Jack Plotnick Talks “Space Station 76,” Gay & Straight Actors and “Disaster!”

Space Station 76, Matt Bomer, Jack Plotnick, Patrick WilsonAt SXSW in March  for Space Station 76: (l-r) Jack Plotnick, Marisa Coughlin,
Matt Bomer, Kali Rocha & Patrick Wilson (Getty)

For me, one of the best surprises of 2014 was the film Space Station 76. Written and directed by Jack Plotnick, the comedy follows the depressed and emotionally desperate residents of a remote space station. The film parodies sci fi films produced in the seventies, with costumes and sets inspired by 70’s design and laughably cheesy special effects. But the plot is all suburban melodrama– cheating wives, closeted co-workers and catty neighbors. The best I can describe it is Spaceballs meets The Ice Storm. Also, Matt Bomer, Matthew Morrison and Patrick Wilson together in the same movie? Sign me up.

Eye candy aside, the film just pulls you into its comedic mayhem and holds you in its grasp. Wilson plays the space station’s captain, and he’s a mess because he hasn’t been able to accept his homosexuality. (Morrison plays his former lover). Meanwhile, Bomer plays the ship’s mechanic who is stuck in an unhappy marriage. And, yes, we get to see him looking as fine as ever with some very sexy facial scruff.

For fans of the work of Jack Plotnick, none of what is in Space Station 76 probably comes as a surprise. He’s appeared in roles on shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Mentalist, in the online series Paragon School For Girls and as his drag persona Evie Harris in the film, Girls Will Be Girls.

The Backlot talked to Plotnick recently about Space Station 76, Paragon and his upcoming take on all those fabulous disaster movies from the 1970s.

The BackLot: How did you bring Space Station 76 together? I know after the screening in LA you said it was a long time coming to fruition.

Jack Plotnick: You know, it’s like climbing your own personal Mount Everest. It’s like having a dream come true. This has been my passion project for years and having it turn out better than I even dreamed it would is a wonderful thing. Seeing it in lights, what’s on the screen is exactly what I had envisioned and feeling like everybody from the actors to the designers to the crew, everybody got it. They brought it to life in a way that exceeded my expectations, so that’s a real high.

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I still see the argument on occasion about gay actors playing gay roles and straight actors playing straight roles, I’m curious what was your thinking was in how you cast Matt and Patrick in their roles?

JP: I was just focused totally on my incredible respect and admiration for Patrick Wilson and Matt Bomer as actors. I think they’re both flawless and both so perfect for the roles they played. I never thought, ‘well, that character’s gay so it better be played by a gay guy’ but at the same time I have no issues whatsoever with casting a gay man in a straight role, I mean, that would be ludicrous.

It’s a surprising role for Patrick in that he doesn’t usually play that type, meaning the character is just less likable than Patrick usually plays. On top of that, it’s such a comedic role for him and I’m so excited for people to see how funny Patrick Wilson is because he is hysterical as a person, as a performer and in this role. But what I love, too, is when I watch his performance, the incredible truth he brings to the role. He finds a way to find show this guy’s heartbreak that is so funny.

So tell me where the idea for the film came from?

JP: What I did was I invited some of my favorite actors to my apartment and I had this idea which was that I wanted to explore what it was like to be a child growing up in the summer of the 70s, which was my experience, but I wanted to tell it in sort of an artistic way by setting it in the future as we had imagined it would be in the 70s. I had a very specific tone in my mind and the actors all immediately got it and were so game and they created these incredible characters.

Were you a big sci-fi fan growing up?

JP: Oh, my God. It was such a part of my childhood, I mean, I was obsessed with the future as we had imagined it then with sci-fi films like 2001 and Logan’s Run and Star Wars and even Empire Strikes Back a little later. So, that was just part of my childhood and that’s probably part of why I decided to do it that way.

But on top of that just setting it in this perfect future we dreamed of but that never came to be seemed to me to be the perfect allegory for what my parents experienced. And setting it on this solitary spaceship in the middle of nowhere to me really spoke to what it would be like to be in the suburbs, be that sort of isolation and at the same time claustrophobia and feeling like you’re missing out some. It is to me, in an artistic sense it made sense in my gut and so it’s kind of like this dramedy or dark comedy but that’s also an homage to all those great films that I loved so much.

Matt BomerBomer goes for the scruff in playing an unhappily married mechanic in SS76.

I also saw you in Paragon School For Girls, which I fell in love with. How did that come into your life?

JP: I will be involved in anything Jim Hanson does. I think he is a genius and I think that Paragon School for Girls is a masterpiece. He created an entire world and you’ve never seen anything like this before but at the same time he really understands all the rules of what makes a great adventure, fantasy show and at the same you can really get involved in the story and this thrilling fantastical adventure. It’s hysterical to not only just what happens but just the heightened reality of it and it just kills me, these little girls played by young men and the fact that it’s all in a dollhouse.

It’s a Herculean task he pulled off and I was lucky enough to get to watch him do it and process and it was fascinating how he did it. The whole show was in his head but we all just saw our own little part. A lot of the actors never acted across from another actor. It was all by themselves on a green screen. I just totally trusted him because I knew was going to be great. It should be a TV show.

This is my favorite kind of thing and why I work with the people I work with like Richard Day and Bobcat Goldthwait and Jim Hansen. Why I’m so attracted to these filmmakers is they make things work on more than one level and that’s what I was going for with Space Station 76, like it’s more than one thing. It asks you to care about the people but also be willing to laugh at their pain. I love dramedy and when you mix comedy and drama it’s my favorite thing because that’s real life and that’s what Jim did.

Tell me about your next project.

I have my musical, which I co-wrote and directed on off-Broadway earlier this year. It got rave reviews. It’s called Disaster! It’s a 1970s disaster movie musical [co-written with Seth Rudetsky], all hit songs from the ‘70s, and it’s like everything that could go wrong goes wrong. There are people on a floating casino on the Hudson River in Manhattan in 1978 and everything that could happen, I mean, earthquakes, tidal waves, fire, bees, sharks, rats, everything. But it is a new story, not a parody. You don’t have to have seen the movies to get it and the way the songs are used is always surprising and funny but it’s also got a lot of heart. [A reading and Actors Fund raiser for Disaster will be held at The Los Angeles Theater Center on January 25th. For more information on attending, visit the website.]

To watch Space Station 76, check out the website and your On-Demand service. For more on Paragon School For Girls, visit the website. You can also follow Plotnick on Twitter and his website