Film may have crossover potential
The straight story on turning a gay 'Trick'
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By Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- It's late January in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival and it's cold. Actors Tori Spelling, Christian Campbell and John Paul Pitoc are huddled together on a hotel balcony for that all-important snow-covered-mountain-background shot, while doing a television interview for CNN.
They're promoting their independent film, "Trick," which is about two young gay men who have just met, and are searching for some privacy so they can "get it on." In the vernacular of gay slang, they're trying to "trick."
Despite the fact that the actors are freezing, the three are in a celebratory mood. The film, which was made for under $500,000, has just been bought by Fine Line Features.
Adding to the good vibe is the fact that Variety has heralded "Trick" as the "most appealing and most erotic gay date movie ever made." Other major reviews have been equally flattering. But the big news is that the film may also cross over to mainstream audiences -- if the reaction at the film festival is any indication.
Spelling, Campbell (brother of Neve from "Party of Five") and Pitoc are all heterosexual. But first-time director Jim Fall is openly gay.
"I thought I was making a gay, gay, gay film," Fall says, "and I shot it for a very low budget. But it was at Sundance that we realized the audience was very mixed, if not more straight than gay.
"And we got a lot of positive response -- 'Oh, this could be a crossover film.' It's kind of nice to feel you made a film with integrity and honesty about the subject matter, but at the same time that honesty is helping it cross over."
Campbell says he thinks independent films are given leeway to be more sophisticated than commercial films. "They're allowed to touch on taboos," he says, "which eventually makes them no longer taboos."
Pitoc agrees. "The best films," he says, "treat their audiences as if they're intelligent. You don't need to appeal to the lowest common denominator."
"I loved the script," adds Spelling. "I love love stories. And it didn't appear to me to be a gay script. It was just a love story and I thought it was beautiful."
Spelling plays Katherine, a would-be actress with a lot more drive than talent. She's best friends with Gabriel, played by Campbell. He, too, is brimming with ambition, as a writer for musical theater.
He's also looking for excitement in his life, and checks out a local gay cruise bar. His eyes lock onto a hot-looking go-go boy named Mark, played by Pitoc. And they start an all-night odyssey, trying to find a place to consummate their sudden passion.
Stylish straights: Playing gay
Fall says that in auditions, no one was asked about his sexuality. In a reflection of a peculiar irony of type-casting in Hollywood, Campbell says he thinks both actors are straight because no gay actors auditioned.
"There are a lot of gay actors," he says, "who wouldn't look at the script because they were gay roles. They didn't want to get outed. There's this stigma in the industry that if you're outed then you won't be able to play leading-man roles, you won't have that appeal for the public." Note that this interview was held before openly gay actor Rupert Everett's key roles in three films -- "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "An Ideal Husband" and "Inspector Gadget" -- were seen this summer.
On the other hand, Pitoc says it's now open season for heterosexuals to play gay roles. "It basically is quite fashionable in the last year for straight actors to play gay roles," he says. "It's not dangerous anymore. It was dangerous when Richard Gere did 'Bent' on Broadway. And it's not dangerous anymore."
Researching the role
Pitoc makes his feature debut in "Trick" and says he felt the need to do some research into his role as a go-go boy in a Manhattan gay club. "I didn't know what a go-go boy really was," he laughs, "and there's a plethora of opportunities in New York to go view them."
But he didn't go alone. "Jim Fall, our director, was such a kind man," he says, "that he actually came with me to some of those places against his will. I was so curious. I said, 'Jim give me a dollar,' and I'd give this guy (a dancer) a dollar and would say, 'What do these guys say to you when they give you a dollar?' And these guys would look at me like I was nuts."
But, if in fact "Trick" does have crossover appeal, it may be because there's no graphic sex in the film. "These two guys can't have sex," says Fall. "They keep trying to have it, and they don't have it. So it's a very chaste movie, but everyone says it's a very sexy film because there's some skin in the movie, but it's very tasteful."
The skin in question belongs to Pitoc, who dances in one scene, wearing only a bright red thong. "No pun intended," he says, "but it was a great chance for exposure. I showed many sides of myself, particularly the backside."
"Our film isn't really about sex," interrupts Campbell. "There's one kiss at the end of the entire thing."
"Oh, but what a kiss," chimes in Pitoc.
"You gave it away!" yells Spelling.
As for Fall, he has one major request for his next feature film. "I didn't have a (director's) chair," he says. "I didn't have a trailer. I was just glad there was food. I've learned now. And the next movie, I'm going to want a chair."
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