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"I'd dump me the minute someone better came along," says X, a hardened 26-year-old in the new film Boy Culture, the adaptation of Matthew Rettenmund's best-selling 1995 novel of gay male dysfunction and redemption.
X's confession is voiced by scruffy straight actor Derek Magyar, who manages to perfectly project that gay guy we've all known, or been--too cool for school, fixated on the physical, just out of reach.
"I just went in playing X as a very masculine man," Magyar says during a chat at Hugo's, a teahouse in West Hollywood, Calif. "It made no difference to me whether he was gay or straight."
Dressed in a gray sweatshirt and camouflage pants, he looks as effortless as X. "I look like I'm shipping off to Baghdad tomorrow," he jokes. "[But] I'm auditioning for a movie after this."
It's difficult to imagine Magyar soon finding another role as juicy and complex as X, a high-end call boy who's as introspective as he is sexual and as cynical as he is romantic.
Boy Culture, directed by Eating Out's Q. Allan Brocka, follows the hungry-for-love X and his two roommates: Joey (Jonathon Trent), a promiscuous teenager obsessed with X; and Andrew (Darryl Stephens), a recently out video store clerk with whom X falls madly in love. Also figuring prominently is Gregory (Patrick Bauchau), a 70-something recluse and X's client, who tells his young charge that he won't sleep with him until "you want me half as much as I want you." In the interim they dissect the nature of gay love and relationships and develop a bond that transcends john-client relations.
Boy Culture, awarded Best Screenplay at Outfest 2006 to cowriter Brocka and Philip Pierce, is more than the story of a hooker attempting the straight and narrow; it's an examination of how gay men interact as friends, lovers, or an uncomfortable combination of the two. Most of the men in Boy Culture are unable to commit to one person. Unsatisfied viscerally, emotionally, and intellectually with themselves and their partners, they are perpetually looking for someone better.
"The lead character, X, is sort of the cynic in all of us, the antiromantic," explains author Rettenmund. "In a way that outlook is a defense mechanism, and X for many years functioned as a human defense mechanism. To survive emotionally, it's easier to take no risks. But to thrive emotionally, risk is necessary."
In taking on X, Magyar didn't equate the character's sexuality with his commitment phobia. To the actor, that fear is not endemic to gay men or even just to men: "We all try to hide from feelings of love, until we choose to accept them, for the fear of being hurt, being used, feeling heartache, having that pain, and building up a wall."