(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Reverend's Interview: Supernova Explodes with Gay Love and Loss

I've been recommending the movie Supernova to friends for the last couple months now. When I first mentioned it, virtually all of them have thought of the lame 2000 sci-fi/horror flick that starred a frequently naked James Spader and Angela Bassett. Uh, not THAT Supernova. This new, grounded-in-reality Supernova stars Oscar winner Colin Firth and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci as a longtime gay couple faced with the challenge of one partner's early onset dementia. It is now playing in select theaters and will be available for streaming beginning February 16th.

Firth and Tucci are both receiving awards buzz for their performances as Sam and Tusker, respectively. The men have spent 20 years together, and they are as passionately in love as they have ever been. But in the two years since Tusker was diagnosed with early onset dementia (specifically Posterior Cortical Atrophy, or PCA), their lives have had to change. As Tusker’s condition progresses, Sam is forced to place his life on hold and become his partner’s full-time caregiver. Their time together has become the most important aspect of their lives, so they plan a road trip across England while Tusker is still able to travel, to see friends and family and revisit memories from their long life together.

Supernova was written and directed by the relatively-new British filmmaker Harry Macqueen. It is only the talented Macqueen's second feature following a successful acting career. He was inspired to write it after both a former co-worker and a close friend's father were diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2015. Macqueen was also struck by the documentary Right to Die?, which follows a 59-year old man and his wife of 37 years to a clinic in Switzerland that specializes in physician assisted suicide. Once there, the man legally took his own life rather than prolong his declining condition.

"The man in the documentary, my colleague, and my friend’s father all had versions of young onset dementia that had played out in very different ways," Macqueen writes in the film's press notes. "These experiences made me want to find out more about this disorder specifically, as well as the vital debate around end-of-life choices – one that still rages to this day in many countries around the world. Running parallel to this was my passionate desire to write a story that framed a same-sex relationship in an original manner; to present a loving relationship for which the sexuality of the characters didn’t in any way shape the narrative."

Macqueen developed the screenplay over a three-year period, working closely with leading dementia specialists at University College London (UCL) and The Wellcome Trust, a charity dedicated to supporting science and research in the fields of biomedical research and medical humanities. He also collaborated with many individuals and families affected by the condition.

Once the script was finished, Macqueen and his producers moved on to casting. They discussed the notion of making one of the couple American, and what that might do to the dynamic of the film's primary relationship. “The fact that one of them was American became a strategic way of not making the project feel too British,” notes producer Emily Morgan. “We liked the idea of coming at it slightly from left field, so that there was an edge and originality to the pairing.” That's when they came up with the notion of approaching Stanley Tucci, who lives in London. “He has that edge of being American, but at the same time he’s so embedded in the UK,” added Morgan. “He was an ideal choice.”

Tucci, for his part, was "floored" by Macqueen's screenplay. It was during Tucci’s first meeting with Macqueen that the subject of who would play Sam, the other half of the relationship, was first broached. “We got on famously,” Macqueen remembers, “and during my meeting with him, he said, ‘Can we talk about who plays opposite me? Have you thought about Colin Firth? Because I could get the script to him.’ Of course, I said, ‘That would be amazing, thanks very much.’ And Stanley said, ‘Good, because I gave it to him yesterday, and he read it and loves it and he wants to meet you.”

Firth and Tucci have been friends ever since they met on the set of the 2001 film Conspiracy. As Tucci recently said in Entertainment Weekly of his 20-year relationship with Firth: "Our love for each other, our respect for each other, that intimacy was already there. When you have a really good friend, it's like a lover. You know a lot about each other, things that other people don't know — things that even spouses don't know — and that makes you incredibly close."

The resulting movie is beautiful, moving and reflective. It resonated with me strongly as both a gay married man in my 50's and as a full-time hospice chaplain. I mentioned this to writer-director Macqueen at the start of a recent phone interview that he was kind enough to grant to Reverend. He responded, "That's so lovely, thank you. I wanted to approach (the subject) as honestly as possible. I spent a lot of time researching it and trying to get it right. A woman whose husband died last year of PCA attended the premiere in London and thanked me for capturing her experience. She said it was difficult trying to get her friends to understand what she had gone through, and she could now tell them to watch Supernova. That's why I made it, really."

Macqueen (center) on the Supernova set with Tucci and Firth

Here is the remainder of my interview with Macqueen:

CC: What was it like on set with Firth and Tucci? Did any difficulties or challenges arise?
HM: It was awful, they are absolute tyrants (laughs). In all honesty, they are lovely guys and incredible actors. Right from the start, they fell in love with the script and they really trusted me. They were on board 100% right from the start. They also worked incredibly hard, especially Tucci.

CC: You obviously did your research while writing the film. Have you learned anything additional about dementia since its completion?
HM: I'm still involved in that world quite a lot. Here in the UK, and I expect it's the same in the United States, most people who have had COVID-19 now have dementia. It is scary as I expect we'll be seeing even more cases of early onset dementia from now on.

CC: Talk to me about your film's interesting music score by Keaton Henson. Who is he?
HM: I'm glad you noticed that. This is his first film. He's a folk musician over here and has quite an underground following. It's interesting because he doesn't like to perform live. I heard a piece of his he wrote for an orchestra here in London and I was blown away by it. His music isn't meant to be overly glossy. I think he did a great job on the film.

CC: Are you working on something new? What's next for you?
HM: I'm trying my best to. It's a funny time to be trying to create stuff with so many crazy things going on in the world, but I am writing a couple of new films and doing some writing for television too. I'm also an actor and will be acting in a film too but it's been postponed (due to the pandemic).

CC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
HM: (Making Supernova) has been one of the most profound and important experiences of my life. The characters and themes reflect my attempt to do these people and their stories justice in a truthful and original manner – to place a selfless, loving relationship in the context of an immediate future that hangs in the balance. From the outset, my desire was to make an empowering, powerful, challenging, and timely film about what we are willing to do for the people that we love.

In this regard, Macqueen definitely succeeds. Supernova is one of the best films of the last year. For more information about it as well as local theatrical showtimes, visit the film's official website.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

No comments:

Post a Comment