With Nate & Margaret, out writer-director Nathan Adloff has craftedalong with his writing partner Justin D.M. Palmer and two stars, Natalie West and Tyler Rossan indie film that is a lot more hip and has a lot more going for it than the oftentimes derivative "gay movie" label. In retrospect, the "gay movie" tag is not so surprising considering the film's premise: an unlikely friendship between a 19-year-old film student in the throes of his first queer romance and a 52-year-old antisocial who actually dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian.
But the odd twists and turns in the character arcs, the quirky bystanders at the edge of the friendship (with Gaby Hoffmann as the hedonistic party girl Darla, the most vivid character) and a deft touch have easily separated Nate & Margaret from the usual queer indie fare (and label). Blessed with a raft of good reviews and a brief theatrical run, the film is now out on DVD from Breaking Glass Entertainment.
The twentysomething Adloff, a Chicago native who made the film here, talked about his debut feature as he was packing to head off to yet another film-festival appearance with the movie in tow.
Windy City Times: As I pointed out in my review of the film, I loved that your film really captured this relationship between an older, straight woman who is a little irascible and a little eccentric, and this younger gay guy. I know so many gay men who have relationships like this but I haven't seen this examined in a movie before like this. So, did this come from a relationship of yours or your co-writer?
Nathan Adloff: It actually was an accident. My co-writer, Justin D.M. Palmer, and I started writing a very different script. Nate was always sorta based on me but then [with] this female character we actually had the idea of having her closer to Nate's age and in college and living in the same apartment building. We didn't know anyone specific in mind to pull true stories from so we actually posted ads in Craigslist asking for crazy true stories based around an apartment building, and got a bunch of responses. We began scripting based on thatweaving those together.
I found out that Justin knew Natalie West. I loved her on Roseanne and I said, "Well, we have to see if she wants to have something to do with this" and we approached her with the idea of making the female character her. We were pretty early on in the process so we actually got her to agree to have us write the role for her. So, it was really an accident.
WCT: So neither one of you has had this kind of relationship that you portray in the film?
Nathan Adloff: No.
WCT: Oh my God. Then you're geniuses; you're brilliant. [Laughs]
Nathan Adloff: I think I gravitate to those odd souls but I haven't had a much older close friend and I don't believe Justin has, either.
WCT: That's interesting. So maybe that explains why we don't see the backstory between Nate and Margaret. We don't see the moment where the two first get togetherthat moment where the bond is somehow instantly formed.
Nathan Adloff: It's been something people have asked about. It's never been, "Oh, I wish that I could have seen that."
WCT: It was with me. [Laughs]
Nathan Adloff: Really? Well, I guess it's just easier to assume that they met at school or something. It wasn't something we felt we needed to draw out; just as we felt we didn't need to draw out Nate's sexuality. There's never a coming-out story or any idea that he's had hardships because he's gay.
WCT: [That] is also lovely to see. A lot of the new queer cinema pictures are getting past the coming out story which I'm happy to see. Increasingly, it's just portrayed as a fact of life which I think is to the good.
Nathan Adloff: Definitely.
WCT: So, working on the piece you shaped it for Natalie, but what about the young actor who played Nate, Tyler Ross? Did you write for him as well or were there auditions for that role?
Nathan Adloff: Nate was always based on true story of myself in college, though in the film I would say only about 10 percent is really true. Tyler I had seen in The Wise Kids; when we were getting close to casting and I was thinking about actors that would be good for certain roles, I [remembered] loving him in that. He auditioned and we saw about 30 other young men for the role, but it was just always him. He really blew the other ones out of the water.
WCT: He's very good in the film. Let's talk a little bit about the process of actually making a micro-budget indie. You've done the creative and now you get to the business aspects. Doesn't that money just appear somehow? [Laughs]
Nathan Adloff: Right now I'm packing to go to Sidewalk, the festival in Birmingham, Ala. I've been there the past two years and two years ago I met Ash Christian, who produced the movie. He's made three of his own films and been around the block a few times, and he was looking to produce other people's films. I told him I was working on a script and sent it to him and he read it on the plane ride home; he emailed me and said he wanted to help make it happen. So, as far as funding, he got all those balls rolling.
WCT: Greatso you got to just worry about the creative elements.
Nathan Adloff: [Laughs] No, no. I was very, very much involved but Ash had an army of people to see if they were interested in helping and some of them were but it wasn't enough so I myself put in a chunk of cash and the rest of it was raised through two Kickstarter campaignsone before we shot and one for finishing funds.
WCT: And having Natalie West attached certainly must have helped.
Nathan Adloff: Yeah, it was nice to be able to say early on in the pitch video and add some level of validity to the project that it was actually going to happenthat we were serious about it and wanted to move forward with it.
WCT: And how did Gaby Hoffmann get involved? I love her from all her childhood picturesNow and Then, Field of Dreams, etc.
Nathan Adloff: She had met Ash in New York at some point; when we were thinking of actresses to offer that role to, she came up and we sent the script to her manager and he sent it to her. At the time, she was living in Rome doing some sort of cooking school; she said she wanted nothing more than to come back and do a small movie. So, she came back and was in Chicago with us for three days during the shoot. She's awesome; she's great. She said that it was the script that pulled her in but she didn't know me or Justin and barely knew Ash so she put a lot of trust and took a chance with us.
WCT: Nice validation, isn't it?
Nathan Adloff: It's very encouragingabsolutely. At the very least, it's a very nice compliment even if it doesn't pan out.
WCT: She's a lot of fun in the film. What was the shoot schedule?
Nathan Adloff: Two weeks. Six on, one off, and we had two pick up days after that. So [it was] 14 days total.
WCT: It's a lot to cram in, but with everybody pulling together it can happen. Then it must have been so great to get those rapturous reviews from top critics.
Nathan Adloff: It's just extremely encouraging and humbling, and I'm so grateful for it. It certainly wasn't expected; I just wanted to make my first feature and do as good as I could with my means and maybe get it out there somehow. It's been a whirlwind of positivity; it's been really, really great.
WCT: Another thing that I love about the movie is that it really has crossover appeal. This is a relationship movie with a gay character, viewpoint, whatever. But I suspect that mainstream audiences, even alternative ones, still have a bit of a resistance in this area; they want to label it as "just a gay movie."
Nathan Adloff: I think that's very true. We actually shopped it around before it was finished to distributors, and Breaking Glass did/does see it as a crossover film; they really got it and they were really passionate about it and wanted to give it the best release possible. So it was a no-brainer to go with them. If people want to see it as a gay film that's fine but I also think it's a crossover film that is about friendship.
WCT: I think that anyone looking for a great relationship picture and an usual one will really [be drawn] to your movie.
Nathan Adloff: Thanks so much.
WCT: So now that you've created a movie about this unusual relationship, have you now yearned for one? Have you created one in your life?
Nathan Adloff: [Laughs] Do I need a Margaret in my life? No, I can't say that I do.
WCT: Well, I'm going to encourage you to find one. Having had a lot of those "Margarets" in my life, they are friendships to be treasured.
Nathan Adloff: I would love to know what that is. I can imagine what it is and maybe one day…
WCT: So, what's next for you?
Nathan Adloff: Justin and I are starting to script our next project which is, again, based on me. This time, junior high/high school age, [when] I was growing up in small-town Illinois, and I really did have a graduating class of 63 like Nate does in the movie. And I was the only guy on the girl's volleyball team.
WCT: Oh dear, oh dear.
Nathan Adloff: It's about that and losing my father to a heart attack. [It's also about] finding out that he bought one of my brother's ex-girlfriends a $30,000 Corvette and left the bill for my mom to pay, so that's why I wasn't able to go to college in Chicago. It's about working at the theater in the town, trying to save up money and meeting guys online. We're setting it in 1999-2000 when AOL chat rooms were big.
WCT: It sounds interesting. Based on your assured touch with Nate & Margaret, I certainly look forward to seeing it.
Nathan Adloff: Thank you.
See www.nateandmargaret.com .