acting school, choreography in movies, gay mafia, gay sexuality, gay sexuality in the movies, homoerotic, homoerotic content, homoerotic movies, homophobia, homophobia in Hollywood, hunter lee hughes, inside-out, Jamie Jeppe Benson, outside-in, workshopping feature film
Just last night, I witnessed a well-done bedroom scene between a man and woman that included the man sheepishly commandeering a pillow to cover his character’s…well… excitement. The audience appreciated the chemistry between the two attractive actors and heartily applauded at the scene’s end…and rightfully so. Yet, hard-won experience over the years has shown me that had the scene been between two men rather than a man and a woman, the audience’s reaction might not have been so fully and completely generous. (If it had been between two women….well…the audience may have been even more generous, but that’s another story).
That’s why I was slightly anxious when I first approached a Nameless Actor to workshop a scene with me from ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In.’ He looked like the part and had just completed a commendable performance in a scene with a mutual friend. But that scene and my project were quite different.
The climatic scene in ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In’ includes some homoerotic friction expressed through choreography being acted out between a gay director and his straight male leading man. There was no kissing or removal of shirts or underwear or bedroom antics (no pillow, certainly), but still, the piece did include some choreography between the characters that you might see on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ If it were a scene between a man and a woman, I’m sure it wouldn’t be considered very racy compared to some of the barely-clothed encounters I’ve seen at the studio over the years. But – for some reason – I didn’t feel like I was approaching Nameless Actor with an exciting opportunity so much as a challenge. I grumbled internally that someone as “evolved” as me still had remnants of internal homophobia and yet, approach him I did.
I explained to Nameless Actor right away that I was returning to the studio with the purpose of workshopping my feature script and described its homoerotic content. Better to be upfront, I thought. So I detailed the set-up of the scene and went over the general nature of the choreography. I offered to send the script for him to consider, but he insisted that it wasn’t necessary. He still remembered the last scene I’d workshopped in the studio and liked my writing a lot. He viewed the scene as a challenge and accepted on the spot. Grateful for his support, I explained that my choreographer Jamie Jeppe Benson was moving to New York City in several weeks, so it would be great to rehearse at least once before he left town. We exchanged information. Mission accomplished…or so I thought.
Within a week, I emailed the script. Then, the holidays hit. First Christmas, then New Year’s. I called Nameless Actor soon after the new year to make sure he was still down for the scene and its content after more time to reflect. He reassured me that he was very grateful for the opportunity and excited to get to work. I asked if we could get together within a week – to learn the choreography if nothing else. Jamie was packing and preparing to move any day now and it would be a lot harder to rehearse the choreography without him.
The first warning sign came at our initial rehearsal. More than three weeks after I’d sent the script, Nameless Actor still hadn’t read it at all. So I took about ten minutes and rehashed the plot and the climatic scene’s placement within it. We read through the scene a few times then Jamie – ever the professional and under a time crunch – suggested we start learning the choreography. To him, two males interacting in this way seemed straightforward and commonplace. To my surprise, we picked up the choreography pretty fast. Jamie gave us some tweaks and was exceedingly happy with what we’d pulled off, especially since neither Nameless Actor nor myself are trained dancers. I really thought that the scene would be easy sailing from there. After all, we’d managed to get through the toughest, most intimate aspect of the scene right in the beginning. I was wrong.
Nameless Actor didn’t call me back for a week. Then, a few hours before our class the next week, he left a voicemail that he was uncomfortable with the scene and would be backing out. I was furious. Adding to my anger was the fact that I’d gone out of my way multiple times to explain the content upfront and give him a chance to say “no” to the piece several different times. By the point when he backed out, Nameless Actor had possession of the entire script more than a month. And by now, Jamie had moved to New York City, making the choreography that much more difficult to teach to a new actor. I’d acted professionally throughout – explaining the requirements of the scene honestly, despite any awkwardness involved in my approach or follow-up. I couldn’t imagine that Nameless Actor would ever have backed out in a similar fashion had the scene been between a man and a woman. I was convinced that the only explanation for his drop-out was a combination of unprofessionalism and homophobia and I told him so in my voicemail response to him. In Hollywood in 2012 with the gay mafia supposedly on the rise, it was a little shocking to be treated this way, but I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
My anger didn’t stop there. I kept thinking about the dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of erotic scenes I’d witnessed between men and women at the studio over the years. And yes, even erotic scenes between two women were not totally unusual. But was homoerotic content between male characters so rare that the studio couldn’t accommodate my script? Should I even remain in the studio? On a break from class, I confronted my teacher about just that. She noted that I was so angry I was shaking. “There’s not much I can say to you now. I know my husband when he gets like this. I just have to stay out of his way,” she wryly noted then gave me a hug. Then she said, “Don’t make the whole studio homophobic because of one person. Let me find someone for you. Let me choose. We’re still doing the scene.”
My anger slightly appeased and I could tell that she, too, felt a twinge of urgency in solving the problem. The very next break, she re-introduced me to Christos, a Greek actor known in the Studio for his good looks, daring personality and charm. But would the married-to-a-woman Christos be down for ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In’?
“I hear we are going to do some dancing,” Christos said to me, striking his best imitation of Fred Astaire/Zorba the Greek. I could tell he wanted to cheer me up. I almost cried. “He’s Greek – he’ll do anything,” our teacher added, smiling. So we exchanged information. And the wheel of fortune turns.
What did the whole episode teach me? Sure, there are homophobic actors out there, even in this day and age. And others just don’t see the value in stretching past their comfort zones. But if you stay open and fight for your project, you might just end up with creative collaborators even better than the ones you had in mind. And it’s through difficult experiences that our teachers and friends get to know and respect us better…and that’s a good thing.
If the beginning of this workshop experience is a metaphor for what creating the film promises to be, I know that we’ll confront a lot more homophobia and resistance along the way, but ultimately will succeed. And from now on, I will not apologize for my material at all when I approach actors or anyone, for that matter. The homoerotic content of the piece is beautiful and well-done and any actor who has a problem with the piece is not worth my very valuable time. Turns out I faced down homophobic attitudes – inside and out – and came out on the other side. And for that, I’m grateful.
Next time, see a video interview of Christos in the flesh and learn how our workshop of the scene ended up going. You just might be surprised. In the meantime, check out the reel of our initial choreographer Jamie Jeppe Benson. What would happen with the choreography now that Jamie lives in NYC? Next time, next time….
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).