Saturday, June 4, 2022

Reverend's Interview: A New Queer as Folk for a New Generation

Way back in 1999, LGBTQ audiences around the world were introduced to Stuart, Vince and Nathan, three young gay men in Manchester, England. The British TV series featuring this charismatic trio, Queer as Folk, became a sensation. An Americanized version soon followed and ran on Showtime from 2000-2005. Now, the TV gods have decreed it is time for a new Queer as Folk. It will premiere June 9th on Peacock, NBC’s streaming network. A vibrant re imagining of the groundbreaking original created by Russell T. Davies, the series explores a diverse group of friends in New Orleans whose lives are transformed in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Davies is involved as an executive producer of this new iteration. However, the primary roles of creator, writer, executive producer and director have been bequeathed to Stephen Dunn, a talented young filmmaker. He made a splash with his quirky, 2016 festival hit Closet Monster, in which a gay man comes of age with the help of his talking hamster, Buffy (lovingly voiced by the one and only Isabella Rossellini). Dunn seems a perfect choice to carry the QAF torch.

Stephen Dunn

“Like most queer ‘90s kids, I had a unique relationship with the original Queer as Folk,” Dunn reflects in the press notes. “Growing up, I was desperate for any sort of connection with people like me. I remember sneaking into my parents’ basement late at night to watch it in secret, volume turned low. It was the first time I really felt seen. The show offered a new paradigm – one where we could accept and celebrate queer love, families and communities on a global stage. It was truly iconic. I am honored that Russell T. Davies entrusted me to continue this legacy.”

Dunn’s update centers on several key characters. Devin Way plays Brodie, a charming and sometimes chaotic commitment-phobe. Fin Argus will play Mingus, a cocky high schooler whose confidence belies their lack of real world experience. Jesse James Keitel is trans, semi-reformed party girl Ruthie, who is struggling to grow up. CG is Shar, a non-binary professor navigating the rocky transition from punk to parenthood. Johnny Sibilly plays Noah, a successful lawyer who is not as put together as he seems. Last but certainly not least, Ryan O’Connell is Julian, a pop culture nerd with cerebral palsy who is more than ready for some independence. O’Connell is known to many viewers for his autobiographical Netflix series Special, which he wrote and starred in. He also serves as a writer and co-executive producer on the new Queer as Folk.

Ryan O’Connell and Johnny Sibilly

Among the numerous guest stars slated to appear are Sex and the City alumna Kim Cattrall as a martini-soaked southern debutant with trailer park roots; Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis as a single mom who is more of a friend than a parent to her teenager; Ed Begley Jr. as an emotionally distant father; deaf actor and activist Nyle DiMarco as a charming grad student; and Lukas Gage (recently seen on HBO’s The White Lotus) as a personal trainer.

In the words of Russell T. Davies: “I’m very proud of what we achieved in 1999, but in queer years that was a millennium ago! As a community, we’ve radicalized, explored, opened up and found new worlds – with new enemies and new allies – and there was so much to be said. Stephen (Dunn) pitched a brand new version of Queer as Folk with so much imagination, insight, and – crucially – joy that I simply couldn’t resist. I thought it was about time the title belonged to a whole new generation. The 2022 show is more diverse, more wild, more free, more angry – everything a queer show should be.”

Devin Way and Jesse James Keitel

I was thrilled to be able to ask Stephen Dunn a few questions in advance of the new QAF’s premiere.

CC: So, why another Queer as Folk now? What were some of the factors or thoughts behind this new iteration?
SD: It is really important to me to tell queer stories. Co-Executive Producers Jaclyn Moore (who is a trans woman) and Lee Eisenberg saw some of my movies at the Sundance Film Festival. We got to talking about Queer as Folk and how important that show was. I sought out that title because of how important it was to me growing up. Also, it is really hard to create queer content, so to get the process greenlit it was helpful to have this known title. I really wanted to lean into the word queer with this one. It’s about a community after a tragedy, and that was really important to Russell Davies to show that.

CC: New Orleans is an interesting choice of location. What went into that selection? Did you actually shoot there?
SD: Oh yeah, that is authentic. New Orleans is all over the show. It’s in the sets and the costumes, the people. I used to go to New Orleans all the time with my friend, (drag queen) Chi Chi DeVayne. Sadly, she has passed away (in 2020). It’s this liberal oasis in the Deep South. There’s a resilience there that I feel is at the intersection of the community and Queer as Folk.

Fin Argus

CC: The new cast is great, but many of my readers will likely be most excited about Kim Cattrall. How did she become involved and what was it like working with her?
SD: Oh my gosh, she is so incredible. I, like, from the get-go wrote this show for Kim. I knew where the character was going. I’d met her a few years ago, and then I wrote her a letter. She’s so sweet and so generous. I was so nervous because I love her so much and am in awe of her. She was so kind and excited to be there playing this new character. It was surreal. She’s also a brilliant improviser and came up with some of her best lines. She really should be part of the writers’ room.

CC: That is awesome! How best would you label or define the new Queer as Folk? Is it a reboot, a remake, a sequel...?
SD: The word that really feels right to me is re-imagining. We have a lot of respect for the original and there are references throughout, but this is a new generation and we’re taking things in a new direction.

CG and Jesse James Keitel   

CC: Were there certain characters, events or attitudes from the previous series that you wanted to recreate or reference in the new series?
SD: There are definitely references but we are really telling a new story. Family is a huge part of the original series but we broaden it. The new series also has a different tone to it.

CC: You previously made the well-received movie Closet Monster. What was the experience like of moving from an indie movie to a major TV series?
SD: It is so different! There is so much more volume of content. I’m mixing the last episode right now and it is a major undertaking. I thought it would be a less personal experience doing television, but it’s really been more personal than I expected. What I’m most excited about is the potential to tell more stories and keep going (with Queer as Folk). Plus, it’s nice to have a budget and money. (laughs)

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

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