Often when a film decides it wants to take on an ‘issue’, it’s painful to watch. The story get twisted and hammered in order to serve the exploration of the problem, so that it feels more like a heavy-handed lecture than a movie. I Do however manages bring in all sorts of points and ideas about how lack of LGBT equality in the US has effected bi-national couples, and yet makes it feel organic and simply as if it’s telling the truth about the characters. That’s perhaps even more impressive as it’s the first feature script of David W. Ross, who also plays the lead role (and is, incidentally, a former member of 90s British boyband, Bad Boys Inc.). [Read more…]
David W. Ross was once a member of 90s UK boyband Bad Boys Inc, but after the group split up he moved to the US and become an actor. However he’s donning more hats for I Do, which is out on DVD and VOD in the UK on October 28th, as he not only stars but also produces and wrote the script.
The film centres on a British man living in the US who discovers that he’s going to be deported back to Britain, even though his entire life is in America. We spoke to David about the movie, how close it comes to his own life and whether we can expect to see a Bad Boys Inc. reunion anytime soon.
You both wrote and starred in I Do. I was wondering if the idea for the film came from personal experience of the American immigration system?
I knew a few people, gay and straight, who married for a green card. Having lived here for my entire adult life and having an accent, the question invariably comes up. But the story is really based on a relationship I had that had to end because the guy I was with couldn’t get his work papers to stay in the US. It started out as a comedy but got serious as soon as I started to work with gay couples effected by DOMA. I got to see first-hand how families are effected by laws written without an ounce of humanity.
Many will remember you as a member of the British boyband Bad Boys Inc. How did you get from there to being an actor, writer and producer in the US?
I moved to the States soon after the band split. Travelled for a bit first but landed in LA and New York for a while. I recorded some tracks and was offered a record deal and for a time was thinking about coming back the UK to pursue a solo career. I wasn’t happy with the direction they wanted to take me so didn’t sign. I got into commercial acting in New York and actually did pretty well but it wasn’t until I moved back to LA that I got into theatrical acting and loved it. I’ve been writing since I was a kid so it was a fairly easy transition to go from songs to scenes to a whole screenplay. The producing part is very natural to me as well. I love putting talented people together and in the end that’s a lot of what producing is about. I also raised most of the money myself on crowd funding websites so I felt a bigger responsibility to be in control of the film. I owe everything to people who supported me on twitter and Facebook.
I noticed the band has what appears to be an official Twitter and Facebook. Are you still in touch with the other guys? Any chance of a reunion?
We did set something up just in case. I’ve been chatting with the guys about it. We were approached but it seems as time passes it’s less likely for Season 2 (of UK TV’s The Big Reunion). Matthew and I remained good friends and often visit each other in our respective countries. I Skyped with Ally for the first time about The Big Reunion possibility but still haven’t managed a chat with Tony. I miss him. Funny after all these years. The show has made me look back and brought up a lot of emotions for me. Good and bad. I realized how quickly I ran away from it all and got outta Dodge.
Lance Bass has said there’s always a gay one in a boyband. As you were once that yourself, do you agree with him?
Just the one?
A lot of relatively low-budget gay-themed films have to rely on casting people no one has seen before, but I Do managed to pull in people like Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Alicia Witt and Patricia Belcher. How did they become involved?
I owe so much to our awesome casting directors. They had very little time to work with but they managed to get some great people involved. My agent got the script to Jamie-Lynn and Alicia and they read it within a week, which is unheard of. But on the whole I think we have a great cast of solid actors who all realized what I was trying to do with the film, shine a light on the human cost of inhuman laws that prevent protections for people and the ones they love.
Had you always intended to play the lead role, and was it intimidating taking on being the lead actor, the screenwriter and the producer?
After Quinceanera won both awards at Sundance I felt that perhaps I had the chops to play Jack. I was very nervous writing the script knowing that someday I would have to play the scene but the cast and crew we had in place meant I was very comfortable on set and loved showing up for work every day. Being a producer also really helped calm my nerves as I was a part of the decision process from day one till the final cut. Something I would suggest to anyone in a similar position as me.
I was wondering if it’s sometimes difficult as a screenwriter watching your words coming out of someone’s mouth if they don’t do it quite like you thought of it, or do actors tend to find new things that help express the words?
It’s all that and more. I was working with such amazing actors that actually care and had read the script and knew their lines, but more importantly why they were saying them. Yes there were a few times actors would question why they would say something and I would have to explain but on the whole it was a very smooth transition for me. looking back there are a few scenes in which I wish someone had said something to me but when you have one or two takes and have to move on to the next shot, you can’t get too prissy about things. Plus only I can see where I think I may have missed the mark. It’s normal I think.
I liked the way the film covers a lot of issues surrounding immigration and manages to fold them into being a natural part of the plot. Were you conscious about trying to ensure it wasn’t preachy and didn’t feel like a lecture on the unfairness of immigration for LGBT people?
That’s honestly why it took so long for me to write the script. I wanted it to feel authentic and needed something that would, in very short order, solidify the film as something more universal in its themes. I didn’t want to make a gay film, I wanted to make a film. I honestly don’t watch too many gay films as their scope is too small for me. If you’re writing a gay script the characters should just happen to be gay unless, of course, it’s a gay story that implicitly has a more universal theme, like Milk.
There’s also a sense in the film about gay people trying to find a new meaning of what family is, with Jack being a kind of dad, husband and lover to different people, although not getting everything from any of them, or having any sort of legal or physical security in any of those roles. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. I read a book called The Velvet Rage, which is by a therapist who noticed trends in his gay male patients. Without going into it too much it’s really about how, as gay people, you’re brought up in a straight-centric society. So many gay people hide who they are and never learn to self-validate so everything you have has to be fabulous so you get outside validation. For Jack it’s about getting something he always wanted, but never thought he could have, but now he’s living a life that is not his own in some ways because of how it came to be. It’s about him owning his life, his choices, his wants, needs and desires and not being afraid of who he is.
You did a crowd-funding campaign for I Do. Do you think that’s the future on indie filmmaking, particularly for gay-themed project where funding can be even more difficult to come by?
I Do. See what I did there? Crowd-funding is great, a lot of work, but great. There are simply no excuses for someone who wants to make a film. Everything is possible now. Film is incredibly expensive but for an indie film maker to be totally in control of the finances is amazing. If you have a great script there’s no telling what it can get you and I think for gay films, such as the market is for them, crowd-funding is a great way to go. Also having an audience that is with you for the ride is so amazing and supportive. I would have walked away a long time ago had it not been for the over 500 people who supported me.
How difficult was it to get I Do made?
When I realized I could raise the money on crowd-sourcing websites that took the pressure off of my going the Hollywood route, which I had been doing for a couple of years. On a small budget you’re always going to have challenges. We had an amazing production team who worked on this film and so many amazing people came on board who are really at the top of their game. We did our sound mix at Skywalker Sound in Marin county, our score was written by the team who worked on Cloud Atlas. For an indie film we got major motion picture people. You have to ask and fight as an indie film maker. It’s as difficult as you make it I guess.
How did you feel when you heard about the Supreme Court DOMA decision and that things may finally be about to get easier for gay bi-national couples in the US?
I was overwhelmed. I stayed up late the night before for the Texas filibuster and woke up really early to watch the decision come in. I think it’s amazing that bi-national couples are finally getting green cards based on marriage. Something opposite couples have had forever. But I think it’s time to also remind ourselves that there are over 30 States that still have no marriage rights. They have their own State level DOMAs. So for couples in those States it’s near impossible to have the same protections as couples in States where gay marriage is legal. The fight is far from over.
As a Brit living in the US, I was wondering about your take on the situation for gay people in America. From this side of the Atlantic it often seems like the US is incredibly divided over the issue in a way most western European nations aren’t anymore (except on the fringes). However, is it like that on the ground there?
I live in LA so I don’t get to see much bigotry and hate. But I obviously track it. The tide has finally turned. People are really seeing how disgusting organizations like NOM (National Organization For Marriage) are, or the politicians that peddle hate to get money from people they prey on. These people have blood, pain and suffering on their hands. The more these people push back, lie and completely ignore reality the more crazy and vile they appear. Which in a twisted way is a good thing. I’m still puzzled as to why these people carry on as they know, as we all know, the battle is won. We just unfortunately now have to wait a few years for the courts to catch up. In those years, lets not forget, much harm will be done to LGBT people because of unjust, inhumane laws.
Do you watch many other gay-themed films? Do you think queer cinema is improving in its diversity, or do you think it’s becoming more homogenous?
I saw a few while touring with I Do at the festivals. I tend to gravitate towards indie films in general but I’m not really interested in films with gay themes unless they’re more universal in their scope. My being gay is about number 18 in a long list of who I see myself as. I don’t relate to a lot of gay culture, never really have, and that’s not a judgement. I’ve met many people who are just living their lives and just happen to be gay.
Are you working on any other movies?
I’ve been developing a script that I intend to direct and play a small role. It’s a Brit movie, which basically will be an excuse to spend a year in the UK!
Thank you, David.