With the release of his new film, Little Men, Ira Sachs sits down with THEGAYUK’s Editor in Chief Jake Hook to talk about why ‘coming-of-age’ films don’t need to be about sex and why economic woes could be making Hollywood’s homosexuals homophobic.CREDIT: Jeong Park
I’m led up some steep stairs to an attic room where the critically acclaimed director Ira Sachs is waiting for me. I’m the last scheduled interview of the day in a press junket for his new release, Little Men. When I find out I’m the last one in, my heart sinks a little, that means every conceivable question has already been asked. In my experience interviews held at the end of a “press day” can yield very little with the subject of the interview being a little jaded from the barrage of questions from nosey journos. However I find Sachs in good spirits. He’s polite and there’s a sparkle in his eye.
We sit. Our ten minutes together begins. I ask if I can record the interview – he says “of course, and thank you for asking…”
JAKE: So often, coming of age films, especially coming of age films concentrate on a sexual awakening of the characters and Little Men is not that, but there is still an intimacy between two guys. Was that a conscious decision from the beginning with you? To kind of create a coming of age film but also to stay clear from sexuality?
IRA: It was certainly something we consciously discussed as we were writing, shooting and editing the film and I would say two things. One, speaks to my own experience as a gay man. In which, my friendships were not the sight of my erotic or romantic attachments so it was kind of what I knew. Secondly, with these two boys and particularly with Theo Taplitz who played Jake, he’s not there. There’s a youth and there’s an innocence to him, particularly around sexuality which I didn’t feel comfortable imposing on. Not because it would be negative but because it would be artificial. It did not feel true to the characters that we had created together. If I’d cast a different kid who was maybe at a different point, but it’s interesting when you start casting kids, you realise sexuality is almost like an age. It’s not as easily described as a number, but people are at certain points.
JAKE: There is a point in life where you kind of go, “I’m finding myself attracted to guys” and I was just interested whether you had made up in your mind whether either of the characters were gay or bi?
IRA: Well definitely I think Tony is a heterosexual kid, we see his attraction to a young girl and we see his disappointment when things don’t go (his) way. And Jake, at the end of the film, without giving too much away, you sense that he has a new community. That community is certainly open to queer identity. I think, for example, one of those extras, as far as I can tell seems like a gay kid and you sense that’s going to be acceptable. Some people think at the end of the film he’s trans. I think the film leaves an openness to his future. What I really hope, my first film was about a gay closeted teenager and the suffering he experienced and caused. Whatever these kids future is, I hope it’s not as tortuous as my own at that age.
JAKE: Keep The Lights On was about the millennial age group, Love Is Strange was about older men – Little Men is about teens… Which has been your favorite generation set to talk about?
IRA: Each film, if I don’t find it passionately interesting, I can’t make it so I’m incredibly engaged with the work that I choose to do. I haven’t had a favorite … Different films have different pleasures. It was a real pleasure to work with these kids and kids aren’t as demanding as adults!
JAKE: You’re one of the most visible out directors. How hard is it in circulation, how hard is it to be out and a director?
IRA: For me, it is not hard experientially in terms of my life and the community and the world and I think I’ve actually been given a certain amount of affirmation by just taking that position and making the work that I do. I think what is challenging is sustaining a career telling the stories that are meaningful to me. I say that from a position of having done that successfully and it’s still very hard. It’s about content and the content’s and ability to move past the economics of the culture. That is the challenge.
JAKE: The film industry it gets a lot of criticism for lack of diversity and homophobia, maybe the industry is internally homophobic?
IRA: It certainly is. Gay men are some of the worst in Hollywood.
JAKE : Oh really?
IRA: Well, for understandable reasons, people live by fear and they make choices based on fear. Look at this film, it’s all about what economics do to individuals and the choices they make. When the choice is about your job and your fear of what happens if you don’t succeed, if you take a risk that’s actually personal, so there’s a lot of reasons people choose to be safe.
JAKE: Are we still in that place where a Hollywood leading man wouldn’t be able to come out as gay? Is that still a fear?
IRA: Of course, people are engaged in the narratives of actors’ lives. I’m making a film about Montgomery Clift, who is a gay actor who lived in New York who was a Hollywood leading man and four time Academy Award nominee and didn’t like Rock Hudson, have a beard and married a women, but struggled with the imbalance of his private life and his public persona and died at 46.
JAKE: There’s a lot of people in the past who have talked about the fact that maybe gay men shouldn’t play straight parts or the other way around. What do you think?
IRA: In that way I agree with, isn’t it Olivier who says, “That’s why they call it acting?” Natalie Portman isn’t Jackie Onassis either. I think transformation within the context of fictional storytelling is part of the job.
JAKE: Do you genuinely enjoy watching the film as a punter?
IRA: What’s a punter?
JAKE: A fan… Someone who pays money to go and watch something…
IRA: Oh yeah, I very much do and I think I go to films in general that are like films that I make. I think I go to films that are going to move me. Now, I have 4-year-old kids so I’m going to some different ones. We just saw Wizard of OZ for the first time with our kids and that was an amazing experience. My husband, he’s a painter, he goes to many more movies than I do he’ll go every week to see the newest horror film and I love that there are still people like that. Have to get their popcorn and be in the cinema and watch a movie every week.
Little Men is in Cinemas now, click here for showing times.