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April 06, 2013, 12:00 AM | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Travis Mathews is a documentarian at heart, although he has done a feature film, and will probably do more in the future.
“I didn’t really love that experience,” he reflects. “It was very controlled, and it was slow, and I have a documentary background where I kind of like the experience and the results that come from kind of a run-and-gun situation.”
He brought that aesthetic to “Interior. Leather Bar.”
James Franco, known to many as Harry Osborn from “Spider Man,” had come to him with the idea of reshooting the missing forty minutes from the 1980 film “Cruising.” The MPAA had insisted on that segment’s removal from the Al Pacino thriller in exchange for giving it an ‘R’ rating. But even with it removed, the film remained controversial.
They cast Val Lauren, a long-time friend of Franco’s, to play Al Pacino’s character, Detective Steve Burns. In keeping with the original story line—Burns is working undercover to find a serial killer targeting gay men, and is completely out of his element—they deliberately chose to cast a straight actor.
“Val had a lot of real-life reservations about doing this,” he explains, “and the more that it became clear that this was going to be a kind of a meta-experimental documentary but through the point-of-view of Val, the more I got interested in really playing with what his experience was and trying to make a movie that was just about his arc over the course of that day.”
A great many Playhouse West actors signed up to play extras, so that they could work with Franco.
“They had gotten a call that there was going to be a casting call for extras for a James Franco project, and it involved a gay bar,” says Mathews. “And that’s all that they knew.”
Many were uncomfortable when they learned more details about what would be happening on set, and onscreen, so Mathews was careful to arrange them with the most uncomfortable actors the furthest away from the action.
Mathews himself has little ambivalence about the onscreen sex.
“Unlike the original ‘Cruising,’ where all of the sex is stereotypical in what you would expect from a leather bar, S&M situation—I wanted to make sure that there was some of that included in the film, because that is what that movie is about,” he says. “but I also wanted there to be a sex scene that shows a more tender, intimate side.”
That link between explicit sex and emotional intimacy is characteristic of Mathews’ work, and comes from his prior training as a clinical psychologist.
“I have an interest in people’s internal worlds,” he explains, “and I’m mostly interested in seeing people go to raw and candid places that feel universally human and intimate, and places that are sometimes scary because of that.”
As his profile rises and he moves into larger and more mainstream projects, he has no intention of leaving that focus behind. As he explores narrative filmmaking with greater confidence, he intends to stay true to his vision and the feel of his existing works.
“While I’ll never shy away from anything sexual,” he points out, “I think that there will have to be a really strong reason within a script to show explicit content, because you’re making a statement with that, and I feel there needs to be a reason behind it.”
– Lara Klaber
Photo by Meaghan Earley
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