Mistaken identity—that age-old plot device of romantic comedies—gets a fresh gay twist in the new film Is It Just Me? Nicholas Downs stars as Blaine, an unlucky-in-love newspaper columnist who meets Xander, the man of his dreams while signed onto an online dating site under his sexy go-go boy roommate’s profile. A battle of brain versus brawn soon ensues. Calciano and Downs chat with The Advocate about the appeal of their film, the responsibility that comes with portraying gay characters, and why LGBT film festivals still need support.
The Advocate: J.C., what inspired you to write Is it Just Me?
J.C. Calciano: I wrote a film I'd want to see. I love romantic comedies and sweet stories about people who find each other. I imagined a story that I'd want to happen to myself and figured would be make a sweet and entertaining movie and wrote the script from there. The character Blaine was based on myself back when I was a young writer and the story just evolved from a fantasy I had about finding love.
Nicholas, what attracted you to the film?
Nicholas Downs: The script is what initially attracted me. I was impressed because it was a genuine romantic comedy. Most gay films seem to be broad comedies or dramas, but a Hollywood style romantic comedy is rare. And the opportunity to play a romantic lead with such a great script just couldn't be passed up.
What distinguishes Is It Just Me? from all the other gay romantic comedies?
Downs: It has a lot of heart and has a universal theme that everyone can relate to whether gay or straight. In several screenings we have had people from all backgrounds say they completely relate to the character of Blaine. To have such a diverse group of people say that shows me that the story reaches out and connects us all in many ways.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
Downs: I think a lot of audiences take away a greater understanding about relationships. Audiences have remarked that they see the character of Blaine reflecting their own lives and insecurities. Often at a festival fans of the film will say, "I am so that character." I believe that Blaine rings true in a lot of us, and for that reason, the character was appealing for me to play.
Calciano: I'd be thrilled if they’re entertained and enlightened about relationships. The idea is to show how we all affect each other’s lives—sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. If the idea that we all are essential to each other’s happiness is conveyed, I'd be very happy.
Do you feel there’s an obligation for actors and filmmakers to portray LGBT characters accurately and honestly?
Downs: It’s extremely important. My goal is to show the world that there are a variety of LGBT people out there and not just the stereotypes that the media has portrayed in the past. I hope that by playing a character with universal appeal I can help wash away some of the stereotypes and show that we, as people, all go through the same feelings and emotions. We all have the same ups and downs.
Nicholas, how did J.C.'s being a gay screenwriter and filmmaker inform the film and your performance?
Downs: I found that communication with a gay writer-director was very easy. I'm not sure if it was because we both were gay or not, or if we were just on the same wavelength as people. I think the experience of working on a gay set with gay filmmakers was very easy and fun because we all wanted the same thing. Our universal goal was to make a great, honest, and entertaining film that reflected our lifestyles in a positive way.
What was the first gay character you remember seeing in a film and what was your reaction?
Downs: There are two that happened right at the same time. The first character I remember being affected by was Clive Owen in Bent, about two men who fall in love in a concentration camp. I found it to be a beautiful love story that happens in a devastating place. Amongst the horror of the setting and their situation, something magical happens. And Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters—what an amazing performance by what I consider to be one of our greatest actors.
Calciano: I remember being affected by the films Making Love, Maurice, My Beautiful Launderette, and Beautiful Thing. These stories inspired and touched me about what love meant and how two men could find each other. I remember being inspired to touch others the way those films touched me.
With the mainstream success of gay-themed films such as Brokeback Mountain and now The Kids Are All Right, why do you feel it’s still necessary to support LGBT film festivals?
Calciano: Our community is an incubator for wonderful and creative storytellers and filmmakers who sometimes never get distribution and whose work would never see the light of day. Gay film festivals are a fantastic opportunity for smaller films to be brought to the public.