My EQView feature this week is an interview with Dylan Costello, the playwright of The Glass Protégé, which I reviewed last week. The Glass Protégé takes an in-depth look at homophobia in Hollywood in the 1940s, and how gay actors were forced to remain closeted, often living a lie in a lavender marriage.
My EQView interview with Dylan Costello is here:
Cut and pasted from the EQView website:
THE GLASS PROTÉGÉ – MEET THE WRITER – DYLAN COSTELLO
The Glass Protégé is a new play, currently running at the Park Theatre in London. It takes an in-depth look at homophobia in Hollywood in the 1940s, the operation of the Hollywood studio system, and how gay actors were forced to remain closeted, often living a lie in a lavender marriage.
I saw the play recently and wrote a review. I thought the writing and the acting was exceptional and it made me want to find out more about how the play came about. So I interviewed Dylan Costello, the playwright, to find out how and why he came to write the play.
EQView: What do you value about writing for the stage?
Dylan Costello: I love the raw energy and risk-taking of theatre and the fact that you can really push the envelope with a play. You can be controversial, you can make political comment, you can basically say whatever you want to say without having to pander to any ‘censorship’.
When you write a screenplay, you know straightaway that the studios will immediately disapprove of certain language, characters and plot points to make it as palatable as possible to a mass audience, but with theatre you don’t have to water things down, you can just put out your true voice and let the audiences decide whether they will love or hate you. That’s the meaning of true creativity and theatre allows it to happen.
Tell us about how The Glass Protégé came about.
Ideas for scripts come to me in the most random of moments and the initial idea for The Glass Protégé came about from fancying Cary Grant!
I was living in Los Angeles in 2005 and spent an unusually rainy afternoon watching several old classic movies that I had never seen. Watching Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife, a gem of an idea formed about a young woman in the present day falling in love with a handsome movie star just from his image on a 1940s movie poster. And so the story of The Glass Protégé was that of an unrequited love between a young immigrant woman and an ageing, reclusive former Hollywood movie star.
This was the initial story until I decided that the movie star needed to have a secret that had caused him to retreat so painfully from the world. What had Hollywood done to him that was so bad?
As an idea started to form, I suddenly had a light bulb moment and decided to make the former movie star gay and see his own unconventional love story unfold decades earlier. The Hollywood gay love affair element then took over as I became enthralled with the lives of gay actors in that era and so The Glass Protégé was born.
What drew you towards the issue of closeted gay actors in Hollywood? Why did you want to bring this particular story to the stage?
It became fascinating for me to have a character who was gay – and had spent his youth during an era when it was illegal to love another man.
It resonated with me and my own youth growing up the 1980s and realizing I was gay in an era when Section 28 was being pushed through and tabloid newspapers were creating a furore over two men kissing each other on the cheek in EastEnders.
And so, I researched the issue of homosexuality in Hollywood actors in the supposed ‘Golden Era’ of Hollywood and was astonished at what I discovered. It was then that I knew that the gay affair in 1940s Hollywood would become the true focus of the story. It was a story I was excited to bring to the stage, especially as Hollywood attitudes towards homosexuality still exist today, especially within the big-budget studio system.
We are living in an era where at the same time as we are finally making much progress with gay rights, those same rights are also being eroded across the globe in various countries.
With The Glass Protégé, we show the sadness of the fact that the homophobic attitudes of 1940s Hollywood are relevant to the same prejudices that are still festering today.
Why did you decide to set the play in two different time periods?
I wanted to keep elements of the original story of the present day relationship between the immigrant woman and the ageing movie star as well as the gay storyline in the 1940s, so thought it would be interesting to jump back and forth in time, so that the audience could gradually put pieces of a puzzle together.
I wanted them to see the older Patrick and know that he got married to a woman and then when they go back to 1949 and see his burgeoning affair with his male co-star, hopefully they would be wondering how this would all go so terribly wrong for our star-crossed lovers.
I’m a fan of movies that don’t stick to traditional linear timelines and wanted to recreate a similar effect for this play.
Are the characters Patrick Glass and Jackson Harper based on real people and are their experiences based on true stories?
The obvious inspirations are the likes of Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift, the matinee idols being pedaled as the heart throbs to get all the girls spending their precious dollars to see them at the movies, whilst at the same time, being kept firmly in the closet by their bosses and forced into fake relationships and marriages with women.
But whilst Rock and Monty are the two most famous examples, the ‘Hollywood Closet’ was in fact bursting at the seams with many, many of their peers. Even Marlon Brando was rumoured to have dallied with men (I would have quite happily been one of those men if I was alive back then!).
The truth was that sexuality was a lot more fluid back then with stars hopping in and out of bed with both sexes, but of course the fiction presented to the masses, never matched the reality of what was really going on.
Why and how do you think this play speaks to a modern day audience?
The dilemmas faced by our main characters are issues still affecting many LGBT people today.
I really felt for the gay people decades ago whose sexuality was not only illegal but were also forced to live entirely fake lives, just to appease others. And in the case of the Hollywood actors, their repression was solely for the purpose of making as much money as possible for their bosses and the movie industry.
And the sad fact is that these same homophobic attitudes are still prevalent today. We might get complacent that we now have gay marriage in this country, that gay characters are more widespread in movies and on our TV screens but the fight for our rights is never over, not when we have brutal regimes in other countries torturing and murdering people for the ‘crime’ of loving someone of their own sex.
Is any of the homophobia we witness today really that different to Hollywood studio bosses condemning their gay stars to lives of repression and misery?
Do you think much has changed in Hollywood between then and now? Do you think it is possible for a film actor to be openly gay in 2015 and still have a successful film career? Or do gay movie stars still have to remain in the closet?
I do believe that attitudes are very slowly changing and there are a band of openly gay actors who are helping to turn the tide. We have the likes of Russell Tovey, Matt Bomer, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen Page being out and proud and not harming their careers in the process.
But of course, the further up the stardom ladder the star resides, the more pressure there is to suppress one’s true sexuality. We have a raft of superhero movies currently flooding out of Hollywood and I’m sure the studios are still scrambling to keep their caped crusaders as palatable to the public as possible. It’s such a condescending notion that the homosexuality of an actor will undermine their believability as a hero with superpowers.
Are the public really that stupid to put the sexuality of an actor over their ability to act and inhabit a character? The Hollywood studios obviously still think that, so yes, there are ‘action heroes’ still being kept locked away in that increasingly dusty closet whilst their braver counterparts are not afraid to let the public know who they really are.
And it’s the courage of those out and proud actors which should be applauded. As Jackson Harper says in the play “Maybe one day, Hollywood will wake up and let us all be who we truly want to be”. We can only hope that it will.
You have an incredibly talented young ensemble cast in the London production. Tell us about the casting process and how you found your actors.
The auditions are the favourite part of the whole process for me. I love seeing the actors come in and see how they interpret the characters and script.
The Glass Protégé’s director Matthew Gould and I held the auditions and saw well over 100 actors for the roles. And it’s so thrilling when an actor comes in and completely blows you away by nailing the role on the spot. We were lucky to have that happen with all of our cast.
Mary Stewart got the ferocity of gossip columnist Nella Newman spot on and when Emily Loomes came in to audition for the role of starlet Candice, Matthew and I just looked at each other excited and knew we had our gal. Emily literally lit up the room with her audition.
We thought we were lucky with Mary and Emily and then along came Paul Lavers, Sheena May and Stephen Connery-Brown who all also nailed their auditions straightaway.
We then found Roger Parkins as Lloyd quite last minute after the original actor withdrew because of illness. Roger came in a few days into rehearsals and inhabited the character straightaway.
And then of course we have our two male leads David R Butler and Alexander Hulme. Interestingly, we never had to audition either of them. I had originally found Alex and David when they sent in video auditions for a filmed promo to help with sourcing some funding for a possible full production, which hadn’t been confirmed at the time. They were both so great on camera that when Park Theatre came back and offered the show a 4 week run, I immediately offered them both the roles and just hoped they would accept and also have amazing chemistry on stage together. And lucky for us that they do. It’s off the charts!
When it finishes its run at the Park Theatre what is next for The Glass Protégé?
After three incarnations in the past five years, I think for now the production will take a rest unless we get interest to take it elsewhere. There has been some talk of possibly staging it in Berlin next in the future so watch this space…
What is next for Dylan Costello? Any new projects in the pipeline?
I have various other stage projects in different stages of gestation so I’d like to get these finished and ‘out there’.
I also have my first Hollywood movie being made within the next year, which is very exciting. I’ve also just been hired as the screenwriter for another movie which has attracted the interest of Sony Pictures.
And as Artistic Director of LGBT-focused production company Giant Cherry Productions, I am planning to move into making some LGBT short movies in the very near future.
It’s going to be a very busy time but I just want to keep pushing my creativity as that what makes me thrive!
The Glass Protégé on the Park Theatre website: