Today I'm interviewing writer/director Rob Williams and actor Benjamin Lutz, who recently completed filming of Rob's sixth gay-themed feature, The Men Next Door. Since creating their own production company, Guest House Films, in 2005, Rob and his long-time partner, Rodney Johnson, have made such popular films as Long-Term Relationship (2006), Back Soon (2008), 3-Day Weekend (2008), Make the Yuletide Gay (2009) and Role/Play (2010) - and they were both named to Instinct Magazine’s “Leading Men of 2008” for their contributions to gay cinema. As for the openly gay Mr. Lutz, his first two feature films - Bite Marks and The Love Patient - were released last year.
I am delighted to have both of these talented guys here on the Dish to discuss their careers and answer a few pop culture questions.
What is The Men Next Door about?
Rob: It's about a 40-year-old gay man who finds himself dating both a 50-year-old and a 30-year-old - and then finds out that they are father and son. And awkwardness ensues.
Benjamin: It's a fast and fun romantic comedy - and I play Colton, the son.
What inspired you to make the movie?
Rob: I originally wanted to explore the issues of dating after 40, and how men that age can find themselves dating men of all ages. Somewhere in the writing process the father/son twist came in, and I went with it. And it’s a comedy, so don’t worry, we didn’t go to those dark places you’re probably thinking about.
How did you get cast in The Men Next Door?
Benjamin: I was lucky enough to participate in a first draft reading with lots of wine drinking. And then I auditioned – I think I read for the part three times.
How was it working with each other?
Rob: Benjamin is such a pleasure to work with – mainly because he’s quite tall so I could literally talk to him face-to-face on set (seriously, why are so many actors so short?). He was always open to suggestions and always willing to go along with the other actors to try something different. I never had to worry that we wouldn’t get what we needed because he’s prepared and good at what he does.
Benjamin: Rob is such a warm director and he makes the set feel very collaborative. He gets great performances from his actors that way. I never felt we were just doing how he saw it - but all his movies have his own very specific tone. I just watched a new documentary of Woody Allen and how he works with actors. His style very much reminded me of the open, yet assured touch Rob gives the set.
Benjamin: My favorite Rob story is an inside joke that happened on the set. I found that a bunch of my notes from him were "Do the next take sexier." I told him his notes made me feel FRIGID. Rob has such a wicked sense of humor, that every note after that was “Make it sexier!” and “Do you think you could do that sexier?”
Rob: My favorite story is the same as his – I kept giving him direction to “make it sexier” as a joke because he oozes sex appeal on screen. Every time I opened my mouth to say something, he’d immediately reply “Make it sexier?” and I’d nod. Great shorthand.
Did you always want to be an actor, Benjamin? And what was your very first acting role?
Benjamin: Growing up, I always obsessively loved plays. The first acting role I can think of was in the first grade holiday play. As far as I can remember it was about a baker that baked singing cookies. I’ll have to ask my mother what it really was about.
You’ve been openly gay since the beginning of your professional acting career. How did you make this decision? And have you encountered any homophobia in Hollywood as a result?
Benjamin: It wasn’t really a decision I toiled over. At Q&A’s after my first movie people always asked and I answered. Didn’t really see it as all that big of a career decision but, of course, I didn’t have a large studio breathing down my neck. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING can come into account during a casting. At one point, you just have to be the best YOU that you can be. Worrying about anything else will ruin your chances of being good at what you do.
Did you always want to be a screenwriter/filmmaker, Rob?
Rob: I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I spent several years working on “mainstream” scripts that never went anywhere. Finally, I decided to focus on gay-themed scripts, and with a lot of encouragement from my partner, Rodney Johnson, and some friends, decided to direct our first film, Long-Term Relationship. And everything has continued from there.
What film directors have influenced your own work?
Rob: Woody Allen, definitely. I’m a huge fan of his work, and I love how he moves back and forth between comedy and drama while always focusing on the characters. He’s a huge inspiration for me.
Since you’ve been with your partner, Rodney, for many years, what is the secret of a successful relationship?
Rob: Lots and lots of wine. And frequent trips to Las Vegas. And two TiVos.
If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
Benjamin: No one really cares as much as you think they do, and try not to drive your car into bodies of water.
Rob: Follow your dreams and don’t worry about what your parents will say. Oh, and by the way, you’re gay!
In high school I was:
Rob: The yearbook geek.
Benjamin: A bit like the character Heather Mooney from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
My favorite comfort food is:
Rob: French fries.
Benjamin: Red wine and tacos.
When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
Benjamin: 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Today I never miss a television episode of:
Rob: The Good Wife, The Amazing Race, Supernatural, The Killing (yes, I know it was canceled, but it was brilliant), and my new obsession is Chopped.
Benjamin: Mad Men.
Five of my favorite movies are:
Rob: Citizen Kane, Love Actually, Manhattan, Star Wars (before it was known as Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope, back when Han shot first) and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder version, NOT the Johnny Depp abomination).
Benjamin: The Shining, What’s Up, Doc?, There Will Be Blood, Notting Hill and any of the Muppet movies.
If I could have anyone in the world – living or dead – be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Rob: Woody Allen, David Tennant and Cheyenne Jackson.
Benjamin: How about relatives that have all passed away - but not Aunt Kathy. I hated her.
What’s next for Rob Williams and Benjamin Lutz?
Rob: In addition to finishing up The Men Next Door, Guest House Films is distributing a wonderful Australian documentary called The Doctor’s Wife, which hits DVD in November. We're also looking for short films to continue our compilation series that started with Black Briefs and Blue Briefs. I also have a script called The Mysthic Chord (based on the novel, Van Allen’s Ecstasy, by Jim Tushinski) that I really hope to get movement on next year.
Benjamin: An actor gets to celebrate for a second that he booked something - then the next thing is more auditions with a hangover from the celebration. I do have two short co-star roles booked in movies I can’t wait to shoot. And I’m excited about helping produce Mark Bessenger’s (the director of Bite Marks) new heartfelt project called Last Straight Man.
And one last question for Rob - will there be a sequel to Make the Yuletide Gay?
Rob: Everyone wants a sequel and we want to make one, but at this point it’s all about finding investors because it won’t be a cheap movie to make. I honestly don’t know if it will ever happen - but I hope so!
Thank you, Rob and Benjamin, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish.