While we may still see the occasional coming out movies, LGBT films are moving into a different territory where things like murder, intrigue and duplicitous characters can be more welcome on the landscape.
Case in point is Jamie Babbit’s Breaking The Girls which starts out with two women (played by Agnes Bruckner and Madeline Zima) in flirtation mode but quickly becomes a spin on Patricia Highsmith’s novel (and Hitchcock film) Strangers On A Train.
With a solid, intriguing script by L Word alum Guinevere Turner and Mark Distefano, the film also stars Kate Levering, Jennifer Ann Massey, Shanna Collins and Melanie Mayron.
Babbit rang us up to talk about the film, which screened at the Outfest LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles last week, how times have changed with gay and bisexual characters, and her future with Lorne Michaels’ HBO project, which Babbit is set to direct.
AfterEllen: Talk about the origins of Breaking the Girls.
Jamie Babbit: I was actually at the Toronto Film Festival with The Quiet many years ago and a producer named Kirk D’Amico came up to me and said, “I have a bisexual thriller that Guinevere Turner is working on. Would you be interested in reading it?” I said, “Absolutely. Are you kidding me?” I’ve always been a huge fan of Wild Things, Basic Instinct, all those movies. I also am a huge Patricia Highsmith fan. I’ve always just been interested in her life and her writing and all that coded gay stuff with Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train.
So, when I read the script I was like this is totally the lesbian, bisexual reinterpretation of Strangers on a Train. I was like “There’s such great parts for three women and everyone’s got agendas and no one is straight, everyone is bi, everyone is fucking over everybody.” This was such a fun script so I just jumped right in.
AE: It doesn’t seem like actors have too big of an issue anymore with playing gay or bisexual characters. Maybe they did 10 or 20 years ago but now it seems like everybody’s game. How was casting the film?
JB: I think everyone was totally game. I mean, obviously, Madeline Zima had done a lot of risqué stuff on Californication so she was open to it. And Agnes Bruckner, who’s our Anna Nicole Smith [in the recent Lifetime movie], she didn’t have any issues either. Kate Levering, I worked with on Drop Dead Diva and knew what a fucking pro she was and how talented she is. So, I was very excited to work with those three ladies. They had great chemistry. Basically Kate and Agnes play sisters and everyone’s pretending to be something they’re not.
AE: Talk about where you think we are in terms of queer cinema. Do you feel like we’re kind of at a new stage because you don’t even see as many coming out stories like we used it? JB: Yeah. I think it’s definitely progressed. Last month I got the Frameline Award [and] it was actually the same day they were showing But I’m a Cheerleader [Babbit’s 1999 film] in the Retrospective [and] that Exodus International made the announcement they were shutting down because they realized that the system just doesn’t work at all. It’s so crazy that it literally happened that same day. So, I do think that there’s been progression. Certainly when I was making fun of a cheerleader 13 years ago I got so much shit for making a comedy about a very serious matter. People were so angry. I was like “if our community isn’t progressing where we can make fun of ourselves it’s not a community that’s worth being in.” Now there are so many gay characters and gay films and gay characters are allowed to be evil, they’re allowed to be bad, they’re allowed to be heroes, they’re allowed to be comedy, they’re allowed to be thrillers. So, I just feel like the window has really opened, the audience is willing.
When I showed Breaking the Girls in San Francisco I was like “Shit, are people going to be protesting?” Because I’ve got all these queer characters that are evil and doing fun, fucked up stuff, which I love, which was fun, amazing and I’ve always loved it and I’m fucking queerer than anybody so don’t tell me what my community is allowed to think.
People seemed to really enjoy the ride. So, I mean I understand that there was so little representation back in the day so we had to be very protective of how we were characterized. But I think there’s a lot of liberation in that we’re allowed to be many different kinds of people.
AE: When you do a project that’s a little more mainstream–like the Lorne Michael pilot for HBO you’re signed to direct–do you look for points where you can pull in gay characters or gay themes or is that not really an agenda?
JB: I mean I am totally attracted to things that I can relate to. Obviously, anything queer I’m going to relate to. But I also define myself in many different ways. I’m from the Midwest. My parents were civil rights activists. When I read the HBO pilot I was very excited that those writers were doing what we did with But I’m a Cheerleader in that they were bringing comedy to an environment that has taken itself very seriously. So, I was excited about how irreverent the comedy was in the pilot. I think that’s something I talked a lot about in my interview with the writers.
Honestly, I’m always just trying to connect with the material. As a queer person, of course queerness is always part of my connection. But I also have many other things going on in my life that can also draw me to a project. I’m open to it all.