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Exclusive | Filmmaker Gregg Araki talks sexual fluidity, LGBTQ representation and his new show ‘Now Apocalypse’

The filmmaker is best known for his work in New Queer Cinema with the likes of 'Mysterious Skin' and 'The Living End

By Steve Brown

Words: Steve Brown

For anyone out of the loop, Gregg Araki has been making LGBTQ movies since the early 1990s and his work is seen as somewhat forward thinking when dealing with sexual fluidity and sex.

Many people believe the likes of Will & Grace was a milestone for LGBTQ representation in mainstream culture and yes it was. But back in 1992, he helmed the movie The Living End – dubbed the ‘gay Thelma and Louise’ – featured two gay men who are HIV positive who after an unconventional meeting, and a murder, they go on a road trip with the motto ‘Fuck everything.’

This was six years before Will & Grace started. Earlier than that, Gregg had helmed The Long Weekend, an 1989 American drama about three couples, one gay, one lesbian and one heterosexual, spending a weekend together.

And now Gregg is back with his latest teen drama series, Now Apocalypse, which follows Ulyssess (Avan Jogia) and his friends who are on various quests pursuing love, sex and fame.

Now Apocalypse explores identity, sexuality and artistry, while navigating the strange and oftentimes bewildering city of Los Angeles, and Gregg does not hold back with sex.

In an exclusive interview with Attitude, Gregg tells our Digital Editor, Steve Brown, about his inspiration behind the series, sexual fluidity, the #MeToo movement and being heavily involved in New Queer Cinema.

1)     I really enjoyed the first five episodes of Now Apocalypse and binged them in one sitting. Where did you get the inspiration for the show?

The second five gets even crazier. 9 and 10 are my favourite things I have ever done. It doesn’t slow down. The show is very much my all time ultimate dream show.

I have been wanting to make a show like Now Apocalypse for about 20 years. I have been making independent films for the past 25 years and I definitely have, as a filmmaker, a kind of a brand and certain themes and ideas and so stylistic qualities to my films. I think I have made 11 films or is it 12?

Anyway, I’ve made a lot of films with thematic obsessions and motifs and stuff that runs through all my movies and Now Apocalypse was very much, me sitting down a few years ago and thinking, ‘If I could make the ultimate show, that is my ultimate dream show, what would it be?’ and that’s where the show came from.

Everything in the 10 episodes is very much my imagination unleashed and put everything into the 10 episodes. It was really this kind of amazing creative experience.

I was talking to Gregg Jacobs, one of the producers, and it was like one of those strange moments where all the stars lined up and it’s almost like it would never happen again. It was perfect.

2)      There’s a lot of sex in it, both heterosexual and homosexual, was there ever a time while writing that you thought it could be too much?

My films have always been interested in sex and sexual fluidity and it’s not for titillating reasons, it’s really not good porn. It’s not really titillating or erotic. If you want to watch porn, there are plenty of real porn to watch.

The reason I am interested in sex, is that the thing as a director you really learn the truth about characters and what is going on with them in those moments of intimacy.

If you think about your own life, you have your own kind of public persona and you have the persona you put on around your friends, but people you have slept with know you in a way that no one knows you and that’s, I think, is what the key is for me and why there’s so much sex in the show is because you get to know them in such an intimate way, you become super invested in them and that was one thing that struck me watching all the 10 episodes put together is that, I just love these characters so much, I really feel like I know them so well and I am so on their journey, and surprisingly it becomes an emotional rollercoaster when you get to the end of the season because of what happens to them and to me a lot of that is because you’ve been so intimate with them.

You know, it’s not like you have seen them physically naked but you have seen them emotionally naked and I think that is really a big part of the show. It’s funny there’s a lot of sex in the show but whenever I see the episodes, you sort of forget it’s a sex scene or that there is nudity because you get sucked in by the characters and their interactions but the scene in episode 2 when Carly has the S&M sex with her boyfriend, it’s like this long eight minute scene and they are naked but you are so drawn into their characters that you forget it’s a sex scene.

And that for me is emblematic of what the show is about, it’s very kind of pink rock in its representation of queer sex and straight sex and everything in between but its also, there’s a sort of sweetness to it. It’s not off putting, it’s not hard to watch, in fact it’s very inviting and comfortable.

3)      Although the show is a comedy, it does bring about some contemporary issues. Ulysses is on a quest to find love in a world of online dating and hook-up apps, Ford gets roped into a sort of #MeToo issue. Is that what you wanted?

One of the things I love about the show is that TV is so fast, we were literally writing these scripts this time last year and we shot the whole show in the summer and it’s all finished and I’m talking about it with somebody in London, it just happens so fast.

The themes can be very topical and of the moment and we can deal with what’s happening and the world today, it’s always so fresh.

I feel like these times we are living in as far as #MeToo and the whole Trump situation and LGBTQI issues and what’s happening in the world, there’s so much material its all so now that the show is super fun to work on and I feel there’s such a wealth of stuff.

4)      Avan said the modern world has evolved around your characters as you have been discussing the topic of sexually fluidity in your films in the 90s. Did you always see sexuality as fluid?

I mean it’s something, like in my personal life, I’m very much like Ulysses, I’m mainly gay but I have been with women and had a long-time relationship with a woman in the 90s and I feel, and I think that’s what’s great about the show, people of Avan’s generation, there’s no judgment and everybody should do their thing and live their life and I think the world has come so far since the time that I started making movies.

Back in 1992, when The Living End had two gay characters kissing. This was before Will & Grace, before Brokeback Mountain, it was such a big deal but now it is everywhere and I think that is incredible we have come that far and I think it’s so important these days, you know, with Trump and the terrible ‘Make America Gross Again’ and trying to set everyone back into the dark ages and back into the closet, I think it’s so important for a show like NA to be out and beamed out into the world like a ray of light saying we cannot go backwards, we need to keep evolving and letting people be who they are.

It’s inevitable, it’s going to happen we just need to keep moving forward.

5)      You are heavily involved in New Queer Cinema, is that something you’ve always wanted to focus your work on?

It’s something that is a big part of my identity because of sex and sexuality is a big part of who everybody is, and it makes you the person you are.

It’s not the only part of my sensibility and identity but it’s a big part and as an artist, I feel it’s always going to be there. But I have made a lot of films that are not so queer-centric. Smiley Face is about a female stoner.

There’s always been this element of an outsider in my films and I think that definitely comes from the queer place that I live in.

6)      There has been a change in queer representation on TV and in films, but do you think there needs to be more?

I think it’s great that there is so much queer representation. LGBTQI throughout various forms throughout the TV world. I always think there is room for more. I haven’t seen anything like Now Apocalypse. We have had much more creative freedom than other shows.

7)      We just had the Academy Awards and it was a big year for queer cinema. But out of all the nominees, I believe only one person identified within the LGBTQ community.

It’s funny. We haven’t been given the green light for season two yet, but we have been commissioned to write scripts and we are writing season two and I was talking about this with a writer a few weeks ago.

I am in the mindset that, I am a director and it’s really not my business to ask an actor what their sexuality is. I’m there as the director. I am looking for an actor to play the role and be comfortable playing a queer role, but I am not going to ask them who they sleep with or who their partner is.

It’s not my place. So, you know, when actor’s are out and come out, I know they are gay so I understand it’s still a problem for actors in Hollywood especially if you are a leading man actor so but it’s like, I am always going to feel like I want the best actor for the role and in season two we are going to have a trans character and I think it’s different for a trans character and the way we were talking about it.

Sexuality is your orientation and for trans people it’s your gender which is different. And so, we’re definitely looking for a trans actor for the trans character. But as far as LGB, again I believe everybody is tapping into a part of people as an actor.

I don’t really care what an actor proclaims but I do understand the risk actor’s take by coming out and being openly gay, and I will always be on the look out for those people and if they get cast, they will get an extra bump because I will always support what they do. 

The same way, my films have always been multicultural, so I am always looking for those actors. I am looking to represent the real world.

8)      Is there still prejudice in Hollywood for actor’s who are openly gay at the start of their career?

I feel like it’s changing with times. All of these trailblazing actors and athletes that come out, it’s changing every day and I think they are aware of the fact that they are making giant differences tot the next generation. It takes time.

Things have changed so much in the last 20 years and progress and you would think that there is still a little bit of obstacle but that is definitely changing.

But there are a lot of filmmakers like me who give them an extra bump or boost. Just in general, it is important that these pioneers are really helping people.

Now Apocalypse, STARZPLAY, Sundays from March 10. Watch the trailer below: