should be fun, how come it's so much work?!?