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Mr. Ross

Mr. Ross


Evan Ross, son of the legendary Diana Ross, is making a name for himself in the role of a gay man with AIDS in producer Queen Latifah's new HBO film Life Support.

When you hear Evan Ross's voice--with its combo of depth and softness--and take in his generosity of spirit, it makes you think, Yeah, it makes sense he's Diana Ross's son. And when you learn he's only 18, you realize he's wise beyond his years, enough to tap into the darkness to play such challenging roles as the self-destructive gay HIV-positive teenager Amare in Life Support, which premiered this month on HBO. Starring Queen Latifah as a recovered crack addict turned activist who tries to save Amare, Life Support shines a light on people not often represented on the screen: African-American women and men living with HIV and AIDS, including men living on the "down low" like Amare's lover, Michael. I talked with Evan about Life Support, love, struggle, forging his own identity--and what it was like to play gay.

Life Supportreally surprised me with its passion. What attracted you to the film and the role of Amare? I had heard the script was really powerful and dealt with a lot of important issues. And when I spoke with Nelson George [the director and cowriter], he was very passionate about it. When I was looking through the roles, I thought Amare presented the harsher realities of HIV and I thought his would be a really interesting role to play--he wasn't like any character I'd ever played before. So I decided to go with the role and see how I could bring something different to it. I thought, Let me see how I can play this role so we really still care about this character, even though he's really messing up.

Yeah, Amare messes up a lot. He's quite self-destructive. Can you talk about that? One of the most important things is having people around you who love you and care for you. For Amare, he started to lose that after a while--his best friend and his sister and everyone had their own lives to deal with, and he started to feel alone. And it wasn't anyone's fault. Everyone has their own life to live. So I think Amare felt he had nobody as he was dealing with his disease and so many things. How he felt abandoned just made him give up.

It's really interesting how Amare's gay sexuality wasn't emphasized, but it was part of his character. When you look into Amare, do you think his self-destruction had anything to do with his not accepting being gay? All of who he was impacted him. I don't think there's a reason why the film didn't really emphasize his sexuality and how that was a part of him. It was subtle, and it was good it was subtle, because you can understand his downfall from all angles.

In terms of his issues with his sexuality and having HIV and the drugs, all of it... Yeah, it was a combination of everything in his life that caused him to have a lot of trouble and give up. Everything was just too much. He didn't have anybody to talk to, then he became part of the hustle, then he ending up selling all his medication and didn't really care anymore.

When do you think he decided to give up? I think it all started with his sister and not being able to go home, and his sister not wanting to be a part of his life and his messing up anymore. And then it was with his friends. Like Kelly, she was always there, but when Amare was really sick and on the floor, and as much as he was doing drugs to cover up his pain, Kelly asked him to leave. I think he felt betrayed, but at the same time it really wasn't her fault. I think that's something important too, because even though we see it and hear about it, we can't really know what it's like to deal with a situation like Amare's or understand it totally.

Something else I find interesting is that in terms of love, Amare just couldn't feel any. And it didn't help that his lover, Michael, denied him. Michael didn't want to act like he was gay in any type of way. He didn't want any part of that; he just wanted to be with Amare on a sexual level, so after his sister left him, Amare had no one. But Michael did care about him in the end.

What impact do you hope Life Support will have? From Amare, I hope people see the harsher--the more real--struggles people go through. And for people to be able to see that struggle from a different point of view, because sometimes you see how a person gets by or tries to get better, but you don't really get to see someone who is heading down the wrong path, like Amare.

So maybe people can make a different choice. Yeah. I'm doing another role along the same lines now, in a film called Life Is Hot in Cracktown, dealing with harsh realities, because sometimes just seeing those realities is the only way to make people understand them.

What was it like playing a gay character? It was an interesting experience. I was excited about the role. I didn't want to play it in a way where it would come off like, Wow, you can really tell [he's gay] from the first time you see him. I just really wanted people to love Amare for who he was--and to have an understanding of what he was going through.

Was there anything you learned about queer culture while doing research for the film? I read up on a lot of stuff. Nelson George wanted me to play a character that was gay but was part of the hip-hop gay culture. It was a whole different side of things I hadn't seen before. It was interesting and new, and I'm glad I got a chance to experience it. Even with the scene when I'm in the club and I have my hoodie on and I look over at a guy and I give him a look... It was interesting for me as an actor to see his reaction.

So what pressures, if any, do you feel being Diana Ross's son? I get asked this question all the time. Right now I'm learning so much about my mom's history and the stuff she's done. I'd never really taken the time to do that, and she doesn't really talk about it. She's so great; she inspires me so much. It's hard for me to take anything as a burden. I think the only thing that's a pressure is growing up under a magnifying glass. But more than anything it's a blessing to have such an incredible mom.

About identity, I think we all tend to identify with something--our race, sexuality, who our parents are, whatever--yet none of that could ever be who we are in total. My father is Norwegian and my mom is African-American. I remember growing up feeling like you have to be one or the other or to choose one or the other. And I'm learning that I can just be me and be comfortable with whatever I choose. And with characters, I can do that. I can play the gangster, be this or that, be anything.

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