Starring in his film debut Dirty Girl as Clarke, a bullied gay teenager who finds liberation on a road trip with the high school tramp, actor Jeremy Dozier gets a workout. The 25-year-old La Porte, Texas native gets to sing Belinda Carlisle and Melissa Manchester anthems, do a strip tease in a rural gay bar, and act alongside an illustrious cast of actors including Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen, William H. Macy, Milla Jovovich, Dwight Yoachim, Tim McGraw, and Juno Temple as the title character. Written and directed by Abe Sylvia, the film (opening today) combines ribald humor with a timely message about self-acceptance, while simultaneously offering a wink to comedies with other unlikely heroines such as Muriel’s Wedding and The Opposite of Sex. Dozier sat down recently with The Advocate to talk about his experience with small-town bullies, how he landed his big break, and why it was important to come out as gay at the beginning of his career.
The Advocate: When did you first decide to pursue acting as a career?
Jeremy Dozier: I wanted to be an actor my entire life, since I played James in James and the Giant Peach in 5th grade. I grew up in a small town in Texas and when you grow up in small-town America you’re supposed to choose something practical to do with your life. People told me it would never happen and I should choose something else. But I kept the dream alive inside and went to the University of Texas and studied theater.
Growing up in a small town, did you experience bullying?
I was picked on, but never to the extent of Clarke. I was an overweight kid so I was teased about that. I really liked high school and was really into studying so I was made fun of for that.
What concerns did you have about coming out as gay at the very beginning of your career?
I definitely had people in the industry tell me it wasn’t a good idea. I think it’s important to be yourself. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m out and proud so we’ll see how it affects my career, but I don’t think it will. In today’s society it’s part of the fabric of who I am. I was born in Texas, I have blue eyes, I play tennis… being gay is just another piece of who I am. It doesn’t define me.
Why were you told it wasn’t a good idea?
People were just concerned I’d be typecast, but I think society is more open-minded. There are millions of gay people out there. I don’t think being gay is the most interesting thing about me.
How differently did you feel when you finally did it?
It was an amazing feeling. I had a really good coming out experience and my family was very supportive. It was a big relief off my shoulders. I did it over iChat. They said they loved me and supported me and all they want for their children is to be happy and find someone to love who’d love them. They said when I find him he’ll be part of the family.
How do you think other LGBT teenagers can relate to Clark’s story?
Well, I wanted to play this character because of the transformation he goes through over the course of the film. He starts out as an abused, shy teenager then eventually comes out and loves himself, finds his voice, and stands up to his dad. I think the message is to not let what other people say define you. You define yourself and you should love yourself. What makes you different is what makes you special and what will make you successful in life. It’s a film about friendship and how people create their own family. It’s not only for gay people, it’s a story for everyone who wants to be loved and accepted.
How did you come to be cast as Clarke?
There was a nationwide casting call that I read about so I made an audition tape in my dorm. I ripped the sheets off my roommate’s bed and tacked them to the wall and turned every lamp in the place on me so it would look professional. I sent it off to the casting director and didn’t think anything else of it. Then a few days later I heard from Abe then I didn’t hear from him for six months until they flew me out to L.A. for an audition. Then I didn’t hear from anyone for a year and a half. I finally got the call that they’d cast Juno as Danielle and they asked me to do a chemistry read with her and I got the part.
You went from being a theater student in Texas to playing the son of an Academy Award-winning actress. That must have been a surreal experience.
The whole experience was surreal, from getting past security to having my own trailer. I remember calling my mom to tell her about the trailer. “It has a microwave and a refrigerator and a TV.” [Laughs] I was so excited and then getting to work with the amazing cast. Everyone was so nice. William H. Macy is one of my acting idols so I’d watch him on set and just stare at him. Mary was so, so nice. She pulled me aside the first day and told me she knew what it was like to be in my shoes. In her first film she was directed by Jack Nicholson, so she told me stories about that and was very motherly. She told me to just enjoy it because you never know if you’ll get to do it again.
How did you find working with Abe?
I think he’s just unbelievably talented. Because he also wrote the film, if we had any questions about the characters he immediately knew the answers. He was involved in every aspect of the film, from the design of the set to the music. He even went to thrift stores to buy Juno’s costumes. I'm so proud to have been a part of his first film. I think he has such a unique vision and he wrote an incredible script.
Playing a gay teenager, do you feel any obligation to be a role model to other gay teens?
I want Clarke to be, because it's a good story. What we found when the film played at gay film festivals is that gay kids identified with Clarke. I'm really proud to have been part of a project that connects with people that way. It's an actor's dream to play a character that people see themselves in. I definitely hope that Clarke becomes that for people.