My early fave movie being shown at the 26th Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, a.k.a. Outfest, is the perfectly delightful Ready? OK! This GLBT must-see, written and directed by James Vasquez, premieres at Outfest this Friday.
Its plot centers on young Josh, a fifth-grader who desperately wants to join the all-girl cheer squad at his Catholic school. Carrie Preston (who also co-produced the film) plays Josh’s loving but often flummoxed mother, Andy, and Michael Emerson plays their gay neighbor, Charlie. He is so unconditionally supportive of Josh that, when the students are required to dress as their favorite religious figure for Halloween, Charlie makes the boy’s dream costume: Maria Von Trapp!
It amazes me that Emerson and Preston aren’t yet household names, especially in gay circles. Emerson made his mark off-Broadway in 1997-1998, giving an extraordinary performance as Oscar Wilde in the acclaimed Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (which I was privileged to see). Preston, Emerson’s real-life wife, was (around the same time) stealing the show every night in the play Straight-Jacket, as a naïve secretary tricked into marrying a closeted gay actor in 1950’s Hollywood. Preston and Emerson co-starred in the enjoyable 2004 film adaptation of Straight-Jacket, in which the two give more assured and memorable performances than the lead actors did.
Both have made guest appearances over the years in such popular TV series as Law & Order, Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, The X-Files and Arrested Development, and Emerson won a 2001 Emmy for his role on The Practice. Preston has had supporting parts in GLBT favorites Transamerica (playing Bree’s/Felicity Huffman’s sister), My Best Friend’s Wedding and the campy remake of The Stepford Wives. They remain the kind of actors whose faces we readily recognize, yet we don’t recall their names.
I believe that’s about to change. Over the last two seasons, Emerson has caused a stir on the hit TV show Lost as Ben Linus, leader of the mysterious Others and chief keeper of the island’s many secrets. And Preston has several high-profile movies awaiting release: Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Duplicity, by Michael Clayton writer-director Tony Gilroy; and the film version of the Broadway smash Doubt, acting alongside Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Preston and Emerson about their work on Ready? OK! But first, let me get a couple of things out of the way for my fellow Lost fans: yes, it was cool and a little creepy to hear the voice of Ben coming through my telephone and, no, he doesn’t know where Ben moved the island to at the climax of the recent season finale.
CC: What drew you both to Ready? OK!?
Preston: James (Vasquez) and I were at Julliard together. When he first started talking about a germ of an idea he had about a little boy who wants to be a cheerleader, I really wanted to develop a character who showed the mother’s/parent’s coming-out process.
Emerson: I’m friends with James and I like his aesthetic, his artistic mission of showing social outsiders but not in a glamorized or sexualized way.
CC: The “gay neighbor” character in movies and on TV has become something of a cliché. Did you have concerns about playing such a role in this film?
Emerson: I liked Charlie’s drollery and humanity. The gay neighbor is a type that’s out there, but I thought Charlie’s peacefulness and quiet centeredness set him apart.
CC: There’s a lovely scene in the film between the two of you, where Charlie is fitting a dress on Andy. Does being married to each other add something different to acting together?
Preston: Yes. James, Michael and I talked a lot about that scene and how it should be the scene where Andy breaks apart. It was made easier and meant much more to play it looking into the eyes of my partner of thirteen years.
Emerson: It did make the scene easier to play and added to my character’s serenity. We know and trust each other. Interestingly, the role of Charlie was bigger and more detailed in earlier drafts of the script, but much of it was deemed excessive and unnecessary as we developed it. It seemed appropriate for the character to become simpler.
CC: The young actor who plays Josh, 10-year old Lurie Poston, is great in Ready? OK! What was it like for each of you to act with him?
Preston: We got really lucky with him. We saw 30-40 boys in Los Angeles and Lurie was really the only choice. He’s really natural and was so easy to work with.
Emerson: You always approach working with children with a little trepidation. A lot of the time, a great performance by a child can be attributed to a great director. But Lurie was so natural and so easy to work with.
CC: You’ve both done a number of GLBT-oriented projects. Is this an area or audience of particular interest to you? What draws you to such films and plays?
Preston: For me, I feel that these are the stories that are still finding their way to the screen and to a general audience. With our production company, Daisy 3, we are trying to make movies you can show to parents and others who aren’t LGBT themselves.
Emerson: It just happens to have worked out that way with the roles I find interesting and my artistic circle. And it might be that my “skill set” inclines me toward roles where I kind of float along or play characters who skirt gender norms and expectations. I also love to play comedy, and parts where I have a few comedic zingers as in such films as Straight-Jacket and Ready? OK!
CC: Does either or both of you have a particular message you’d like to send to the GLBT community?
Preston: Try not to label anybody, whether in terms of sexual orientation, politics, et cetera. In this film, Josh simply is, and it falls to his mother to accept him for who he is.
Emerson: I’d just like everybody to try to break formulas and formulaic thinking. There’s too much of that out there.
CC: What are your plans for Ready? OK! beyond Outfest?
Preston: We are in talks with distributors regarding a potential theatrical release, but we don’t have delusions of grandeur because it is a small film. At the very least, it will get a DVD release.
So, dear readers, get ready for Ready? OK! (watch the trailer here), in theaters and/or on DVD soon.
UPDATE: Ready? OK! is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.