Interview: “Shelter” Star Trevor Wright On The Movie’s Impact, His Gay Fans, And The Future

Trevor Wright photographed by Clinton Gaughran for AfterElton

At 30 years old, Trevor Wright can claim his ride in the entertainment industry has been both varied and very long. He began as a GAP spokeskid who landed a role in Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” video alongside Elijah Wood, and he grew up landing roles on The George Lopez Show, NYPD Blue, Scrubs, and Boston Public. Then came the role for which readers tend to be most appreciative: Zack in Shelter, the 2007 independent gay romance written by the film’s director Jonah Markowitz. Wright’s innocence and sensitivity in the role helped seal its position in our poll of the 100 greatest gay films ever — it came in at #1. Yes, ahead of Brokeback Mountain. Anne Hathaway’s resentment is palpable.

Wright is currently working on a web series with collaborators Tim Sullivan and Brian McCulley (the director and producer responsible for “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” the segment of Chillerama featuring Sean Paul Lockhart, a.k.a. Brent Corrigan, plus the Wright-starring horror romp 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams), as well as a small fashion empire. His Facebook page features a video of his recent Google Hangout with fans.

We caught up with the actor — who was also adorable in The Social Network in a bit role — to discuss Shelter’s impact on fans and maintaining interest in the entertainment industry.

AfterElton: It’s been five years since Shelter came out, and the popularity of this tiny film among gay filmgoers endures. Why do you think it’s such a cherished movie?
Trevor Wright: It’s such a beautiful story; that’s what’s really captivated everyone’s attention, the love, and that it’s such a happy, feel-good movie. From when I got the script and read it for the first time, the first thing that came to my mind was, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything this beautiful told for the most part.” I had so many reservations about not knowing if it’d go one way or another, maybe if it’d be a super cheesy movie. You know, when you read it, it’s just beautiful; there are sunsets and the ocean, and the relationship aspect of it all could easily go another direction. When I sat down with the director Jonah [Markowitz], he clarified it for me that he really wanted to get the grit of the chemistry between these two characters. I was on board. I think that’s what everyone sees in the movie because everybody speaks about it so highly. It has helped people come out. It’s so relatable.

AE: What scenes required the most preparation?
TW: Truthfully, I think it was such an emotional roller coaster throughout the whole movie. As an actor, I didn’t want to really rehearse — Jonah was wanting to rehearse the scenes with Brad Rowe and I to make sure the chemistry was there. “Let’s practice. Let’s roll around on the bed.” I didn’t want to practice. I wanted it to be so organic and come off as natural, because that was the story with my character Zack, that was his whole story. He didn’t know if he was gay or straight. He wasn’t “born gay.” He had such a strong bond with this guy and was so intrigued by Shaun’s character that Zack just dove in for it and really wanted to explore the idea where he did find himself being truly attracted to this guy. That’s what I’m such a supporter in the community, doing the NOH8 campaigns, and talking to the fans. This movie has given me the opportunity to speak about these things.

AE: What do your gay fans usually say when they approach you?
TW: It’s usually that I played the character so true, that it’s one of the best movies they’ve ever seen. The #1 thing I hear is that Shelter has helped them get their own lives in order so they could come out with confidence and speak to their family and friends. Sometimes it’s that they watch the movie when they’re down, and it picks them up.

AE: You have a fashion line. How did you get into the sartorial world?
TW: That’s a funny story. I had this whole theory in high school — I used to buy a pair of Levi’s in high school and there was never the right fit no matter what. It was either the pants were super baggy but tight at the ankles, or the entire pant was just baggy. There weren’t really skinny jeans when I was in high school or I wasn’t aware of it because of skateboarding and rap music being such an influence. I personally hated it because it gave no shape to the body. I would take jeans to a tailor and basically restructure them and make them thinner in the thighs. At the time, I still liked a little flare, a boot-cut. So I would take them in, but then I would add an extra fabric like a tan corduroy fabric that would flare out of them. It sounds super cheesy now, but it was pretty cool back then! One day I was walking through Malibu and one of the head stylists for ’N Sync came up to me! He was like, “Where did you get those pants? They’re incredible!” I’m like, “I made them!” He said, “You’ve got to make these pants for this band I’m working with.” I never really pursued that avenue, but it made me realize, “Sh*t, maybe I could do this!” I get a lot of compliments; people ask me. In high school I sold them. It’s always been a passion of mine. I would go to Barney’s in my adult life and buy a suit or a nice pair of pants because the fabric is incredible or whatnot, and I’d still have the same problem. It’s a $300 pair of pants, but I’d still go to my tailor’s and spend a $150 on restructuring them the way I want them, and next thing you do it’s four hundred-something dollars — I want to create my own pants for everyone to be able to afford! I wanted to do something on my own, so I started this company called Droite. I got the website, started showing around, and Fred Segal placed a nice order. A bunch of local stores did too. It gave me a boost of confidence to keep pursuing it.

AE: What’s your ideal role?
TW: Oh man. Great question! Hard to say, because I’m open to new things all the time. I personally just like a challenge, something with a lot of depth and is character-driven. That gets my rocks off. I don’t necessarily want to do anything easy; I like conflict and emotion in roles.

AE: You grew up as a GAP poster child who got bit parts in things like Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” video. That’s a long time spent in the entertainment business. What inspires you to keep it up?
TW: I kind of grew up in the business. My mom started as a producer of music videos for people like Janet Jackson, then she got into the casting world. I naturally grew up in it, but it was always something I enjoyed, so she was by no means a stage mom. My uncle was a big photographer, so he always took pictures of us. We lived in Hollywood, so we were always in the mix. I did tons of commercials, some films here and there, and there was a pivotal point when I was 15 or so in high school, and I asked myself, “I have three years of high school left, what do I want to do?” This is the time to make a decision. The only thing that I — without being egotistical — really wanted to do, or that I’m any good at, is acting. So after school I dove into acting classes. I studied privately, went to auditions. Being a kid in the business, going into the real world, it’s a totally different ball game. You’re getting advice from your mom on how to audition. I would go to auditions in high school and being told how green I was, but instead of being brought down, it made me stronger. I kept pursuing it, pursuing it, pursuing it. I got incredibly fortunate with a play called The Less Than Human Club, a Timothy Mason play, with Amy Smart and Anna Faris. I had the lead role and we got great reviews. It was constant training, rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. From then on it was boom-boom-boom, I was working, working, working. I think it was all in the training. Some people think a pretty face can just get the job — and plenty of them do — but only the strong survive, the ones who put in the work.

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