’Tis the season for queer rom-coms — and what a season it is!
Paramount Network’s latest LGBTQ+ project, Dashing in December, brings together Fuller House star Juan Pablo Di Pace, Golden Globe-winner Andie MacDowell, and Young and the Restless star Peter Porte in a story about family, acceptance, and Christmas in Utah.
When Porte’s character, Wyatt, a typical New York City career-driven businessman, visits his rural hometown for the holidays, he winds up meeting Heath (Di Pace), a town local with a killer smile and a heart of gold. Wyatt has his sights set on selling his mother's ranch, but as attraction blossoms between the two, he finds himself falling back in love with the small town. In typical holiday movie fashion, Dashing in December ultimately answers the age-old question, what really matters in life?
The Argentinian-born Di Pace is no stranger to melting the hearts of viewers. In addition to his roles in Fuller House, Dallas, and NBC-TV’s A.D. The Bible Continues, where he played Jesus Christ, the Emmy-Nominated actor and People’s Choice Award winner also appeared on the Dancing with the Stars season 27, where he became a semi-finalist.
But for Di Pace, Dashing in December welcomed a new kind of creative process.
“It’s a weird mixture of freedom and Oh, fuck,” he tells Out. “You're like, Oh, I'm kissing a boy and this is what I usually get turned on by in real life, and at the same time you’re nervous because you've never allowed yourself to be that free in that setting. I have played gay twice before but this is the first time that I'm doing a love story and it just opens up a whole can of worms for me. This film was very therapeutic.”
That realization hit home in a moving scene whereby Di Pace’s and Porte’s character open up with each other about their feelings.
“I teared up,” he remembers. “Not just because the scene is beautiful, but because I saw myself on screen being affectionate with a man. The movie has had that effect on me, it's softened me. When you're an actor, you're so used to playing a certain kind of straight role that you sort of leave that other side of yourself on a shelf.”
“I think the reason why rom-coms are so needed and important in this time is because at the end of the year, we come to a place where we want to explore our lives and ask ourselves: Am I happy?” he says. “Am I happy with my life? Am I happy with my job? Am I happy with the person that I'm with? Am I happy alone? These movies are sort of therapeutic in that way. And if you are in a shitty place, they make you believe in love again.”
Di Pace made headlines last year when he came out publicly at a TedX event in the Netherlands. His talk, which was called “The Story of Your Life,” had to do with the stories we tell ourselves.
“At the beginning of my life, my story was like a drama because when I was a kid, I was bullied,” he explains. “Then later in life, I was like, I am the captain of this ship and so I changed my perspective. I mentioned that I was gay because I was making a point that the fact that I was bullied actually got me to become an actor. And because I'm an actor, I get to experience so much and I get to enjoy so many places and people and do what I love. Before my life was a drama but now I see it as an epic story.”
Still, the actor says there’s much more to go when it comes to exploring the terrains of the rom-com genre.
“I think it's all about opening up the nuances and what makes LGBTQ+ people special,” he says. “I think equality is the most amazing thing that's happening in the last five years. At the same time I also believe we should embrace the differences between each of us. Yes, we're all the same. Yes, we're all human. Yes, we all love. But there are little things that minorities and different groups of people and different cultures of people and different sexualities have that are so interesting to look at and explore. I want to see rom-coms and LGBTQ+ stories and holiday movies that go deeper into these people who are not represented.”
Di Pace, who’s worked in Hispanic markets across the world, including Madrid, where his parents live, says he will continue to use his platform to encourage young queer people to be themselves. As his former DWTS partner, Cheryl Burke, used to tell him: “Do you, boo boo.”
“I always think it is so crucial and essential for every human being to really listen to their own hearts, to what their mind and their heart is saying to them, and that is the most important thing,” he says. “If you do feel like you're having to hide or you're having to live a certain life, ask yourself ss this what I want? Is this my wish? It's very important to train that voice to get stronger.”
Dashing in December premieres on Paramount Network on Sunday 13 December.