Seth Peterson ( left ) and Brian J. Smith in the film Hate Crime.
In the riveting award-winning thriller Hate Crime ( $26.99 ) , violence ensues after an ultraconservative guy moves next door to a gay couple—but that's defnitely not the end of the plot. Windy City Times recently spoke with the film's director, Tommy Stovall, about dealing with religious intolerance, working with a kid and popping his cinematic cherry.
Windy City Times: I read somewhere that you hadn't been on a movie set before filming this. Is that true?
Tommy Stovall: Yes; I hadn't been on a movie set. My experience was in video production, and I had done pretty much everything by myself: shooting, editing and stuff like that.
WCT: So what was the most important lesson you learned?
TS: Oh, wow. This whole thing has been a big education, that's for sure. I learned how to work with actors, which was [ initially ] very daunting, but it turned out to be one of the most fun parts of the whole thing.
WCT: And speaking of actors, you have some pretty heavy hitters in this one: Seth Peterson, Giancarlo Esposito, Susan Blakely—and Bruce Davison, who's come a long way from Longtime Companion.
TS: Yes, and I didn't know who I could get to be interested in the project. I expected to cast mostly unknowns and have one or two names. [ However, ] when we put the casting announcement out in Hollywood, we got an overwhelming response from accomplished actors. [ Regarding Davison, ] I never expected to get someone of his caliber
WCT: However, with all the actors, my favorite character was Kathleen, the neighbor [ played by Lin Shaye ] .
TS: Oh, that's good to hear. She gets a lot of praise.
I had actually written that character for a much older woman. When Lin Shaye's name came up, I [ initially ] thought that she was too young, but then I thought that she would be great. She turned out to be incredible.
WCT: How would you describe this movie?
TS: I describe it as a compelling crime thriller. But at the same time, it's about something important—and there's been a lot of confusion because some people seem to think [ going in ] that it's just a message movie. My goal was to make an entertaining thriller that gets some messages across and, luckily, it's done that. There are mainstream audiences that may not think about hate crimes or religious intolerance but then they talk about it afterwards.
WCT: What statement is this movie making about organized religion?
TS: We show both sides of it. There's a scene involving the two sermons [ from gay-tolerant and -intolerant churches ] . People appreciate that we show two extremes of the same religion. Growing up in Texas and in the Bible Belt, that was something I wanted to explore. I didn't go to a church that was headed by someone like Bruce Davison's character, but I know people who did.
I was always interested in how religion fosters bigotry, particularly towards gay people. My research showed that most people who attack gay people use the Bible to justify their actions, so I wanted to explore that a little bit.
WCT: You actually answered my next question, because I was wondering why the movie was set in Dallas.
TS: My partner and I actually lived in Dallas for several years, and had friends and family there as well as access to location. Something like this could certainly happen in Dallas, where a gay couple could live right next door to fundamentalists. However, this story could happen anywhere in America.
WCT: I thought the scene that was most touching was at the wake with Seth Peterson's character and the ring.
TS: Oh, I'm glad to hear that. I was so worried about that scene and making it real. I've gotten a lot of good comments about it. Surprisingly, most of the people who talk about that scene and the scene where the [ gay couple ] talks about adoption while in bed happen to be straight. One person at a recent screening—a married woman with three children—said that she never considered herself a homophobe but she was bothered by the idea of two men kissing, but she said that [ the movie ] changed her and saw gay couples as being [ on par ] with her marriage.
WCT: And what were you saying about the character of Chris Boyd, a homophobe who has same-sex encounters?
TS: Well, being from the South, I know so many gay people who are conflicted over religion. They were raised in religious families, and were told that gay people are going to hell. I wanted to put in that idea; a lot of people don't think about gay people being cut out of their families.
WCT: Talk a little bit about the music in this film. It's used quite effectively.
TS: Chad Donella [ who plays Chris ] referred me to a friend of his, Ebony Tay. I contacted her and we were on the same wavelength, and her music really fit what I was looking for. Also, this was a personal journey for her; she has two gay brothers and a family member who was a victim of a hate crime. She just put her heart and soul into this movie.
WCT: I also heard that this one actor, Trevor Sterling Stovall [ the director's son ] , was a real terror.
TS: [ Laughs. ] Oh, he was the most difficult one to work with. Interestingly, we got a penalty from SAG [ The Screen Actors' Guild ] because we forgot to pay him; we had to go back and issue him an official check for his one day of work.
WCT: So what's your next project?
TS: I'm writing a project called Sedona, which is where I live [ Sedona, Ariz. ] . I call it a mystical adventure; it's very different from Hate Crime. It more along the lines of [ TV's ] Northern Exposure.