There's a new gay coming-of-age drama called Love, Simon that has the potential to cross over to straight audiences.
Simon Spier has one big secret in his otherwise perfect life. Set in a high school where social media opens communication in unexpected ways, Simon will have you guessing what will happen until the end. Will his secret destroy his relationships in the process?
Director Greg Berlanti adapts the book Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda with skill, thanks to an impressive resume. Known for dramatic television series Dawson's Creek, Everwood and Blindspot, he has also produced comic book-inspired TV shows with Legends of Tomorrow, Riverdale, Black Lightning and The CW's Arrowverse.
Berlanti, who is openly gay, married soccer player Robbie Rogers last year; they have a son together.
Windy City Times: Thanks for taking time to talk to the newspaper.
Greg Berlanti: I went to Northwestern. I was still closeted, but very aware of Windy City Times.
WCT: You read us in the closet?
GB: All through college, absolutely!
WCT: Aren't you originally from New York?
GB: I am, but lived in Chicago for about a year. I moved to Los Angeles in 1995.
WCT: Was your coming-out story very different than Love, Simon?
GB: It was. I didn't have the courage to come out in high school. I was 23 at the time, so after college. I missed my college window in terms of coming out, even though I was in the theater program at Northwestern. I was surrounded by people who were more brave than I was.
I moved to Los Angeles and had a friend bring me to a dinner party. On the way there my friend said, "I think you are gay. I'm bringing you to a party with gay people, and you should come out!" [laughs] It wasn't that simple and was about a year long process to tell people what I was going through.
WCT: My coming out was not like this movie, either.
GB: Times have changed. Everyone's coming-out story is different, regardless of their generation.
Where it is the same is there a level of acceptance and self-awareness you have to go through. There is a certain amount of courage in revealing yourself to people. Hopefully what you learn is being more yourself to have a better life and you don't have to work as hard to hide who you are.
That is what the movie is a celebration of. Everyone's journey is different.
WCT: How did you hear about the story and want to bring it to life?
GB: People in my company were trying to option the rights to the book. We didn't get it. Some people in my office said it spoke to them. I read the script when it was written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. I read it in one seating and it lit a fire in me that is rare in this business. I felt I had to do it. I auditioned for the job and got it.
WCT: How important was the casting of the lead Nick Robinson?
GB: I think with anything you do that is the most important decision you will make, because that person reflects the tone of the whole film more than anything. The comedy of the film is their brand of comedy. Nick matched the tone of the movie that I saw in my head. He had the spirit of Simon.
There was a sense of mystery behind his eyes and that he hasn't figured out who he was yet. You want to watch him and he's compelling.
From there we did chemistry readings with the other kids so that is how we determined the additional cast.
WCT: The show 13 Reasons Why was not even out at the time?
GB: No. I heard about Katherine Langford from friends who worked on that show. She came in and was great in the room. She had wonderful chemistry with Nick.
WCT: What about Jennifer Garner? Her scene with Nick was incredible.
GB: That scene did not exist there. There was only a passing scene where they acknowledged each other. It didn't resonate. She knew it. She wanted to do the movie but wanted to connect with Simon and the people that would see the movie. It was a good note and the studio had a similar note.
The writers and I got together. There was already the father scene, but I wanted to make sure it was distinct from that, which was similar about the parents still loving him.
What wasn't in the movie that I felt was important to drive the final act was something that was so self evident. I felt like I needed to hear it when I came out, but didn't realize I needed to hear it. That is the wish fulfillment of this, that you deserve love. That is different than, "I still love you."
You are the same person and you deserve love, too, is a really empowering for anybody to hear. Everyone on the set had an emotional reaction that day when she was doing that scene. She had to do it time and time again all day long.
WCT: Jack Antonoff did the music. Did you know he is [an LGBT-rights] supporter?
GB: No. I didn't know his politics, but I knew his music. I put one of his songs in the movie for the early cut. He saw the movie and reached out to me right away. He wanted to work on more music for it and loved the movie.
He showed up in the edit bay a few weeks later. The movie was done and in post.
So many movies, when I was growing up, had really defined soundtracks. I hoped we would have that. I wasn't sure we would have an artist onboard to curate the other songs.
He sat in the edit bay and started playing songs off of his iPhone that had never been released. There was one song after another and that's how the Troye Sivan song ended up in there that they collaborated on.
WCT: Did you read comics as a kid?
GB: I did, and more so as a kid than in my twenties. It was right around when I started realizing I was gay, so 13 years old. I still have comics from that time.
WCT: Gay characters in comics have come a long way since then.
GB: A long way. I don't remember any back then, but there certainly are some now.
WCT: How did the concept for Supergirl come to you?
GB: It was an evolution of the shows we were working on. We had done Arrow and Flash. They came to us about a Supergirl TV show and that it was a property. At the time, I thought it could be as vital as a Superman show. We developed it from there.
WCT: Have you been able to put LGBT elements in the shows you have worked on?
GB: Absolutely. We have had some L, G and B, but would like to be more diverse and add more. We have regulars and guest stars.
We are proud of the diversity, but we aspire to have more of it. It is some of the most rewarding stuff that I get to be a part of.
WCT: Can you talk about John Mahoney, who you directed in The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy?
GB: John was very special to me. He was one of the first that I wrote a part for. When I was writing Broken Hearts Club, I hadn't worked before. I remember writing the part of Jack and used his voice. I would actually think about him when I was writing it. They didn't give us much money and we had to make it in 13 days. I was a huge fan of Say Anything and told him I wrote the movie with him in mind. He called me up and we met at my apartment. He wasn't sure why I thought of him. I said that if I was with a group of gay men that I would want him to be our godfather, so to speak. He decided to do it.
During the shooting, there were a few times he would turn to me and say he had never done a scene like that before. I would say, "Thank God you didn't tell me that before shooting. I would have been very nervous!"
He always had so much confidence in memuch more than I had with myself at the time. I was young, and he never wavered in that confidence.
After he watched it, I remember how much it meant to me that he enjoyed the film.
WCT: I heard about a Titans web series coming out?
GB: Yes, we are working on that right now.
I am working on a movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, which I will have a script for soon.
There is a show for Lifetime with Penn Badgley called You. It is based on a book and is riveting. I can't wait for people to see it.
In a weird way, it is the dark side of Simon. There are social-media aspects to it, but it is the exact opposite. It's about a stalker. I call it 500 Days of Summer meets Dexter!
Love, Simon is out in theaters on Friday, March 16.