Chris New, out gay Brit actor, plays a queer political artist
BY GARY M. KRAMER
Andrew Haigh’s excellent gay romance invites viewers to eavesdrop on the budding relationship between Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). First meeting at a club, they spend the night together. And then the next day, and the next night, and the next day. One night becomes a “Weekend.”
Glen is an artist and has a queer political bent. Russell is more subdued, an everyman who just wants to be happy. Their conversations are often poignant — Glen explains how he was outed in school — and sometimes heated, as when Russell argues his position on gay marriage. Haigh films these men in a documentary-like fashion in Russell’s apartment and chatting idly on public transit.
The director’s intimate approach gives “Weekend” its emotion power, which culminates in the film’s moving finale. Audiences will find themselves invested in the relationship every bit as much as Russell — and maybe Glen, too.
The actors are fantastic in their roles. Handsome without being too pretty, they seem comfortable and natural together. Cullen nicely underplays his part; a scene at his goddaughter’s birthday party belies his desires to be with Glen. New is particularly charismatic. Watching these men connect is simply magical.
Gay City News spoke to the out gay New about making “Weekend.”
GARY M. KRAMER: You are very charming as Glen. How did you approach the character?
CHRIS NEW: My charm? I brought that to the film. Andrew had no charm. [Laughs.] I’m joking. We tried to make Glen as rounded as possible — not one-note or aggressive. Andrew let me bring my own kind of sense of humor to him. I enjoy the absurd, the strange little things in life. I wouldn’t say I’m a jokemeister.
GMK: How much of the film was improvised?
CN: It’s hard to say what was in the script and what we improvised. It would be interesting to look at the original script now. We were very in the moment and did lots of versions. Because we were shooting in sequence, we could do that and not worry about saying something that we’d already shot. That was really great, and allowed us to relax.
GMK: How did you develop your rapport with your co-star Tom?
CN: We didn’t do any specific techniques. The main things we did is try to relax around each other. The relationship on the set wasn’t one to one/ one on one, but a three-way between Andrew, Tom, and I.
GMK: So you discussed everything right down to, well, who’s on top in the sex scene?
CN: You do have to discuss who’s on top when you’re doing a film with intimacy.
The characterization of sexuality as it’s discussed in the film — each character has a way they like to take part in sex — speaks to where they are in the world and what’s in their heads, as well. Because we were relaxed, there were no tensions when the camera rolled. We were open to try anything. So if Tom changed a line or a move or his intonation, we’d just go with it. That’s what made some of the more interesting moments in the film, when we create a nice chemistry.
GMK: Glen talks about getting caught wanking off to a freeze frame of Rupert Graves’ nude scene in “A Room with a View.” You have a quick full frontal shot in “Weekend.” Do you imagine guys wanking off to your nude scene?
CN: [Laughs so hard he has to catch his breath]. Breathe! Hardly! I’d be very surprised. But if they want to have a go at a frozen screen, fine. Good luck!
GMK: Is Tom your type?
CN: No. He’s completely the opposite, sadly. Which made it kind of easier actually. [Laughs.] But he’s got quite a fan club now the films been released. Apparently, he’s lots of people’s type.
GMK: Why do you think Glen and Russell are attracted to each other?
CN: I think as with a lot of relationships, it’s the accidental challenges that make it work. They say the right thing, in the right frame of mind to each other. Their personalities… the timing is right. You are ready to have that experience. That happens with a lot of relationships, short or long, that right period where you respond to each other.
GMK: How did you identify with your character?
CN: I think I may have been like him at one point in my life — not wanting to get involved in a relationship. There are phases where we do that and isolate ourselves. I recognized that protective element of him, Glen wanting to remove himself from the game. This makes him cerebral, and that’s what Russell breaks down.
GMK: Glen is a bit political — talking about gay marriage, addressing issues of living in a straight world. How political are you?
CN: I am quite politically minded, but I’m not sure if I agree with Glen’s politics.
It’s interesting, the generation I come from in England, feels slightly at a distance from the gay movement. We look at it and respect it and admire what people have done for us, but it’s hard for me to see what the relevance is. I’ve only just been learning about that in the past few years. It’s because I’m getting older. I see these things do have an effect.
I just got married last weekend. It was a shotgun wedding — I got him pregnant. [Laughs]. Taking that step, I had to think about the marriage question. My partner and I don’t at all copy or attempt to simulate a straight marriage. The stereotypical way people look at that is to assume we have an open relationship, and that’s a cheap idea. A gay couple can get married and do it in a slightly different way.
We had no bridesmaids, no bouquets, no wedding lists, etc. Here in the UK, it’s called “partnership.” But I’m going to call it “marriage” and call him “my husband” and not let anyone stop me. Being gay, we can shape that anew for ourselves.
GMK: There are scenes where Glen and Russell bond over coming out stories. Can you discuss your coming out?
CN: My coming out was exactly timed when I came out of the womb. I was “If anyone has a problem — it’s their problem!” I was lucky. I am stubborn. I came out of the womb knowing I was going to be an actor and a homosexual. I don’t know why I knew it, but I did.
GMK: Why do you think it’s important to be an openly gay actor?
CN: There’s no reason not to be. If I miss out on a job, then I won’t know about it. My first agent told me not to tell the press I was gay, but I was in “Bent,” so I fired him.
GMK: Glen records his sexual experiences and reads Russell’s. Have you ever done this?
CN: I’ve never kept a record of those things. I don’t know why really I never keep a record of anything. I have the worst memory on earth. It’s strange to think why he would. It’s not just for the art. It’s a way of exploring the emotions and reality, to explore it from a distance.
GMK: Last question: What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend?
CN: [Laughs]. Not sure… Usually in bed. If you’ve got a good bed, life’s good. I’m a very hermit-like person. I just stay in. I’m the homebody. Not a very sexy answer, is it?
GMK: I like to read in bed. What do you like to read?
CN: Jean Genet. I find his writings incredible. You read his novels, and you think everyone else is so lazy. He put more ideas in one page that others do in an entire book. It’s so sexy. His mind is fascinating, dangerous. He takes you places you don’t want to go. I read BUTT magazine all the time too, but it’s frustrating they haven’t published in ages.
Directed by Andrew Haigh
IFC Films/ Sundance Selects
Opens Sep. 23
323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St.