Editor – Justin Howard @Jthnomad
Photographer – Benjo Arwas @benjoarwas
Imagine if you will for a moment a world where the vast majority of the population is homosexual and heterosexuals are by far the minority. Sounds fabulous, right? Filmmaker Kim Rocco Shields takes a closer look at how modern society really treats its minorities in her debut feature film ‘Love Is All You Need?’, based on her short film of the same name that was an instant success on Youtube with over 3 million views in 2011. On its silver screen premiere, ‘Love Is All You Need?’ won The New Visions film award at Cinequest Film Festival, hosted by James Franco. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the film’s villain, Blake Cooper Griffin, and chatting about his challenging role, and what he calls the ‘culture of meanness’ in today’s world.
Love Is All You Need
JTH – Let’s talk about the message behind the film ‘Love Is All You Need.’ It is a very interesting premise to be sure.
Blake – The idea of Gay as Straight and Straight as Gay. It has never been done before.
JTH – The way I became aware of the film originally was by the Youtube short.
Blake – That was back in 2011 I believe.
JTH – Yes, it was.
Blake – How I went in for it, was I too watched the short. The short got millions of views on Youtube. It did really well. Kim Rocco Shields wrote it with David Tillman, and Kim Rocco Shields directed both the feature film that I am part of and the original short. So I read the script and as you know you sometimes get these things the night before you are going in because they are in castings and have to get them done. I got the script and I read the first page I kinda had an idea of what it was. This is the story about you know the bullying of gay people then I turned the page and I was like ‘wait a minute what did this say?’ I went back and read it again. Then I realized the concept was flipped. I thought how cool is this! This had never been done before! You know the thing about these things is that sometimes you start reading them at 8pm and you are just wanting to get through it. I sat right up and was thinking ‘this is really cool’ because rarely do you get to explore this.
JTH – The first thing I got out of watching the film was that it made the whole LGBT equal rights struggle instantly relatable to the straight community because it puts them in the position of seeing themselves getting bullied as a community.
Blake – I think what it does, and why I am excited to be part of it, is that it does the work of bringing up issues of equality for everybody. Especially the issue of bullying. Because I was able to part of the narrative of the film, I believe it delivers such a pro-tolerant message. The way that it achieves that is by flipping the story, it allows you to project so many different things onto the story.
JTH – Right I think the whole strength of the film is that it makes the struggle relatable to people who aren’t in it.
Blake – What it does to is, and what was interesting about ‘Love Is All You Need’ when I got into the script, is that it is a story about bullying on all levels. It is about the LGBT community, certainly because that story needs to be told. People really need to, it is my belief that people need to acknowledge the totality of that. Just how harmful it has been to so many people that level of bullying. There are other instances of bullying in the film that touch other areas, whether it be bullying based on someones appearance, or whether it be that woman are meant to do certain things and men are meant to do certain things. Breaking it down and I think that is what makes Kim Rocco Shields so fucking incredible. Because she is making a ballsy movie, that she is willing to go out there and say look this is what we are dealing with and these are the kinds of pre-judgments we have. Let’s take a look at it.
JTH – It is true that we as a society haven’t dealt with these things. It is true that now there have been generations of LGBT people, generations of African Americans, generations of Hispanic Americans, generations of any minority, there has been no awareness of struggle and depth of the brutality of the bullying that they face on a daily basis. To call it ‘Bullying’ sometimes…
Blake – Not enough?
JTH – Yes! And this film touches on that experience for everyone. It doesn’t matter what ‘category’ you fall into, it shows the depth of harm that it causes. To break the cycle of violence, you have to be open, you have to talk about it. I didn’t think in my lifetime that… I thought the race issue was done. I didn’t think we would as a society need to have campaigns like ‘Black Lives Matter’ to the point that Beyonce added it to her Super Bowl performance. This film ‘Love Is All You Need’ touches on that all that. It not only speaks to it, but visually it shows that this is happening. That it isn’t just happening to one sector, that it is happening to whole sections of our society.
Blake – You know we throw around the cliche that ‘we are all in this together’ right? We always thought out that cliche. It is a new phrase, it is a new phase for us to say. But the truth is that story like this helps show us everybody does play, either in making things better or being the subject of bullying, if we are going to use that word. Or making it worse. That is the truth. So how do we move to a world where there is more love, there is more kindness. Where there is more tolerance for all people. It is kinda funny because my character in the film is not very tolerant.
JTH – No, your character is the antagonist, the villain, the person who likes to cause pain. In my perception your character has a sadistic twist, where he likes to cause pain and gets off on it in a sense.
Blake – I am excited for people to see it because what I think was very interesting to me in the part is to, I play this character Bill Bradley, that is the college quarter back. It takes place on a college campus. In this world, same-sex couples are the majority and heterosexual couples would be the minority. Therefore those couples, male-female couples, would be bullied, would be maligned, would be outside the mainstream. So my character, Bill Bradley, is the college quarterback, the fraternity president, that person of who we think of in our consciousness. That ‘All American’ archetype who has a major problem with this couple that we learn about. The story kinda unravels from there. What was interesting for me as an actor and what made me so excited to be a part of this, is I believe it is a very important character, I think there needs to be reality to how bad things really are. The truth is I can never, or would every want to pretend to know what someone else’s struggle is. I can’t unless I am in that person’s shoes.
JTH – But you can have empathy…
Blake – Exactly! That is what is so awesome with acting, is the art of empathy. Is that for me to go “How does this person go to become this type of person? What impact does this have on other people?” What was interesting for me playing Bill Bradley was I wanted to make sure I didn’t shy away from showing the dark sides of him. I wanted to play it truthfully. So I really had to get inside that, even from the trailer there are some pretty brutal moments. There are plenty more in the film. I feel very honored to be part of this movie and to have gotten to work with Kim Rocco Shields. We call her ‘Rocco’ and David who co-wrote it with her. I really fought for the part too. I mean I really fought for it. So the male-female couple is played by Briana Evigan and Tyler Blackburn. I originally read for Tyler’s part and I think they said “You don’t look like someone who would be bullied.” It was some reason like I was too tall or something. Plus they also wanted Tyler. He is great in the movie. They brought me back in for Bill, and I remember having read it thinking ‘this is such an interesting part.’ After I auditioned for Rocco, David and the Producers I wrote Rocco a letter. Which I had never done before, I had never written a director a letter before. I have written letters after saying thanks. But never during casting but I just thought I was itching to play the part, plus I just thought the story was important and liked the short. It was a social platform. As an actor when I went to drama school where you are making someone laugh or cry, or just making them think. Hopefully you are making some sort of impact, I felt like this movie had that chance.
JTH – You wrote her a letter…
Blake – I wrote her a letter. Yeah, that was really cool. I got the part. What is funny about shooting stuff is you show up and I feel what people don’t understand that is that you are nervous. I am going in like ‘Holy Shit, here we go!’ The first night, I won’t give away anything because I want people to have their own experience of the movie. The first day I show up, and they were like “we are going to make Blake sweat bullets because we have scheduled the major climax of my character” It was shooting the very first day.
JTH – So they got you when you were still raw in the character.
Blake – Also you don’t know anybody. It taught me a lot about that, as an actor… This is so great that I get to talk to you because as an actor you don’t normally get to talk about this part of things outside the movie. It’s that you get there and you have this decision in your mind, where like anything else, you want to do a good job. I was a straight A student who was like on the student council and I played basketball and I excelled at things. So you want to do a good job but you have to not be afraid of stepping out and really attacking the character.
JTH – There is a purity when you become the character when you are acting. Because that is who you are portraying. I want to touch on that, for as you mentioned this character is kinda dark.
Blake – Yup it is.
JTH – I have heard other actors say that playing a villain can be very freeing. You said your first day on set you had this huge climax, tell me about how that was to attack this character. Tell me about the darkness…
Blake – First of all it is scary. It was scary, like I said that first day where you have to just leap and go! It was also really rewarding. I have been blessed to do a lot of really fun things. One thing I have been proud of, I have done a lot of diverse parts. This is one I had never done before so that when I read it, I thought I was going to have to tap into some real shit here. So I kinda holed up in my apartment. You know I like to go out with my friends and do stuff. People were like ‘What happened to Blake?’ I holed up in my apartment and just kept reading the script over and over again. Just imagining why would somebody get to this place, why would they take such severe actions. Why would someone have a problem, right I am in part representing intolerance, so why would someone have a problem with someone else’s relationship. I watched a lot of videos and interviews. Mostly I imagined what that would be like.
JTH – Did you use anyone as an example?
Blake – I read a lot of articles in the news about people who protest at funerals or the horrible things that people do. First of all I had to accept that this sort of thing happens, you know because you don’t want to believe this sort of thing happens. Then I had to imagine where would you have to come from to do something like that. Then when I go to the actual shooting it was very freeing because I had trained my mind about what kind of world this person would live in. Then you just go, you just let go, you jump in. This is someone who wanted their view to be heard, who really wanted that view to be heard. Who had a lot of power behind something that is really dark. We were shooting at night a lot, sometimes till 4am. You go home, you sleep till 12, then you get up and you are going back in around 2 or 3 for the next round. After the first week, I did get kinda emotional every time I had a day off. Because it was a rush of all this energy, and then you had a second to pause and take it all in. I am pretty good about not taking stuff home because it is a character. Clearly I am very different from this guy, I want to make that clear. But it did impact me though that is my job. I have to make this character real to me.
JTH – As you said, you not only have to empathize with the movie, you have to create the reality of the character. Did you find any those moments of reflection caused you look at things in your own life?
Blake – Honestly I have to say I am a pretty empathic person, I mean I do the best I can. I am by no means a perfect person. I try to be kind to everyone and I try to be kind to myself. These are things that I don’t know if someone in that mindset could be. I don’t think that person is even kind to themselves. The worst part is that they are hurting others. What these moments did do is make me realize not matter what the difference is, it is important to remember we are all in this together. I come back to that cliche, I wish I had better words for it. We all bleed the same blood, we are all going to experience sadness, happiness, joy and despair. We are all going to lose someone in our lives close to us. We all are going to have moments that we share with the people that we love. If we can just focus on that, then maybe we will have a little bit more happiness and more peace. I think what it did was make me appreciate the good things I have. I rededicated myself to participating in kindness. The other thing I will say is that for Rocco this was a labour of love. It started with the short she and David wrote. Then they wanted to make the movie right away but it took a long time. It took her four years to get it off the ground. I was happy to be part of this, it was so clear that Rocco was trying to change the world. I really do think that the film as it gets seen by more and more people will make pause and reflect. Maybe it will get them to think that they might need to change, maybe they are already tolerant of other people but that they need to speak up for people. Maybe a kid in middle school will watch it and think I am being bullied but there are people making a movie about it so it is important. I would hope what that does is make people feel that they have others behind them. That they aren’t alone, that they are supported.
JTH – Were you ever bullied growing up?
Blake – I moved around a lot. I lived in South Carolina for a good portion of my life, but my dads job took us to all parts of the state. Then it took us to all parts of North Carolina and Virginia. We moved around 9 times, and I was often the ‘new kid’ I know what it is like to sit alone at a table. I don’t want to make it sound worse than it was, because I know what some people have to deal with. Simply I know what it is to feel isolated. I know what it was to feel alone and to be in middle school, not having your legs underneath you. I know what was like to keep having to start over and doing it again and again. I was saved by the fact that I would play basketball, then I would get an instant group of friends. But I definitely thought about that experience and the couple of times I was made fun of, and pushed around. You know when you join a basketball team, to get into that crowd, people don’t treat you the nicest. I thought back to bullying I did see. I stood up for someone once, and that person came and told how much that meant to them. But at the time, being in 8th grade, I don’t know if I really took that in. That would be my story.
When you look around right now, there is a culture of meanness that is going on. I think it is disturbing that someone can say something anonymously online that they never have to take responsibility for but that there is a human being on the other end taking that in. My hope is that movies like this will make someone think twice about that. It really does make me sad to think that people are being maligned. The other piece of it is that there is this notion that we are done. That we are done as a society. There is marriage equality, President Obama was elected, and women are getting equality. But we aren’t ‘done’ the work isn’t done until everyone is treated equally. I feel that should be the work of every person. Until we are all treated with respect, cause you aren’t going to like everyone. Until there is respect for everyone, we aren’t living in the best possible world we could be.
JTH – What advice do you have for people being bullied?
Blake – For the person being bullied, know that people have your back! That includes people right around you, the people making this film too. That includes people all over the world who are speaking out and saying that isn’t right. I would also say to them find someone you can talk to. I have realized, what I know as a person who has been sad about something. Is that you may not feel like saying ‘Hey, I need to talk to you about something.’
JTH – Our society seems to enforces this isolation if you are wounded or sad.
Blake – Yeah to isolate.
JTH – That is what I think you are saying, not to isolate yourself. What advice do you have for those being bullied right now?
Blake – I think if you find someone you can talk to, because talking about it, may not change it right away, but it will at least let you know others have been where you are. Just getting it off your chest can be amazingly freeing. If it is very serious make sure people hear you and that something is done about it. Be you. That is your goal to be you!
JTH – What is Love?
Blake – I have a different view on Love. I know Love can be related to feelings, especially when you fall in love with someone. You feel for that person. I also believe that Love is choosing to stick it out with somebody. It is making the choice to always have their back and having their best interest at heart like you do your own. To me that is Love, I believe Love is loyalty. I believe those go hand in hand. Love and Loyalty to me are very much the same thing.
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