During the hey-day of the new queer cinema movement in the mid-1990s, Ira Sachs garnered acclaim for his award-winning film, The Delta. Since his extraordinary debut fifteen years ago, Sachs has dabbled in mainstream with the dark Rachel McAdams comedy Married Life but makes a very welcome return to LGBT-themed cinema returns with Keep the Lights On (now playing in select theaters). Heavily influenced by European cinema’s unrepentant exploration of explicit sexuality, the searing new drama features complex gay characters searching for love and intimacy. Keep the Lights On is also an autobiographical story of a decade long relationship bound together by shame, sex, and addiction. Sachs speaks with The Advocate about his justly acclaimed new film, how much of it is based on his own life, and the pain of saving boyfriends from self-destruction.
The Advocate: You co-wrote Keep the Lights On (with Mauricio Zacharias) and the story is semi-autobiographical. How much is based on actual events that happened in your life?
Ira Sachs: The film is closely based on a relationship I was in that ended in 2008. On the last day of that relationship I had a strong sense that there had also been a first day 10 years before and there was good story in between. A lot of the issues that we faced as a couple were ones that were common to a lot of people. The end of the relationship inspired a lot of things. It combusted because we tried to control and maintain a relationship that was extraordinarily destructive and we both felt that we could hold it all in and make it work. After that relationship I refused to live a life that wasn’t honest. That was a huge transformation for me.
Has your ex seen the film?
He has seen the film. He has been very supportive of it. I’m guessing it’s not easy for him, but he has been supportive.
Keep the Lights On is anchored by remarkable performances from Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth. Thure is a renowned actor in Europe and appeared in some American films, but is certainly not well known here. How did he come to be in the film?
When I finished the script I had a strong sense that in all likelihood the film would not be cast in a conventional way based on the sexuality and frankness of the material, and the gayness of the material. I started working on casting the way I had previously, which usually involves sending it to agents in L.A. and ... Let’s put it this way, I got a reply from one agent who said, “No one in our agency would be available for this film.” It was sort of confirming my thoughts that the material was perhaps out of the realm of American ordinariness. I have worked with European actors before and I heard about Thure Lindhardt from a Danish screenwriter friend of mine who said, “Thure Lindhardt is the bravest actor in Denmark.” I thought, “That sounds pretty good!”