Created by Michael Witkes, Interested In (now available for streaming on Dekkoo) follows the story of Parker, a recently out young gay man exploring his sexuality and identity through the lens of hookup culture. This queer comedy series portrays Parker in an array of scenarios reminiscent of the shared experiences many gay males encounter after coming out and diving into the murky waters of gay culture.
I sat down with Michael Witkes to discuss what inspired Interested In and what the process of creating the series was like.
First off, what are you interested in? Who is Michael Witkes?
My name is Michael Witkes, and I’m an actor, producer, director, and writer focused on showcasing LGBT stories in an authentic way. I’m originally from Philadelphia where Interested In takes place, and I currently live in New York City. Artistically, I am most interested in works that explore gay shame, LGBT identity, and expands representation. I also love froyo, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and queer history.
What was the inspiration for the title of the series?
I called the show Interested In because of the tumultuous moment when I first changed my Facebook status to “interested in men.” It felt so official that I was announcing to the world that I was gay, and I wanted to explore how labels can both help and hinder someone, how important they are in shaping identity, and how they can mean both everything and nothing at the same time.
Parker finds himself in some pretty sticky situations. What was your main source of inspiration for the events that take place in Interested In?
Some things are based on events that actually happened to me and some are fabricated. I wrote the first draft in 2013 after I came out in college, and I was trying to express those initial personal moments when you finally come out of the closet and how you can feel so uncomfortable in your own body. As a writer, I see the world in vignettes, and I selected moments that were exemplary of one person’s struggle of coming into himself.
How did you curate these vignettes for the screen?
The development of Parker’s character was really the driving force behind the storyline. I wanted to show that character’s journey from being someone who is so freshly out and awkward into someone who is more comfortable in his own skin. At the end of this season, he might not be totally there just yet, but I think he’s making significant progress to get to that point.
What was your personal coming out experience like?
The relationship that Parker talks about in the first episode where he said he was with this boy who wasn’t ready to come out yet and then they broke up because of that—all of that was true for me as well. I was so ready to come out for like a year before I actually did. When it finally happened, all of my friends and family were so supportive, but—at the same time—I was dealing with the loss of my first love so it was bittersweet.
In Interested In, Ep. 3, Parker and his Grindr date not only get intimate physically but emotionally as well. However, in the finale with the lawyer character, there’s more of a “no strings attached” vibe. Why did you decide to showcase this broad spectrum of intimacy in the show?
Representation is so important. Growing up, all the movies and series I watched always showed young gay kids either committing suicide or coming out then living happily ever after. I wanted to show what being gay is really like by exploring both the positive and negative aspects of gay dating in a realistic setting. I was interested in showing how in Grindr culture every interaction can be different.
Is Parker a no-strings-attached kinda guy or do you think he’s looking for more?
Parker deeply wants a boyfriend, but he’s very ignorant of the gay dating lifestyle. He goes into these situations expecting a true connection and then is really surprised when that doesn’t happen. For Parker, each episode is a learning moment that he takes onto the next interaction. He figures out things he didn’t know before which is very indicative of how LGBTQ people in real life have to learn things the hard way as they go along.
It’s no secret that in regards to gay culture, there’s a “whole animal kingdom out there.” What is your take on the roles LGBTQ people are expected to take on when participating in the culture (i.e. top, bottom, gay, straight, bi, twink, bear, otter, etc.)?
At first, I was so terrified of coming out that it took me a long time to take on the label of “gay.” But then once you’re out, everyone says, “Oh, now you have to be a twink or an otter, and a top or a bottom.” I was so frustrated by all the boxes I was getting put into. On one hand, I do think that labels can be helpful. Now, I’m so proud to be gay despite the fact that the word used to hold such a stigma for me. But at the same time, I think labels can hinder people. In Interested In, Parker’s journey is figuring out which labels he wants to take on and which ones he can say “thank u, next” to.
In the fourth episode, we get to see an interesting side of Parker when he has a sexual encounter with his ex-girlfriend. As far as sexual orientation goes, what does Parker identify as?
Parker is gay, but that moment with his ex-girlfriend is really important in helping him figure that out and that it’s also okay to keep your options open.
What do you think modern-day LGBTQ youth will gain from this series seeing Parker experience the nuances that come with the territory of being a gay man?
I hope Interested In will help queer youths by showing them a story that’s about what comes directly after coming out of the closet. My goal with these vignettes is to show sex positivity and openness in regard to real issues so people can feel more comfortable with themselves. I want people watching the show to go out into the world and have their own vignette moments.
What would 15-year-old Michael Witkes say about seeing something like Interested In on screen?
It would have meant everything to him! Seeing someone struggle to take on their identity would have prepared me to do that before I even had to. Watching the show now, I get nostalgic for what it was like when I was a baby gay.
Why do you think it’s important to show these experiences on screen?
Sex is such a taboo subject, but I don’t think we should feel uncomfortable talking about it. After being closeted for so long, unapologetically showcasing intimate moments between queer people is so important to me. I want to change the conversation about sex and make it more open, comfortable, and sex-positive. Also, showing uncomfortable sexual situations is important because that’s a big part of sex, too. It’s not always this beautiful, perfect moment every single time. There’s a lot of awkward things that happen when you’re being intimate with someone, and that’s okay!
What is your take on Grindr and other dating apps, especially the “headless torso” phenomenon broached upon in Ep. 2?
There used to be so much stigma surrounding Grindr. It was something you had to hide on your phone and be embarrassed about, but I don’t think that should be the case. Now that straight people are using dating apps, too, there’s definitely less stigma. Unfortunately, Grindr can represent all the problematic things within the LGBTQ community. It can turn into a big cyberbullying moment with the whole “no fats, no fems” thing which is horrible. I think Grindr is doing a lot to try and change that, but, still, it’s hard to police such a big forum where you can write pretty much whatever you want anonymously.
What plans for Interested In do you have for the future? Can Interested In fans be interested in a second season?
Yes, it’s already written! The second season is going to explore Parker developing into a more confident person with some of the previous characters popping up.
What’s it like to have Interested In featured on Dekkoo?
When I wrote the show, I was writing for a very specific, niche audience, and I think that’s exactly what Dekkoo is for. I’m so grateful that they gave me this unique platform and that they’ve chosen to cater to an LGBTQ audience. All I wanted as a gay kid was something like Dekkoo to watch.
Aside from the show, what are you interested in for the future?
I’m just really excited to make more work that explores similar themes but also dives into other topics as well. Since Interested In, I’ve written a lot of content, and I hope this show will give me the platform to bring all of those stories to life!
You can keep up with all things Interested In by visiting their website, Facebook page, and Instagram account. Watch Interested In on Dekkoo today, available now!