Paul Marcarelli is the gay actor known to most Americans as the Verizon “Test Man." But with his movie The Green, he steps into the role of writer and producer. Starring Jason Butler Harner, Cheyenne Jackson, Julia Ormond, and Illeana Douglas, the film tells the story about a gay man who leaves Manhattan for a suburban life in Connecticut and an eventual accusation of "inappropriate conduct" with a student. We spoke with Marcarelli about the film, his career transition after his ubiquitous commercial character comes to a close, and what projects he has coming up next.
So what exactly inspired the story for you, what made you write the script?
Well, the director Steven Willford came to me with the idea for a film based loosely on his experiences starting a theatre department at a small university in the late 90's. He was welcomed into the community, but he was really conscious of being referenced as people’s “gay friend.” Coming from New York, he found it an odd experience. He always wondered what line would need to be crossed to reveal the hidden homophobia simmering just beneath the surface in this otherwise rather civilized interaction. When he came to me with that idea I was really stimulated by it, and I knew right away what I wanted to do with the story.
So what exactly is going on in this film?
The story, on its surface, is about a gay teacher that’s wrongly accused of misconduct with a teenage male student, and all of the fallout that happens in their small, shoreline Connecticut town as a result of the accusation. But we wanted to use the story to explore the larger issue of tolerance.
You released this film digitally and on DVD. Was that your main strategy for this film?
Early on our goal with this film was to reach the widest possible audience, and we knew that with the state of the cinema as it is today, we needed to create a really strong, digitally-led strategy. Right now we’re available through cable OnDemand, through Amazon, and various other digital platforms in over 55 million homes in the U.S. alone, so we feel like we’re poised to reach the largest possible audience for a film of this nature.
Is there a traditional theatrical release, or will it be all digital?
We started at a couple dozen festivals this summer and I think by the end of 2011 we’ll probably have been seen in about 75 cities worldwide. A lot of gay-themed films are considering the festival run to be their theatrical run.
Is it hard to find financial backing for gay-themed films, or has it become less of a risk in today’s culture?
I think people will sign on to support projects that they believe in, particularly if they believe in the intentions of the people behind the project. And, look, I think in the last couple of years we’ve all discovered that our quote-unquote “safe investments” are not as safe as they were before. So, taking a chance on a project that you believe has something to contribute to the culture suddenly doesn’t seem like such a huge risk.
You have another script called Clutter that is in the works…
Yeah, it’s a dark comedy about the complicated relationships between a compulsive hoarder and her grown children and we start shooting in March. We’re mostly funded at this point, and already in the casting stages.
Before Verizon you had a pretty healthy stage career...
Well that’s kind of you to say! (laughing)
Will you be back on stage at all now that you’re finishing up with the commercials?
Well, I had a really good run in the 90’s (laughing)! I’ve made my career in commercials and it was always something I did so I could support my theatre habit. And it just happens that I’ve had a job for the last ten years that’s kept me really busy, and that relationship is ongoing! So whether or not I’m going take on a stage role…I’m really not sure. I’m really, really busy with the filmmaking now.