Even though a lot of us have put our coming out process behind us, there are also a lot of people, young and old, who are dealing with it now or will very soon and the new film, Geography Club, is the kind of movie that appeals to everyone.
Based on former AfterElton editor Brent Hartinger’s first book in the Russel Middlebrook series, the film version was written by Edmund Entin and directed by his brother, Gary Entin. The central role of Russel is played by Cameron Dean Stewart (Pitch Perfect) who brings a realness and honesty to his portrayal of a teenager trying desperately to connect with other people.
The film, which won the Audience Award for Best Feature at this summer’s Outfest, also stars Justin Deeley (Drop Dead Diva) as Russel’s love interest, Alex Newell (Glee), Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray), Scott Bakula (Behind The Candelabra) and Ana Gasteyer (Suburgatory).
During his chat with TheBacklot, Stewart talked about what he connected with in Russel and working opposite Deeley. He also discussed whether people are making assumptions about his own sexuality because of the film or if that’s a thing of the past.
TheBacklot: So you’ve done the festivals and then you wait for a distributor and now the film is hitting theaters. Has this all felt like a crazy long journey?
Cameron Deane Stewart: Honestly this last year it feels kind of like a whirlwind because I didn’t live in LA, and I was here filming the movie – I’m from Texas – and I fell in love with the cast and the crew basically. Now I finally have new group of friends out here who I love. I’ve never been closer with a cast, this cast, and we kind of got to see the whole movie come to fruition with the editing afterwards, and then playing at various festivals. We’ve kind of been a close-knit family through the whole process.
What did you connect with in playing Russell?
I think I was drawn to the part because first of all, he just had an incredible sense of vulnerability that I wanted to portray and I really wanted to show, as accurately as I could, a story about an average kid who really didn’t fit in anywhere to any specific group. To portray his process of coming out in the most honest light. And I feel like a lot of shows and movies now are showing specifically young, gay men…usually they’re more flamboyant…I guess I just wanted to show that there are so many types of people, so many types of young, gay men who have gone through the exact same process.
I know with independent films there’s not a lot of time usually for rehearsal but did you guys have time to kind of work on some of those relationships?
We tried to, honestly, but it all just fell into place. I can’t explain it. They are all so wonderful and incredibly talented. I think in a way, the chemistry was just so natural first of all, and I think we all just knew how important the message was to get across. We all were working towards the same goal. So the tone kind of all fit together and it was pretty easy, especially to show, best friends with Andrew Caldwell who played Gunnar. I lived with him for three months, halfway during and after filming the movie. He’s just one of my best friends to this day. And Justin’s incredible. Justin’s so easy to work with. He was on the same page as me the whole time. It was a great experience.
Speaking of the tone of the movie, that was one of the bigger surprises for me. It could have been a much heavier movie, but it’s very fun and I laughed a lot without losing the message.
Right. I laughed a lot more, honestly. I think when I had read the script even, not that it was grim, but I guess I had pictured in my head that this was just a young, gay love story, and it’s so isn’t just that. The more I started to read it, and the more I started to get in the head of the character, it’s just a coming of age story. And gay, straight, whatever, it’s a story that everyone can kind of relate to about being lost and just finding who you are in high school. And I think the humor alleviates that situation. You have to have some of that goofiness so that everyone can enjoy the ride together.
Let’s talk about you as a young actor taking on this role. There was a time when an actor taking on a gay role was a big deal…
I really think, wonderfully so, times are changing. More than anything it was just such an incredible story that I wanted to tell. I just felt compelled to get the message out there. Although it is a coming of age story and he is a gay character, I think it was just truthfully his vulnerability and his inner struggle that is really what I was drawn to. So whatever he was struggling with, it didn’t really matter.
Everyone’s been through struggle. Everyone knows how to relate to that. So I don’t think the fact that he was gay was really like a huge part of me taking the role. I just think it was a great role with a great message, and I knew when I did the chemistry test with Justin Deeley that there was something special, that really we can portray something that needs to be told…everyone in the movie has their own struggles, and I just wanted to be a part of something that showed that you’re okay. You’re not alone.
Have you found that people are making assumptions about your own sexuality just because of this movie?
I don’t really think anyone’s brought that up. Well, I think it’s for the better. I truly think no matter what your personal sexuality is as an actor, if you’re playing gay or straight or anything, I think it’s truthfully a matter of committing to the character and I just felt like if you weren’t willing to commit to something like this then don’t be a part of it because that’s what the message is that love is universal. That there’s somebody for everyone. And that people should stop bullying and stop worrying about who is what and labels and it truly doesn’t matter…I think, truthfully, it’s about the work, and if people love the movie and the story that’s being told, then that’s all that matters.