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

When Art Imitates Life

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

When Art Imitates Life

Article excerpt

An actor goes undercover as an ex-gay to research his first screenplay, Save Me

Craig Chester paces about his New York City apartment, a phone glued to his ear. "Well, I'm not Jewish," he informs the caller, "but I've played one before." In fact, on one of his walls hangs a poster for Swoon, the 1992 film in which Chester portrayed Nathan Leopold, half the pair of Jewish thrill killers (and gay lovers) Leopold and Loeb. He is also known for his role as a heartbroken writer in Richard Glatzer's acclaimed 1994 comedy Grief. He was featured in 1995's controversial drama Frisk and 1997's comedy Kiss Me, Guido. Ironically, the cameras weren't rolling for what may turn out to be one of Chester's most notable portrayals: an ex-gay attending the 1996 two-week Exodus International conference in Salem, Mass.

Chester attended the conference to research background material for his first screenplay (written in collaboration with John Riggi), Save Me, a gay romantic comedy set in Dallas, Chester's hometown. To be directed by The Celluloid Closet's Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film takes place during a gay man's experience at an ex-gay ministry.

With production set to begin in the early spring of 1999, Chester's mission to gather information on ex-gays seems to have been successful. However, the actor says his own response to the experience still surprises him. "I went there and thought I was going to laugh at these people," he says. "Instead, I found myself disturbed at how much I empathized. These organizations go and recruit people when they're at their lowest moment in their gay identities," he adds. "At the same time you have to ask yourself, Why are so many of these people defecting from the gay community? and Why do they feel like they don't fit in?"

According to Chester, the need and desire for acceptance may play a key role in a potential ex-gay's motivation. While at Exodus, feigning disillusionment with his own identity, Chester says he not only witnessed a budding gay romance but also was hit on by several women. "What's ironic is that these gay men and women never re ally fit into the gay community. It's only after they wind up [at Exodus] that they suddenly have quality relationships with other gays. …

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