Friends Indeed – Jason Bateman and Danny Nucci, television stars – Interview
Melding Will & Grace with The Odd Couple, CBS has crafted a new sitcom from the gay indie film Kiss Me, Guido. As Some of My Best Friends gears up for its late-February debut, stars Jason Bateman and Danny Nucci reveal their own gay secrets, talk about stereotypes, and share fashion do’s and don’ts.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare’s Juliet gushes about her Romeo.
Juliet wouldn’t last five minutes in network television.
For more than a year the folks behind the new CBS sitcom based on the 1997 gay indie film Kiss Me, Guido have been wracking their collective brain to come up with the perfect must-see moniker for their show, about a gay urbane magazine writer named Warren Fairbanks who shares a Greenwich Village apartment with a straight, hunky, unsophisticated wanna-be actor from the Bronx named Frankie Zito.
Their final inspiration? Some of My Best Friends.
“Kiss Me, Guido made no sense, because Warren’s not trying to get Frankie to kiss him,” explains executive producer Jonathan Axelrod, who was turned on to the movie’s series potential by his wife, actress and gay-guy magnet Illeana Douglas. “And guido, it turns out, was offensive to Italians. So we settled on Some of My Best Friends.”
The producers have had quite some time to mull over different titles: Filming of the first seven episodes ended in November, and while CBS was apparently high on the show, it was waiting for the perfect time slot, Axelrod says. Now that it’s got a debut date–February 28 at 8 P.M. Eastern time–the Best Friends folk couldn’t care less what you call their show as long as you’re laughing when you say it.
“What we’re trying to do, ultimately, is make episodes of television that are hysterically funny,” says Axelrod, whose previous credits include the 1995 Nancy McKeon sitcom Can’t Hurry Love and 1998’s single-dad series Brother’s Keeper. “Whether that breeds some more tolerance, well, that’s all the good stuff that you hope comes with the laughter.”
Serving up that good stuff–and the laughs–will largely be the job of the show’s two stars, Jason Bateman, who plays gay Warren, and Danny Nucci, as Frankie. Although the pair do the post-millennial Felix and Oscar thing on the show, in real life they have a lot in common. They’re both 32, romantically involved with actresses (Nucci dates his That Old Feeling costar Paula Marshall; Bateman is engaged to actress Amanda anka), and they both talk about their bodies like a pair of Chelsea boys waiting in line for a StairMaster.
“I’ve got the metabolism of a water buffalo,” laments Nucci, best known for his film roles in Titanic and Crimson Tide, before diving into a plate of chips and salsa on the patio of West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont.
“And I have a tendency to evolve into William Shatner, with my big fat face,” adds Bateman, the veteran of several previous sitcoms, including Chicago Sons, The Hogan Family, and Silver spoons. “I swear, if Danny and I worked behind the camera, we’d be about 700 pounds between us.”
But their biggest shared passion–coming in just ahead of complex carbohydrates–is their brand-new and ready-at-last-to-debut baby, some of My Best Friends. “I’m tired of telling all my friends how good it is,” carps Bateman “because I just sound like some idiot actor twattling on about his latest project, but I honestly believe it.”
Have you ever played gay before?
Nucci: It’s old hat to me. I played a bisexual in The Unknown Cyclist and gay in a film called Friends & Lovers, where I made out with Leon.
Nucci: Just Leon. He was in the Madonna video “Like a Prayer.”
Jason, if this is your first time playing gay, was it an easy part for you to land?
Bateman: No, no, no. At first it was smooth sailing. When we got to network, I figured that it was perfunctory, because Les Moonves has been my boss since I was 16. He was running Warner Bros. when I was doing The Hogan Family. But that history ended up working against me because I wasn’t his idea of who this character should be.
He knew you as the king of all skirt chasers.
Bateman: [Laughs] Actually, Warren’s pretty similar to a lot of other roles I’ve played–you know, he’s not a homeless guy with Tourette’s–but I think Les had an idea about me which didn’t fit. Then I went down on him, and he went, “Oh, now it’s clear to me. Get up.” [Both laugh]
Nucci: There were a lot of people, straight and gay, that would not consider doing Jason’s role. I mean, would not.
Bateman: They looked [at other actors] all the way through pilot season, and finally Moonves said, “Go get Bateman.” It was a happy, happy, happy day for me, because nothing else was as good.
What appealed to you about the show?
Nucci: It was a smartly written, funny script. I read a number of different things and this was the best by far.
Bateman: I just love doing sitcoms. I’d be in them till I was gray if they’d have me. Plus, it was good. What makes me laugh about my character is that he’s not really as smart or cool or good-looking as he thinks he is. I think this show is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait for it to be on the air.
During the audition process, did the creators give you any direction about how to portray the character’s sexuality?
Bateman: They said, “Gayer than Eric McCormack but not as gay as his friend Jack.” So I didn’t do anything with my speech, but my body language was a bit feminine. They stopped me after the first scene and said, “Forget the gay thing. Just be you.”
“You’re plenty gay as it is.”
Bateman: [Laughs] That’s exactly what I said: “What are you saying, that I’m plenty gay?” The silence was deafening.
Scott Seomin, the media director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, was quoted as saying that the two scripts of the show that he read “seem to center on sexual orientation too much, and, frankly, that can get boring,” Any thoughts?
Nucci: Part of why that perception is there is because we were asked to make a show that, regardless of which episode aired first, you would get the entire story. But that’s certainly not the show’s only angle. We also deal with the fact that Frankie’s not really cultured and doesn’t understand what happens in Manhattan. That stuff he learns from Warren.
At the risk of getting all Oprah on you, I found it refreshing that your characters actually did some nice things for each other. It seem like there’s a lot of selfishness among friends on TV these days.
Bateman: Wait until you see the nice thing I do for him in the very special two-parter. [Laughs] But I know what you’re saying. I think there’s a humanity in the characters. They’re real. They’re honest. They get their feelings hurt.
If people are going to complain about stereotyping, it’s as likely to be Italian-Americans as gay people. Frankie’s best friend, Pino, is not exactly a Mensa member.
Nucci: It’s always funny on a sitcom to have somebody who’s a little bit dimwitted–it just happens to be this particular guy. Tony Vitale, who cowrote the pilot [and authored the original screenplay for the film Kiss Me, Guido], is from the Bronx, and I spent a lot of time there too. It’s not that far a cry from people that I’ve met and had long conversations with.
I get a real kick out of Alec Mapa, the out gay actor who plays Warren’s over-the-top friend and upstairs neighbor, Vern.
Nucci: Please–he’s reduced me to Harvey Korman. They have to edit around me because I’m laughing al some line of his. Even if I’ve heard it 482 times, it’s still funny.
Is the show going to explore, the characters’ love lives?
Bateman: We’re, not going to shy away from it. Like, my ex comes back in one episode.
Nucci: And I have a couple of girls that I date.
Bateman: Per episode.
Nucci: [Shrugs] It’s in my contract.
Danny, in the movie Frankie was a bit objectified, like the hot guy who’s too clueless to get how hot he is. I take it the show is going to be similar.
Nucci: Well, I spent a third of the pilot in nothing but a towel.
I rest my came. Do you guys remember the first time you realized what it meant for someone to be gay?
Nucci: My first memory is that the word was a derogatory term that kids called you.
Bateman: I don’t remember a verbal explanation of what it was. I was just exposed to so many people that I worked with who were gay. Plus, my mom was a Pan Am flight attendant for 30 years.
Are there a lot of gay men in that field?
Bateman: Just a couple. [Laughs] When I was wee I’d skip down the aisle and serve dinner trays. I loved it.
Have there been gay references in the show’s scripts that you don’t get?
Bateman: Yeah, but I don’t remember what they are. I often get the note to “gay it up.” The director will come up and say, “Just go full flaps on this.” That’s a reference to labia.
Meaning, “gay” equals having labia?
Bateman: Meaning, “Focus on your feminine side.” [Laughs]
Oh, boy, I can see the angry letters now. Do gay men ever hit on you?
Nucci: No, but generally gay men are very nice to me.
Bateman: People have often asked if I’m gay because I don’t go out of my way to spit and scratch and give people attitude. People think, “He’s so nice. He’s gotta be gay.” I’ve met very few dumb gay guys. I really think it takes some intelligence and some insight to figure out you’re gay and then a tremendous amount of balls to live it and live it proudly. So by definition, gay is smart. I see plenty of macho heterosexual idiots, but nine times out of 10 you can have a great conversation if you find a gay guy.
What are the fringe benefits of having gay male friends?
Nucci: [Laughs] As stereotypical as this may sound, and I don’t know if it’s just because the friend I’m thinking of is in the fashion industry, but I’m much more conscious of what I look like around him.
Bateman: If you do put together a good outfit, you know it’s going to be appreciated.
Nucci: Right, like my girlfriend would comment more about the overall effect. This particular friend can appreciate the fact that there’s a color in my shoe that matches the color in my shirt.
Speaking of outfits, I have something to say, Danny, that you might not want to hear: I think Frankie dresses a little gay.
Bateman: [Laughing] Frankie dresses a lot gay.
Nucci: Yeah. Well, you know …
I’ve seen only a few episodes …
Bateman: Wait till you see the others!
Nucci: The common denominator is a sense of flash and bravado. How it manifests itself is different for each person, but sometimes, with a certain article of clothing, it works for both gay and straight.
Bateman: Meanwhile, Warren dresses like a country-club guy who only reads about gay people. Half the time Frankie seems gayer than Warren does, which is a wonderful thing in the show.
What would Frankie wear on the beach?
Nucci: [Smiles] Trunks.
Bateman: Come on! Frankie would definitely be in a banana boat.
Nucci: You think?
Bateman: I think, and we’ll see.
Nucci: [Laughs] I’m sure we will.
RELATED ARTICLE: Jason and Danny square off for Gay Jeopardy!
Straight actors, like Danny Nucci and Jason Bateman, often prattle on over how much they’ve learned about gay culture from doing gay-themed projects. Exclusively for Advocate.com, this talented twosome put their money where their mouth is to play Gay Jeopardy! Here’s a sample:
OK, guys, today we have three categories: Gay People, Gay Places, and Gay Things. Each of which has questions worth $100, $300, and $500. Since Jason plays the gay character and would therefore seem to have the advantage, we’ll let Danny go first.
Nucci: I will go with Gay Places for $100, Dennis.
The answer is: “Greenwich Village Bar where, In 1969, drag queens and others rioted and essentially started the gay rights movement.”
Nucci: [Buzzes in] What is Stonewall?
Nucci: Gay Places for $300.
“West Hollywood boutique and catalog that sells tight, shiny, meshy, leathery clothing with names like Silky Step-in and Miami Thong.”
Nucci: [Buzzes in] What is International Male?
Bateman: You’re on fire, Danny! There’s smoke coming out of your ears.
Nucci: I’ll take Gay Things for $300.
And the answer is: “Where all the gay men hung out on the set of Titanic.”
Bateman: [Buzzes in, with a smile] What is Danny Nucci’s dressing room?
That’s absolutely right for $300!
Nucci: Wait. That’s not a Gay Thing.
I know. I Just had to throw it in.
For the complete Gay Jeopardy! game and outtakes from this interview, go to www.advocate.com
Hensley, author of Misadventures in the (213), also writes for TV Guide.
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