Friday, January 6, 2017
'Desperate Housewives'' Tuc Watkins Candidly Discusses Role as Troubled Middle-Aged Gay Man in 'Retake'
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview with Tuc Watkins is part of Unreal TV coverage of the recent theatrical and DVD releases of the (reviewed) gay-theme drama "Retake." The Nick and Tuc portion of this series concludes in mid-January 2017 with a post on an interview with "Retake" producer/director Nick Corporon.]
Tuc Watkins of the 2017 film "Retake," which is an awesome character study of middle-aged gay man Jonathan hiring a 20-something male prostitute to recreate a road trip, took time from caring for his four year-old twins and his many other commitments to talk on the telephone. One of the nicest things about chatting with this nice man from Missouri is that he truly is a regular guy who happens to be a film and television star.
Before sharing what makes Watkins the kind of guy who likely literally would give you the shirt off his back, it is worth noting that he puts his live-stage experience and soap acting training to good use in "Retake." He conveys the related anguish and aggression of Jonathan so well that you often feel that you are watching a play.
The first indication that Watkins was not your typical celeb with his level of cred was that he was at the apartment in his native Kansas City where he and the aforementioned wonder twins Catchen and Curtis reside when career obligations do not require being in Los Angeles. Watkins shared that family support and the little ones having a good school in Kansas City makes that it the kind of place to raise your kids even though it is as cold as Hell. He added that "it is nice to be around family."
Watkins also immediately warned that the kids might disrupt the interview with shrieking. In other words, Watkins did not go the Hollywood route of hiring a nanny.
A cute moment came midway in the interview when the predicted wailing occurred. Hearing Watkins calmly tell his offspring "each of you can have three" (presumably cookies) further showed that he is a terrific dad.
The mention of possible discord prompted asking about sibling rivalry. Watkins good naturedly replied that the little ones generally got along but that one wanting to watching "Paw Patrol" and the other wanting to watch "Meteor and the Mighty Monster Trucks" could cause turmoil. (All turned out well in that both kids wanted to watch "Patrol.")
Early Watkins Work
A discussion of the early roles of Watkins included his first television role in an episode of the '80s sitcom "Growing Pains." Watkins stated that he played a towel boy at a gym where Alan Thicke's Jason Seaver flirted with a beautiful personal trainer. The rest of the story was that the scene in which Watkins had three lines was cut but the credits still included his name and he received residuals for that performance.
Despite being abig "Pains" fan, discussing Watkins' role as a gay soap star in the 1997 gay-themed comedy film "I Think I Do" was a larger thrill. "Think" is a long-time personal favorite for reasons that include it being the first comedy of its type that your not-so humble reviewer ever saw and it prominently features songs from the made-for-TV The Cowsills clones The Partridge Family.
Watkins stated in a tone that was consistent with his overall manner and principles that "Think" "was almost 20 years ago; it was a gay screwball comedy; it wasn't issue-driven (like many gay-themed films of that era), and we needed it at the time." The only apt response to that was Amen, Brother.
On a related note, discussing the "The Partridge Family" led to off-the-cuff speculation that Watkins would be perfect for goofy swinging bachelor/band manager Reuben Kincaid in a film version of "Partridge." Watkins immediately alleviated any concern about inadvertently insulting him by stating that he loved Kincaid. (Hey, Sony! Are you listening?)
Exchanging thoughts of "Think" nicely led into discussing "Retake." The connection was that the initial trauma that prompted Jonathan to hire rent boys to get a sense of putting right what once went wrong occurred roughly in the period in which "Think" was released. The relevancy was that the late '90s was when it was first becoming possible for gay men and lesbian women to be widely accepted as a couple and raise children.
Watkins agreed and stated that "I think that they (Jonathan and his former boyfriend) were on track to have the American dream." Watkins then elaborated about the hope of Jonathan to raise a family in the stereotypical house with the white picket fence.
Watkins added the insightful analysis that "life got in the way; it didn't work; that is part of Jonathan's experience." This led to Watkins really getting to the heart of the manner in a way that removed any doubt that he fully understood his character. He observed that the underlying thoughts that tormented Jonathan were that "if I had done this, or if I had done that things would have been different."
On a more general level, Watkins responded to the observation that "Retake" seemed like a live-stage production by stating that he and co-star Devon Graye worked on the film in the same way that Watkins worked when appearing on stage. He further noted the intimate nature of the film.
The Gay's the Thing
The current thinking among some people that the sexuality of the main characters in modern gay-oriented films often was irrelevant because people all along the Kinsey Scale could relate to the story opened the door to asking Watkins about the importance of Jonathon being gay. He first stated that the story of "Retake" is "love and lost, which are universal themes."
This, in turn, led to an awesome discussion regarding being a middle-aged gay man in 2017. Watkins noted that "we as gay people do have an intrinsically unique perspective on things; we mature differently than straight people of the same generation."
Watkins explained that many gay men of the Gen X generation did not come out until their 20s and that that was a later age than many straight people had their first serious relationship and even might have been married.
The relevance of this to "Retake" was that the late start of Jonathan regarding starting what he had hoped to be a lifelong relationship in his late 20s or early 30s led to his struggling to come to terms with the breakup with his potential soulmate at an older age than straight people who had already moved past the heartbreak related to the one who got away.
A related thought that Watkins shared regarding the uniqueness of being a gay man was that "straight friends can be sympathetic and empathetic as much as they can." He provided the perfect example of a (subsequently redeemed) girlfriend inadvertently insulting him on his coming out to her. This woman stated on getting the news was that Watkins being gay was a horrible waste because he was so desirable to women. The communicated message was that Watkins did not have to "settle" or sacrifice by building a relationship with a man.
These insights of Watkins scream for sharing two widely held theories in the general gay community. The first is that the maturity level of a gay man regarding his ability to enter a relationship is tied to his gay age, which is measured from when he comes out. So, a man who is openly gay at 20 is "older" at 40 than a gay man who comes out at 35 and is now 45.
The other theory is even more "dog years" oriented. This belief is that the tendency of gay relationship to not last as long as straight ones makes each homosexual relationship be considered to be twice as long as a hetero one. The example is that two men who have been a couple for three years have a six-year relationship.
The topics already discussed with Watkins and the fact that '50s matinee idol (and righteous dude) Tab Hunter spontaneously came out on "Ellen" provided an opportunity to ask Watkins about his experience coming out as an actor on the talk show of Marie Osmond in 2013. Watkins got the ball rolling by stating that he "sort of planned to come out on 'Marie.'"
Watkins went on to say that he wanted to use the show as a chance to thoroughly discuss how he became a father. He noted as well that real and reel-life had collided in that he began the process of finding a surrogate to carry a baby at the same time that his gay "Housewives" character Bob Hunter had begun the process for having a child.
The deeper insight this time was Watkins stating regarding his mindset at that time that "I'm a gay guy at the point in life who wants to stop being the most important person in my life; I wanted to have kids."
Art v. Commerce
The conversation then shifted to the less personal topic of the current trend of movie companies making commerce a larger priority than art. The common-sense insight from Watkins on this subject was that "I think when you start focusing on the commerce, art goes out the window."
Watkins next volunteered that his theory particularly applied regarding comedy. He noted that that approach diluted the comedy. He went onto praise "Seinfeld" (not that there is anything wrong with that) as an example of art taking precedence over commerce, noting that it was "not a product made by committee" with a goal of getting "as many eyeballs as possible" to watch it.
Watkins further stated that programs, such as one of his favorites "Transparent," on streaming services and premium cable channels were current examples of shows that put art and commerce in the proper perspective.
The usual "what's next" question prompted the response that Watkins had accepted an invitation of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre to appear in a production of the former Broadway play "Constellations."
Watkins also noted that he was wrapping up his filming of the third season of the Netflix gay-themed drama "Eastsiders." As an aside, "Retake" co-star Kit Williamson is the writer/director/star of "Eastsiders."
Knowing that Watkins was a veteran of the "biz" and very briefly worked with the recently deceased Alan Thicke led to asking Watkins for his thoughts regrading losing so many beloved stars in November and December 2016. He replied that "2016 was not a banner year for the arts, culture, or politics" He went on to note the potential for improvement in 2017 and called for people on the progressive side to "fight more than ever to make things better."
Once more; Amen, Brother.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding this interview or "Retake" is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.