There's a new movie in town and its set in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Directed by Kyle Henry and written by his partner Carlos Trevino, Rogers Park delves into the lives of two opposite-sex couples and their relationships with each other.
Henry's debut, Room, was nominated for the two Independent Spirit Awards. Trevino brings a theater background directing Wallace Shawn's A Thought in Three Parts and his own play Not Clown. He wrote three sections of Henry's Fourplay winning the Outstanding Writing Award at the Libercine Film Festival in Buenos Aires.
The dynamic duo sat down after a screening of Rogers Park at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center to discuss the project.
Windy City Times: Where are you both from?
Kyle Henry: We are both from Texas.
Carlos Trevino: He's from Houston.
KH: He's from all over, East Texas.
CT: We met in Austin. It was just over 19 years ago. We had our 19th anniversary on Valentine's Day.
KH: We met at an anti-Valentine's Day when I was in grad school.
WCT: And you were both sour?
CT: Yes-. We thought we would not meet anyone, then we made out on the dance floor!
KH: We moved to Chicago eight years ago. We are kind of new to the city still.
CT: At that time Kyle was in grad school for film at the University of Texas at Austin. I had a theater company in Austin. We didn't start collaborating until 2005.
WCT: What was your first project?
KH: Fourplay was the first one that we produced.
CT: It was four shorts about sex in one film. They were all different, like Twilight Zone episodes about sex, from funny to dramatic.
KH: There was a campy, slapstick one with a gang bang farce. It played at Sundance and Cannes.
All four of Fourplay played at LGBT film festivals. It showed in 2013 at the Siskel Film Center.
WCT: How did Rogers Park come together?
KH: Well, we are of a certain age that is midlife. We were not seeing stories that were authentic and true. We wanted to make a film set in our community in Rogers Park. We wanted it to be about two couples, but we didn't know who the characters necessarily were.
CT: The idea was the process that Mike Leigh, the British filmmaker, goes through where he will have an idea then cast actors in vague notions of character. Over the course of a year we worked with them to create characters and a script. We shot that script.
That was the model that Kyle had in mind and wanted to do a similar thing.
KH: We didn't know if the couples would be gay, straight or what their ethnicities were. We just told the casting company that we wanted to see actors that represent the diversity of Rogers Park. We told them it was a film about a midlife crisis. The actors had to talk to us for about 10 minutes and explain why they wanted to be in a film about a midlife crisis and tell us a story about it. Sometimes the stories were about themselves or people they knew.
CT: They gave us a hundred people from all walks of life. We picked our 30 favorites and we put them through a speed-dating scenario where they each had a little scene. Through that, we got an idea of who was having fun and could play the roles.
KH: Eventually we had two heterosexual, interracial Black/white couples. We then knew what the story would be about.
WCT: You didn't want any gay couples?
CT: It wasn't that we didn't want any, but the people that were working together the best were straight.
KH: It is 2018, we should be able to make whatever stories we want. I think gay people have made some of the best stories about heterosexual couples that you will ever know. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is the quintessential movie and play about straight couples written by Edward Albee, who was gay.
WCT: There is a gay therapist in the film played by you, Carlos.
CT: Yes; he mentions his partner.
KH: He helps the straight, white man with anger issues.
CT:: Isn't that what gay people do? [All laugh.]
WCT: I noticed lots of Chicago spots to look for in the film.
CT: The alderman's office is actually his office.
KT: The CTA stop, Loyola Park and our apartment we shot at as well. You will see a lot of the exteriors around the neighborhood, such as the murals. They make the neighborhood great.
WCT: Two cast members are from the television show Empire?
KT: YesSara Sevigny and Antoine McKay. They are so hilarious and, [at] the drop of a hat, will get at each other's throats like no actor around!
CT: Had they known each other before this?
KT: No. They are definitely just good at playing with each other.
CT: With the workshop process being a year, they had a chance to feel out each other. I think that comes across in the film. It felt like they knew each other forever.
KT: So often actors show up the day of their shoot and meet the person they are married to. I can see right through that. They are sometimes more concerned about their hair or where the camera is placed, than being in a believable, long term relationship.
By letting them spend a year with each other, they became more fearless and more comfortable with each other. It really helped them.
Whether we could do this with every film we make, I don't know. It's a weird process but I really enjoyed it.
WCT: The handyman that was fixing the shower in the film I had acted with as a pirate at Navy Pier.
CT: He's been around for a long time!
KT: There are two people that are on The Chi right now, Cedric Young, and LaDonna Tittle.
We didn't when we were casting a teenage girl named Lyric Ross as the daughter of Antoine and Sara, but she is now a recurring character on This Is Us.
CT: She is so talented and such a natural.
WCT: Rogers Park is pretty heavy. Was that intentional or just how it turned out?
CT: It was part of the goal to get to those issues. Having those couples battling it out can be very heavy, but as we have seen with audiences it is also very funny. There is a lot of laughter inside all of this drama. That was intentional to have heavy moments with small comedic moments.
KT: In the face of tragedy, laughter comes out in the oddest places.
WCT: What are you working on next?
KT: We have a biopic about a young, queer Emily Dickinson called Wild Nights. It was picked up by an agency. We are shopping it around. It is the untold story about her passionate affair with a women that became her brother's wife.
CT: Her sister-in-law that lived next door.
KT: We are going back to our queer roots there.
Carlos is working on a story about an American couple and a Mexican couple having a culture clash moment on an island. There is a lot of culture clashing right now, so we need to see stories where people see the lines that divide us or bring us together.
CT: Kyle is working on a story with another writer about people of color who take care of white people in this country.
KT: It's about immigrants in the home, mostly women, where they take care of possibly a mother with dementia. It's a place where we will see connections as the baby boomers age. There will be a lot of interesting issues with this venture.
CT: There's a lot of Norman Lear swirling around in here!
Visit RogersParkFilm.com for a complete list of screenings, including several in Chicago that will run through Tuesday, March 8.