Chris New: Weekend Update
Known for his stage and television work in his native England, Chris New makes his big-screen debut as Glen, a confident and cheeky artist, in Weekend, out British filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s festival favorite about two gay men who meet at a London nightclub and spend the next 48 hours having sex, sharing their stories, and baring their souls. New, a 30-year-old gay actor, stars opposite straight actor Tom Cullen in the naturalistic romance, which opened September 23 in the U.S. and, propelled by positive reviews and strong box office, continues its national rollout through October. Recently named one of five breakthrough performers of the fall film season by The New York Times, New phoned The Advocate from across the pond to discuss his decision to be out professionally and the not-so-dirty secrets behind the film’s realistic sex scenes.
The Advocate: Have you been keeping up with how well Weekend is being received in the U.S.?
Chris New: Yeah, Andrew, Tom, and I have all been following the progress over there, and we’re just absolutely amazed. It’s really weird, because the film is obviously so intimate, and it was put together very quickly on a very small budget with a very small crew. When we finished, we thought, Well, we had a good stab at it. Hopefully, it might get seen by some people, maybe screen at some festivals, and maybe go straight to DVD. So to see the film getting such strong personal reactions from people is quite astounding and really thrilling.
You’re not one of those actors who won’t read reviews?
I don’t like to read reviews about me, but I quite like to read reviews about the project I’m doing, just to see if anybody’s going to buy a ticket.
One of my favorite reviews is in Entertainment Weekly, which called you “magnetically slippery.”
[Laughs] I’m not really sure how that can work, but I like it.
Your character Glen, an artist, has a great line in the film about his latest exhibit: “The problem is that no one’s gonna come see it because it’s about gay sex. The gays’ll only come because they want a glimpse of cock, and they’ll be disappointed. The straights won’t come because it’s got nothing to do with their world.” Is that more or less what you anticipated about Weekend’s audience?
Yeah, when we were talking about the film, Andrew and I were very keen on discussing that notion. I think — I can’t really remember, because we did so many versions of each scene — but I think we were going to have a reference to gay films as well. We were going say something like, “Gay films only ever get seen in gay festivals,” but we thought it was too pointed a reference. We did worry that the film would be labeled a “gay film” and put into a ghetto, but the great thing is that it has broken out, not only with audiences but also with critics. You often worry that critics might look at the film more cynically than a normal audience, but their reaction has been incredible, and it’s encouraging the film to do better and break out of any pigeonhole that it might be placed in.
For the gays who “want a glimpse of cock,” there is some brief male nudity in the film. Did you have any hesitations about that?
I was a bit nervous. Some actors don’t have a problem with it because they’ve got talents downstairs that they don’t mind showing off. Ian McKellan, for example, has the biggest thing you’ve ever seen, so no wonder he gets it out. But yeah, there’s always a worry with nudity, and partly because it’s harder to hide behind the character when you’re naked. But with Andrew’s script, we all felt that the sex was never gratuitous or just there for titillation. It was purely there to drive the plot and reveal the characters.
There’s also a discussion in the film about the shared gay experience of coming out to one’s family. What was your coming out like?
My coming out was sort of like Glen’s. I just said to my parents, “Look, you have to deal with it. If you can’t deal with it, it’s your problem, not mine.”
How did that go over?
Well, I never really asked after that. I just carried on with my life. I was born with a certain amount of stubbornness, which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse. In the area of coming out, I was just stubborn.
As an actor, when did you decide to be out professionally?
There was an interesting moment. It was when I did my first play out of drama school [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art]. I did a play called Bent by Martin Sherman in the West End [in 2006]. It was a massive role to get right out of drama school, and it was a really lucky break. I did the play with Alan Cumming. I had an agent at the time who, when it came to talking to press interviews, told me not to come out. She said, “Just don’t mention the gay thing.” I spoke to Alan about it, and he took me aside and said, “Look, if you want to be really unhappy and feel like you’re hiding something forever, then by all means don’t mention the gay thing. But if you want to live a happy life, just be honest about it, even if you have to deal with some consequences.” I agreed with him, so I fired that agent and I came out.
Have you felt any consequences?
If it has affected anything, then I don’t really know about it. If people are having a conversation about it in a room when they’re talking about casting — “Oh, no, we can’t have Chris New because he’s gay” — then I never hear about it, so it doesn’t really bother me. I’ve had a very nice career so far. If I ever get any backlash for being an out gay actor, they can eat my ass. [Laughs] I’d rather live in the world I live in than live with a lie.
Do you feel like an actor’s sexuality is as much of an issue in the U.K. as it is in Hollywood? We hear Rupert Everett chime in on the subject from time to time, but —
I think Rupert Everett might just have too much time on his hands. There might be a lot of other reasons why Rupert Everett’s not happy with his career, but if I were him I’d be very happy — he’s done some great stuff. But yeah, I do think that sexuality is an issue in the British film and theater industry. Very often the scripts that come through the door for me are for gay roles, but it’s up to me whether or not I take them. If the part says, “20s, camp, best friend to a girl,” I’ll probably not do it.
I imagine that Weekend has made you rather popular with some gay men on Twitter. Has anyone reached out to ask for a date or a shag?
[Laughs] I think Glen’s too much of a dangerous character for people to fall totally in love with him. Glen’s not a boy you particularly want to take home to your mother. But there has been a lot of appreciation from people on Twitter who tell me how much they love the film. Besides, I’m a married man now — I just got married, actually — so all those days are gone. But I’m sure there won’t be too many people weeping in their pillows.
Congratulations on your marriage.
Thank you. Well, over here it’s not called marriage, obviously — it’s called a civil partnership — but I’ll use the word marriage whether they like it or not. I think the most admirable thing about the American gay marriages, like in New York, is that you’re actually getting the word marriage. In America, you guys have a lot more fight than we do over here, partly because the antigay movement is so much more visible in America. It’s really interesting to watch the gay rights movement in America from over here. It’s so much more focused and energetic than it is here, where the attitude is very relaxed, very “Oh, it’s fine.” I like the American refusal to compromise.
Finally, I must know what the semen was made out of during one of the more graphic sex scenes in Weekend. It looked suspiciously authentic.
[Laughs] I will tell you two secrets about that scene. When we’re grabbing at each other’s erections, those are finely carved carrots in our pants, which is apparently an old trick. I actually had to snap mine in half because it was far too big. And then the semen itself was just good old-fashioned hand soap. So now everybody can try it. You too can recreate that moment at home!
For more info visit Weekend-Film.com.