It's hard enough sometimes to just write a movie script, and it's doubly hard to write and direct. Now, think about the trifecta - writing, directing, and acting; tack on a producing credit and that is what Peter Paige decided to do on the film, Say Uncle.
The movie also marks his first time as a writer/director/producer, but acting - he's been doing that for years; you'll probably remember Peter as Emmett Honeycutt on Showtime's Queer as Folk. Well, it was thanks to his relationship with Showtime that Say Uncle came about; the cable network is also part of the theatrical releasing team.
In the flick, Peter plays Paul Johnson, a wannabe-artist, who finds out he's losing one of the only friends he's ever known - his g-dson; when the family moves to Japan, Paul is stuck in Portland only to turn into an emotional wreck. His only joy is going to the park and playing with the other kids.
That is until one of the mothers, played by Kathy Najimy, figures out Paul is not the father of any of the children there. She believes he is a sexual predator, and seeks to put him in jail.
Paul's role is hard enough for anyone to play; Peter stepped up to the plate to take on the character. We talked about that, as well as getting a star studded cast that Say Uncle includes like Kathy, Anthony Clark, Gabrielle Union, and Lisa Edelstein.
Check out what he had to say:
So when you're writing this script, are you thinking you want to play this part, or did you have someone else in mind?
Peter Paige: This one I wrote for myself; I started it eight years ago, long before I had a career to speak of. I was working as a theater actor, and had not broken into film or TV at all. I wrote it for me as an actor, not for me as a director; it was after three years on a series, that I thought, 'I really want to direct this; I'm going to be good at that.' I pulled the script out and I said, 'This is a good script, and this is a good script for me to start off with; it's a little too big, but that's another story.' Then, there was much discussion whether I should act in it. Ultimately, the decision came down to one of two things; one, I had written it for me, so I did understand it. And two, I was the only actor I could afford, so we did it.
Was there ever a discussion, after you got funding, to get someone with an outside view of the story to play Paul?
Peter Paige: Sure there was, and I understand that. I didn't go into this blindly; my two best friends, my best friend runs Grey's Anatomy and my other best friend is a very successful comedy writer. It's not like one day, I thought, 'I'm going to write something and I'm going to star in it, everyone else be damned.' I got a lot of support, a lot of input, a lot of feedback; I guess to make a film is an act of arrogance in itself, and to star in it is an even bigger act of ignorance and arrogance, but I'm not that unconsciously set also.
Not that you are a single person who likes to plays with kids, but was this something that was very personal about this story?
Peter Paige: A lot of my roles have a sort-of boyish heart to them, at their center, and that's certainly true for Paul. Paul's journey is really dependent on his joy and his vulnerability, and those are qualities that I know I have access to; those are places in me I know I can find. I had to find it in order to write it, so I knew he was somewhere inside me as an actor, too.
So did you stay more Paul, or stay as Peter while you were shooting?
Peter Paige: That's interesting; when I played Emmett for five years on Queer as Folk, I would become more Emmett as we shot month after month after month. I felt I spent more time as Emmett as I did Peter. And during the summer, I would shake my head and change my clothes, and completely change the way I was presenting myself to the world in order to feel like myself again. The movie is a much shorter beast, and Paul - I don't know, I'm sure I've taken something of Paul with me; thank G-d, I still have a social awareness of morals and code, so hopefully I'm not going to get myself arrested. But, yeah, I think you take something away from everyone you play.
Do you think having the relationship with Showtime helped in getting them to fund the film?
Peter Paige: What do you think? They came on very early and helped fund it; they helped us get the movie in the can, and that was an incredible gift from the network. And they believed in the project, too and I don't want to dismiss that; but of course it did. I have to say, when I sent the script in and asked for notes. When I sent them the final cut of the film, they were incredibly supportive; I remember Bob Greenblatt saying, 'You did the second hardest thing, you made a good movie.' I said, what's the first hardest thing?' He said, 'Selling a good movie.'
How did you go about getting the cast you got?
Peter Paige: Kathy's the first person I sent the script to; I didn't write the part for her, per say, but obviously I knew her from Sister Act, Veronica's Closet, King of the Hill. But, what I loved was her theater work early in her career, which is much darker and much more melancholy, and still very funny, but infused with all this resonance. And that's where I wanted the film to go, and I knew she would get that; I knew she'd get the political undertones, and I knew she would get the sense of loss and belonging in the film. So she responded right away; I got a call three days later from her agent telling me Kathy wants to talk. We spoke, I was in Canada, so it was on the phone and she said, 'I love her, I get her, I want to play her.' And so we had Kathy, and then we started the process of casting, which as you know is a big, giant puzzle. But what I ended up with was a group of people that I've loved for years; I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with everyone of these people. I didn't know any of them; I had met Gabrielle at a party for two seconds. They signed onto the project because they believed in what it said about the world and that just means so much to me.
What do you want people to know about this movie?
Peter Paige: I want people to know the movie is about the culture and the hysteria of it; it's as much to me about a person of Middle Eastern decent living in this country, as much as it is about a gay man who likes kids. It's about how afraid we all are of each other and how scary that is.
What's next for you?
Peter Paige: The very next thing I'm going to do is act; I'm going up to the Sundance labs and workshop a movie as an actor. But, I've got about 4 other projects in different stages of development; I've got a film I'm going to direct, I've got a big sweeping, monster epic I wrote that I'm going to direct. I've got a TV pilot that we're furiously re-writing because there's some interest around that. So, there's a lot going on.
What was your first reaction when you first saw the final cut of this movie?
Peter Paige: Well, the first cut I saw was the editor's assembly, and I thought I had wasted a million dollars; and that's not because of my editor, he's a genius, there's all sorts of things in there that you don't need. But, when I first saw the completed film, I wept.
You can see Peter and the rest of the amazing cast in Say Uncle when it opens in New York and Los Angeles June 23rd and other cities in the weeks to follow; it's rated R.