Filmmaker Alan Brown brings The Bard into the 21st century with ‘Private Romeo.
by Donalevan Maines
Private Romeo, is that you? Out writer/director Alan Brown’s handsome film, new on DVD, sets William Shakespeare’s romance Romeo and Juliet in a military school with gay male cadets as the star-crossed lovers.
Out actor Matt Doyle, 25, stars as Glenn, the “Juliet” character, and Seth Numrich, who played Albert in War Horse on Broadway, as Sam, or “Private Romeo.” Doyle appeared as Billy Narracott in War Horse and understudied the role of Albert.
“I’ve been out since anybody asked me,” Doyle tells OutSmart. “To be blunt, I just don’t care,” he laughs.
“I got into acting after I was very, very badly bullied and I was in a really, really horrible place. I was the awkward kid. My only sport was skateboarding. I was artistic, chubby, braces—a very, very easy target. I was spat on in P.E. class and so defeated that the teacher would allow that. I definitely made a cry for help to my mother.”
When Doyle was 12, he says, “I ended up going to an audition for Oklahoma! and I made some friends there. I was a farmer in the ensemble, but I was so happy to be there, and I realized without a doubt I wanted to go to Broadway.
“My first professional role on Broadway was as a swing in Spring Awakening,” the rock musical that won eight 2007 Tony Awards, including best musical.
War Horse won the 2011 Tony Award for best play.
“Never in my career did I think I would get to play Juliet,” says Doyle, who studied classical theater for a year at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. “Romeo and Juliet is absolutely without a doubt the most classic love story ever told,” he says. “It’s the most famous romance for a reason. Honestly, I think the main point in using the text is that it’s a universal subject.”
In the movie, the cadets read the play aloud in class, but the story seeps out of the classroom and into their personal lives. “If you’re along for the ride, I think you’ll be blown away with how moving it is. I hope it captures more than just a gay audience.”
The writer/director, Alan Brown, tells OutSmart that he cast the film with both gay and non-gay actors, all of whom were theater-trained. “Everyone was in agreement that we didn’t want to make a film about homophobia, or gays being bullied or gays being murdered,” explains Brown. “We’ve already had too much of that on screen. Everybody was gung-ho and committed to making a film about falling in love.”
Brown also decided not to divide the characters by barracks, making one group the Montagues and another the Capulets. “Instead, different people objected [to the coupling of Glenn and Sam] for different reasons.”
For example, Chris Bresky, who plays Omar, the “Nurse” character, “created an elaborate backstory of how he and Glenn grew up together,” explains Brown. “His objection was much more complicated, the horrible thing that happens when your best friend falls in love and doesn’t have time for you anymore.”
The 13½-day shoot coincided with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” says Brown. “I was thrilled, but I had to ask, ‘Why did it take 50 years?’”
Brown adds that President Obama’s announcement that he doesn’t oppose gay marriage was a good thing, but it fell far short of what he should have done. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but what took him so long?” he says. “He won’t give an executive order to stop discrimination? I have no patience anymore.”
However, Brown is flush with praise for his young cast. “Their sense of political awareness,” he says, “moves me to tears.”
Meanwhile, Brown fights for equality on the artistic front by focusing his talents on films with gay themes. On June 8, he completed four months of editing on his latest, Five Dances, which is set in New York’s “downtown” modern dance world.
“I’m hopeful that we will be premiering it this winter,” he says.
Private Romeo is available from Wolfe Video (wolfevideo.com).
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.