Not Garden Variety
"Sometimes you make love and sometimes you just have sex," says Michael Sucsy over tea at Hugo's, a busy West Hollywood restaurant. The filmmaker reveals a fondness for metaphors, speaking not about his romantic life, but the level of passion he brings to each project. Sucsy, 39, smiles as he compares the years he spent researching and writing his 2009 narrative film version of the 1975 cult documentary Grey Gardens to lovemaking.
That's not to suggest his commitment to his new film, The Vow, a romantic dramedy, resembles just a quick hookup. But Sucsy's lengthy dedication to his first film had a huge payoff. He won a Golden Globe for producing and was nominated for Emmy Awards for directing and cowriting (with lesbian filmmaker Patricia Rozema) HBO's interpretation of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale (Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, respectively), the fascinatingly eccentric mother and daughter who shared a ramshackle home in East Hampton, N.Y., with cats and raccoons.
While spending six years developing the tough-sell film, Sucsy heard from plenty of naysayers, including a close friend who didn't see the project's potential. The bounty of awards and praise that followed the film's premiere was more of an affirmation of choices he'd made much earlier, he says now. Chief among them was forgoing a more stable career to follow his dream. After graduating from Georgetown he was subsisting on a production assistant's salary instead of a more sizable paycheck like his investment banker friends.
Though very determined, Sucsy wasn't naive about his chosen field. "If you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, there's a pretty prescribed path on how to do that, but even going to film school is no guarantee that you'll be a director," he says. "I had to listen to my instincts and not let my head misguide me. It's like the process of coming out and being true to yourself."
Following the success of the HBO film, Sucsy read a lot of other screenplays, including one that focused on a woman living with a houseful of cats. "Hollywood isn't always the most open-minded place," he says. "I wanted to make something for a mainstream audience."
The director is still contemplating that question. "It's important for people to know about us and for kids to know they're not alone," he says. Sucsy found a dearth of such positive images when he was a child, but laughs when thinking back to 1982, the first time he saw gay characters in a film. "My very conservative father took me to the film of Deathtrap, and when Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine kissed, he said, 'We're leaving.' He yanked me out and said this is not appropriate."
But neither of his films to date, nor the upcoming Rosaline, has included gay characters. For a moment Sucsy becomes politely defensive. "Listen, the majority of people in this world are heterosexual, so the majority of stories tend to be about heterosexuals," he says. "Could this be told with two men or two women? Absolutely. Would that add a layer that isn't there and make the story better? No, I don't think so."
Nevertheless, Sucsy won't make any allowances for homo-phobic humor. "There was a film recently in which they kept using the word 'gay' in a disparaging way," he states. "It really bugged me, because there was a homosexual person involved in that production, so I wrote an email and said, 'You're in a position to not do that. It didn't make it funnier. So stop allowing that.'" Sucsy won't identify the film or the person but admits his friend in question blew off the criticism and jokingly called him a "fag."
Still, he's aware of his responsibility if The Vow is a success. "I also make sure there's nothing slanderous or negative about gay people in my work," he says. "That's something I can control. I'm not looking to be a role model, but if I become one for some kid who knows he's gay and he thinks because I'm doing it that he can, then great. It's not my goal or agenda, but if that happens in the process of me just living my life, fantastic."