The Gay Best Friend Takes the Lead in Darren Stein’s “G.B.F.”

gbf-michael-j-willett-sasha-pieterseTanner (Michael J. Willett) is the GBF everyone wants (including Sasha Pieterse)

In the fine tradition of teen comedies like Clueless, Pretty In Pink, Mean Girls and even darker films like the original Carrie, comes the new film, G.B.F., which fabulously dives into the world of the Gay Best Friend. Directed by Darren Stein (Jawbreaker) from a script by George Northy, the film follows high schooler Tanner (Michael J. Willett) as he navigates the treacherous waters of high school after coming out.

In the world of G.B.F., there’s less opposition to Tanner being gay than the comedy found in how people want to be close to the cute gay guy. The popular girls compete for Tanner’s friendship, even helping him with a makeover; at least one closeted guy (the BF of one of the girls) makes a pass at him and, at the end of the day, he has to figure out what it is he really wants to be happy.

The supporting cast for the film includes Megan Mullally, Molly Tarlov (Awkward), Sasha Pieterse (Pretty Little Liars), Xosha Roquemore (Precious), Paul Iacono (The Hard Times Of RJ Berger), Evanna Lynch (Harry Potter films), Jonathan Silverman and Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is The New Black).

Just before G.B.F. screens as the Closing Night Film of the 31st annual Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival this Sunday, we talked with both Stein and Northy about how the film came together.

gbf-george-northy-darren-steinScreenwriter George Northy (l) and Director Darren Stein (r)

TheBacklot: Talk to me first about your collaboration on G.B.F..

George Northy: I met Darren through the OutFest Screenwriting Lab two summers ago. I was one of the 5 fellows, and part of the Lab process is that they pair you with a director to stage some scenes from your script during OutFest. Once Darren read G.B.F., he called me immediately and said he would love to direct it. Once we met, we realized we had the exact same vision, we were completing each others sentences etc., it was really a match made in heaven.

Darren Stein: George’s script really leaped off the page. He clearly was a teen movie fan but he was also able to process all those films and create something original – not only story wise but with his language and humor.  I laughed out loud when reading it, which rarely happens. So I called him in Brooklyn and told him I wanted to option the script to direct.

TBL: I can probably guess what films inspired you (because I saw so many flashes of my fave movies in the film) but tell me what inspired you in making the film.

DS: As far as teen movie inspirations, I wanted the film to feel like it was embodying teen movies of the past, while also feeling relevant to culture now. I have a huge place in my heart for Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink. Clueless is the teen film from the 90s that I loved. Then there’s Rock And Roll High School, DePalma’s Carrie and of course my favorite Rick Linklater’s film Dazed and Confused.

GN: You can also see shades of Ducky from Pretty in Pink in Brent. We thought by making his character obsessed with teen movies, we could reference them directly. Brent wants his life to unfold like a classic teen movie, from the makeover to the prom speech… and is gutted by the fact that it doesn’t. Darren added a ton of visual references to other teen films, in fact, Brent’s room is basically a collage filled with homages to pretty much every teen movie ever.

GBF cast(Clockwise from upper left)Molly Tarlov, Xosha Roquemore, Andree Bowen,
Derek Mio, 
Willett, Paul Iacono and Sasha Pieterse.

TBL: How did casting go overall? There’s a nice mix of familiar faces (Yay, Molly Tarlov!) and new.

GN: Casting was a surreal experience. To see actors embodying these roles you had only previously imagined is such a trip. And so many of the actors felt like they were born to play their roles. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect Fawcett in Sasha Pieterse if I tried. And that’s all her real hair, just FYI.

Xosha Roquemore came to us through a taped audition, which are really hard to stand out in, but she just killed it and brought so much comedy to the role that was not on the page. She could kill us with just a well-placed eye-roll…Darren and I were also both huge fans of Awkward so casting Molly was a no-brainer. Molly plays the moral compass of the movie. The one person who is not interested in objectifying or being objectified. It was great to have Molly in a role that’s the direct opposite of Sadie Saxton and a lot closer to her actual persona in real life! And Andrea Bowen played more of the straight-man to Teri Hatcher on Desperate Housewives, but here she gets to show off what a great comedic actress she is.

TBL: How did you find Michael J Willett? He really portrays that innocence well.

DS: Michael was Toni Colette’s son’s boyfriend, Lionel, on The United States of Tara. He had done an early reading and just seemed like the perfect Tanner – slightly introverted but with vulnerability.  At one point, we were trying to get a name, but we kept coming back to Michael.  I remember I was meeting with the costume department and I showed them a couple of the ’Tanner’ auditions and they all wanted Michael as their G.B.F.

GN: Michael was number one on our list to play Tanner when we were casting the very first reading at OutFest. He is just perfect for the role. He has the right mix of innocence and edge and he really carries the movie. He’s believable as an outcast, but is also totally adorable and crush-worthy. He and Andrea Bowen were both in the very first reading and the roles were always theirs in my mind. FUN FACT: Raven-Symone was actually in two of our G.B.F. readings in the role of Caprice before Xosha was cast!

gbf-paul-iacono-megan-mullallyWho else could play Iacono’s all-too-understanding Mom but Megan Mullally?

TBL: Everyone loves a makeover scene. How fun was that to put together with the cast?

DS: Young people are so self-aware today.  Google any word and there’s a complete graphic explanation with images and video. The cast was so excited and completely self-aware about doing their slow-motion walks. The great thing about an indie film is that there’s no limits. G.B.F. gets the ’cult’ label because it’s a bit arch and stylistically heightened – but so are most films I admire.

GN: The makeover sequence was a blast to film. It had to happen of course. It was a crazy early day but we loved every minute of it. Shooting the slow-motion hallway walks and the makeovers… those were just a dream come true for the actors and the filmmakers. I mean, who doesn’t dream of getting a makeover then strutting down their high school hallway in slo-mo to an Ellie Goulding chart-topper?

TBL: The film seems to take a stance of what happens when everyone accepts gays too much (like Megan Mullally as the parent to Paul Iacono). Do you see that happening in your lives or in the world?

DS: I remember when I was first dealing with coming out, I put on this super queeny act as a  ’fuck you’ to the world – sort of owning my gayness so that no one else could hurt me. My mom wouldn’t talk to me for a year when I came out to her and my Dad. It’s interesting as a gay kid – you wonder how tolerant your parents would have ended up being if you hadn’t come out. It can be painful at first for a parent but ultimately I think it’s a gift to have a kid who’s different. Though I hate that word.  May as well be a synonym for ’something I fear and thus dislike.’

GN: That was definitely a huge influence on the script. Once you’ve gained acceptance, how it can be taken too far into the world of objectification and tokenism? It’s obviously better than overt discrimination, but it’s still something to watch out for. I think most gay people see it in little, subtle things everyday. I remember when I came out in college, I definitely felt girls ‘competing’ in subtle ways for my attention. To win me over as their G.B.F. There’s only so many of us to go around, after all. But gays can be just as guilty of objectifying their straight peers, which we try to show in the film. It’s a two way street.

gbf-darren-stein-castStein with his G.B.F. cast during shooting.

TBL: What message do you hope people take from the film?

DS: Gays are people too,  just like everybody else – which is even hilarious to say.  I don’t like to think of G.B.F. as a message movie – even though the theme is so intrinsic to the film that it’s also the title. I think of G.B.F.  as a teen comedy with a gay protagonist which is also happens to be culturally meaningful at this moment in time.

GN: The movie is at its heart a love letter to friendship. The complications of friendships between gay boys and straight girls, yes, but also the often-AS-if-not-MORE-complicated friendships between gay dudes. We joked on set that the movie is the first “mo-mance” meaning a bro-mance between two gay boys.

It is about treating your friends as actual human beings and not objects or tokens. Which seems so obvious, but happens more often than many of us would care to admit I think. But in the end the movie is supposed to be a good time. When I sat down to write it, I really wanted to tell the story that I would have loved to have seen in a theater at 14… but would still totally watch at 29. So I hope G.B.F. can be a defining movie for a whole new generation of kids — gay, straight and everything in between.

TBL: What’s next for you??

DS: I just shot a viral video for the designer Alexander Wang which will be released on fashion blogs in a couple weeks. Fashion has always been a huge influence for me so it was exciting to get to work with him.  I’m also working on a film with Chloe Sevigny, but we’re still in the process of raising financing, so I don’t want to say too much. We’re also doing a stage musical of Jawbreaker. I’m writing the libretto with a composer and lyricist team in New York. It’s been fun to revisit and reimagine the movie for the stage.

GN: I’m gearing up to write my next feature and also working on a bunch of TV projects. I love TV and am really eager to break into that space. I actually just got hired by a big cable network to write a pilot. Can’t say which one just yet, but its very exciting.

Outfest continues in Los Angeles through July 21st. You can also follow the film on Facebook and Twitter