Talking with the star of “Those People,” Jonathan Gordon about, well, just about everything
by Larry Murray
Decadent, delicious and dazzling, Those People is a brilliant new film that played theatrically in May and now releases June 14, 2016 on DVD and VOD via Wolfe Video across retailers and digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and WolfeOnDemand.com.
Those People tells a heartfelt gay Gatsby story, and is destined to become an instant classic about loyalty, forgiveness, self-nurturing, and accepting love even when you don’t feel you deserve it. There are three main characters in the film, and we had a chance to chat and joke with Jonathan Gordon who plays Charlie. His character lives on Manhattan’s gilded Upper East Side, a talented young painter who finds the man of his dreams in an older pianist from across the globe. If only Charlie weren’t secretly in love with his own manipulative best friend, Sebastian, who is embroiled in a financial scandal. In the wake of Sebastian’s notoriety, their tight-knit group of friends must confront the new realities of adulthood. And as sophisticated as their lives are, the trio wrestles with relationships in the same way we all do.
Writer and director Joey Kuhn writes that “In college, I accidentally fell in love with my gay best friend, “Sebastian.” I kept it secret from him for years, afraid of what would happen to our friendship if I told him. Gay or straight, everyone has a “Sebastian,” and we all have to grow up to get past him. With Those People, I wanted to explore this universal unrequited love story, albeit with modern representations of gay men my age: well-adjusted individuals whose struggles have little to do with their sexuality, and more with negotiating their own adulthood and building lasting relationships.” The film is not set in dark and furtive streets of some dingy cruising spot but rather in the classy, if messy, world of the arts and celebrates living the creative life.
My chat with Jonathan Gordon, who plays the lead character in Those People began with the thought that most of us have our own Sebastian. “And I do, too,” he admitted. “First loves are such a part of us and stick with us no matter what. The romance may fade, but the relationship continues even five, ten years later. And that may be why those connections yield such intense heartaches.”
As to how long it took to remember the tongue-twisting Gilbert and Sullivan patter song “Major-General” with its rhyming text and alliterative words that opens the film, Gordon groaned, “Oh god, I almost forgot all about that. When we went into shooting, they put that opening scene right into the middle of the second week, and I knew it would take a lot of practice. So in between takes, or while in makeup, we would be blowing out those lyrics, and I just couldn’t remember much more than just the first line. But when it came time to shoot those scenes, I knew it like the back of my hand.” You can catch a snippet of it in the video embedded above. The two constantly duel using the lyrics which is revisited several times in the film. These moments will prove irresistible to those with a passion for G&S.
Wondering how this part came to him, he said it was all thanks to casting director Susan Shopmaker. “She had cast me in another film where I played a stuttering, racist, construction worker, and so the role of Charlie was a very different kind of performance than I had done previously. So when I got to audition for her I was excited – she works on really fine projects. I read for the part with Joey Kuhn (the film’s writer and director) and was called back for my first “chemistry” reading with Jason Ralph who plays Sebastian. And we clicked.”
Anyone who has attended live theatre can tell almost instantly when the actors are feeding off of each other, which is the height of the craft, and when they are just following their cues, and offering differing interpretations within the same show. It’s not easy to get the chemistry right, but key to an audiences enjoyment. Getting there is the trick.
“Sometimes it’s the way you can joke with someone, or do improvisations,” recalls Gordon, “and Jason Ralph (who plays Sebastian) was just a total goof in that audition, and we fell into a dynamic relationship that was very similar to the one we had in the film. We clicked. He was being a little boisterous and I was being a little shy. We both got caught up by that and indulged in some real playfulness. And I got the part.”
In the film itself, the three principal actors really nail the story, making their characters not only real, but the kind of people we can instantly care for. I felt the anguish as the trio wrestled with an impossible situation where there could be no happy ending. The story has both depth and punch: Those People is like a fresh breeze which wipes away the cliche ridden superficiality we get in all too many LGBT films and television shows.
“It’s been real rewarding to be part of this film, in large part because there seems to be a dearth of LGBT movies where sexuality is not at the center of the film. I feel weird categorizing it as an LGBT film because at its heart it is simply a romance, a love story,” volunteers the actor.
It’s clear that one of the elements that makes Those People work was that writer/director Kuhn allowed the actors into the creative process. “Improv was a large part of my work when I was an undergrad (he holds a B.A. in American Civilization from Brown University) and I continue to do it, on a smaller scale, here in New York. Usually in intimate environments, like people’s apartments, with a few of my peers from around town. And it’s actually something that Joey encouraged us to do on the set, and having the person who wrote the script give you the freedom to improvise some moments that ultimately ended up in the film was really cool.”
I liked the idea that there was spontaneity. It lends authenticity. “Even if you just do it as an exercise before you circle back to the script itself, it gives the actor a chance to see what it sounds and feels like before doing the shot,” mused Gordon.
After we had chatted for a while, the actor and I fell into a bit of impromptu repartee.
Which do you prefer, the lead or a juicy smaller role?
“I am always interested in, and drawn to supporting roles because it isn’t your job to draw the audience along, but rather to add texture to the film. Those roles allow for some really fine nuance to develop, and some of our best actors have made a career of creating supporting characters.”
Shakespeare or Beckett?
“Oh…I’ll go with Chekhov. He is the master of subtext. And in many ways I see his work as anticipating where acting is today. It’s no accident that Stanislavski’s naturalistic methods were developed around Chekhov’s work. His process is built around deeply thought out circumstances.”
Stanislavski, Suzuki or Grotowski?
“Such amazing questions! I love it. Stanislavsi is interesting, mostly because he changed his mind about the methodology constantly. What we often think of as “method” is often inaccurate, it doesn’t relate to what he actually believed. He even changed his mind about what acting involves on his deathbed. But the great naturalistic acting schools use a lot of his investigations, so I would go with him.
East Coast or West Coast; Broadway or Hollywood?
“East Coast, Broadway. Why? Theatre is the actor’s medium. The sense of play you can achieve on stage is just unparalleled. Sure, there’s the people, the camaraderie and collaboration, but just the amount of time you have to prepare your work contrasted to the tight schedules of films gets me firing on all cylinders.”
Do you ever wish you were younger or older?
“I’m sort of thrilled about being 26, to tell you the truth.”
Favorite show biz story?
The last show I did was a revival of Arthur Millers Incident at Vichy at New York’s Signature Theatre last year. It’s a holocaust drama, and I played the boy in this detention cell, and one by one the others are taken offstage never to appear again. It comes my turn to be removed and I tell them I am a minor not 14 yet, and my next line was “I can show you my birth certificate.” Instead, what I said on this night was “I’ll show you my gift certificate.” Total silence. There was no reaction, perhaps because at this moment in the play everyone knows this child is about to be sent away to a concentration camp. I could have said anything in that moment and nobody would have laughed. But the other actors on stage were having a very difficult time not bursting out. I wore that moment as a badge of honor (rather than a scarlet letter) for the rest of the run.”
About Jonathan Gordon
Jonathan Gordon is a Brooklyn-based actor. On stage, he was recently seen in Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy at The Signature Theatre. Other theater credits include the Broadway production of Orphans, for which he understudied Tom Sturridge. Film and television credits include God’s Pocket and Blue Bloods, respectively. He can also be seen as the lead in the short film Chocolate Heart, which debuted at SXSW Film Festival in 2014. Jonathan holds a B.A. in American Civilization from Brown University.
Awards for Those People
Audience Award, Best Narrative Feature, NewFest, New York LGBT Film Festival
Best Actor, Jonathan Gordon, Atlanta Out on Film
Audience Award – Best U.S First Feature, Outfest Film Festival
Jury Award, Best Feature Film, Kansas City LGBT Film Festival
Those People: Written, Directed, Produced by Joey Kuhn; Starring Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph, Haaz Sleiman, Britt Lower. Distributed by: Wolfe Video USA * 89 min * 2015 * Color * English