March 29, 2018

If you haven’t seen Love, Simon yet, what are you waiting for? This warm and wonderful movie hits all the right beats telling the story of a not-yet-out gay teen, his friends, his family, and an online relationship that takes a twist.

PFLAG National Communications Director Liz Owen had a chance to sit down and talk with director, Greg Berlanti, about the film’s personal connection.

PFLAG: So thank you for your willingness to sit down with us today. I know it's not typical to sit down all the time with organizations.

Greg Berlanti: It's so exciting, anything to just get people to go to the theater to see the movie.

PFLAG: Can you talk a little bit about your personal connection to this story? Why it was so important to you to make this movie?

GB: Um, you know, at first I, I just loved the script. That was a big part of it. At the time I grew up, there were a lot of movies that made you laugh and cry and feel all sorts of different kinds of feelings, but none of them had gay characters. Not comedies, not dramas, not any mainstream films. There weren't even secondary characters truthfully. So I felt right away I really wanted to be part of this. When I get sent a script that does all the things that I love a movie to do and it happens to have a gay character at the center of it? I want to do that. The other thing was I had a sense of obligation to be a part of it because I felt like so many of the wonderful things that happened in my life have happened because I was honest and spoke my truth and then actually wrote about it, which  led to other wonderful opportunities. I felt this was a chance to use the credibility I've gained  to try and give back.

PFLAG: I know the film was based on a book, but I really appreciated how much we saw these very different parental journeys, the mom's journey is very different from the dad's journey to acceptance. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of that?

GB: Yeah. You know, the first thing was that I knew we wanted to have parents who were kind of the ideal because I wanted to make the statement that you could come from a very liberal area or have parents that are, like Jen Garner's character, therapists, and still have fears about coming out. Because when you're coming out, that's the terror. Is everyone going to still love me in the same way if they know that I'm this other thing that they didn't know I was. In some ways it's gotten easier for kids in terms of society being more accepting or there being a more awareness, but for many kids it can still be just as terrifying as it always was.

So we wanted to sort of show the all-American perfect kind of parents and then, you know, in terms of Josh's character—only an actor like Josh Duhamel could you still like when they're acting like a doofus like that—I wanted to show that like, you know, those kind of micro-ways that can be very consistent throughout a kid's life, even by a parent with the best of intentions and the level of sensitivity that still is required, I think, as a parent. And there are a lot of parents who watched the film and experienced that part that way and say, "Gosh, you know, I know I'm messing up with my kid all the time and this has made me more self-aware in that regard." 

And then in terms of Jen [Jennifer Garner]'s character, when we had the script originally, we had a dad scene at the end where he sort of makes peace with the son, but we didn't have Jen's mom scene in there. And we all knew we wanted one if we wanted her to have some moment of connection with him. Um, and she said, "Yeah, you know, I'd love to have a moment with him in the third act, more than just a hug." So then I was looking for a way to send the character into the third act anyway, and I said to the writers was there were two things I really felt like I needed to hear when I came out—or I didn't even realize I needed to hear, but when I heard them after I came out they were the best things to hear.

One was  "I love you," which sounds so self-evident, but it's really powerful and that's sort of what's happening between Simon and his dad. But the other is that you deserve love. And because the scenes were going to happen in close proximity, I wanted them to each be distinct. And the writers took that and turned it into that beautiful scene. And then Jen took it to a whole other level. And when we went to shoot the scene that day, the actor playing Simon, her son, Nick, burst into tears the second she said it—it's actually the take that's in the movie. And then I looked around and the whole crew was crying and I really realized, you know, how universal, how everyone needs to hear that, how everybody needs to still hear, "You deserve love," and how powerful it is to say it. (laughing) Especially if you're Jen Garner saying it!

PFLAG: Can't we all have Jen Garner and Josh Duhamel as our parents? So there are going to be a lot of parents who see this film and a lot of them may not even realize yet that they have kids who are LGBTQ. And one of the things that I thought was really interesting were the subtle hints—I think you called them micro-ways—that Josh's character was telling his son that he might not be accepting. I think there are a lot of parents who do that. They don't realize that when they make a joke, they think it's supposed to be funny, but their kid who hasn't come out to them hears it an entirely different way. What do you hope parents take away from this movie?

GB: I mean, I think everyone does art for different reasons, but a big part of why I do it is to create a deeper understanding between the audience and the character that's on that journey. And the other reason is to start conversations. I don't know where those conversations will lead, but I know it's really healthy to have those conversations. And so in some of the work I've done in television and then a film like this, I hope that when audiences leave, parents in this case, that they leave the theater and they're still talking about the movie and using the film perhaps as an entry point.

You know, my dad saw the movie and the next day he started talking to me about things he's never talked to me about.  I'm 45 years old and he's 75 and we have a very healthy relationship and we've talked a lot about, you know, what guys I dated and the man I married or the kid I have in, but there were times about high school that he's never discussed with me and I think undoubtedly he saw a piece of himself in Josh and what was happening there and I think some of those things were weighing on his mind in a new way. And before that moment I hadn't thought about. I thought about LGBT kids experiencing the film but hadn't thought about parents of LGBT kids experiencing it. I was so seeing it through Simon's eyes, and my dad's starting to ask me questions like, "Well, were you romantic with anyone in high school?" and "When did you realize...?" And we were driving home from dinner and I was like, I couldn't drive fast enough because, you know, there's still a kid inside who doesn't necessarily want to talk to your parent about those things, you know, you're like, "We made it to 45! Can't we just tell people we had this conversation and not actually have the conversation?"

PFLAG: They always do it when you're driving, too, because they don't have to make eye contact, and you can all just stare out into space.

GB: Exactly!

PFLAG: You know you talked about conversations, and a lot of the work you've done in the past has opened the door to conversations. So I have to say thank you from PFLAG, all 200,000-plus of us!

GB: Well thank you to PFLAG! I have to say, you know, since I was a young gay man the very first year I went to a gay pride parade. From that moment on, and even now, the most emotional group that passes for me is always PFLAG. And it's always the one that elicits for me the biggest emotional response and you can kind of feel like the party and it's kind of happening at the pride festival, and all of a sudden everybody gets quiet and gets teary-eyed. I lost my mom in the last year and there is no primary relationship, like the role of your connection with your parents in that way. And it does form not just your own sense of identity but your sense of love. You know they teach that to you. And so I can't thank all of you enough for that work you do, with LGBT kids and their families.

PFLAG: What do you hope LGBTQ kids take away from this movie? You've always had a ton of great positive representation in your projects before, but this is next level.

GB: My hope is the same for all kids, that this is the kind of film for them that lives with them the rest of their life for different reasons. All the films from my youth that had an impact on me, I don't stop thinking about them if they're on TV. Again, they don't just remind me of seeing that movie. I kind of mark my life by them. And so I'm always hyper-aware of that when we're doing stories about or for young people that it's not just something that will live with them, but will live with them a long time. And this one in particular, I definitely hope that they grow up and grow old with it and that it's like a friend to them.