Set in Los Angeles, the series EastSiders is the story of Cal, played by Kit Williamson, who learns that boyfriend Thom, actor Van Hansis, has been cheating on him. They continue in the relationship afterwards and the show follows the adventures of their surrounding friends who tag along for the ride.
First presented on YouTube, then streaming on Logo TV's website, the Daytime Emmy-nominated EastSiders now is currently in its third season.
Kit Williamson is an actor and filmmaker known for his role in AMC's Mad Men. He married his EastSiders co-star John Halbach last year. Williamson starred in Talk Radio on Broadway and the off-Broadway show Made in Poland. Movies include Best Friends Forever and 2010: Moby Dick.
Windy City Times: You are originally from Jackson, Mississippi, but you have no accent…
Kit Williamson: I got rid of it in boarding school. I studied acting and writing at Interlochen, in Michigan. My first semester there I had a voice and diction class where I held a mirror up to my soft palate and practiced forming vowels so I wouldn't have a drawl.
WCT: So you went to school in New York after that before being cast in a Broadway show?
KW: Yes. I went to undergrad at Fordham University. I was in a Broadway show my junior year. It was such an amazing learning experience. It's a miracle that I didn't get kicked out of school. They weren't entirely happy that I took the show, because I missed a lot of classes. I wrote extra papers and made it work.
WCT: You focused on writing after that?
KW: I moved to Los Angeles and fell on my face as a film and television actor. I had no background of acting if front of a camera. I got dropped by my manager and wound up working at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I explored other paths like an undergraduate program at UCLA.
It led me to creating my own work, like EastSiders.
WCT: When did Mad Men happen?
KW: EastSiders was before that, when I was in grad school. Both were during grad school, though.
WCT: What was the inspiration for EastSiders?
KW: I really wanted to play a gay character. I had never been given the opportunity to do that. I wanted to create LGBT characters that I could relate to and were ever bit as flawed and complex as their straight counterparts.
I feel we often anesthetize gay characters and make them palatable in the media instead of allowing them to mess up their lives and be flawed, interesting people. I was inspired to create show that I would enjoy watching.
WCT: The characters are gay but that is not the focus throughout the series?
KW: Right, but not disregarding the fact that there are unique challenges and advantages to being in a same-sex relationship. It is not the same as a straight relationship. Inherently, it is different because they are the same gender.
WCT: How long has the series been around?
KW: We shot the first two episodes in the fall of 2012.
WCT: What are some of the challenges of a web series?
KW: It is really hard to stand out from the crowd. We are very lucky that we have partnered with companies like Wolfe Video, Vimeo and Netflix to reach a larger audience. We have had to grow and learn, because we started on YouTube. It is incredible to see the journey the show has gone on and the new audiences we find on different platforms. We are now available worldwide in over 12 languages. The show can now interact with people in different countries. We are broadcast in Mexico City so I get tweets in Spanish now to translate.
Some of the obvious challenges are money, since we don't have the backing of a studio or a network. That affects production and not having the resources we need. There is no such thing as good, free, and cheap. You have to pick two of the three!
WCT: I know you did Kickstarter.
KW: Yes, we raised over a quarter of a million dollars on Kickstarter over three seasons. That is a full-time job to stay connected with your backers. You have to get your rewards out to them in a timely manner.
WCT: How fun was that pool scene on the first episode this season?
KW: We wouldn't do it unless we didn't love it. Working with these actors was a privilege.
WCT: How did you wrangle some of the cast?
KW: A lot of the cast from season one I had met in an acting class. The first month I was in Los Angeles I was in an acting class by Lesly Kahn. She is the one [who] introduced me to Van Hansis. Some I have known through past friendships. Willam was in Showgirls Live in Los Angeles, that Stephen Guarino directed. Stephen did the intro there.
It is usually friends we know or meet, very few parts came through auditioning.
WCT: Constance Wu has turned into a big deal after Fresh Off the Boat, [and she] plays Kathy in EastSiders.
KW: She is blowing up. Five years ago, she didn't look at herself as a comedic actress. She had primarily done drama and theater in New York. The work that she is doing now is incredible.
WCT: The times I have been around Willam Belli from Drag Race, he's been very unpredictable. Was there a lot of improv?
KW: There was a lot more scripted than unscripted. Both him and Steven are such incredible improv actors that it would be foolish to not incorporate that into the shoot. There were some very fun moments improvised with the both of them. They have an incredible chemistry with one another. It feels like you are peering in on two people by themselves. It is very voyeuristic to see them talking.
WCT: Do you have a favorite character or one you identify with in EastSiders?
KW: I think I exist in a space between Al and Thom. I really relate and empathize with both of them, which makes it really fun to write. I am constantly shifting allegiances with who I think is right. They are a couple that disagrees with a lot of things in their relationship. It is fun to explore that dichotomy.
WCT: Did you meet your husband on the show?
KW: No; we have been together for more than 10 years. We met back in New York. He was bartending for the Broadway show I was in. We were introduced to each other through a friend, and stayed talking until the bar closed. We went on our first date a week later.
WCT: Where do you see the series going after this season?
KW: Who knows? I write every season as though it is the last. You never know what holds or where your career will go. The actor's lives can change. I don't have the ability to hold them to a contract.
Constance had to dip out in season two because of Fresh Off the Boat. We wanted to keep her in the universe and I am glad we did because she is back in season three.
I tried to close out the third season if that is all there is, but also leave the door open for the possibility of future episodes if it feels right.
WCT: Would you like to make a movie about it?
KW: We have, in a way. Three of these episodes constitute a movie. They are cut together pretty nicely for a nice hour and a half long movie.
WCT: How was shooting in Palm Springs?
KW: It was amazing. I love it there. The shoot was a challenge because it was 116 degrees. Willam's high heels actually melted in the heat!
It was ridiculous. We were shooting out in the desert and Willam called me over to point out the glue in his heel had come unbonded. One of my interns nearly fainted, and I was directing shirtless with a wet towel tied around my neck!
EastSiders is out on DVD and digital platforms; visit EastSidersTheSeries.com for more information.