Op-ed: The Trouble With L.A., Actors and Gay Roles
Does any wannabe actor in Los Angeles really wannabe an actor? The hot young character Adam in my latest film, Going Down in LA-LA Land is one of those who arrive daily in Los Angeles to pursue a career on the big screen. He’s buff, beautiful, and gets to show great range – comedy with his best friend Candy; falling in love with John, frustration, suicidal distress. In other words, it’s a great showcase-y role for any actor.
When casting this role, we needed a young actor who in addition to being able to expose emotions, could expose his lithe body and be believable as the next perfect thing who gets pulled into porn and prostitution on a quest for Hollywood fame. We know thousands are in Los Angeles to pursue this same dream, so there were tons of male actors to fit this top-billing bill. Or so I naively thought.
“Liberal Hollywood” just rewarded President Obama with a cool $15 million from George Clooney’s fundraiser, days after announcing his support for gay marriage. Right-wingers argue Hollywood pushes its gay agenda on the country with shows like Glee. More and more, we hear about actors coming out of the closet, or, in a few cases, who never bothered entering one. Behind the scenes, the industry is filled with openly gay people, and straight movie stars who “courageously” take on gay roles are often hailed with awards and accolades. So why then, in a place like that, does taking on a gay role still have such a powerful stigma for so many?
When casting my films, I don’t ever ask (and usually don’t care), if the actors playing the roles of gay men are gay or not in real life. Though I like casting gay actors in those parts, what’s most important is that they can portray the role believably. Once, I cast an actor in a lead role who I was convinced was gay because he pulled it off so well. I thought it was a joke when his girlfriend came to visit him on set.
The worst thing for me as an independent filmmaker, however, is to work with a closeted actor. It’s very annoying to have someone who you’ve given a starring role, who is great to work with, and who privately is proud of the film – refuse to do any press or show up to screenings as they don’t want to be asked the loaded question, “Are you gay?”
Going Down in LA-LA Land premiered Friday in Hollywood. At its core, the film is a romantic comedy about putting love before fame and success, but the starring role of Adam also called for a couple sex scenes, shirtless scenes, and in one case in the buff as he jumps into a pool. So we needed an actor comfortable with flaunting some skin. But these days, that isn’t a big deal – right?
Turns out that in a city where everyone is looking to be a TV-regular or a movie star, playing a gay actor in an indie film was too scary, still too much of a risk, to take on. In many cases agents or managers of the young actors we were interested in advised against it. We did have a handful of actors, who I was excited about, who showed up to audition but several decided not to return for callbacks. “Is there no one else we can see for this?” I desperately asked my casting director. I did not want to compromise my vision for something as important as the lead role. But despite working the phones, watching more audition tapes, and holding an open call, we still couldn’t find the right person in a city overflowing with supposedly hungry actors.
How did I end up finding my perfect Adam? Quite simply, by casting a New York actor and flying him in for the shoot. Matthew Ludwinski had been up for playing one of the leads in my 2009 film Between Love & Goodbye, and ever since I had kept him in mind for Adam in LA-LA Land. I thought it would be better, though, to cast someone who lived in L.A., and I also felt that I owed it to myself to see who else was out there, but in retrospect I should have saved myself the trouble of looking for Adam in Hollywood and just given the role to Matthew from the start.
I am quite pleased with all my actors in the film, the majority of whom were indeed cast locally. But I’m especially thrilled with Matthew, who did everything the role of Adam called for without complaints, who pulled off playing him beautifully, and who, in addition, has been exceptional with promoting the film.
I’m back in Los Angeles right now for the theatrical opening of the film at the famed Chinese Theatres on Hollywood Boulevard. Last night, I walked the red carpet next to my courageous young star.
See more photos from the film on the following pages.
The role of Dean is played by Brent Bailey.
Casper Andreas plays Nick, and Matthew Ludwinski plays Adam.
Nick and Adam man the door.
Zinnia is played by JudyTenuta.
Matthew is played by Jesse Archer.
Adam and John, played by Michael Medico.