Gay and Gayer

By Michael Giltz

Originally published on Advocate.com August 26 2008 11:00 PM ET

Ewan McGregor
looks pissed. He’s playing the title character, a
prisoner, in the new movie I Love You Phillip
Morris
, and his character has just discovered that
a fellow inmate (someone he can’t stand) has
been beaten up.

He’s upset
because everyone is blaming his boyfriend, Steven Russell
(Jim Carrey), for the brawl. But when Morris learns
that the gossip is true, that Russell really did order
the pummeling, he jumps into his boyfriend’s
cot and coos, “That’s the most romantic thing
anyone’s ever done for me.” The actors
kiss on the lips and roll around until Carrey (now out
of character) says to McGregor, “You’re
getting a little too excited.”

A beat-down as a
romantic gesture? The film’s directors -- Glenn
Ficarra and John Requa -- love it. Sitting in the
steamy warehouse set outside New Orleans, Requa leans
back with pleasure after McGregor and Carrey finish
the scene, and Ficarra shouts, “That was
great!”

Still, the
make-out session needs to be shot several more times.
Sometimes the kiss is more tender, other times more
passionate. The one thing that every take makes clear
is that I Love You Phillip Morris, which the
producers hope to see released this fall, isn’t
shying away from showing two men in love.

Romance behind
bars may not be remarkable, but the true story the film is
based on surely is: Russell was a con artist who posed as a
chief financial officer, a Virginia millionaire, and
other powerful figures in order to steal hundreds of
thousands of dollars. Once a police officer, he was
married with children before coming out of the closet.
Furtive affairs finally led to a relationship with his
first boyfriend (played by Rodrigo Santoro of
Che), who later died of AIDS.

After a
conviction for insurance fraud, Russell was placed in
Houston’s Harris County Jail, where he fell
quickly and completely in love with the redheaded and
boyish Morris, who was incarcerated for violating probation
imposed for failing to return a rental car. Russell was so
in love that after Morris was released, he repeatedly
broke out of prison (one time literally walking out
the front door, dressed as a doctor) to be with his
man.

“What
makes [this movie] different from Catch Me If You
Can
or any other con-man movie is that it’s a
love story,” Requa says. “Some of the
more shocking elements of the movie -- the idea of
these men trying to snatch love and bliss in the middle of
the most awful environment imaginable -- are actually
very funny.”

I Love You Phillp Morris 2 (Glen Watson) | Advocate.com

For Carrey, the
story presented a break for him as an actor: to tackle
one of his most romantic roles yet. “Russell was so
misguidedly relentless about love that you’ve
got to admire it,” Carrey says.

“I always
try to figure out what delusion the character is living
under. We all kind of have them, whether it’s a
feeling of worthlessness or whatever it is,”
says Carrey, who shaved back an inch of his hairline to
emphasize “the brain” of his character.
Russell reportedly has an IQ of 169.

To understand the
con man’s motivations, Carrey had to explore the pain
of Russell’s childhood. “When your mother
gives you up for adoption and then doesn’t want
you back when you find her—that definitely leaves a
hole in you,” he says. “It’s difficult
to trust somebody after that.”

Trust -- and a
level of comfort -- is something Carrey had to develop
with his fellow actors right away. Because of a tight film
schedule, the first scenes he shot were the love
scenes with each of his romantic partners. He made out
with Santoro in a gay bar in Miami on the first day of
the shoot, followed quickly by sex scenes with Leslie Mann
(who plays Russell’s wife) and then with
McGregor.

“It’s a very, very amusing scene,”
McGregor says of his and Carrey’s hookup. The
two are out on a boat, “and I’m giving Steven
a blow job. I look up and there’s this big huge
black storm cloud coming toward us. This is true --
Steven turns the boat straight toward the storm because
he knows that you can’t outrun a storm. You have to
go through the middle,” McGregor says.
“But Phillip doesn’t know this, and
it’s maybe his queeniest moment, when he has
this tiff and screams, ‘What the fuck are you
doing?’ ”

Carrey jumps in.
“I tell him I read it in a magazine. And he asks,
‘What magazine? If you tell me The
Advocate
, I’ll fucking kill
you.’ ”

The real Russell
is still in a Texas prison (Carrey was not allowed to
visit him). But Morris, who has a nonspeaking role in the
film as Russell’s lawyer, is a free man.

Friendly and
charming, the slight 49-year-old Morris seems fit, though
he’s recovering from a stroke. These days he lives in
Hot Springs, Ark., in the home of a friend, a
preacher, and says he’s convinced people in his
life today won’t associate him with the Phillip
Morris in the movie. (To be fair, he’s not
completely tight-lipped about the connection.
Occasionally he delights in telling people -- like the
waitress at his favorite diner -- to Google the movie
title.)

Morris, who says
it’s “wonderful” to have McGregor
portray him, isn’t dating anyone at the moment.
So the question naturally is, “Are you waiting
for Russell?” “No,” he says.
“But when he gets out, as far as I’m
concerned, we’ll probably be together.”

And by
“gets out,” does he mean parole or otherwise?
Morris laughs. “Well, you never
know.”