Bobby Schuessler over at OUT.com sat down with Curtis Casella, writer/producer/director of the new Dekkoo-original series ‘Paper Boys’ to discuss what Schuessler calls, “…the game-changing new series…”
‘Teenage Kicks’ is the gutsy coming of age feature film debut from director Craig Boreham that has earned him the accolade of being a compelling new voice in Australian queer cinema.
The film stars Miles Szanto as Mik, a young man with an explosive burgeoning sexuality as he navigates a minefield of adolescence and his growing attraction to his best friend Dan. Miles received the Best Actor Award for the role at the prestigious Iris Prize in Wales with the festival jury saying “Miles Szanto’s performance was amazing. The juxtaposition between physical strength and emotional vulnerability was mesmerizing.”
‘Teenage Kicks’ is available on Dekkoo so we caught up with Miles who is now based in Los Angeles to hear about making the movie.
You’ve been acting since you were really young. Tell us a bit about your work up to now.
I’ve been doing this thing for a long time. I realized not long ago that my first professional acting gig was 18 years ago this year. I was incredibly timid and shy as a kid and started acting classes as a way to speak up a little. When I was pretending to be somebody else I had a confidence I never felt as myself. I was obsessed with the idea of storytelling and saw that as an actor I got to bring the story to life and be a vehicle for the message of that story. I recognized how powerful it was as a medium quite young.
‘Teenage Kicks’ is a very dark and sexy film. It’s a different direction from your previous work. What drew you to it?
Dark and sexy is a good summary of the film. I first encountered the film in it’s early incarnation as the short film version ‘Drowning’. I think I was 16 at the time, and up to that point I didn’t feel like the work I had been doing or the representations of adolescence on screen generally were really authentic. It mostly seemed to step past the agony and that fear that young people often experience. Every decision you make has this weight that feels like the effects will be permanent when you are figuring out who you are and who you want to be in the world. When I read ‘Drowning’ it felt honest and raw and spoke to a lot of the feelings I couldn’t quite articulate just yet. It felt like an important story to tell. There’s something magical about seeing a film and having that feeling of “me too” and that’s what excited me about ‘Drowning’ and ultimately ‘Teenage Kicks’. The opportunity of telling that story and giving voice to young people who had that feeling and maybe hadn’t felt represented before.
We see an awful lot of you in ‘Teenage Kicks’ and there’s some pretty racy sex scenes? What was it like shooting them?
Honestly, when it comes to the sexy stuff in this film it is treated the same as any other scene. What’s great about the moments of sexual intimacy (or lack there-of) in the film are they all serve a purpose to the narrative. I only really get uncomfortable with those kind of scenes if it feels like the only purpose is to titillate. So long as it’s connected to the story and arc it feels important and organic. Also important to mention that there are moments of full-frontal nudity in this film. Which I would have no problem with, if it wasn’t for the fact that we shot this film in the dead of winter. People don’t realize how cold Sydney get’s in the winter. I didn’t have the luxury of warmth to make sure every inch of me was picture ready… if you know what I mean…
‘Teenage Kicks’ is a pretty dark movie. Were there any lighter moments on set?
There were a few in retrospect. Although at the time because of the seriousness of the film we didn’t realize the hilarity of the moments… We shot a lot of scenes around this gorgeous pool at a mansion on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Which in theory is a fantastic location. But it had sat there unheated, chilled by the ocean breeze all winter. The pool was unimaginably cold. And considering I’d lost almost 20lbs for the role, I was chilled to the bone… We could only really be in the pool for thirty second intervals… Daniel Webber played my best friend and the object of my teen desire, Dan, and he and I would jump in, pulling happy faces trying to look all summery as our bodies were being frozen like ice blocks and then bolt to a warm shower until we had to jump in again. After about the third time of this sadistic torture method by Director Craig Boreham, we were on the floor of the shower, spooning in our underwear for body warmth, tears in our eyes, asking why we’d chosen this career path and if it was really worth it… Haha!
We sat down in late February to talk with John Suazo, who plays the heteroflexible porn star and escort Kip in ‘Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie’, on Dekkoo. We wondered what it was like for a straight guy to be playing gay and bi in various film productions and web series the way he has.
Suazo’s first LGBT role was the J.C. Calciano-directed web series ‘Steam Room Stories’, also on Dekkoo, which was produced by fellow actor Nicholas Downs from ‘Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie’. Suazo said the producers asked, “‘Are you okay with twerking on camera?’ I said, ‘I’ll try.’” A legend was born.
Before he was modeling and acting, Suazo was in the Navy, and he was there when the infamously restrictive Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was repealed. Suazo says, “I had a couple of gay friends in the Navy. After the repeal a couple more came out. But as far as being accepting, I really hadn’t had gay friends until the military. And even though it is a very macho atmosphere, you work so hard and you sweat and bleed next to these people, and it really kind of opens your eyes to the fact that it doesn’t matter. Nobody’s trying to peek at me in the shower or try anything. They’re just people, and good guys.”
When Suazo moved to Los Angeles, before he turned to acting, he found that a number of photographers wanted him to model for them, and demand rose for Suazo as an underwear model. Almost all of the photographers were terrific to work with, Suazo says, and he met a number of gay men who welcomed him into their broader artistic community.
Given the revelations of the #MeToo movement, did Suazo have any experiences with photographers taking liberties during that time? He says, “Any shady experiences I’ve had were very few, and they were when I was brand new to L.A.” But a few times, Suazo admits, he had to say, “That’s not a legitimate project!” Suazo even walked out on one name photographer who was acting inappropriately.
Fortunately Suazo had a number of colleagues and collaborators, gay and straight, who could keep him working with strong professional photographers, and that’s one of the things that contributed to his acting career.
And his LGBT roles have continued. In fact, at press time, Suazo was up for another gay role in a pilot. We asked him whether he senses straight actors having any trepidation taking on gay roles like they may have had in decades past. He replies with a wink, “Not real actors!” Then he adds, “I have met one or two out there that don’t want to take on a gay role or wouldn’t feel comfortable doing a scene where they have to be in love with a man. But every role you take on its not you, it’s not your real life. You’re playing somebody else.”
Suazo recalls that one straight actor was accused of being gay on social media. “An interviewer asked him ‘If you’re straight, why haven’t you defended yourself?’ And he said ‘I don’t see the need to defend myself against something that’s not offensive.’”
And how about actors outing themselves as LGBTQI in today’s Hollywood? Suazo says, “Actors are far more comfortable being out.” He adds, “I come from Arizona and, growing up in a red state, it was not quite as accepting of different lifestyles. I could see the difference in California and Los Angeles where I’m surrounded by artists, and the culture and the atmosphere here is based on people expressing themselves. So I think it’s wonderful we’re very comfortable being who we are.”
And now Suazo has numerous productions under his belt, including multiple LGBT ones. And in case it isn’t clear, he loves his gay fans! Suazo gets recognized from his various productions, especially in his neighborhood of West Hollywood. Do those fans ever overidentify with his gay or bi characters and get flirtatious? Well, Suazo admits sometimes he has to resort to saying he has a girlfriend. That way, he says, he positions it as “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Suazo has been working on honing his already sharp comedy skills since his ‘Coffee House Chronicles’ shoot. He says, “You hit your beats better when you are taking it very seriously. And when you have some very funny writing behind you.” High praise to his shows’ writers!
As we wrapped up our conversation, we found out one last detail: that John Suazo has stunt driving experience. And he even went to stunt-driving school briefly. Now we wish there had been a chase scene in ‘Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie’.
On July 21, we will release ‘Stray’, a bromantic comedy series in which Jay, a brash gay dude, and Rich, a nerdy straight guy, talk sex and relationships while reconnecting in New York City years after college. We recently sat down with creator and writer Pablo Andreu to discuss ‘Stray’:
A quick perusal of gay pop culture websites and social media and its clear that gays have a fascination–if not fetish-like obsession–with straight, “bro” culture, yet there is scant evidence of the reverse, aside from homophobia. We always thought us gays were the curious ones when it comes to mos vs. bros, not the straight guys, so when we heard about “Stray”, we assumed the show was created by a gay guy, but you’re straight! What inspired you to create a show about a mo-bro friendship?
Personal experience. The show is largely informed by a close friendship of mine, and I didn’t see anything out there that quite represented the dynamic my friend and I have (even though he and I are quite unlike the main characters on the show). Some shows represent and cater to gay men, and some shows –”mainstream” shows, whatever that is anymore – tend to default to tokenism when incorporating gay characters. I didn’t see a show in which a pair of male friends joke with each other, pick on each other, posture and share thoughts on sex and attraction, where sexual orientation is at once topical and incidental to the friendship.
When I was growing up, straight guys were a lot more uptight than we are today. Homophobia was a lot more common even in cities that tend to be more accepting and forward thinking. Today, at least in those same cities, most straight guys are pretty open-minded, but there’s still a certain level of ignorance and – dare I say it? – privilege. The show attempts to find humor in that well-meaning cluelessness.
What is refreshing about the show is that you’ve eschewed stereotypical characters. Instead of a battle of clichés, you’ve given us a more realistic conversation between a swaggering bro-ish gay dude and a not-so-bro-ish, mild-mannered straight guy, which makes the show far more interesting. Clearly, this was on purpose, as it would have been so obvious to do the obvious. Tell us what you were thinking.
I wanted to do a couple of things: Strip away stereotypes, as you mentioned, and poke fun at the insecurities and hysteria that straight guys exhibit about their perceived masculinity (or lack thereof). As such, Jay had to be an unrepentantly in-your-face character to be able to tease out that insecurity virtually at will. Essentially, Jay bullies Rich, mostly for his own amusement (he’s no hero), although it does serve to inadvertently force Rich to confront some of his peccadilloes and assumptions. Without giving away too much, Rich will also help Jay make some of his own discoveries as the show progresses. Rich can’t be totally useless!
In your hilarious “Diary of a Web Series” chronicling the making of “Stray” on Tubefilter, you wonder if you just cast a younger version of yourself as Rich, the straight guy in show, who, as your girlfriend pointed out, resembles you. Do the conversations between Rich and Jay also resemble those you’ve had with a gay friend in real life?
As I said, the show is informed by a close friendship I have, but the conversations in the show are not based on actual conversations my friend and I have had. One of the episodes, however, is sort of based on a series of conversations I had with my sister when I was a teenager. The episode in question is “Hot or Not,” in which Rich refuses to admit he can tell if another man is attractive. I had similar discussions with my sister when I was in high school in which I stubbornly made the same assertion. In retrospect, I can acknowledge it for what it was: fear of being perceived as unmanly.
There is one episode in the next season, however, that pretty closely resembles something that happened in real life. I went to two gay bars with my friend, one quite different from the other. Without giving away too much, Rich follows a similar path.
In creating “Stray”, whom were you writing for? Curious straight guys? Curious gay guys? Who did you think would be your core audience? Who are your “Stray” fans? Break down the demographics, if you got ‘em.
I honestly didn’t know. The dynamic between the two main characters made me chuckle, so I figured I’d keep writing until I stopped chuckling. That’s how I always write: I get an idea that interests or amuses me, and I get going. I don’t think about demos and target audiences until afterward, which I’m sure is not the most effective way to go about it, but I find that my writing struggles if I saddle it with the marketing stuff during that process.
From a media standpoint, gay-themed blogs and publications have gravitated toward the show. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize STRAY as a gay-themed show, but I’m happy gay blogs and viewers have been responding well to the show.
More anecdotally, straight guys seem to be responding well to it too, but I have less evidence to support that claim.
I’m still gathering intel.
“Stray” is funny and frank, but also points out an overlooked and occasionally commented on truth that there are loads of gay guys out there who have much more in common with straight men than they do with straight women. Do you think this would surprise straight guys? (Hint: “Stray” is the perfect ice-breaking promo—or excuse—for a Mos & Bros Meet-Up.)
I think that’s spot on. Desire and attraction manifest quite similarly in gay guys and straight guys. The object of attraction just happens to be different.
I’m not sure how many straight guys that would surprise in New York, where I’m based, but it may surprise a fair bit of straight guys in the part of New Jersey where I grew up. I think there’s still broad swathes of straight guys out there who effeminize gay men in their heads. That’s partly why it was important for Jay to be the more traditionally masculine character on the show.
The folks over at Gay Star News published a great interview with Jane Lynch and Paul Witten. Besides discussing their hilarious series, ‘Dropping the Soap‘ they also talk about why so many gay stars in Hollywood stay in the closet.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch ‘Dropping the Soap‘ we suggest you binge watch it immediately. With what’s going on in the world these days everyone could use a good laugh.
Have you watched The Damn Deal on Dekkoo yet? It’s a captivating, beautifully lit and shot black-and-white documentary about identity and what it was like to grow up gay in the South at the end of the 20th century. Originally shot in 1997, filmmaker, writer and former Miss America, Elizabeth Gracen, interviewed three young female impersonators who competed in the Miss Gay America Pageant.
In anticipation of the 44th Miss Gay America pageant happening in Memphis from October 5 – 9, Elizabeth Gracen talked about the making of The Damn Deal. It’s a wonderful interview we thought you might like to read.
Miss America 1983 Elizabeth Gracen. Photo by Emma Bogren.
‘My brother was a huge football star and now with me in competition in pageants, that’s my football – that’s me being a football star. I’m just a beautiful football star.”
– Spencer May/Kelly Cruise, Miss Gay Arkansas America 1993, from ‘The Damn Deal’ (1997)
In 1997, filmmaker, writer and former Miss America, Elizabeth Gracen, interviewed three young female impersonators who competed in the Miss Gay America Pageant system for her captivating, beautifully lit and shot black-and-white documentary “The Damn Deal” (Flapper Films). The recovered, original footage, now restored, explores gender, identity and what it was like to grow up gay in the South at the end of the 20th century.
Crowned Miss America in 1982, Gracen (Elizabeth Ward at the time) went on to study acting, pose on the cover of Playboy, star (as Amanda) in the Nineties TV series “Highlander,” and established her own film production company (Flapper Films) and boutique publishing company (Flapper Press). She recently filmed actress Lee Meriweather for a documentary short and in March released her first Young Adult fantasy novel, “Shallily.”
In anticipation of the 44th Miss Gay America pageant happening in Memphis from October 5 – 9, Gracen talks about the making of “The Damn Deal.”
What initially inspired you to make â€œThe Damn Dealâ€?
I had the good fortune to meet Spencer May and Michael Thornberry (two of the stars of “The Damn Deal” at a hair salon in Little Rock, Arkansas. I think it was Michael who told me about the local female impersonator pageant. They took me along to the pageant at the Discovery nightclub, and I was allowed to stay backstage as the contestants got ready for competition. I remember sitting in the corner, fascinated with their process. I don’t know what they thought about a former Miss America “spying” on them!
Not long after that, I had the idea to capture Spencer on camera as he morphed from male to female as I asked him questions about his life and experience in the world of female impersonation and pageants. I met Stan Ferguson around that time as well. Sadly, he passed away about two months after we filmed. Michael Thornberry joined on shortly after that.
You judged a Miss Gay Arkansas America pageant. What was your impression?
I think Spencer May got me the gig of judging the Miss Gay Arkansas pageant. It was a wonderful time! I’d never seen anything like it. Back then, I had no idea that there was such a vibrant female impersonator venue in Arkansas. I mean, come on! – Arkansas is smack dab in the Bible Belt! I think that the Discovery nightclub still hosts fabulous shows, but back then… I just think it is amazing that the place existed at all!
Though Miss Gay America is based on the Miss America pageant system, these are men impersonating women. Aside from the obvious differences, what struck you the most? At the time I shot the film, I had been away from the pageant world for quite some time. I was questioning the value of women having to compete with each other to wear a crown. The world of the Miss Gay America system has its parallels, but I think the process is much more exact and arduous. The dedication it takes to bring a “creation” to life takes focus, passion and sense of fun. I think it is a much more difficult endeavor than what I had to go through when I competed. I really admire what they do and the artistry it takes to bring their “creations” to life.
And what did you find similar to Miss America about MGA?
Well, these guys are definitely â€œin it to win itâ€ when it comes to competition. That is very similar to what I experienced when I was involved in the pageant world in the early 1980s. Obviously, the theatricality is enhanced – the makeup, hair and flamboyant aspect to the performances. However, I think the MGA system hits all the same points when it comes to the attention to detail and the desire to be the “best you can be” at what you are trying to achieve. Honey, they all want that crown!
Many of the men talk about how impersonating a strong woman, inventing a new self, has empowered them. Did you findâ€“for you personally or other womenâ€“that competing in the Miss America system was the same kind of empowering experience?
I think that the whole female impersonation pageant experience is very different than what a young woman experiences during her pursuit in the pageant world. For men, I see it as a grand experimentâ€“very artistic and full of humor and curiosity. They are empowered by that experimentation, and I think it kicks it up a notch for them to compete with each other. They really seem to be having fun, and they want to put on a great show for the audience.
For women, or at least with my experience in the pageant system, it involves a different aspect of “facade.” I was only 20 when I won Miss America. I’m from a small town in Arkansas, and I’d been on an airplane only one time before I arrived in Atlantic City. I was very focused and determined, but I had no idea, really, about who I was. It was more about being perfect. There was no experimentation – it was all about conforming to the Miss America ideal. No one told me that Miss America was a persona – “that I didn’t have to actually be perfect. I bought into the whole thing and really tried to be something impossible. It took me years of therapy to recover and just be myself!
Did you get a sense from these three men that being in the Miss Gay America pageant system was a bonding experience or purely competitive?
There must be a little of both when it comes to the men who compete in the MGA system. My experience with their world is pretty limited, but I assume that, just like in the women’s version of pageants, there is a little of everything going on! Competition, bonding, frustration, cattiness…I’m sure it is all there during the process.
Up until this past year, I had been away from the Miss America system for a very long time. I’ve had no interest, other than watching the pageant on television, in being involved with it. It is frustrating to me that women have to compete in swimsuits for a scholarship prize. It doesn’t make sense to me. I think it’s an outdated concept and one that I don’t support. There should be better ways of providing educational scholarships to young women.
However, just this past year, I’ve become friends with a group of former Miss Americas. We had a wonderful rendezvous in the Santa Barbara wine country. I got to know them – we got to share our strange, mutual experience of wearing the crown and what that year entailed for us. We are all very different, and our lives have taken divergent paths, but we still share that one experience. The stories of how we got there, how we felt about ourselves and how it changed our lives are all very different as well. It was one of the best weekends I have ever spent. I’ve made friends that I will have for the rest of my life.
Did you ever see the rule book for Miss Gay America? Or Job Summary? Is there is a similar rule book for Miss America?
Wow! I just took a quick look at the rulebook for the MGA pageant. Ha! I am sure that there is something similar for the Miss A Pageant, but I don’t think that “deductions” really play a big part in the process. Miss America is more about awarding points than deducting points. That speaks to the main difference in the two pageant systems. The MGA system is all about creating the “illusion” of a woman – that entails artistry in the creation. The Miss America Pageant is more about presenting the best “you” – the most “ideal.” I’m not saying that the latter doesn’t involve skill or talent, but it is not the same objective as the MGA system.
Female impersonators and drag queens know all the tricks. Did you every pick up a beauty secret or tip from these guys or any female impersonator/drag queen?
If you see “The Damn Deal,” you’ll see that its primary goal is to pull back the curtain on the artistry of creating the illusion of “female.” The makeup and body tricks are fascinating and informative to anyone interested in theatrical makeup and presentation.