In both Miles and Other People — films that premiered this past year — Molly Shannon portrayed the mother and ally of a gay person. It was no coincidence. One of the reasons? Her father spent most of his life in the closet.
At a Friday Q&A celebrating the theatrical release of Miles — a movie about a gay teen's fight to bridge the gender divide in a high school sports team — Shannon opened up about the story of her dad and how he finally came to tell her he was gay.
"My dad was gay and closeted — born in 1926, where it wasn’t an option. Married," Shannon, who grew up in Cleveland, told the audience at the AMC Sunset 5 in West Hollywood. In her youth, Shannon did not know her father was gay. But she recounted some of the clues that, in retrospect, may have pointed to his identity.
"When I went to NYU drama school, I would send him pictures of like a head shot of Judy Garland. I didn’t associate that he might be gay; I just thought, 'He’ll love this!'" said Shannon, who revealed her father would often play the music of the Wizard of Oz star and gay icon while housecleaning. "And then when I got my first color head shots, my dad framed it and threw gold stars all over it."
However, it would be some time before Shannon's father was able to openly discuss his sexual orientation with his daughter.
"He was 72 when he told me. He told me he was gay right before he died," Shannon continued. "We were sitting at the pool at the Four Seasons, and I said, 'Have you ever thought you might be gay?' He said, 'Most definitely.' And then we drove to Ohio and talked about it for the next 72 hours."
Ultimately, the experience inspired her to become an advocate for the LGBT community, and to tell stories that would help others come out.
"All stories about people being gay and coming out, I’m just so attracted to," she said. "It was my whole childhood. My whole life. I was the child of somebody who had to keep that secret. So anything I can do to let that out and tell all those stories is the most important thing to me."
Earlier this year, Shannon won Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance as a mother dying of cancer in Other People. The film was inspired by the real-life story of its gay director, Chris Kelly, who is also the co-head writer of Saturday Night Live.
In Miles, Shannon portrays a widow who becomes a champion for her son in his fight to join the high school girls' volleyball team, in the face of public outcry from their middle American town. Miles was also inspired by the real-life story of its director, Nathan Adloff.
At the Friday event, Shannon was joined by Adloff and costars Tim Boardman, Missi Pyle, and Paul Reiser. The author of this piece, Daniel Reynolds, served as moderator.
Previously, at the L.A. premiere of Other People, Shannon stressed that the fight for LGBT visibility is not over in Hollywood. She's right. As the media organization GLAAD noted in a recent report, LGBT characters are still few and far between in movies produced by major studios.
"We must continue," Shannon said. "There are so many stories. To me, that’s just how it should be. There needs to be even more."