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June 29, 2004

The topic of this week's Jawbreaker episode with Brad Fraser was Queer As Folk, with featured guests Patrick Antosh (Costume Designer), Dan Lipman (executive producer/head writer), and Bobby Gant (the actor who plays Ben). Brad is one of the writers on QAF, in addition to his hosting duties on Jawbreaker and other projects. In a previous episode, he had Dan Lipman, Michael Lewis MacLennan (producer/writer) and Scott Lowell (the actor who plays Ted) to talk about the series and the issues surrounding the show. This time, the discussion was a bit more light-hearted, as the three guests discussed some 'behind-the-scenes' issues on the show. Here's a summary of some of the questions and answers (paraphrased):

One of the first topics of discussion was the work environment on the set of QAF. Bobby talked about coming in as an 'outsider' in the second season, how warm the environment was (both literally and figuratively -- the cold Canadian winters are brutal on his skin!), and how welcoming everyone was, especially compared to other shows he's worked on in L.A., for example. He said that he feels it has to do with the undercurrent of the show, and that it has some real meaning to it, unlike some sitcoms, for example. Patrick said he agrees with that, and that he finds himself using 'dirty language' a lot more on QAF (suggesting that it's a more relaxed atmosphere). He gave an example of being in a store shopping for clothes and having a bag of condoms spill out all over the place, props for Brian that he had been carrying with him. LOL Another reason for the more 'relaxed' environment is the explicit sexuality on the show, and how vulnerable the actors have to be at certain times.

Brad asked Dan what he and Ron look for in a new character, specifically in Bobby's case. Dan said they've always had difficulty casting people for the show, but the 'casting gods' do send them fantastic candidates. Dan talked about the passionate and heartfelt letter they got from Bobby when he was auditioning, and how he really wanted to be on the show. He came in to the casting offices in LA, and he seemed right, but they wanted to test the chemistry between Bobby and Hal Sparks. So they had him fly to Toronto, and basically he never left. He worked for a week, then they took a week hiatus, so he went home and got his stuff and moved back.

Brad asked Dan to elaborate on why it's difficult to cast the show. Dan said that what they've done on QAF, which is unique, is that they've sexualized the characters. The cast has to be able to express this, simulated of course, but they have to be comfortable with their bodies. Sex is kind of like opera... language only takes you so far. You can express behaviour with sex, and they have to be comfortable with that.

Brad said to Bobby, "it's one thing for us to talk about it, and be in the writers' room coming up with it... ("let's have them do THIS!")... but you're the guys on the set who have to strip down and do it." He asked how they handle that. Bobby said for him, personally, he grew up in a rather conservative way with the idea that "one does not do these things'... he said he remembers his first scene, where he was stripping down... "the director wanted me to have that sense of vulnerability"... so even though nudity wasn't required, since it was going to be a tight camera shot, the director asked him to be naked anyway, from the waist down. Bobby said Hal didn't have to be. Bobby is much more comfortable with it now. You get comfortable doing it, he said.

When a new character comes on, you have to come up with a whole new look... Brad asked Patrick if that's exciting, or a pain in the ass? Patrick said that because of the difficulty in casting, it's not unusual for him to get the actor the night before they go on camera... and that can be frustrating, because they don't have the person's measurements (is he six feet tall? five-foot-seven?). Being the costume person can be a bit of a nightmare, because every actor has a clear idea in their mind of what the character is like and what they'll be wearing. Patrick says it's not so bad, though, because he's been there with the actors all along, working with them to establish who they are. He works with the guest directors each week, the actors, and the producers to make the vision come to life. Going back to what Bobby was saying about vulnerability, Patrick said he loves working with the clothes and using them to do the same kind of thing... "I'll give them an article of clothing right before we're going to shoot that scene."

Patrick said that he never gives compliments on a day-to-day basis, so that when they're in a crunch, and he says "that looks good"... they're going to believe him. Robert gave Patrick a compliment and said that he makes everyone feel good, and how he ran back and forth between the rooms when there was a scene involving the girls (maybe the wedding?) and that he just kept so calm and cool.

Dan said he thinks it's about trust... trusting the producers, trusting Patrick, and knowing that the costumes or whatever aren't what the show is about.. it's about the characters.

Brad asked Dan the same thing he asked Patrick: How do you keep control of such a large group of people? Dan's response: "A lot of coffee!" LOL!!

Brad asked, "what do you do at an impasse" for example, there is something an actor doesn't want to wear, or the director has a certain shot in mind... it's a big, very diverse group of people. Dan says you have to be diplomatic, and allow people to be creative. Usually they ask for the person to give them options... they'll say, okay, you can do it your way, but you have to do it this way too. And it's not because they're trying to be tyrants, Dan explains. It's because you never know until you put the film together how it's going to look, or that you needed something you didn't think you did, given the background, or the way the scene played out. For example, you might end with a closeup on Ben... but then you realize it needs to be Ben and Michael. Or Ben turning away.

Brad talked about how something simple on paper can turn out to be much bigger in reality. "For example, in the writers' room, we talk about storylines, parties, events, etc. that we would like to work into the show. When we write down "there is a party"... it's different when you walk on the set, and you've got hundreds of people. He asked Dan for an example of something where he had to change things. They talked about the Senator's party at Dr. Dave's, and the outfit Emmett wore as Jackie O. At first, Peter wasn't sure about dressing in drag, but Patrick worked with him, and Dan said it actually became one of the most memorable scenes on the show.

There was some talk of what is enhanced from the script, in the way of costuming and big events, for example. Without giving anything away, they said there's a story with an element of competition and they wrote it to take place in Babylon, with sort of a performance piece, with gladiators, etc. Patrick talked about how these events usually reflect the theme of the show.... for example, in season 3, they did a big "Barbie" theme, when Ted and Emmett bought their "dream house" and Ben was taking steroids so they had this big muscle-bound Barbie (or Ken?) and ran with it. Dan said that the Art Department, Patrick (Costuming)... they're all so fantastic, but they realize that. :)

They also talked about how cold the weather is in Toronto, and how there's a scene they were doing late in the season on the streets, and "the weather is so cold here, we thought we might have to do it inside."

Bobby said there were some wonderful concepts... for example, when Ben finds out his ex has died (the one who infected him)... originally it was going to be a rooftop... it was a gorgeous concept, but the reality of the production is that they cannot always do that. Brad said, "we do a lot of stuff on the rooftop." Dan said they have to be realistic... if they look at the outline and see "we have 10 exteriors... we have to be good producers and we can't blow all our budget, we have to prioritize."

Brad mentioned that oftentimes, the actors don't know what's ahead for them until they get the script, much like the audience finds out. Bobby talked about the actors knowing things ahead of time... sometimes it's good, so that the actor knows the arc and can pace themselves in terms of the emotion (for example, Ben with the steroids, building to the peak of his emotions) but other times, you don't want the actors to play the 'end' of a story.

Dan touched briefly on the criticism of the show... he said (paraphrasing here), "We know we have loyal viewers, who've been with us for four years, but there is always criticism. We are trying to tell a story about the gay community, with very different kinds of characters and relationships, but it's frustrating that sometimes people try to focus on the more negative aspects."

Want more Jawbreaker? Click here for an archived article on Brad Fraser, here for a summary of Bruce Gray’s appearance (ex-George Schickel), or here for the first QAF interview with Dan Lipman, Michael MacLennan and Scott Lowell.

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