The upcoming HBO series Looking has already been compared to two post-feminist dramedies that firmly planted their flags in the sexual landscape of the 21st century, Sex and the City and Girls. But like those groundbreaking shows, your ability to find the sexual candor of Looking authentic might depend entirely on regionalisms or a generational divide.
Although that might be moot when it comes to O-T Fagbenle. While the other characters can hide behind a scrim of sexual choices, his rendering of Frank makes him the most easily visible character on the show. He seems oddly unconflicted, exactly the kind of queer everyman a show like Looking needs.
Even if Frank doesn't feel completely recognizable to you, you will likely wish he were, which is why we wanted to sit down with O-T Fagbenle. What better place to turn for insights into Looking than the actor playing the most centered character on the show?
So, O-T, we might as well start at the deep end of the pool. Looking calls some of the contemporary orthodoxies of gay life into question while it reinforces other ones. Are there aspects of the show that seem particularly true to you? Are there any you struggled with?
My experiences with people who are gay are so eclectic and diverse (as are my experiences with people who are straight), that having lived in the 'straight world' my whole life I recognize more similarities than differences. On the series, our gay characters are in long term relationships, short term relationships, online dating, struggling with the facts of being older and single - all things that straight, bisexual, and almost every other shade of the sexual spectrum deal with. Sure they have gay friends and go to gay bars but I think it's true to say the most interesting things about these characters isn't their sexual orientation, It's their individual perspectives on life and how they deal with looking for love, sex and friendships.
Gay characters have become fairly familiar on the small screen. Would you say Looking is breaking new turf in terms of representation, and did you feel some responsibility to "get it right?"
When representation of the LBGT community was much more scarce in the media, I think there was some kind of pressure to encapsulate an entire community in a single character - this can often be a fast track to generalization and stereotypes. Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh are so talented at bringing subtle and defined characters to the fore that the gay characters are real and identifiable without being these stock characters out of gay folklore. It's refreshing!
The pressure to "get it right" was definitely there for me, I didn't want to mess this bad boy up so I asked if HBO would fly me to San Francisco before the shoot, so I could spend more time researching and getting a feel for that amazing city and the places were Frank might hang out. I also pretty much tried to stay in character during the entire shoot, which was interesting.
Perfect segue. Because of its significance in American gay history, San Francisco is practically the show's main character. As a Londoner, can you give us some insights into your process for unveiling the soul of the city?
I cycled and walked around San Francisco a lot, made local friends, partied in The Mission, The Castro, the Folsom Fair, spoke to the homeless a lot. I also visited the nude beaches and the redwood forests - there is a lot to do in San Fran. I definitely think I scratched the surface but it's an evolving city so it would take time to get your whole finger in. Shout out to Oakland - that place is cool as #%!*.
There is something off-the-cuff about your reading of your character, Frank. Is he someone you were already familiar with, or was he something of a surprise to you?
Thank you ... I think! Walt Whitman said of himself 'I am large, I contain multitudes,' and I definitely recognize Frank very within my multitudes! Playing him was mostly a matter of allowing myself to reveal some inner shades of me.
When we meet Frank, he is the boyfriend of the only coupled character in the show, Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez). It's clear from the start that Frank has his hands full, but he seems unfazed by Agustin. Is he simply uncomplicated, or is something else going on there?
Frank is a healer, he desperately wants that independent and troubled lover that he can soothe and tame. He knows if he plays the 'Mom' and tries to control Augustin too hard and too quick it will push his love away. He's playing the long game.
If you were having coffee with Frank, what advice would you have for him about his new boyfriend?
Haha! Umm. Maya Angelou once said 'When someone shows you who they are ... believe them.’ It's good advice for Frank but hell, I'd give that advice to anybody.
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
If your favorite part of Girls was Andrew Rannells' bitingly humorous Elijah, Hannah's gay ex-boyfriend slash roommate, then your life is about to get a whole lot better. HBO just gave the go-ahead to a project that sounds just like Girls except all of the characters are guys...and gay...and live in San Francisco.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the network ordered eight episodes of an untitled show from producer Sarah Condon (Bored to Death), David Marshall Grant (Brothers & Sisters) and writer/producer Michael Lannan. The show stars Glee's Jonathan Groff as one of a trio of gay dudes who live in San Fran and get up to wacky antics and explore the world of the modern gay man. That sounds like there is going to be a Grindr subplot! The pilot, which HBO obviously loved, was directed by Andrew Haigh who made critically-loved gay indie Weekend, so I have high hopes.
The show doesn't have a name, but I don't think I'll be the first to suggest Boys. Or Gays. Gay Boys? Gurls?
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