Martin talked to director Doug Langway (in the middle of the right photo) and the two actors Stephen Guarino (left in the right photo) and Gerald McCullouch (centre left of top photo) in 2012 for the second instalment of their BEARCITY trilogy, BEARCITY 2: THE PROPOSAL.
Martin: Doug, you wrote, directed and edited BEARCITY in 2010. It was a small-budget film, but it became a hit beyond the bear community. In another interview you said it spans the whole bear community as you see it. How do you see it? How did you grow into it?
Doug Langway I was very happy with the way audiences around the world embraced the first film. It was a very personal story that grew from friendships in my life as the community grew and I think people related to the emotional arcs that each character was going through in the film.
I was lucky enough to be a part of the scene in its infancy and was able to watch it grow and be a willing participant in its growth in New York City. It began as a place where people could just exhale and have a good time… At its core the bear community still is that place for newcomers and I believe it always will be.
As a man who finds heavy, hairy men physically attractive it was so wonderful to be around people who appreciated the alternative to the mainstream definition of beauty. And it was amazing to be in a place where big hairy guys felt attractive and could be themselves. It was intoxicating as a 20-something-year-old who was used to seeing one big guy in the corner of a dance club drowning in self-consciousness to now find them standing tall and proud of their bodies in a “bear” bar.
Martin: You look like a prototypical bear: a bit bulky, bearded, hairy. What is your definition of the gay group labeled „bear“ and do you actually feel like one yourself?
Doug Langway: I was told that a bear is two of three: Heavy, Hairy, Masculine. All three being the trifecta! Other people say it is a “state of mind”… a place of nurturing, self-acceptance and acceptance of others. For me it’s all of that wrapped around an idea that beauty is a wider concept than the mainstream would lead you to believe and this is a place to express that.
Martin: There is a wide diversity of bear subtypes: muscle bears, chubbies, otters, cubs, chasers, etc. Does that really make the bear community less judgmental and more open-minded?
Doug Langway: I think any community that achieves a level of acceptance and support will eventually gravitate to what they individually find attractive. And if the community is big enough to support it they will splinter off into sub-cultures within the community. Is it healthy? Of course… as long as they respect that the community was founded in self-acceptance and acceptance of others and don’t start pissing on each other to boost their self-esteem. I find that if you walk into a group of muscle bears and don’t treat them like a piece of meat that they can be quite charming and interesting. Same goes for the big guys, the chasers and all the guys in between. Everyone just wants to be treated with a little respect and free of judgement.
Martin: Despite or because of the diversity, some people don’t know how they fit in there. What would you say to them if you talked about this problem?
Doug Langway: I would say you don’t have to fit in, the people around you need to appreciate you… so show them who you are and they will come around if they are worth “fitting in” with. If they don’t then they are not respecting the core what its all about which makes you more of a bear then they are.
Martin: Is there a difference of bears internationally?
Doug Langway: No, bears are hot all over the world! Kidding. Sure there are differences but at the core it’s the same. A place where you are free to whistle at a fireman! Kidding… A place where you are free to be yourself.
Martin: Do you see yourself or do other people see you as spokesman for the bear community?
Doug Langway: I am proud of the community that has been build around the world and I am happy to praise it. But all I am is the megaphone. The stories are written by the bear community around me. Without them I would have nothing to write about.
Martin: Stephen, your 20th anniversary as a comedian must be coming soon. Do you have any plans to celebrate it?
Stephen: Dear god no! I am going to enroll in community college and find a new career!
Martin: You created several shows, one being produced by Rosie O’Donnell. I even recognized you in „Shopaholic“ – but only after your big gay hit BEARCITY. How has your life changed since 2010?
Stephen: Well, I have been in a number of TV shows and movies, but its true my „fame“ seems to come from either „Happy Endings“ on ABC or BEARCITY and perhaps it is because on both of them I am playing a screaming bitter gay guy that you cannot ignore! I never thought an independent movie would be my ticket to glamour, but in fact BEARCITY has taken me to more parties, more countries, and given me more attention than anything on TV! I suppose this is because the bears are a well organized and pretty well-funded group that is very good to its members!
Martin: Gerald, you’ve been an actor for TV and movies for over 20 years, e.g. in dozens of episodes of „CSI“? How special is BEARCITY to you?
Gerald McCullouch: BEARCITY is very special to me. Which was one of the reasons that I came on board for BEARCITY 2: THE PROPOSAL not only as an actor but also as a co-executive producer. I’m so proud of this second film and really think the fans are going to fucking love it.
Martin: Stephen, you are not what people might conceive of as a typical bear, but then the film is also about showing the diversity of the bear community. Do you feel you are a bear? Has that changed since BEARCITY?
Stephen: Do people nowadays assume that you are into bears and the scene (even if you are not)? I do not feel like a bear at all and in tandem my Hollywood brain is trained to be striving for the opposite, but after doing this I can say „Wow what a fucking difference to be in a movie where I didnt have to watch what I eat!!“ I felt like Charlize Theron in „Monster“, just letting it all go! It was heaven! They do assume I am into bears, which I am, although to be specific I am into bear cubs. I definitely like young guys. Young and porky gets me.
Martin: Gerald, have you felt like being a part of the bear community before the film? Has that changed since then? How do people react to your character Roger and to you personally?
Gerald McCullouch: Not to sound like I’m repeating myself, but I talk about this in the first BEARCITY blog I wrote for the Advocate.com. I’ve always lived my life on the fringe and never really associated myself with any one particular group. And I guess I still don’t. However, the bear community has been so supportive and embraced the film so well. It’s such a wonderful community and I’m honored to represent that community in these films and this amazing story that seems to resonate with so much of the community.
Martin: How did the two of you get the roles and what do you feel about your characters?
Gerald McCullouch: I talked about that a lot in the first blog entry as well. Initially, I didn’t think I was cast-able for the role of Roger and I actually passed on the project when it first came my way. BEARCITY and the role of Roger was a big departure from „CSI“ and my role on that show – or any of the other roles I’ve played throughout my career: I hadn’t ever been given the opportunity to play such a sexually confident role before. But Zoe Rotter, the casting director, was very passionate about getting me in for the project and thought I’d bring something unique to the role. So I have her to thank. More importantly, I have the director, Doug Langway, to thank for the opportunity. I’m so thankful he trusted me with Roger. It’s a great role to inhabit. One of my favorites. And it’s so funny, I’ve learned that I probably have more in common with Roger than any other role I’ve ever played, yet at first I thought the complete opposite.
Stephen: I had a fairly traditional audition through my agency for it, and although I thought mentally I was perfect for the character, I did not think I fit in the world. Leading to your next question…
Martin: Have your lives or careers taken a completely different direction because of BEARCITY?
Stephen: It has. Now people think that I will work for only a 30 dollars a day! Seriously, I had no idea how rewarding the gay film and gay festival circuit would be, I can say that the first year with BEARCITY 1 was one of the best years of my life. I never get to show this much range in the regular film world.
Gerald McCullouch: Definitely. BearCity was a game changer for me. It changed the trajectory of my career and I’m so thankful for it. Without BEARCITY, I doubt I would’ve been included in last year’s OUT 100. And I certainly wouldn’t have received the recognition I have within the world wide gay community. The whole journey has been an unforgettable experience and I’m so glad I’m a part of it.
Martin: Last year you shot BEARCITY 2 with the whole cast of the first film plus some new actors. I imagine it must have been pretty easy and a lot of fun continuing your on- and off-screen friendships. Or wasn’t it?
Stephen: Super easy to get back into it, in fact, perhaps even too comfortable. I started talking back alot. I loved also working with Kathy Najimy, she is hilarious, and will make my actor reel even more impressive (all about me).
Gerald McCullouch: It was an unforgettable experience. I think this is a very talented group of actors and was very excited to get to work with everyone again. While traveling the world promoting the first film a few years ago, I sat through more screenings of the film than I had ever expected. And each time I found a new nuance in each of the performances. And with each screening, the performances brought new depth to the story and kept it fresh. That’s very rare in film.
Martin: Gerald, as you already said, you’ve also been co-executive producer for BEARCITY 2. What exactly did you have to do?
Gerald McCullouch: I not only helped with the fund raising, but was fairly active in assisting Doug in getting the best product possible into „the can“. We had quite a lot to juggle on this shoot and had a very ambitious production schedule. My other on-set producers and myself managed a cast and crew of about 50 people with a large company move and two base camps. For the first two weeks we shot in Provincetown and then, in less than 48 hours time, most of the 50 people relocated to New York City for the last leg of shooting. We had two hurricanes to deal with, and so many other unforeseen obstacles that each of us on-set producers really came together to form a strong team that achieved our common goal of making BEARCITY 2: THE PROPOSAL the best film it could be. And I think each of us, from cast to crew, agree and are proud of the final outcome and think this second film far surpasses the first.
Martin: In the last months there have been the first festival screenings of BEARCITY 2: THE PROPOSAL. Now this sequel is going to be screened in Germany and internationally. What can audiences expect of the second installment? What were the reactions to it so far?
Doug Langway: The reaction has been wonderful. It has really struck a chord for audiences already. I have had people weeping in my arms and thanking me for believing in love. It has been very moving and very rewarding experience as a filmmaker. One man said he was going to show his father to help him understand what he is all about. I was very proud of that. But mostly you can expect to have a great time and laugh your butt off!
Martin: How do you feel about this sequel and it’s more serious tone?
Gerald McCullouch: Although I was always aware that Doug had a sequel in mind, his story for the second film and the journey he takes these characters on far surpassed my expectations. And although it may have a more serious tone, it’s still a hilariously funny movie. I’ve already sat through a handful of screenings and the uproarious laughter that I’ve heard during each screening is something many films don’t experience. And to watch the audience go from uncontrollable laughter to tears is very rewarding.
Stephen: I actually didnt feel like it was that much more serious. It felt celebratory and fun, and the seriousness was more about deep love. The first was more about societal standards and health. That seems way more serious.
Martin: Relationship was the core of BEARCITY. As the title suggests, gay marriage is the main theme in BEARCITY 2. It is also a huge topic in politics in the U.S., in Germany and other states right now. France will open marriage in October, while the German Chancellor is against it. Do you believe the film adds new arguments to the discussion? Is the issue important to you?
Stephen: New arguments? Perhaps not in a savvy political way, but we achieved success by showing the norm: Marriage takes heavy contemplation, decision making, thoughtfulness, blessings, etc. All we can do is portray, fairly identically to straight people, that marriage is necessary, intense, monumental, etc. What we really succeeded at, is that legal or not, we did not make it an easy decision and that is what the rest of the world should learn as well. So fuck conservative celebrities on their fifth legal marriage! Of course it is important to me. It is the great issue of my generation. How exciting! Damn German Chancellor!
Doug Langway: I really wanted to make a film that respects what love is and how it relates to marriage. Having the right to marry is such an important part of the business of love, but not love itself. To me it’s really less of a contract between two people and more of a contract between the couple and society to insure society respects the declaration two people have made to spend their lives together. I knew too many couples who build a life together only to have it all taken away when one of them passed and the family swoops in with no respect for the commitment that was made. Legal marriage changes that. Marriage is a great foundation for a couple in love to build a life together and theceremony is a great experience to begin that journey.
Gerald McCullouch: I think the film has something very unique and powerful to say about a lot of subjects. Yes, marriage equality is at the forefront, but navigating gay relationships – friendships, committed and non-committed sexual relationships, as well as casual hook ups – is also addressed. The obstacles we face in the gay community as we get older is addressed. As is body image, HIV status, and the diversity and tension within the bear community. Family is an important theme, as is being true to ourselves and our own unique paths we’re on as gay men. Many of these themes are important to me and the fact that Doug’s script allows a platform for these themes to be addressed was one of the reasons I was passionate about coming on board as a producer.
Martin: The film producers are trying an alternative way of distribution with BEARCITY 2. Can you talk about the strategies?
Doug Langway: Our plan is to make it available world wide in multiple languages [i.e. subtitles, Martin] at the same time this November. We believe making it available, affordable and easy to obtain will help us minimize illegal downloads. Filmmaking is an expensive art form and we need the support of the community to continue to produce quality storytelling on the big screen. We are hoping everyone will go to bearcity2.com and support the film this holiday season.
Martin: I’ve heard from Jim Lande, one of the producers, that you are thinking about a third film. How far are your plans? What will it be about?
Doug Langway: Well, I am a „Star Wars“ kid, so a trilogy was always something that excited me when I sat down to write the first film. I can’t say what it will be about without spoiling this one but I will say that its going to be a lot of fun to make and we will try to stay on the same path to release in 2014. I am thinking… BEARCITY 3 in 3-D!: RETURN OF THE BELLIES! Kidding.
Martin: Gerald and Stephen, will you be part of BEARCITY 3 again and have you talked about it with the other actors?
Gerald McCullouch: A third film has been discussed. However, we’re also investigating the possibility of developing a series. Time will tell. Whichever the outcome, I’d be honored to be on board.
Stephen: I have talked about it with them all, and we have all made grand statements about what it would take to do a third, and ALL the CHANGES we would DEMAND, but in the end we all know we are gonna fucking do it.
Martin: What else is important to you in life besides the bear community, the BEARCITY movies and everything else bear? Do you sometimes feel there’s too much bear in your life?
Stephen: You hit that last part on the head. I am bear’ed out sometimes.They have a goddamn party for everything! I love the movies, I love the commmunity, they are wonderful. I will continue to be part of it as long as they will have me. Otherwise, I care about just trekking along in my career, traveling, and trying to be part of bigger things. These movies did all that for me…
Gerald McCullouch: I keep a pretty diverse lifestyle and circle of friends. Too much of anything can easily get redundant for me and I’m a fairly restless man and not a fan of redundancy. Life’s too short. And the world’s too big for uneventfulness. So it’s important to me to continually bring new experiences into my life and to always keep learning and growing. Monotony sucks, don’t ya‘ think?
Martin: Yeah, true. So let’s get on with something more interesting, e.g. watching BEARCITY 2 instead of talking about it. Thank you all for the interview! And Doug, I look forward to meeting you in Cologne for the Bear Pride screening.