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Jim Parsons & Michael Showalter Talk Crafting Spoiler Alert's Story of Love & Loss

Jim Parsons & Michael Showalter Talk Crafting Spoiler Alert's Story of Love & Loss

Linda Kallerus/Focus Features

The first trailer for Focus Features' newest gay romantic drama just dropped, and Out got the chance to speak to two of the film's creatives about crafting it.

After teasing us earlier this summer, Focus Features just released the first full-length trailer for their upcoming (heartstring-tugging!) gay romantic drama Spoiler Alert, starring out actors Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge.

With a screenplay from David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage, the movie is based on the bestselling memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words. Parsons and Aldridge will be portraying the real-life couple of author, entertainment journalist, and TVLine founder Michael Ausiello (Parsons) and photographer Kit Cowan (Aldridge) as they navigate Cowan's terminal cancer diagnosis and the final chapter of his life.

While on first impression it looks like a sad, emotional story, the trailer actually shows us that the film is going to be giving us lots of warm, heartfelt moments that showcase the love Ausiello and Cowan had for each other (you just have to make sure to bring an extra box of tissues to the theaters with you this December).

Ahead of the film's release later this holiday season, Out sat down with star Jim Parsons and director Michael Showalter to chat about Spoiler Alert's conception, doing Ausiello and Cowan's story justice, working with Sally Field, and more.

Out: How did each of you come across Michael and Kit's Story? What was your initial reaction to hearing about them and ultimately what made you want to take this project on?

Jim Parsons: I've found the book because Michael Ausiello actually brought it to me to lead a Q&A at Barnes and Noble when it was going to come out. I don't know if he ever thought about it being a movie before then or not. So when I read it, my relationship with my own husband, minus the tragic parallels, has a lot in common with [theirs], timeline wise and the cities that they lived in. I just found it deeply, deeply moving and connected to it because of that, at least in part and also because of Michael's beautiful writing. It's so insightful but also so funny and human and witty.

Michael Showalter: The way I came to it was from kind of having a secret ambition to work with Jim. I'd seen Jim obviously on television and knew how successful he'd be. I also had started seeing him being in plays and doing these smaller films and stuff and was really intrigued by Jim as an actor.

I just love that. I love when a performer has sides to themselves that I feel like it's exciting to be able to think about. I think there's this whole side of Jim that audiences maybe don't know or haven't seen before. And that I'd sort of caught some glimpses of it and then read about this project in the trades when Jim's company had optioned the rights to the book. And so I actually reached out to Jim's company and said, 'Hey, I read you got this thing, I don't know if you guys have a director already.' And then they sent me the book and I read the book, I thought the book was amazing and was so funny and so heartbreaking and honest. And then we all kind of joined forces and that's how I got involved.

JP: You should just know that, while he says that, before he called, we were in shock because he was the lead name on our list, but we thought, 'He's probably either too busy or there's a million reasons he might not want to do this. So that's the dream, but let's keep looking.' And not only did he call and we were thrilled about that, but because he signed on, it's exactly why we started making the headway we made. I don't know where we would be exactly had he not taken this on.

MS: And then we went out and we started meeting with writers and hearing pitches and hearing people about how they would approach a screenplay. And we met up, we heard a bunch of really interesting takes, and then we heard the one from David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage. And that sort of really opened up areas to the story that we hadn't even thought of ourselves and they felt like the perfect fit for it.

The trailer is taking me on an emotional rollercoaster, and it's only less than three minutes long. Are y'all prepared to make tons of people cry themselves like babies in the theaters?

JP: Well that's between them and their God. I have to say I sobbed when I read the book and that's not overly common for me. So, I guess yeah, at some level I do feel like if this movie is successfully telling the movie version of that story that I read from the book, then I would imagine that tears would be appropriate. But you never know.


Linda Kallerus, courtesy of Focus Features

I feel like there's been this push lately by a lot of folks in the community to, I don't know, only consume content and stories where characters can only get happy endings. And obviously rightfully so. There's been decades and decades of awful sad, horrific representation. Were you at all conscious or worried about that kind of feedback and criticism when telling Michael and Kit's Story where obviously Kit tragically passed away in the end? And how are you prepared to, I guess, counteract that when the film is released later this year?

JP: The one thing I would say is that I wasn't concerned about it mostly. I just wasn't probably thinking quite in those terms, but I have to be honest with you, while there is so much that is sad that happens in this, one of the big headlines from me reading it, playing the part, and now having seen the finished product is how many great things happened in Ausiello's life because of risking, going through heartbreak and having his heart broken.

I've experienced death in my own life, and I think that a lot of people who have gone through things like that understand that it's not that you don't carry grief with you. It's not that you still can't cry and mourn over situations. But I think a lot of people feel, going through something that opens up life and your heart in a way that, without putting yourself on the line to risk, that type of thing, you don't get. And in that way, I would say it's a happy ending as far as someone who's really doing the best they can to live their life to the fullest and not letting the fear of being hurt stop them from diving in, as it were.

Because the film is based on the love story of two very real people, I'm sure there must have been so much even more added pressure to get it right and nail the performances and the directing. Did you feel that heat when you took this project on?

MS: I've done a bunch of these true stories. The Big Sick was based on a true story. The Dropout is based on a true story. This is based on a true story. The Shrink Next Door is based on a true story. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is based on a true story. I come into these situations with a little bit of kind of a "tough love" mentality of I just want to make a good movie. I don't want this to be a documentary. None of these things are documentaries. They're not about, 'Oh, we were perfectly accurate about every little detail that really happened.' There's some essence to the story that captures the imagination or that captures the human spirit in some way that compels you or that you learn from it. And in this case, this story has so much in it to take away from it, you could apply it to your own life.

The way these people react to such a difficult situation is something you want to aspire to in your own life. And so for me, I sort of try to just focus on the movie in a way, and that doesn't mean to play loosey-goosey with the facts either, but to try to understand that not, like I said, it's not about accuracy as much as it's about capturing the essence of what it is about the story that is compelling.

JP: I would say for me that the true story element I really enjoy, especially when it's told as well as Michael told in his book. There's so much there from the starting line to work with as we're putting the movie together, as you're acting, and there's just so much information that you don't even have to make up. You just have to realize it's there.

I would say that Showalter was such a good fit for this. I actually said this to Ben one day on the set. We were talking at some point during the shooting towards the end I was like, 'Michael is the perfect balance of heartfelt and taking it seriously.' And he also brings a style that is not indulgent, it just takes it for what it is and it gets at its essence and it's kind of like what you have to do in real life. I think that's why you're such a good match for this kind of material, because that's very lifelike to go, 'Well it's all happening and it sucks or whatever, but let's keep going.'


Linda Kallerus, courtesy of Focus Features

Jim, working with someone like Ben must have been such a huge downer for you. He's just too handsome and too talented. Can you talk about crafting Michael and Kit's relationship together with him and how you worked to embody them both on screen?

JP: A lot of it was that Showalter was very collaborative and willing and even curious about what we were thinking and how we were feeling. There was a lot of working together, even while we were shooting it, just to make things both as authentic to the story, but even as to the people who were playing these parts, as we could, and to the film. I will tell you that there was something so wonderful about not knowing Ben as a person until we started working on this. It really added, I felt, for both of us, to our performances of this couple to be getting to know each other as friends off camera at the same time. It was something unique that I don't think I could have had exactly that experience with somebody I already knew. And he was just really the perfect partner for this who I really thought brought a level of empathy and that artistic sophistication that Kit as a person had to that character.

And I have to ask, Sally Field is the mother generations of gay men which they had. Can you just talk about getting her on the the cast and what was it like getting to work with the living legend herself?

MS: I had worked with Sally on a film called Hello, My Name Is Doris and David Marshall Grant had worked with her on Brothers and Sisters. So David and I both knew her quite well from those two experiences. It was sort of, from day one, there's no one we want to play this part, it's got to be Sally Field, it just has to be Sally Field. And so we kind of just got in touch with her when we were ready to offer her the part and just say, you have no choice; you have to do it. There's no discussion, it's you. And you can't say no. And she's so funny in the movie, she's so great in the movie and she's just completely, has created yet again, just an incredible character and it's amazing.

JP: I will say that is in a world where they say don't meet your heroes, which is true a lot of the time, it's not true with her. She's everything. She's not just everything you want Sally Field to be. Because I think that's unfair to say that I didn't know her. I just knew her performances. But she's everything that you want as an actor's presence on set with you. She is completely committed, which I think anyone who's watched her work knows, but also completely real. I mean, she sat there with that cute little dog in her lap the entire time, unless you let somebody else hold him. But she's just wonderful. And as a person, in addition to an actress. That was a real treasure.

Spoiler Alert hits select theaters on Friday, December 2 and premieres nationwide on Friday, December 16.


Linda Kallerus, courtesy of Focus Features

RELATED | Here's the 1st Look At Jim Parsons & Ben Aldridge's New Gay Drama Film Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

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Raffy Ermac

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and the digital director of Out.

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and the digital director of Out.