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  WINDY CITY TIMES

MOVIES 'Mapplethorpe' brings controversial photographer to the big screen
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2019-02-27

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Mapplethorpe is a movie starring Matt Smith ( Doctor Who ) as the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe that will start running in Chicago on Friday, March 1.

The film covers the rise of the maverick shutterbug whose black-and-white photographs documented the homoerotic, BDSM culture in the 1970s. ( Note: The film does not shy away from showing these photos, so there is a lot of nudity. ) Windy City Times recently talked with Nate Dushku—an openly gay actor who ( along with actress sister Eliza and others ) helped produce this film.

Windy City Times: I knew that you acted, but producing is a new venture for you. For those who may not know, what exactly does a producer do?

Nate Dushku: Yeah—producing actually feels like an extension of acting. Going to the undergraduate program at NYU for acting, I have loved that. But it's all about telling a story, and you hope the story is told correctly from every angle. So producing felt very natural and great—but I was a little nervous because it was my first time producing a feature film.

As for what a producer does, there are books by Christine Vachon—who, at one point years ago, [was connected] to the Mapplethorpe book, but it didn't move forward—that taught me a lot. Basically, if something goes wrong, it's your fault. [Laughs] So many things can happen in production; that's just the way the world works. It was shot in 19 days, so it was shorter that usual, but it was in New York City and a tighter budget—so we condensed everything.

Producers do everything, and I was involved from day one. So it was reading the first script and identifying there was a story there, getting [approval] from the Mapplethorpe Foundation, getting the script ready to the point where we could have an actor on board, getting funding—but my strong point was in the story and casting, and getting us off on the right point. Then, everything else starts coming at you from every angle, and you have to work as a team to mitigate any damages.

Robert Mapplethorpe was a young artist, and so many people can identify with the journey of a young artist breaking out of the mold to go after your dreams. He did end up becoming part of the leather subculture, but people have told us that we nailed it with this film—and some of them have had tears streaming down their faces. However, other people have said it didn't hit upon this aspect of the story or they thought it should've done something else—comparing it to the HBO documentary, which was great but seemed clinical.

I'm proud of the human aspect of our movie. Robert's family—the ones I talked with, anyway—had very nice things to say about the movie, which I'm sure was challenging for them to watch.

And Robert is at the center of culture wars today. In Portugal, there was an exhibit where they pulled some of his pictures. It's wild: It's 30 years later and some people still can't handle some of his images, even though you have penises on Greek statutes. It's an interesting time.

WCT: Those images are very prominent in the movie. Was anyone hesitant about using the more provocative images?

ND: There was some hesitancy. The movie ended up unrated, and people say you have to have an R rating or [lighter] to make money. At first, we thought we shouldn't use some of the harder photos—but then we realized that was the whole point; if you don't put them in the film, you can't tell the whole story. People will consider them controversial, but that's not anything new. We had to be true to Mapplethorpe.

WCT: There was a quote in the movie that Mapplethorpe says: "I'll never know what it's like to be 50." [Note: This quote was stated in the '70s—long before his HIV diagnosis.] Did he actually say that?

ND: I can't say 100 percent if that was a quote that came directly out of his mouth. What that came from was people he knew—that he had that James Dean attitude: "I'm a young, rebellious, passionate person and I could die young, like James Dean." It was the way he perceived himself at that point in life.

WCT: Yeah. It's along the lines of that "live fast, die young" mentality he had.

ND: Yes—that's it! That's the phrase.

WCT: And Matt Smith seems to really lift this movie, and he seems to throw himself into this movie. How was he chosen?

ND: He is a dream. We reached a point where we needed the right actor; we tried to go with a couple huge names, and they were either attached to giant films with great directors, or they didn't necessarily want to play this role. The casting director asked if we had considered Smith—but we didn't know if he'd be a great fit.

Matt read for the role—and he wanted it. The reading sealed the deal; every producer's and director's jaw dropped. We thought this was a transformative thing for him. He's just the consummate professional, and he was just laser-focused. For us, the moment was that first day he slid on the leather pants outside the museum—it was him: the voice, the swagger. And certain days were not easy for him; there would be a day in which we'd shoot something from 1968 and something from the early '80s.

WCT: What do you hope people take away from this movie?

ND: You want it to be an ad for the artist. Robert wanted to be an artist. He wanted to live his life the way he wanted to live—and his passion and sexuality were on display. I hope he inspires people. For me, it's important for people to know who the trailblazers are—the ones who allow us to be who we are today.

Also, not everybody really knows what happened with AIDS; it was a holocaust, of sorts. People were kicked out of their homes and were living downtown. A generation of artists is gone—and it's really important for people to know what happened.

Mapplethorpe will run at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., starting Friday, March 1. See SiskelFilmCenter.org .


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