Shake, Rattle & Role/PlayScene from Role/Play

by Mikey Rox

Filmmakers are notorious for using movies as vehicles to comment on current affairs.

Writer-director Rob Williams, whose latest movie Role/Play releases on DVD Feb. 8, is no exception.


In a recent interview, Williams – along with the film’s lead actors, Matthew Montgomery and Steve Callahan – talks about the importance of openly gay actors playing gay roles; why gay media needs to get off its high horse; the underrated Jim J. Bullock, who has a cameo in the film; our society’s addiction to desperate fame seeking; and why gratuitous nudity on set made for a seriously sexy shoot.

Score!Scene from Role/Play

MIKEY ROX: Why did you choose to cast Steve and Matthew? I’ve seen Steve in at least one of your other films – “Make the Yuletide Gay,” which I love by the way! – so I know there’s some history there, but more specifically, why choose leads who are a couple in real life?

ROB WILLIAMS: I have wanted to work more with Steve Callahan for years – he’s a terrific actor and a great person. When I started writing “Role/Play,” he seemed like the perfect choice to play a soap opera actor, so there was no question that I wanted him for the role. As the script progressed, it seemed natural to have Matthew play the other lead. Not only have I worked with Matthew before and know his talents, I knew that casting Matthew and Steve together would be fantastic, and I knew that they would work well together. While it’s not always the case with real-life couples playing opposite each other, Matthew and Steve really have great chemistry on-screen, and their comfort level with each other let us make the intimate scenes in the movie feel very real.

MATTHEW MONTGOMERY: Rob just cast me cause he wanted to see me naked.  Again.

MR: Is it important for you to cast openly gay actors? You have a pretty good track record for doing so.

MM: It’s because Rob is heterophobic.

RW: I always try to find the best actor for each part, but I think that casting openly gay actors helps bring a level of authenticity to the roles that you don’t always get with straight actors, so that’s a huge benefit for the film. And I do think it’s important for those of us in the filmmaking community to support actors who are out and living their lives openly and honestly. It’s similar to what one of the characters says in the movie – it’s important for us to support our own, because no one else will.

MR: In the movie, there are a few thinly veiled digs at people like Perez Hilton and Chad Allen, but there’s a generous amount of time spent laying into gay media, especially the blogs, in one scene. Tell me how you really feel – and do you think perhaps you’re biting the hand that feeds you?

MM: Oh, boy – here we go. We’ll be here for hours.

RW: I think the movie pretty much sums up how I really feel. Everything is exaggerated to make it “bigger” for the characters, but I stand behind what the movie says.  There are so many blogs that exist solely to tear people down or to bitch about what’s wrong with the world. On the gay blogs, it’s extremely common to criticize films, TV shows and books for not depicting the gay community in a certain way, or to criticize gay celebrities in every aspect of their lives, without ever praising the people and the entertainment that does work to present positive or at least varied portrayals of our community. And I especially agree with the lines about how gay media supports straight, “gay-friendly” celebrities much more than they support actual gay celebrities, because having a straight diva on the cover of a magazine will sell more copies than a cover of an openly gay artist. I have much more respect for a small, local gay magazine that features openly gay people from their area – even if they’re not “famous” – than I do for national gay magazines that contain almost no actual gay content. The movie will probably strike a nerve with a lot of gay bloggers and gay media because it hits close to home, but these are the same people who are already critical of indie gay movies because they’re made for a modest budget or because they don’t tackle “big issues” like “Milk.” But when the film has played at film festivals around the country, it has been received very positively and people have been very supportive of the messages in the film. That’s ultimately what means the most to me.Scene from Role/Play

MR: Jim J. Bullock is in this movie! I totally remember my parents watching “Too Close for Comfort” when I was a kid. Loved that show – especially his character. Anyway, I have to ask this with all due respect: Was he meant to have on all that make-up? I couldn’t tell if that was a character decision or if he got a make-up artist with a vendetta. I know the viewers will wonder the same thing.

RW: Jim showed up to film his scenes and had a great idea for his character – to show him as a vain Hollywood agent who is fighting the aging process at every turn.  The overdone look was completely intentional, to show his character as someone who tans excessively, whitens his teeth excessively, wears a hairpiece, and always tries and fails to make himself look younger. The look was definitely done on purpose to get a laugh, but it’s a very real reflection on how a lot of people in Hollywood treat themselves.

MR: This film is about a closeted soap actor who’s outed in a sex tape and a marriage equality activist who’s getting a divorce. A lot of your characters’ circumstances are a result of desperate fame seeking. Do you think that’s a real problem in our community?

MM: Yes. And I blame it entirely on “Survivor.” I also blame reality television in general for famine, war and disease.

STEVE CALLAHAN: I don’t think it’s something unique to the gay community. We are living in an era of instant fame, with everyday people suddenly catapulted into the spotlight with reality television. People are becoming famous for having appeared in sex tapes. It’s absurd. I recently read that teenagers are trying to get pregnant to get on the MTV show “16 and Pregnant.” It’s sick what people are doing for fame.

MR: When I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think of Dan Choi, whose “activism” seemed rather selfish leading up to the repeal of DADT. Every was a stunt to “advance the cause.” Matthew, your character in the film is familiar with that. Do you think these stunts ultimately help or hurt our progress on issues?

MM: Change doesn’t happen like the turn of a page. I applaud anyone who has the courage to stand up and say something against lack of ethics that we are currently surrounded by. Stunt or not, I believe it takes a strong and selfless individual to go against the grain of the status quo in order to promote awareness.

MR: Steve, I don’t want to give away the entire plot, but your character is in his particular predicament because of his fear of coming out of the closet. There’s accuracy in that situation. That is to say, people have done similar things in real life. So why do you think there’s still so much homophobia in an entertainment industry that prides itself on being so liberal?

SC: Fear. People are afraid of how actors’ coming out will affect the box office. It’s called show business for a reason – it’s a business. Studios are reluctant to do anything that could potentially, adversely affect a film’s bottom line. Thankfully, this attitude is really beginning to change. In the last few years we have had some big actors finally stepping out of the closet.

MR: You guys do a lot of gay films, so I’ve got to ask, do you pursue mainstream projects? Is it worth your time? Have you been turned down because of your openness with your sexuality?Scene from Role/Play

MM: I pursue any work that comes my way that I feel I’m right for. The truth is that my playing mostly gay characters is rather secondary and where I may have found my niche through previous films I’ve made, and that’s OK with me. I have not, to my knowledge, at least, been turned down for a part because I like dudes. That seems rather silly, although I’m sure it happens on a regular basis. However, I have been turned down from representation before for being an openly gay actor, and interestingly enough, it’s usually from agents and managers who are gay themselves. From my experience, the heterosexual representation that I’ve encountered couldn’t care less.

SC: I just want to work. I pursue all sorts of projects. Right now the gay independent film world is being really good to me. It’s an exciting time for gay films. We have so many different stories to tell.

MR: Part of the plot of “Role/Play” is based on Steve’s character as a soap star and how everyone around him warns him not to come out of the closet. As an ex-soap actor, Steve, how much of that did you actually experience in real life? Did that happen to you? Do you know of soap actors who are confronted with that crossroads?

SC: I’m definitely not an ex-soap actor. You probably saw “Days of Our Lives” on my IMDB profile. I only did two episodes of that show, but I know soap opera actors who are afraid to come out. I’m also good friends with Thom Bierdz of “The Young and the Restless” who is on that show as an openly gay actor, so times are changing.

MR: You two are a couple in real life, so of course there’s a certain comfort level you have with each other when filming the many nude scenes in “Role/Play,” but how did spending all that time together affect your sex life? I mean, you were naked all day. I’m sure the last thing you wanted to do after work was jump right back into bed.

MM: Um, yeah… that was a huge problem. Getting into bed with Steve Callahan after a daylong shoot of lying in bed with Steve Callahan. Yup. Booooring.

SC: Have you seen my boyfriend? Lack of desire to be naked in bed with him has never been a problem.Scene from Role/Play

MR: You must love working with one another. Steve, you were just cast in a film that Matthew wrote, title “Sticke Figures,” which starts shooting next year. How do you two make it work?

SC: Matthew is, hands down, the best actor that I have ever worked with. So from an actor’s standpoint, working with him is amazing. “Sticke Figures” is such a wonderful script, and I’ve watched Matthew create it, so to see it come to life will be thrilling. I love Matthew. He’s also my best friend so adding the work element to our lives has been the natural next step.

MM: Lots of “coffee.”

Mikey Rox is an award-winning writer/journalist and the founder of Paper Rox Scissors, a copywriting and creative consulting company in New York City. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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