When Out on Film kicks off on Thursday, Atlanta's LGBT film festival does so with a movie that’s generating buzz on the festival circuit for breaking the mold of "gay films." Meet Evan Todd, its lead actor and certified festival hunk, who gives us a preview.
“Fourth Man Out” has wowed audiences at L.A. Outfest, the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Toronto's Inside Out. All of them gave the movie their Audience Award, and the film has picked up different awards at other festivals as well. It stars Todd as gay guy Adam, who comes out to his three straight friends, including one played by Chord Overstreet of “Glee” fame.
International audiences are responding to the movie for subverting stereotypes. The openly gay actor talks to us about that, as well as how how he made the transition from stage to film, and how his life experiences influenced what he brought to the role.
So what is this film all about?
I think “Fourth Man Out” is a buddy comedy, but I think it’s just a pretty funny and honest story about a young guy coming out in a small town to his straight friends.
It feels like a very 2015 take on the coming out story, where it’s not so much about him being rejected. It’s about how he’s embraced by his friends and his family, and he has to figure out what their relationship is like now that he’s being honest with them.
What about this particular project caught your eye?
I thought, for one, I just liked the script. It was a fun, funny comedy that doesn’t really have anything to do with being a gay film, even though the central character is gay. So I was just really drawn to that, mostly. I thought it would just be a fun film to do, and it doesn’t feel campy or cliché or stereotypically gay, like a “gay film.” It just felt like a fun film with a gay character, and I loved that.
How did you prepare for the role?
The preparation really just came from me getting there, meeting everybody, figuring out everything and then just trying to connect with the other guys. It’s so much about our friendship, our connection between the four of us, that the best thing we could do was all hang out with each other so we could show up on set and have some kind of connection.
The relationship between Adam and Chris is certainly central to the story. You have solid chemistry with Parker Young. Did you do more with him to develop that ?
Well, I think Parker’s just a really good Method actor to begin with. I knew him from “Enlisted,” and I think he’s just great, so I was excited to get to work with him. He was just really easy to get along with. I mean, we were just fascinated by each other, and he was curious as a straight guy, he was curious about a bunch of stuff. It was similar to our onscreen dynamic, honestly.
So it wasn’t too hard to create that energy, because I was getting to know this really cool guy who I really enjoyed meeting and hanging out with, and vice versa. So yeah, we just clicked, and I think he’s a really great actor, and we both just wanted to make the scenes as honest as humanly possible. Since we were both aiming for that, we talked through some of the scenes. But then…I mean, the two scenes I’m thinking of in particular, we just went for, and it just felt right.
Now throughout the film, Adam goes on his fair share of awkward, uncomfortable dates. What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?
I don’t know. Most of the dates I’ve gone on that have been bad, they’re just bad because you don’t click with the person, and you can tell right away. So when you first meet them, you’re like, “I know this isn’t going to go anywhere, and I’m already not having a good time.”
Probably the worst date I’ve been on was when I was at Julliard. You get very little time off or to yourself, so I had one night I was going to have off, and I was going on this date with this person that I’d met online. And I got there, and realized very quickly there was no chemistry. And then we were supposed to go see a movie, but the movie ended up being this movie about the potato famine, and we had to wait, like, an hour before the movie started, so we went to a corner store – this really weird, New York corner store – and we were going to get a snack, and he was counting change from his pocket to pay for the snack. It was really, very very weird. Very awkward.
So I actually called a friend and told him to call me, and I went outside and had a very big conversation, then I came back in and came up with some terrible lie. That his father had passed away. I had to go console him. I was so sorry, but I had to go. It was terrible. I felt awful. I felt very, very bad, but I just did not want to spend my one free night on a date that was awful.
Beyond dating, do you feel like you can relate to any of Adam’s experiences in the film?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I struggled with coming out, because I didn’t want to be…whatever I was scared of becoming if I came out. I didn’t want to be a stereotype of a gay man. I didn’t want to be something that I just didn’t understand, but I knew that I was gay. I really struggled with that. So it took me a while to be able to come to terms with it, and it took me a while to tell people.
And then, once I did, I had a very similar experience where my friends all embraced me and were excited to be a part of my life in this different way. When I came out to my mom, it was in the kitchen in almost exactly the same way as the movie, and she had a similar response, which wasn’t rejection – it was just confusion about why I didn’t come to her earlier, why I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about this, and what her vision of my life would be moving forward.
She had to shift her expectations. But all of it was really positive and optimistic, and just made me feel like I could be more myself, and not fear that I was going to become anyone but myself.
What were some of the challenges as an actor in shifting from working in theater to working in film?
I think the biggest shock was just the completely different processes. In theater, you have five weeks to work on something you’re really proud of before you share it with an audience. You have five weeks to work with a director, five weeks to really dig in with the other actors, and then if you aren’t proud of what you’re putting out there, it’s kind of your fault. (Laughs) Because you’ve had five weeks to figure it out.
In film, that’s not the case. I was asked the morning of to run it through once or twice, and we’re doing it out of order, and you only have a certain number of takes to get it, and then that’s it. So instead of working a particular moment over and over again, until it feels right, you kind of have to try each moment a bunch of different ways so that somebody in the editing room can really sit down and see what works, in the context of what’s being put together. So there’s more hands involved. So that was an interesting thing for me to have to navigate.
Also, I just had preconceived notions of what was going to read or not read on-screen. I had all sorts of ideas in my head of what was “too big” or what was “too small,” and I just learned – I even hate that term for it, what’s “too big” or what’s “too small” – I just think that you have to be as honest as humanly possible in your acting, period. But on film, you just have to be that much more honest at every moment. So, moving forward, when I do more films, I’m not going to be too wrapped up in what’s “too big” or “too small.” I’m just going to focus on how I can be as honest as humanly possible in each moment.
What’s been the audience reaction been like so far?
It’s been really positive, and actually a lot more vocal than I thought it would be. They really like it as a comedy. They like the movie. They respond really well, and it doesn’t feel like it’s a niche audience, because we’ve gone to different audiences, and everyone responds to it kind of in the same way, in terms of laughter at particular spots.
For a gay audience, there’s something refreshing about having a film that doesn’t feel like a clichéd gay film, but has a gay character in it. It’s really refreshing. I also think it’s refreshing that there’s a coming out story that’s not tragic. Even though those stories are very important, and those stories have been told a lot in cinema, I don’t think there’s been a coming out story that’s a buddy comedy.
Is there anything audiences have reacted to that’s surprised you?
People seem to be really happy with seeing interracial couples on screen, but without drawing attention to the fact that they’re interracial. They’re just couples. I think that has a lot to do with our awesome casting directors, Karlee Fornalont and Erica A. Hart. They did a really great job being aware of diversity in casting without trying to draw attention to it. It just was a part of it, in the same way they hired a guy who happened to be gay, as opposed to somebody who just clearly comes across as being gay.
I felt with the relationships, it was really cool that there wasn’t attention drawn to the fact that the handsome guy, as he was originally called in the script, that Adam, hits it off with and starts making out with is this really handsome black guy, and that Dorothy Cuda is this really beautiful woman who’s not white, and there’s no attention drawn to that. It’s just a part of his dating life, and the people he’s attracted to.
What else are you up to these days?
Well, I’m an actor! I did a film right after this one called “Damsel.” I just saw a screening of it, and it’s being submitted to a bunch of festivals. I came on board as a producer for the Broadway revival of “Spring Awakening,” but I’m not acting in that. And then…I’m open! I just signed with new representation, so we’ll see what happens.
“Fourth Man Out” opens this year’s Out on Film festival on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7:15 p.m. at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.