It’s not easy being ‘Green’

First-time filmmaker Steve Williford teams with the Verizon Guy (seriously!) for ‘The Green,’ a movie about homophobia and suspicion

Jason_Butler_Harner_and_Cheyenne_Jackson
IDYLLS OF THE QUEENS | A quiet couple (Dallas theater veteran Jason Butler Harner and ‘30 Rock’s’ Cheyenne Jackson) becomes immersed in controversy when one is accused of an affair with a teen in the USA Film Festival entry ‘The Green.’

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

Although Steve Williford never felt any homophobia directed at him when he lived in southwestern Indiana, his perception of what others thought of him as a gay man was something that stuck with him for many years. At dinner parties and social events, his sexuality was a subject that came up often, usually as a result of others’ curiosity.

“Months went by and I started to wonder if I was the poster boy for gay,” he says. “I always wondered what would happen if something in my life happened that brought my sexuality to the forefront, like if I was at a party and kissed my partner.”

That question would eventually lead him to his first feature film as a director, The Green, currently on the festival circuit and screening at USA Film Festival Saturday. The screenplay is written by Paul Marcarelli, best known as Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” guy, who recently came out publicly.

The story they ended up with concerns a high school teacher, played by Jason Butler Harner, who is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. It causes tension with the teacher’s partner, played by out Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson (also known for his recurring roles on 30 Rock and Glee), and in the community.

Williford directed nearly 150 episodes of the recently axed soap opera All My Children from 2004 to 2011, but his background is in theater (he directed a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s at Dallas’ Park Cities Playhouse, back when it was called the Plaza Theatre). So it’s not surprising that his cast is filled with actors who come from the theater world, too — not just Jackson, but Harner, who played Hamlet at the Dallas Theater Center in 2003. That may explain why Williford’s film has something in common with several plays, notably Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.27.05 PM“We’re a proud cousin of all of those works,” Williford says. “We are trying to examine a situation that can illustrate to us how slippery truth and clarity really is and how quickly it can slip away from us.”

“Paul and I are both big lovers of ambiguity to a certain degree,” he adds. “I had always modeled this story in my heart and mind on what I love about the Chekhov short stories: We leave certain things open and free to be interpreted. For the bulk of the story, you’re really not sure if he has done what he’s being accused of, but there are some significant issues that do get resolved, quite clearly I think.”

And of course, he knows the audience won’t trust if they don’t believe in the relationship as portrayed by Harner and Jackson, and takes a dramatic turn from the comic roles he has done on TV.

“I completely believe in Jason and Cheyenne as a couple. That’s one of my complaints when I see LGBT couples represented in film: I feel like there’s a link missing a little bit. I don’t feel that way about them, in the work environment or what has come together for the film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Janssons to speak at Truth Wins Out event

KC, left, and Larry Jansson

KC and Larry Jansson, the subject of last week’s Valentine’s article, will speak in Memphis on Feb. 21. That stop is the end of a 12-city tour for Truth Wins Out founder Wayne Besen.

The event will highlight the harm caused by programs that claim to turn gay people straight through prayer and therapy, according to a Truth Wins of press release. Besen said he chose Memphis as his final stop because Exodus International’s flagship ministry, Love In Action, is based here. The Janssons met while participating in the six-month program at Love In Action.

They will share how they tried to “pray away the gay,” according to the press release. Well, maybe Larry did. He called himself the more brainwashed of the two. But KC thought the rules were a joke. He attended because his parents sent him and his choice was to be homeless.

Truth Wins Out wrote this:

Besen’s multi-media presentation offers a unique, innovative and entertaining look behind the mask of so-called “ex-gay” programs. Besen is the author of two books including the critically acclaimed, “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth”. He is also noted for photographing “ex-gay” poster boy John Paulk in a gay bar in Washington, DC and helping expose the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s personal “ex-gay” activist Michael Johnston as a fraud.

The couple appeared on the Michelangelo Signorelli’s show on OutQ on Sirius radio today. Then on March 6, they will appear locally on Lambda Weekly on 89.3 KNON-FM at noon.

Larry called the attention they’ve gotten from the article overwhelming.

“It’s important to continue to speak out so that others don’t have to live through the pain we did,” said Larry. “It’s possible to live a happy and healthy life as gay.”

Sound like an “It Gets Better” video? They’re planning one soon.

—  David Taffet