ohaver Interview

07 January 2009

Writer-director mocks melodramas with

Writer-director mocks melodramas with "is he or isn't he" comedy

Tommy O'Haver recently got his first big-time Hollywoodpaycheck -- and he used it to put a down payment on a new Volvo.

Not a Porsche. Not a Range Rover. A four-door Volvo sedan.Not exactly the funky or stylish ride you'd expect the current darlingof gay cinema to be driving.

But O'Haver, who is the writer-director of the just-released"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" -- sort of a modernizedmock melodrama with a insecure gay guy in the Doris Day role -- is reallyexcited about his new wheels.

"It's totally a family car! I like it that way,"he chirps with a smile broadening across his five o'clock shadow that suggestshe's having a new-car-smell sense memory. Then he reveals the real reasonhe opted for soccer mom transportation.

"Actually, I'm gonna get Jennifer Lopez pregnant.I'm in love with her after 'Out of Sight.'"

Get in line, pal.

Lopez probably isn't aware of this, but to hear O'Havertell it, she's poised to become the next femme de jour of the gay community.

"She's...the new Sharon Stone," the directorgushes.

That big-time paycheck came courtesy of Universal Pictures,which hired him to write and direct a big screen treatment of the "Archie"comic books after studio executives saw "Billy," his featuredebut.

"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" stars Sean P.Hayes, a slightly effeminate Jon Cryer kind of guy, as Billy, an unemployed,unlucky-in-love Los Angeles photographer. The film borrows many story andstylistic elements from 1950s "women's movies," then adds ironicwinks here and there.

It's the tale of Billy's frustrating conundrum of a crushon a delicately handsome, sexually ambiguous waiter-turned-model namedGabriel (Brad Rowe), who may or may not be gay. Hayes playsBilly as a vulnerable Everyman, easily garnering empathy from anyone whohas been in love with a person who is not forthcoming about where the relationshipstands.

"On the page, I was a little bit scared that Billymight come off as little annoying, because he is a little self-loathing,"O'Haver explains. "But because Sean is so bright and cheery, but atthe same time being a little neurotic and paranoid, I think it worked perfectly."

Billy recounts his youth in a voice-over illustrated witha series of Polaroid pictures as the film opens, and O'Haver admits muchof Billy's background is "pretty autobiographical."

He grew up in very heterosexual Indiana and says a storyBilly tells in the movie's most unguarded moment -- about being excludedfrom a friend's birthday party after saying he liked to look at naked men-- is from his own childhood.

"I remember that was the first time I really saidanything to anybody (about being gay). I must have been about 8 or 9 yearsold."

After that, the director says, he completely repressedhis feelings. "It wasn't until college when I started to think maybeit's about time I slept with men," he laughs.

He didn't come out to his parents for years after that,and says "they're still not all the way there."

"I was talking to my mom today because it's her birthday,and I was saying that I was being out in these interviews," he recounts."And she goes (affecting a motherly, nasal tone), 'Well thatdoesn't mean you have to be a spokesperson for all gay people.'"

But O'Haver says his folks are happy for his success. "They'rereally proud and excited. They're a little bit nervous, but they're doing,actually, really well, considering."

After graduation, O'Haver was planning on a career as amovie critic. But while working in the mail room at New Line Cinema hetook a screenwriting class and began producing short films, one of whichwas "Catalina," a five-minute unrequited love story that becamethe foundation for "Billy."

Enamored with classic melodramas, he says his story wasinspired, in part, by William Wyler's "The Heiress," about aplain-looking rich girl, played by Olivia de Havilland who falls for aman of questionable motives, just as Billy falls for Gabriel, a man ofconflicted sexuality.

"The Montgomery Clift character," O'Haver waxeswith adoration, "you're never quite sure what's going on with him."

To enhance the connection with the films that inspiredhim, O'Haver decided to shot "Billy" in Cinemascope -- extremelyunusual for an independent film -- after a meeting with his cinematographertwo years before the movie started filming.

"He had come out to L.A. from North Carolina to pickup this Panavision camera with these anamorphic lenses. I went over tohis house to look at the camera, and I knew right away that the movie wasgoing to be shot on that camera. Because I like a good Cinemascope movie.A movie should be a movie, you know?"

With a look steeped in Technicolor hues and soundtracklittered with Xavier Cugat riffs, O'Haver also infuses "Billy"with elements of B-movies camp and European art film technique.

He acknowledges a debt to Dutch director Lars Von Trierfor the look of several dream sequences, in which Billy's anxieties andfantasies are played out in front of a backdrop scene projected in blackand white.

In part because of these fantasy sequences, "Billy'sHollywood Screen Kiss" has also been likened to "Jeffrey,"a 1995 sleeper comedy, about a gay New Yorker abstaining from sex for fearof AIDS, that features several zany fantasy moments. But O'Haver bristlesa little at the comparison.

"Well, 'Jeffrey' does have a good campy aestheticto it," he says. "But I hope not everyone says that."

What would O'Haver prefer to compare the film to then?

"I would say it's 'The Heiress' meets 'Beyond theValley of the Dolls,'" he says with an implied rimshot.

Now that "Billy" is opening in theaters, O'Haveris ready to focus on the "Archie" movie. He recently finishedthe first draft of the script, which he describes as "a lot like 'Billy's,'but without drag queens," and he hopes to infuse his first big budgetstudio effort with the same wit and style.

"It's going to be very hyper-real with, again, anotherkind of melodramatic love story at the heart," he says, pausing witha slightly cheshire grin, "...and a few musical numbers."


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