Friday, December 14, 2012

Reverend’s Interview: Family Man

Some of us have no doubt noticed attractive actor Garret Dillahunt in our living rooms each week as one of the ensemble cast members of Raising Hope.  Dillahunt plays Burt Chance, patriarch of the Fox comedy series’ trashy but lovable family co-headed by Martha Plimpton.

He can also currently be seen on the big screen in the acclaimed independent film Any Day Now.  Dillahunt and out actor Alan Cumming star as a gay couple in West Hollywood, circa 1979.  They cross paths with Marco (Isaac Leyva), a neglected teenager afflicted by Down Syndrome, and soon undertake a legal battle to adopt the young man.  Scheduled to open in Los Angeles and New York today and in other cities soon after, the sweet but ultimately heart-wrenching Any Day Now has racked up an impressive number of audience awards for Best Feature at multiple GLBT and mainstream film festivals, including Outfest.  Cumming has also been honored several times as Best Actor for his performance.

The friendly, easy-going Dillahunt, who just turned 48 in November, recently spoke with Reverend from the set of Raising Hope.  Though straight and married to actress Michelle Hurd, Dillahunt is no stranger to gay roles.  “Oh yeah, I’ve played gay lots of times,” he told me.  “I played Prior Walter in Angels in America for nine months, among other gay roles.  The stigma (that historically kept straight actors from taking gay parts) certainly seems to be gone.”

Dillahunt spoke appreciatively of one actor he credits with helping to eliminate the stigma.  “I’m probably dating myself, but I was so impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis in My Beautiful Laundrette.”  The 1986 British drama marked Day-Lewis’ film debut as the tough, unapologetic boyfriend of a closeted Pakistani man.  Day-Lewis has since become one of the most respected actors in the industry, having won two Academy Awards to date and likely to be nominated again this year for his turn as Lincoln.

Of his decision to take the role of Paul in Any Day Now, Dillahunt said “I thought it was a good script and a really interesting character that would be a challenge.”  Paul is a closeted lawyer in the District Attorney’s office and, as a result, is both excited and frightened by the prospect of being half of a same-sex couple adopting a child.  “I was just coming off another project and was going to take a hiatus with my wife when the script came along,” Dillahunt recalls.  “My wife read it and said, ‘You should do it.’  So much for taking a vacation,” he laughed.

The actor has been surprised and edified by the response to Any Day Now.  “I’m not surprised it was good or I guess I’ll say important, but I didn’t think it would be so well-accepted.  I’ve been in some award-winning films (including Winter’s Bone, The Road and the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men) but I don’t think I’ve been in one that has won every audience award where its played.”

Dillahunt also speaks highly of his co-star, Alan Cumming.  “He’s something, I dig him” he said initially before going on to rave: “I’ve been a fan of his since (the 1995 movie) Circle of Friends and had seen him in Cabaret on Broadway.  It was so easy working with him; he’s like a little piece of joy.  He’s hopeful and really good for the character of Rudy (Paul’s drag-performer partner) in that way.  He’s also really strong and forceful, and he never breaks eye contact with you when you’re speaking with him.”

Cumming sings a number of songs in Any Day Now.  These include a climactic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” which Dillahunt describes as one of his favorite moments in the film, and “Come to Me,” the disco classic originally sung by France Joli.

Isaac Leyva, who plays Marco and has Down Syndrome himself, also drew praise.  “Nothing against Alan or me, but Isaac is probably the best actor in the thing,” Dillahunt admitted.  “He is a very emotional young man and that shows, which is also due to the director Travis Fine.  Isaac was also completely focused all the time.  If Alan and I would get out of hand, he would rein us in (laughs).”  Other, well-known members of the film’s supporting cast include Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc), Frances Fisher (Titanic), Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers) and Michael Nouri (Flashdance).

Dillahunt has more often than not throughout his career played villainous roles, including in the recent time-travel hit Looper, so he relished working on Any Day Now as well as his continuing comedic turn on Raising Hope.  “We’re about halfway through our third season and I love it,” he said of the series.  “I love the cast, especially Martha Plimpton; I’m very lucky.”  Comedy legend Cloris Leachman also appears on the show as the family’s demented Maw Maw.

He also got to break from his acting norm in 2006, when Dillahunt played the recurring role of Jesus Christ on the controversial, short-lived religious TV series The Book of Daniel.  “We had our hopes for that show but it got hammered before it even got on the air,” he recalls.  “But regardless, I liked it and appreciated the effort of it.  I had just come off HBO’s violent Deadwood and maybe had to atone for my sins (laughs).”

Before concluding our time, I asked Dillahunt if he had any thoughts in general on the rapidly-accelerating recognition of same-sex marriage and GLBT rights in the US.  “I’m personally pleased about it,” he replied immediately before pausing and remarking, “I want to say something beautiful” and laughed.

Dillahunt then continued: “There have been too many people in my life who have been influential or important to me who were gay that it seems insane to me at this point that they don’t have equal rights.  Everyone should be free to choose who they want to spend their lives with.”

I probably couldn’t say it better myself.  Click here for more information about Any Day Now.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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