Tennessee Queer tells the story of Jason Potts, a man living happily with his partner in New York, who finds out on a trip home that the small-town in Tennessee where he grew up is still less than accepting of homosexuals. In an effort to make things easier for the gay and lesbian teens of the community, Potts decides to organize a gay pride parade. Unfortunately, a politician and a ultra-conservative minister intend to use the parade for their own agenda causing a clash of religion, politics, and gay pride.
I recently caught a screening of the film at the Oxford Film Festival and was able to sit down with the film’s star Christian Walker, and its executive producer and writer Mark Jones to talk about the film. We talked about Jones’ inspiration for the story, the straight Walker’s experience playing a gay man, and much more.
Check out the full interview below.
WGTC: Mark, why this story? Why’d you want to write this film?
Jones: I’m from Memphis, and live in Memphis, and our city council and commission have done some negative things for the gay and lesbian community. About three years ago our county government was going to vote on recognizing gay and lesbian employees and giving them the same benefits and some more job security. About two weeks before the vote, one of the county commissioners held a huge press conference and got six ministers to come out in front of the county building and it was all, “damn all the gays to hell,” and, “the county commission should never vote for this.” The commissioner was just sitting there smiling, he thought he was doing a great job.
Sadly, when it came time for the vote at the meeting, it got watered down very quickly from a county ordinance to a county resolution, which doesn’t carry as much weight, and it went from gay and lesbian to no mention of sexual orientation at all. Just to hiring on the basis of merit.
We have some state senators in Tennessee, one of which proposed a bill called the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” prohibiting teachers from saying anything gay or talking about anything gay from kindergarten to the eight grade. So if Johnny had two dads in seventh grade the teacher couldn’t comment on that. Couldn’t talk about Walt Whitman and his sexuality at all. Teachers had to back off it.
So there was just a lot of things. The city council twice voted down support for gay and lesbian people. There’s a lot going on in Tennessee, so I wanted to write something positive in response.
WGTC: Christian, you’re from Tennessee as well? Being a movie like this that’s set in Tennessee, did you have any background to drawn on for your character?
Walker: I was able to relate to the character less on it being a southern thing, and more on growing up being a misunderstood kid. My character in the movie, obviously coming from a small town he was ostracized and I was a weird kid, punk rocker, I was ostracized myself. So I was able to tap into that and relate to the character in that sense, not as much in a regional one.
WGTC: You said Smythe is a fictional town. Did you drawn inspiration from any real places you had been?
Jones: I’ve lived in some small towns. Spent a summer in Darlington, South Carolina and I actually worked in Greenville, Mississippi for a couple years. And Memphis really is in a way a small town. I mean it’s a big city, but it’s a small town in some regards. So I was able to draw on some of the people for the characters and that sort of thing.
WGTC: Christian, did you have any hesitations about playing a gay man when you first thought about it?
Walker: I had to think about it, but playing that part forced me to look at myself and look at my attitudes. I grew up as most straight, heterosexual teenagers grow up with a lot of derogatory attitudes. With people in school calling each other “gay” and saying all those things. But as an adult, as I’ve learned to be progressive and learned that those attitudes are wrong, then I was presented with the challenge of – if I really am comfortable in my sexuality and I really don’t see any difference between gays and straights, I should be able to put my money where my mouth is and play a role like that.
There was a slight moment of hesitation where I had to think about it because of the way I was raised, but then I was like, “you know what, what’s the big deal?.”
WGTC: The chemistry between you and Jerre Dye was really great. What was it like working with him.
Walker: If I was going to be into a guy, it’d be Jerre Dye (laughs). No, he’s a really great actor. I was actually intimidated the first day on set with him, seeing him work for the first time. I was like like, “oh man I better step up my game.” I feel like he is on a much higher level than I am, so I had a lot I could learn from him.
Jones: That was one of the first days of shooting, working with Jerre. The apartment scenes.
WGTC: The film was very beautiful in terms of the way it was shot, have you worked with that cinematographer before?
Jones: Ryan (Parker) and I have worked on three other projects. We made two other films and did a web soap opera that Christian was actually in. That was the last project that we did back in 2009.
WGTC: Do you guys have any more features planned in the near future?
Jones: I will shoot another feature, I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, but yes I’ll shoot something else. I’m actually thinking about doing a couple short films this year to keep working, I’m still on the front-end of going to film festivals with this.
Walker: I’ve got a couple of other acting projects lined up as well as a film of my own that I wrote and directed that’s about to come out.
WGTC: You said you’ve taken this to four or five other festivals so far, where else are you taking it?
Jones: The others have all been gay and lesbian film festivals, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Durham, Atlanta, Ashville, and Memphis. Then I go to Schenectady, New York next weekend with it, then Waterloo, Canada after that. I’m hoping to hear back from about a dozen more film festivals.
WGTC: With this being your first general interest film festival, what are your hopes for it?
Jones: I hope that it’s loved, like the gay and lesbian audiences like it. I think it’s such a general film that people can relate to. “Oh, my mom’s like that,” or “My sister’s crazy like that,” or “I know a preacher in a small town like that,” so I think people can relate to at least one of the characters. So I hope people can relate to the film. I think the gayest part of the film is the name, it’s pretty much a PG film. So I really just hope that people can relate to it at all these festivals.
That concludes our interview but I’d like to thank Mark and Christian for taking the time to talk. Be sure to look for Tennessee Queer at a festival near you!