By Jerry Portwood
Right. Is that why you thought about naming the film The Closet? Because it’s partly the closet that fuels the need for the drugs?
I just think this is a relationship fueled by secrets. About two men who learned about sex and love in secret.
Because the character of Paul was straight at first and...
Me! I’m not saying him being straight. I came out of the closet when I was 16, but I felt like I came out of the closet again when I was 40.
What do you mean by that?
I mean that I told people I was gay, but I maintained for the next 25 years other levels of secrets that I kept from the people that I was close to. Telling someone you’re gay does not mean that you’re open. It means you told someone you’re gay. And there are still levels of secrecy that create other closets. And for me, I was in a relationship that exploded because of the impact of drugs, specifically, which meant that I could make a film about my own sexual awakening. It’s not a memoir, but it’s based on material and certain things that I couldn’t even say to my therapist. And I'm now very comfortable having it in a film that’s seen in public. That’s a very big transition. The idea of keeping any more secrets was too painful. So I chose not to have any. And to maintain a life that, at a certain point, means I don't have secrets. I resist that with all my will.
I know that people are going to take pleasure in trying to piece together who and what this is about. Are you worried about that being a distraction from the message in the film. Is that one reason why you made the decision to cast a European actor as the main protagonist?
I just made a film about my own experience. As an artist, that’s what I’ve always been doing. I don’t talk specifically about my ex because it’s not my place to do so.
I have struggled, as most individuals do and as most artists have, with my place in the world. All my films are coming of age films. So far. This film is about awakenings. In that way, I think it's a very positive film, I hope.
But I do believe this film is significant because, rather than try to ignore the specificity of gay life, it reveals so much of the unseemly truth. That’s actually its strength.
I think there’s something you can gain from accessing your marginality. You also might lose other things, but to decide that your subculture is your strength, not your weakness. That idea has been inspiring as a filmmaker and has affected my choices.
So are you going to make another film?
I’m working on a new film about two men in their sixties and seventies, and and the consequences after they decide to get married.
I got married because I really love my partner [Boris Torres, who also did the artwork seen in the film], and I’ve had the experience of being in a loving relationship. It’s imperfect, but it’s nurturing and grows in a positive way. This next movie will be my first love story that’s not all about pain.
Keep the Lights On opens in select theaters September 7