Now In Between Men is planning to build an audience on the web, rather than focus on television, and has decided to relaunch the series with some promotional help from Ronnie Kroell, of Make Me a Supermodel fame.
Earlier this month I trekked through the snow and cold to Hudson Terrace in Hell’s Kitchen to Kroell’s birthday party, a benefit for the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth and a release party for In Between Men. With the cast and crew all present, the event was chock full of entertainment, including live original music from the series (actress Margot Bingham sang) and a screening of the first six episodes.
Matthew Rettenmund (writer of Boy Culture, eventually a film by Q. Allan Brocka) was there and has a great write-up with tons of photos and video at his blog.
I decided to transcribe the interviews I did with a bunch of people there, including Kroell, director Jennifer Gelfer and actors Michelle Clunie, Chase Coleman, Max Rhyser and Ben Pamies.
Below I talk about New York, playing gay, shooting on a budget and what working on a web series means with the Kroell and the people of IBM.
AJC: How did you hear about the series?
RK: Actually some good friends at ChicagoPride.com asked me if I would go cover the red carpet premiere, and I said ‘of course I would. I’d love to.’ And so I got introduced to Antonio [Hicks, the series’ publicist], Quincy, and Jennifer and the whole cast. And I just personally love the show. I thought it was going to be a real grand slam, so I said I want to work with you, and I want to do something big and special for you guys, so we can introduce this series to some influential people. And also do it for a good cause. Getting to do it on my birthday was just the icing on the cake!
AJC: It all just came together?
RK: Yea, it all just sort of came together.
AJC: So the idea to do it for charity came from you?
RK: Yea, I’m kind of the “king of heart,” it’s like my moniker. Everything I do, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I come from Chicago, very laid back, very much about people and relationships. And if I can share something on my birthday that’s really the best gift. Especially when in America we can be spoiled and we kick ourselves when we see people going without. These kids really need the services that Ali Forney is providing. It’s just about awareness and talking about it, and kind of taking our blinders off to realize that needs need to be met. It takes community to do that. It’s cool because In Between brings out gay and straight people, and men all across the board in life, for the common cause.
AJC: Everyone should do this for their birthday.
RK: You know, the people who came out in the cold tonight, it speaks volumes to types of people we’re associated with. They want to give back. They really are vested in the community. And they’re fabulous people! My volunteers are just unbelievable.
AJC: What have you been up to?
RK: I’m transitioning into acting from modeling. I’m doing some modeling still, but I’ve been auditing some acting classes, including Jennifer Gelfer’s, who directed In Between Men. So I really want to explore the multifaceted world of acting, rather than just walking the runway and doing photo shoots. I want to challenge myself.
AJC: How do you like New York?
RK: It’s a love/hate relationship, I have to be honest. New York is one of the most incredible places in the world to live, one of the most expensive places in the world to live. It can be very tough, people can be closed off. But they’re warm at the same time. There are just so many people. You know, it depends on the day when you ask me. Right now I’m very happy with New York. I’m learning to roll with the punches, and make the best of it. And surround myself with a good group of people, because it really is all about who your network is, who your friends are. And you make the best out of wherever you live I think. But the opportunities that exist in New York are beyond anything in any other place in the world. You’ve just got to work. And you’ve gotta work hard.
AJC: How was it shooting? I know you had a pretty tight schedule.
MR: Fortunately, a lot of us knew each other so we were already like a family, which made it easy when it got a little high pressure. And for the rest, everybody just joined feeling that this was a wonderful project that could do a lot of great things and was just happy to be there, despite the stress and the sweat and the hardship.
AJC: Do you relate to your character?
MR: I relate to Jacob by the fact that he’s an artist here in the New York, living a fabulous lifestyle but trying to be true to who he is. I myself am not bisexual but I can relate – I’ve been with guys and women – I like the struggles he’s had to face thus far and as season two comes out I think you’ll see him really break down and have to make a difficult choice.
AJC: Have you played gay/bisexual before?
MR: This is different for me in that Jacob – I mean, I think most of the guys come across as fairly straight in the show, whereas other characters you play might come across as more feminine or more gay depending on their qualities. I think that I’m trying to play Jacob like a regular guy.
AJC: What’s your favorite part/aspect of the series?
MR: The fun we have on camera we’re also having off camera. It’s because we’re a group of friends and that’s what we’ve become. It’s just fun. It’s play time.
AJC: As a producer, how was it preparing for a web series?
MR: This is one of my first on-camera productions. It was a little tricky to be honest to be one of the lead actors and a producer. So as we went further along in the process and things were sort of set in place, I sort of stepped back as a producer and started focusing on the actor. But it’s wonderful.
Photo credit: Melissa June Daniels
AJC: So you were the director and you also run an acting class. I was told a lot of the people from your class are in the series.
JG: Actually they came to me after the series. I had two guys in the show, and that’s how I kind of came to the show.
AJC: How was it directing the series?
JG: It was my first time directing a film, I’ve always done theater. I’ve always stayed away from film, and now I sort of regret having ever stayed away, because it was so much fun and so creative and I knew it instantly – I knew exactly what I was doing – so it was exciting to find out that it was another talent that I had that I didn’t think I had.
AJC: It was a pretty tight schedule, right?
JG: 12 days! Six episodes in 12 days. We had a great line producer [sic, credited as production consultant], Christina De Haven, from NYU, who put the whole together within about a month. She made it all happen. She got us our whole crew. We also had a fantastic director of photography, and she brought her whole crew with her – her name is Jendra Jarnagin. Everybody sort of came together and it just happened really fast. From the time we did a staged reading of it for backers to the time we finished was about four months.
AJC: Did you direct the staged reading?
JG: I did. That’s what I was hired for. I was hired to direct the staged reading and we would see where it would go. And it went so well and we got the financing and they decided, ‘keep her.’
AJC: What was the most challenging part about directing the series?
JG: The most challenging part was really at the beginning. It was thinking that I didn’t know how to direct for a camera. I’m also an actor, and as an actor, I always know how to direct myself, but I didn’t quite know how to use a camera. Finding out that I could do that, as I said before, was very exciting, because it’s telling a story a different way, from a different point of view.
AJC: What was your favorite part of the series?
JG: I have to say my favorite scene was working with Michelle Clunie. Because she’s my very, very dear friend from LA. We’re creative collaborators, we do a lot together creatively. And so when she came on and did us the favor of flying in – she flew herself in – and she did this scene that Quincy created for her – she said, “you’re doing this? I want to be part of it” – and she did just knocks it out of the ballpark. It was just so much fun to be able to do that, because we’ve been working together for years off and on.
AJC: She’s a strong actress.
JG: She’s amazing.
AJC: How is it directing in New York?
JG: I’d actually done an episode with Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City. So I knew about working in New York City, but it was always form the perspective of standing behind the lines. Here I am now I’m directing this, so it made a huge leap, and it was great. It was really exciting. Because this was my city and I was getting to call the shots. I loved it.
AJC: That’s interesting, because New York is so busy and there are so many people…
JG: Oh, it couldn’t have been better! I can’t imagine any better place to shoot than New York City. It’s so exciting, especially when you’re a New Yorker.
AJC: Is it hard to direct straight people to play gay?
JG: When you’ve got good actors it doesn’t mean anything. What I really learned with this experience, that if you’re telling a good story, about people who love one another, then that’s all that’s important. It doesn’t matter if they’re gay, if they’re straight, if they’re bi, if they’re up, if they’re down, whatever. But a good story is a good story and gender doesn’t matter.
AJC: What attracted you to this series and to the role specifically?
MC: My friend Jen is the director, and she said she was doing this series. And I said “wow, that sounds great, I want to be part of it, why not?” And I wanted to support her and also it sounded really cool. And also, knowing Jen, I knew it would be very well-made. She doesn’t do anything unless she does it to the best of her ability. And you can see that in the series. The production value is very, very high. It’s probably the most well-produced web series you will see.
And so she talked to Quincy, the creator of the show, and he wrote the role for me. And so, we talked on the phone a little bit, and he said something about this high-powered publicist, the boss, and I said something about: “Ooo, Faye Dunaway from Network on crack!” Like something like that. Not that you can top it – I’m such a big fan – but do a modern version of that. Make it crazy. That got me very, very excited. And it was great. You know, it was just a little cameo, one scene.
It’s great to be part of something that’s putting stories out there about the LGBT lifestyle, culture. This is set in New York, and I haven’t seen that before, so it’s really interesting, and all the actors were wonderful.
AJC: Do you tend to get offered roles about high-powered, strong women?
MC: I’m about to embark on the rehearsal process Wednesday the West coast production of Neil LaBute’s The Mercy Seat. And once again [my character] is a very high-powered woman; and as tough as she is on the outside, that’s how vulnerable she is on the inside. I’ve noticed that the characters I play… it’s these women who are tough-as-nails on the outside and vulnerable on the inside. I think that’s kind of me. I can be very tough. I believe in honesty and being straightforward. I do not suffer fools or injustice. It’s rare in this world. Many people will put up with many things. That said, I also need love and tenderness and that makes me especially vulnerable. Sometimes you have to give up a lot of your values to get love, and I won’t.
AJC: You’ve worked on a lot of different kinds of projects. How is it working on a web series?
MC: It’s interesting. I have to say, it didn’t feel – well, it didn’t feel so much like a web series. It did in that things were a lot faster. Basically what it felt like to me was an indie film. That was the closest experience I could compare it to; it was like an indie film. It was very fast; we didn’t have a lot of time, but Jennifer is such an amazing director. We have shorthand. We’ve known each other such a long time – around 20 years – that it was so easy. And my character is just the greatest character. I would love to do more with this character, because he [Quincy Morris] came up with this character in, honest to God, 24 hours. And it was written so brilliantly – he’s a very, very talented man. We’re going to see a lot of him.
Photo credit: Melissa June Daniels
AJC: How did you come to this series?
CC: I went and saw a staged reading that was directed by Jennnifer Gelfer, my mentor and the greatest person in the world. And a good friend of mine, a classmate, Max Rhyser was also a part of it. So I was invited to go to that. And when I was there I met Quincy Morris and Sidnei Beal. They asked me if I’d be curious in reading for the part of Dr. Dane Sullivan. And I read and it went well and here I am.
AJC: You’ve done a lot work.
CC: I’ve done a little bit. I’ve done some stuff on Gossip Girl, The Good Wife, Kings, Boardwalk Empire.
AJC: All shows that I like. So how was it working on those sorts of sets versus a web series set?
CC: Well, you know, I mean, when I went onto those sets I didn’t really know a lot of people from the beginning. I didn’t get to really establish a family per se. I mean there were a couple people I got to work with again later in different TV series. I knew them from before. Like Michael Pitt [star of Boardwalk Empire] I got to say ‘hey, what’s up man?’ We got to work together again. For this, being a regular on the series, more so than a day player, I really know everybody I’m working with, it’s much more comfortable, and I’m really getting to just open up and just be crazy and fun and take risks. Everybody on this set, the crew included, I was very comfortable with.
AJC: How is it playing your character? He’s a little bit weaker. He has self-esteem issues.
CC: He’s got a lot of weaknesses but he also has a lot of strengths in different areas. To be honest with you I think I relate the most to this character. I’m happiest to play this character. I love his vulnerability – that’s the kind of stuff to tap into. I like the darknesses. I like to find the darknesses in people and the characters that I play. And that’s what attracts me the most to the acting profession. The “anti” type characters, the ones that are the most overlooked.
AJC: Because you seem like a very confident guy.
CC: I have some confidence in different areas.
AJC: How was it playing a gay character?
CC: I was really excited about it because I feel as an actor it’s kind of challenge to go through and discover, because this kind of series isn’t like a stereotypical gay series. We’re not going for the stereotypical gay man. Especially for me I’m playing doctor and I have patient and they’re like ‘oh, you’re my gay doctor.’ It completely changes the entire atmosphere of things. So that type of stuff really was intriguing to me to discover and play around with. So overall I think it’s something for me that I can have a lot of fun with, just taking risks, and having fun and just diving in head first.
AJC: Those kinds of roles are appealing to actors.
CC: That’s why I decided to play this.
AJC: Tell me about your career:
BP: My career is really just starting to take off as far as the acting corner is concerned. I’m thankful for all the modeling work and opportunities I’ve had in the past. But just this past year I’ve been meeting Quincy, and our other producer Sidney Beal, and our director Jennifer Gelfer, I’m really focused and anxious and ambitious about turning the corner and making acting a prevalent scene in my entertainment industry career.
AJC: Quincy told me he knew he wanted you to play that character:
BP: Well, Quincy and I have a very unique relationship that I don’t think too many other people have as far as a producer and actor go. Like most actors, I bartend at night and go on auditions in the day, and I might Quincy at my bar. And I have the unique perspective of being there when these were just ideas in Quincy’s head, tossing around. And I was there when he put things on paper. So I’ve been really blessed to see the birth and growth of this project.
AJC: Oh wow:
BP: Like most bars you go to, people are shooting the shit with the bartender. He’s telling me about the ideas he has, and I’m telling about my ambitions to be an actor and things just clicked in a way. He had a part for me. I’m happy to be in the show.
AJC: That’s really great. So you’ve said you’ve done modeling and now acting. So you’re auditioning:
BP: Yea, I’m just trying to better myself everyday with Jennifer’s tutelage. After shooting I signed onto her acting class, which was magnificent. She’s awesome. I really feel like I’m making these big strides in the class and it’s giving me the confidence when I audition. In the meantime, we’re keeping our fingers crossed as the show moves along. You know, I’m hoping I can use the show as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
AJC: How was it playing a gay guy?:
BP: I’ve never done it before, but you know the bar I work at is in Chelsea. I feel like I’ve been working there for a couple of years, most of my best friends are gay men from the community. Chelsea’s such a special place, and the gay community as a whole is just so special to me, the way they’ve embraced me in Chelsea. I feel like some sort of sappy story where the community embraces the straight guy, the outsider. It’s a beautiful thing. I love the opportunity, especially a project like this where it’s trying to relay that there’s not much of a difference. These are men that are just trying to carry out their business like anybody else, they just happen to like guys.
AJC: Do the characters remind you of your friends, gay or straight?:
BP: Yea, I mean, these are everyday people that anyone can relate to. The things that you see in these characters are people you’d meet everyday. These are everyday guys. I love that.
AJC: How was the production experience?:
BP: Because it was so low budget and glued together, and running overtime, the group became very close. We just feel an awesome energy about what we’re accomplishing here.