Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

On His Own Terms: For Director James L. Brooks, Authentic Gay Content Has Always Been a Priority

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

On His Own Terms: For Director James L. Brooks, Authentic Gay Content Has Always Been a Priority

Article excerpt

When James L. Brooks was casting the gay role of Simon Nye in As Good As It Gets, he set out in search of a gay actor. "I just wanted it to have integrity," he says. "I didn't want it to be glib. I didn't want to treat it the way it's always been treated."

In fact, when Brooks chose Greg Kinnear for the part, he thought the actor was gay. Once filming began, however, Kinnear informed Brooks of his wedding plans. "It was a bummer for me," the director recalls, laughing. "I guess I didn't look as enthusiastic as I should have when a guy tells me he's in love."

Simon may be played by a straight man, but Brooks still believes Simon's spirit is genuinely gay. He's modeled, in part, after Brooks's longtime associate Robert Moore, who died in 1984. "Bob was key in my life," Brooks says of Moore, who directed the original 1968 off-Broadway production of The Boys in the Band as well as Brooks's first made-for-TV movie, Thursday's Game. "I'd think of Bob often during the filming of this. He was the first person I ever knew who died of AIDS."

Despite Moore's impact on him, Brooks relied on more than memory to flesh out Simon's role. "I'm big on research," he says. "I had conversations with gay friends and colleagues of mine that I would never have had, had I not been doing this movie. Because of the requirement to ask the unaskable, they were remarkable conversations."

Some of those conversations wound up in the film. At one point, Jack Nicholson's character, Melvin Udall, asks Simon, "Do you ever get a hard-on for a woman?" Brooks posed that question to many of his gay friends. But he couldn't use his favorite response: "Once, on ecstasy."

As his track record shows, Brooks's openness has helped him create convincing gay characters for years. Before directing such popular movies as 1987's Broadcast News (which originally contained a gay subplot) and 1983's Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment, Brooks was one of television's most successful sitcom producers. …

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