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

Jason Priestley: A Long Way from Beverley Hills

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

Jason Priestley: A Long Way from Beverley Hills

Article excerpt

Most gay men remember a time when they were just beginning to

feel the stirrings of homosexual desire course through their

hormonally confused bodies. They also recall that, more often

than not, they were forbidden to express those desires. For most

gay men, telling a cute male classmate that you had a thing for him

would certainly have resulted in verbal and/or physical abuse.

What a relief it was, then, to sit in a dark movie theater and

fantasize about the hot male lead on the screen. A fantasy

"relationship" with a favorite same-sex film or television actor

has no doubt provided many sexually uncertain teens with the

first awakenings of love.

Such is the experience of Giles De'Ath, the protagonist of the

new film Love and Death on Long Island, written and directed by

Richard Kwietniowski. The difference is that Giles (played by John

Hurt) is not an American teenager. He's a middle-aged English

writer and recent widower who, quite by accident, finds himself in a

movie theater watching a puerile American teen film called

Hotpants College II, starring heartthrob Ronnie Bostock (Jason

Priestley). Giles becomes transfixed by Ronnie's beauty and falls in

love.

Although the film focuses on one man's love for another, the

words "gay," "queer," or "homosexual" are never uttered.

And not once does Giles question the fact that his object of

choice is someone of the same sex. According to Priestley, who

plays the object of Giles's affection, that's because the film's story is

universal. "It's a love story," he says. "Two people loving each

other--or one person loving another--is what it is, whether it's

heterosexual or homosexual." Kwietniowski, who is gay, agrees:

"Although the spark that ignites the story is informed by Giles's

sexuality, I wanted the film to be about someone who goes on a

journey that allows him ultimately to fall in love."

Kwietniowski says he chose Priestley for the role of Ronnie

because he needed "someone who was convincing as a heartthrob."

The director was familiar with Priestley's work on Beverly Hills

90210, the Fox TV show that catapulted the actor into the

stratosphere of teen idoldom in the early '90s and that has garnered

an increasingly devoted gay cult following throughout the decade.

Priestley had the looks, vulnerability, and intelligence the role of

Ronnie required, Kwietniowski says. "I also thought that maybe he

would be mature enough to be playful about his own image," he

adds.

"Being called a teen idol and dealing with all the shit that goes

along with it was never something I was comfortable with,"

Priestley says. "But given the fact that I had been through that

experience, the baggage that I bring to this role actually adds to it

and makes it very funny. It kind of breaks the fourth wall a bit, and

I kind of dug that."

Some of Kwietniowski's friends, however, saw Priestley's teen-idol

status as more of a drawback than a virtue, particularly since he

was being paired with the classically trained, Oscar-nominated Hurt.

"Certain people raised their eyebrows," says Kwietniowski. "But the

chemistry between them is incredible. They were both intrigued by

each other.

What was even more intriguing for the director was the fact that

the people working on Love and Death on Long Island, which is his

first feature, were able to grasp his complex ideas about a man

coming to terms with his sexuality in the '90s. "I'm almost the only

gay person who worked on the movie," notes Kwietniowski, "which

says something special about the cast, particularly John and Jason,

that they could tune in so acutely to what I was doing. …

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