In the new movie Spa Night, the life of main character David revolves around his Korean family, being trapped in the closet, and a mens spa. It is set in Koreatown in Los Angeles and stars Joe Seo as David.
Director Andrew Ahn graduated from Brown University and received a masters of fine arts in film directing from the California Institute of Arts. He took that knowledge to make a short film called Andy and then one called Dol ( First Birthday ). He edited the documentaries I Am Divine, Vito and Tab Hunter Confidential. Spa Night is his first feature film, and was funded through Kickstarter and a Sundance Institute Cinereach Feature Film Fellow grant.
Actor Esteban Andres Cruz plays a spa visitor in Spa Night. He has appeared in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and Puerto Vallarta Squeeze as well as television's Chicago Fire.
The two had a screening of Spa Night at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and met with Windy City Times to talk about the project.
Windy City Times: You are from LA?
Andrew Ahn: Yes.
Esteban Andres Cruz: I am from here but moved to LA for acting. I was born in Berwyn and grew up in Cicero. I have done theater in Chicago most of my life.
WCT: Did you both meet through this movie?
AA: We knew each other before because we have mutual friends. Two of our producers are good friends with Esteban. This was a script that came to me from another producer who trusted my sensibilities. I thought it was not gay enough, so I sent it back with notes. I wrote a role for Esteban where he is naked all the time!
EAC: Naked and I get paid? That was a done deal!
WCT: You also cast David Pevsner, and he loves being naked.
AA: I met him through a photographer that had done a nude photoshoot with him. He is super comfortable with his body.
That is Korean spa culture where people are just naked.
WCT: Did you do undercover research in bathhouses?
AA: [Laughs] That is the interesting thing with Korean spas versus gay bathhouses, Korean spas are not supposed to be for gay cruising. That is what made it risky and more dangerous. That was a distinction that I wanted to play with and make clear.
WCT: Spa Night did seem more about family and Korean culture, as opposed to a gay movie.
AA: I wanted to show a complete portrait of a human being. That meant his family and cultural identity, his sexuality, all existed in one person. They often intersect and complicate things.
I wanted to show many different facets of this character.
WCT: I read you came out to your family by making a movie, Andrew.
AA: It was a whole production and I put pressure on myself to make a film good enough to come out to my family. That was not only hard as a filmmaker but as a person. It was the only way I could do it at the time. I couldn't use the words "I'm gay" so I used the film to express myself.
WCT: Have you always been out as an actor, Esteban?
EAC: I came out when I was 15. I was an anchor at my high school news at Morton East High School. I said, "In other news, I'm gay…back to you, Juanita." That was it. I didn't have much of a problem because my brothers were tough when people messed with me. I would fight sometimes and bullies would back down, Cicero!
WCT: Do you try out specifically for gay roles?
EAC: At Steppenwolf, I was playing a woman in Domesticated last Feb.. I then went to LA and played a trans woman in Charm, a Phil Dawkins play that won a Jeff Award this year. I was worried about being pigeonholed but it is good to also be type cast as something because then you have a type to play against. I liked the work and it was good to have.
I love doing work like this movie that is humanizing and creates empathy in the world. I don't shy away from the gay roles if it is an opportunity to make things better.
AA: One thing I like about gay media is that the people behind the scenes are often gay too. It a community of people that are nice to work with, much like a family.
WCT: There are probably not a lot of gay Korean filmmakers, right?
AA: There are not a lot of queer Korean stories. I am really excited to make these films.
WCT: I have met a few Korean mothers and the one in the film was portrayed well by Haerry Kim.
AA: Korean families are very patriarchal in a sense, but the women are the actual bosses.
WCT: Was making the film using Kickstarter rewarding?
AA: It was exhausting. We raised just over $60,000 and we put that much effort into it. I was drained from it. It was also awesome because we gained 592 fans of the film. You start your marketing early and it inspired me to keep going, to really follow through.
WCT: What were they drinking at that party scene?
AA: It was Soju. It is a Korean rice wine. It is like the Korean version of sake.
EAC: Do you shoot it with lime juice?
AA: You can drink it on its own. The trendy thing is there is a yogurt version.
WCT: Referring to karaoke scene, what is your favorite go-to song?
AA: I like "My Girl," by The Temptations. It's a crowd-pleaser.
EAC: "He's Mine," by The Platters.
WCT: No Justin Bieber? You are a couple of old souls.
AA: You have to sing songs that they will sing along with.
WCT: What are your future plans?
EAC: I am doing a play in Chicago in the spring in Berwyn. It has not been announced yet.
I have a film coming out in 2017 that I can talk about. Alexandra Billings is in it and the first role in film where she plays a born female character. It is about a paleontologist and meth addict called Valley of Bones. I play an assassin.
AA: With Spa Night, we are finishing up a few screenings around the country. It is available on iTunes, Vimeo and DVD just in time for the holidays.
EAC: Stuff your stocking with Spa Night!