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Robin Williams’ Last Director Reveals the Actor’s Approach to Playing a Closeted Gay Man

Robin Williams in Boulevard

Pictured: Dito Montiel | Courtesy of Starz Digital

Robin Williams is haunting in the film Boulevard (which opens in select theaters this Friday), a look at a deeply repressed man finally trying to come to grips with his homosexuality. Robin’s character, Nolan, has worked in a routine job at a Nashville bank for over 25 years. He’s married, his mother recently died, his father is in a home, and his life is on a deadening treadmill. One day, Nolan accidentally drives into a hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire) and remarks, “Glad you’re OK. Because I have this fear of hurting people.” He gives the guy a ride and they talk. (“You blow me, it’s $100…”) But while Nolan does hand Leo money, it’s not for sex. (The farthest he goes is looking at him naked in an admiring way and later holding him affectionately.) He just wants to talk to the kid — perhaps to try to make sense out of his own lifelong feelings or to act fatherly to a younger, edgier person who for better or worse has disregarded all the rules that Nolan so numbingly obeyed. (SPOILER ALERT!) When Nolan tries to legitimize the hustler, Boulevard seems like a gay answer to classics like The Blue Angel and Of Human Bondage, though Nolan is obviously uplifted by all this, finding a sense of release in the relationship which allows him to tap into his inner flamer.

The film’s director, Dito Montiel, grew up on the dangerous streets of Astoria, Queens, recalling his rise from there to alt-rock stardom (with his band Gutterboy) in his 2003 memoir A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. That became the loosely autobiographical 2006 movie with Robert Downey Jr. as Dito, Shia LaBeouf as the young Dito, and Channing Tatum as a volatile street kid who kills a gang member. I just talked to Dito about his career working with sizable superstars like that — as well as the late, great Robin Williams.

Musto: Hello, Dito. How does Nolan’s chaste relationship with a hustler manage to embolden him?

Dito Montiel: It’s a whole tricky bag of stuff. It’s been a long process trying to figure what’s the right deal with their relationship. I didn’t think Nolan and Leo made any sense. But my parents had gotten a divorce and my mother said, “I’m not done yet.” She felt her life wasn’t over yet. Originally, the movie was called Santa Monica Boulevard and we had an ending where Nolan was at a bar, having a great time. My problem was what about Joy [Nolan’s wife, whom he’s left]? She was the love of his life — unfortunately not the right love of his life, but it’s what he’d chosen. So at the end, I think of my parents. I hope he’s happy and maybe this is the right thing.

Is Leo getting anything more than money out of this? He says it’s all “nothing,” but it seems as if maybe he’s deriving some paternal comfort out of Nolan.

We had included a long story about Leo looking for a father figure, but my story was “get the money and get out of there.” Falling in love would make it three times harder.

So he’s just taking the money and running?

Yes. He’s tired of hearing this old guy’s story. There’s a little bit of comfort there — it’s a better situation than he normally finds himself in — but nonetheless, you’re in a room with someone you really don’t want to be with that’s paying you.

Did you know any hustlers in your Queens street crowd growing up?

There’s a bit of everything going on. My father said, “You like to hang out in the Village, right?” I said, “Yeah.” Dad said, ‘”When I was a kid, sometimes the kids would go with men.” Then he added, “Don’t do that.” He just broke it down. I said, “OK, thanks, see you later.” [Laughs.]

Did you end up having any same-sex experiences?      

I’ve never been a hustler, that’s for sure, but hanging around in New York, you get into crazy situations. I’ve been in situations with people coked out of their minds. There was some guy coked out of his mind and he kept handing me things: “You want a VCR?”

He just happened to have a VCR to give you?

He had everything, and it was a little too heavy to carry out. I got out with a vest and a credit card.

Did you put out?

No. I said, “Hold on one second. I’ll be right back.”

I was never even hot enough for someone to offer me a radio. Anyway, the scene at the bank, where Nolan helps a gay couple buy a house — was that to show that gays can be out and happy now?

Yes. When Nolan was talking to Leo, he’s talking to himself at 23. He’s thinking of all the things he could have done. That’s one of the choices of not making things overtly sexual. Well, nowadays a couple can walk in and have no problem buying a house together. All the things some people end up missing — that was the point of that. The relationship was a mirror to his younger self. “Just hang out here for a while and let me try to erase 40 years.”

The theme of the movie is that it’s never too late. Isn’t it sadly ironic that Robin Williams left this planet way too soon?

Yes.

I know Robin scored years ago in The Birdcage, but I want your take on his work in your film. Does Robin play a good gay?

Great! He makes a good man, a good Nolan. Nolan was so complex. This was the story of Nolan coming out for me. Closeting himself for 40 years makes him a very messed up — a very hurt — character. Robin was Mork, he was the guy on Letterman. In real life, he was not that different. He was a burst of energy. I thought, “How interesting that the character is hiding this other guy that’s in there.” Robin, the guy we knew as a loud, funny guy, always putting on a show, was a smart enough actor to pull it off.

In the dinner scene, there was a flash of humor that I felt was a Robin touch.

Yes, it was.

It was a little out of character, or maybe it showed the inner spark that Nolan was hiding.

Once I went to him during filming and reminded him, “You spent the night in a hotel with the hustler last night.” But there’s nothing he wasn’t aware of. He was constantly obsessing on every little thing. In the motel room, he goes to the bathroom and he sees Joy in the mirror.

That was his idea? That helped him play the scene?

Yes. You know you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you should, but right now you shouldn’t. That was the complexity of the character.

You seem to be a tough guy on the outside, but a pussycat on the inside.

Is that what they say? I’m a nice guy, I think. A decent guy.

You have actors like Channing Tatum and Downey who trust you. Is that a privilege?

It’s nuts. I’m a fan. If I see someone from a reality show, I stop and take a picture with them. It’s nice when these people are so good to me.

Is Channing a muse for you?

Who knows? He’s a good friend and a great guy. He’s got Magic Mike XXL and we’re battling him with Boulevard. We’ll see who wins. [Laughs]

Vicky Vox

VOX POPULI

Speaking of the Magic Mike sequel, did you know that a key scene is set at a drag club? Vicky Vox plays the MC, Tori Snatch, who welcomes the male stripping troupe to parade up to the stage and vogue their culos off. I asked the L.A.-based Vox how she got involved in such a provocative premise. “I got the part by the skin of the balls of my teeth,” she responded. “I don't even remember auditioning. I do remember my final meeting with [director] Greg Jacobs and [casting director] Carmen Cuba. Greg had the most luxurious head of hair. Carmen was so sweet. I never felt any pressure. The same goes for the on set shenanigans. I was basically allowed to bring all of my hot-mess fuckery to set. I had a microphone and a live audience. I was in heaven. Channing Tatum and his heavy booty made me feel so comfortable. I forgot we were filming a few times as I kept running my mouth and telling the guys how sexy they were, especially Joe Manganiello. Matt Bomer's ass is like two perfect pillows that floated down from heaven and are perpetually perky. Gabriel Iglesias had me laughing so hard I was begging to get out of my corset. I couldn't have had a better time. I'm so fucking lucky.” That reminded me—it’s time to go to Bed, Bath and get some new pillows!

By the way, Channing’s character happens to be a bit of a drag queen himself. In another scene, Mike flirts with an ex stripper named Zoe (played by Johnny Depp’s bisexual wife, Amber Heard), and in the process he reveals that he has an inner drag queen and her name is….worth waiting for…Clitoria Labia. Zoe has already revealed that her inner drag queen is named Dolly Tits. But who cares about her? I want to see Channing’s Clitoria!

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