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NUNN ON ONE TELEVISION Brian Tanen talks about 'Love, Simon' spinoff 'Love, Victor'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2020-06-24

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Ready to binge a new queer-centered television series that had a spoonful too much gay sugar to let the medicine go down for Disney? Well, Love, Victor might be the cure you are looking for to pass the time during a quarantine, thanks to Hulu.

Love, Victor is the story of a student named Victor Salazar struggling with his sexual orientation at Creekwood High School. It's set in the same high school where the movie Love, Simon occurred in a similar situation. The first season begins with the young sophomore adjusting to a new school and seeking advice from Simon on social media.

Brian Tanen is the co-showrunner and executive producer for Hulu's Love, Victor. He has written for shows such as Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, Atypical and Devious Maids.

Windy City Times: If there was a show called Love, Brian, what would it be about?

Brian Tanen: I grew up in South Florida and I am a proud member of the LGBT community. I didn't embrace that part of my identity until college. I come at this project as someone who had been closeted in high school and really related to it.

I have been in Los Angeles for the past 15 years and live with my partner Scott and dog Dolly. I have worked on shows like Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives and most recently Grand Hotel, which I created for ABC. All of those shows touched on queer storylines.

Love, Victor is the first one for me centered on a gay protagonist, which was exciting. I wish I had this show when I was in high school. I hope it will be meaningful to young people going through these same things.

WCT: Did you enjoy the movie Love, Simon?

BT: Yes, I came in as a fan. Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger wrote the movie, then created this series. They brought me on to co-show run with them. Together we came up with all the storylines and what Victor's journey was going to be.

WCT: Was the series completed when it was originally presented to Disney?

BT: The project was developed under Disney+. To Disney's credit, when we, as the creative team, pushed towards having more adult territory and having an authentic story, they encouraged us to have the best version of the show.

It was a corporate decision to house the show on Hulu, rather than Disney+. I know there is some controversy around that decision, but my takeaway is that I am thrilled that we landed on Hulu. For longevity purposes, the show will find a nice long life on Hulu. The characters can grow up and have all the experiences of red-blooded American teenagers with sex being part of the conversation of sexuality. These characters can go places beyond kissing. I think those stories are easier to tell on Hulu.

WCT: Why do you think a series like Love, Victor is important today?

BT: That's a great question. At the beginning of the process, we talked in the writer's room about whether coming out is still difficult for teenagers. There's a perception in 2020 that being gay is more normalized than 20 years ago and that it's no big deal for kids anymore.

We talked to three different groups of teenagers from various high schools around Los Angeles. They all spoke about there not being overt bullying towards kids that are gay, but being gay is still different. There is still a stigma and not many gay people were out in their high school at that time. The societal pressure is still there to fit in, so this show is important today.

WCT: What are your thoughts on straight actors playing the lead gay roles in Love, Victor?

BT: I personally am a champion for having LGBTQIA representation both behind and in front of the camera. You can see that reflected on the show, especially on the eighth episode of this season in which Victor goes to New York and meets a group of friends that is a mixture of different types of queer kids.

I understand the criticism of not casting non-LGBT actors in those parts. The other side of that argument, especially when casting teenagers, is about limiting who you cast. I think it's an important debate to be having. I always want more LGBT representation.

WCT: The date [of the debut] was shifted from June 19 to the 17 because of Juneteenth?

BT: Yes. Everyone wanted to honor Juneteenth. This is a show about inclusivity and, especially during Pride month, gay rights as we know them are largely born out of the Stonewall riots led by Black, trans activists. The LGBT community has a great deal of gratitude towards Black activists protesting in solidarity for our movement and we should be doing the same. Our show is about equality and inclusion, so I think it was the right call to move the premiere date.

WCT: I noticed LGBT artists on the soundtrack, such as Tyler Glenn and Leland.

BT: There was an intentional effort to include LGBTQ artists throughout this season. Leland produced many of the tracks and wrote our theme song with Tyler Glenn performing it. We had a Carly Rae Jepsen cover on episode three, showing that non queer artists can be included that have fan bases in our community. There was a real intentionality on the music choices throughout the season.

WCT: Several of the cast members sing, so I am waiting for a musical episode!

BT: Yes. They love to sing on Twitter and they were always dancing between takes. They are the sweetest, funniest people and very talented.

WCT: I noticed many gay allies on Love, Victor. You obviously worked with Ana Ortiz before.

BT: This is my third show with Ana Ortiz. We worked on Ugly Betty, the first show I was a writer on. She played the mother of a gay teen on that show, as well, but an absolutely different kind of parent. Reuniting with her here was a dream come true.

There was a lot of great will from people who enjoyed the movie. I was hoping to get the RuPaul drag queen Katya and got an immediate yes. We had a basketball storyline and Jason Collins loved the movie, so he participated. We reached out to Sophia Bush, Ali Wong and Mekhi Phifer to be a part of this season. People wanted to be a part of this inclusive show.

WCT: Talk about the Latin aspect [of] Love, Victor.

BT: The decision to make this family LatinX was to tell a different story. Simon in the movie was a white kid with a very privileged background. He had a family that made it easier for him to come out. This has a financial situation that is different and has representation for a queer, non-white character. This allowed us to tell a different narrative with other cultural expectations.

Our intention was to be specific to the Latin identities of our actors. James Martinez's character is Colombian because he is Colombian in real life. Ana Ortiz is Puerto Rican, as is Michael Cimino's background. The family has cultural ties to being both Colombian and Puerto Rican. The set design has knickknacks from their heritage and even the coffee that they drink is reflective of both cultures.

WCT: What would you like to see in season two for Love, Victor?

BT: With Hulu, I would love to see the show delving into more adult themes and our characters having a sex life. We could see them grow up and find out what happens next. I think that's a natural place for the show to go.

Sometimes there are stories where characters are discovering themselves and it isn't threatening to straight audiences. We want this to be a show about and for gay people. At age 15, the character may not know who they are or what they want, but once those things are identified it would be so exciting to see the characters have that kind of representation. To me, Victor's story is just starting at the last moments on the finale.

Love, Victor is streaming all 10 episodes on Hulu.com .


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