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Knight at the Movies: Hate Crime

by Richard Knight, Jr.

2006-05-10 Windy City Times - LINK

At the start of Hate Crime, the exciting debut from out writer-director-producer Tommy Stovall, the handsome, dark-haired Robbie ( Seth Peterson ) and his blonde partner Trey ( Brian J. Smith, in his screen debut ) have been together for six years. They seem to have it all-they’re classic examples of a Guppie couple with good jobs, a healthy love life, and their share of problems. The couple live on one of those nice, tree-shaded suburban streets near a park convenient for nightly walks with their dog Phoebe, and are especially close with one of their neighbors, the feisty-funny Kathleen ( Lin Shaye ) .

Things change almost immediately, however, when the hulking ( but hunky ) Chris ( Chad Donella ) moves in next door. From the moment he figures out that his new neighbors are gay he seems to seethe with hatred. Chris’ homophobia is quickly reinforced when it’s revealed that he’s the son of a stern, fundamentalist preacher, Jerry ( Bruce Davison ) who shares his views. Things escalate during a chance encounter between Robbie and Chris, who spews out the usual vile “you’re going to hell faggot, read your Bible, watch your back” nonsense. Not long after, during Phoebe’s nightly walk, Trey is attacked in the park and dies.

Naturally, Robbie implicates Chris, who has a seemingly airtight alibi provided by his protective but suspicious mother ( Susan Blakely ) . The police chief prefers Robbie as a suspect ( though a female officer isn’t so sure ) and doesn’t seem in any hurry to find the murderer. Robbie’s grief now turned to rage, he determines to mete out justice to the real killer and the picture moves from a moving drama to a gripping thriller, very much in the style of In the Bedroom.

The insidiousness of hate crimes inflicted on the GLBT community are dealt with in very human terms in Stovall’s movie. His script resonates with small but telling details about the normalcy of the gay couple while contrasting it with the resentment and bigotry in the attitudes of the rigid but supposedly “loving” religious conservatives with their indifference to hate rhetoric and quick resort to violence that exists in such intolerance.

The director is also helped by his cinematographer Ian Ellis, an evocative but unobtrusive music score by Ebony Tay, and especially by an expert cast of familiar faces beginning with Peterson ( from TV’s Providence ) , whose affable charm is believably turned into helpless rage. Davison, the soul of compassion 16 years ago ( and Oscar-nominated ) in the gay-themed Longtime Companion, and familiar for Hollywood’s repeated use of him as a villain, plays another one here, yet manages to give the character a few shadings. Shaye and Pickett as Trey’s shattered mother are both compelling as well.

Stovall’s assured and very entertaining picture has been making the rounds of the GLBT festival circuit the last year and winning a lot of well-deserved praise. The film opens a one-week run at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema ( 2828 N. Clark ) beginning with a benefit screening for the Gay Liberation Network May 11 at 7 p.m. Peterson, Stovall and Tay ( who will perform a short set ) , will be in attendance. A Q&A with audience members follows the screening. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Landmark’s box office, at Specialty Video ( 3221 N. Broadway or 5307 N. Clark ) or by phoning 773-509-4949. See www.landmarktheatres.com .

Seth Peterson on His Hate Crime Role

by Richard Knight, Jr.

2006-05-10 Windy City Times - LINK

Hate Crime is the little independent film that could. After a year on the festival circuit, the GLBT-themed movie, the debut of out writer-director-producer Tommy Stovall, is getting theatrical releases around the country. Not only is Chicago on the list, but the Thursday, May 11 opening night of the movie’s run here ( at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema ) will be a benefit screening for the Gay Liberation Network. Seth Peterson, actor and former TV heartthrob thanks to his regular role on Providence, who stars in the film, will be on hand for a Q&A along with Stovall and singer-songwriter Ebony Tay, who is the movie’s music composer. Tay will perform a short music set as well.

Peterson recently talked with WCT about Hate Crime. Highlights:

WCT: What appealed to you about this particular script?

SP: I really like how the character had a lot of need for control and then when things started to happen that were out of his control, how that seemed to affect his person and changed his thought process on certain things. Somebody who’s so controlled and has everything already planned out, what happens to that person when everything is shattered and they have to try to create some kind of justice for themselves?

WCT: Was this your first time playing a gay person?

SP: It was my first time playing a gay person on film, yes.

WCT: Any hesitation? You probably still have a bit of that teen girl fan hysteria over Providence, right?

SP: Right. I didn’t personally, no. I mean I felt that it was going to be a challenge for me to be … I mean I just wanted it to be good, I didn’t want it to be a caricature or somebody’s idea of what it should be. I wanted it to be a really good role that you could identify with no matter who you were.

WCT: I’m just curious—now that you’ve done the film you know that there’s not much difference between gay and straight except gay people have to deal with those pesky homophobes—did the movie give you any insight into the insidiousness of hate crimes? Duh, how could it not?

SP: One of the things that I really like about the movie was that it’s about injustice and I have a personal intolerance for any kind of injustice. And ever since there was something to hate there’s been people acting out violently and irrationally against whatever that is and it’s always just been under my skin. I have to tell you that looking at some of the civil-rights footage really aggravates me. I almost feel queasy over it, you know that feeling? That terrible footage of Black guys being attacked by police dogs and being sprayed with fire hoses.

WCT: Are gay hate crimes the same as racial hate crimes?

SP: Well to me it’s all hate generated by ignorance. It’s all under the same blanket. It all turns my stomach.

WCT: Do you know someone who’s experienced a gay hate crime, Seth?

SP: Not personally, no.

WCT: Did you talk to any real-life victims of hate crimes or did Tommy Stovall have insight into that for you?

SP: We spoke pretty extensively about it. I don’t think he’s actually been touched by it personally but it’s something that I didn’t feel like you needed to do a lot of research on. It’s a core issue. Anybody who’s in love with somebody and has somebody taken from them is going to pretty much feel the same about it. You know what I mean?

WCT: Yes I do.

SP: It’s a love story and it’s a tragedy and for me, I’ve lost somebody that I’ve loved and I know how that feels—not from the same way—but it hurts and the loss is the same. It’s a pretty visceral feeling that you get from the gut and that was my research.

WCT: OK, I’m going to get political for a second here. Do you think this administration’s use of gay marriage as a scare tactic to the religious right has increased the possibility for hate crimes in this country?

SP: ( Pause ) You know, I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I just assume that what they’re doing is their part to try to contain free love; to suppress people and that’s what the government does. It doesn’t like to change; they don’t like to recognize anything that calls for change, especially a change that huge. It requires certain civil liberties that they’re going to have to acknowledge should go to everyone. Are you trying to say that they’re doing this on purpose or that one thing leads to another?

WCT: I think by openly proclaiming that gay people don’t deserve equal rights legally they’re also saying it’s open season; it’s OK to go after us at will. If I’m not allowed to legally marry my partner of almost 10 years and can’t enjoy the same benefits of my heterosexual counterparts, then what’s to stop the next step?

SP: Which would be what?

WCT: Which would be to start calling me names when I walk down the street and then a step further into tossing something at me from out of your car and then we’re into “I don’t want you to teach my kids,” “I don’t want you to adopt children,” and I think those fire hoses might not be far behind that—

SP: Well I’m just going to have to say that, God, I hope not. I hadn’t put much thought into that and from my side of the fence that’s not the way I think and I’d like to think that most people don’t think that way, either. I believe things are going to change; it’s just going to take time. It’s going to take time.

WCT: Let me switch out of this heavy-duty area—where I am easily led I must confess—and ask you about working with such a wonderful cast—Bruce Davison, Lin Shaye, Cindy Pickett. Was it just a charmed set even though it was such a difficult subject matter?

SP: Working with this cast was a real dream come true. I was one of the first people attached to it and I had no idea who they were going to get and I was so fortunate, really lucky. Working with Bruce was really fantastic. He had a huge range and brought so much to the character. It was really important that that character be somewhat likeable and despicable at the same time and not a caricature. It makes him so much more frightening, I think. He seems just like any other person and meanwhile he’s filled with all this ugliness. Lin Shaye is one of my favorite people—I’m madly in love with that woman.

WCT: Who’s not? She’s terrific. Such a switch from There’s Something About Mary.

SP: She was so fun. She was such a joy, a real pleasure to work with. She’s one of the cast members that I still keep in contact with. I just loved working with her, as did the rest of the cast. Chad Donella was a real talent and Brian—wasn’t that his name?

WCT: Who plays Trey, your partner?

SP: Yeah.

WCT: ( laughing ) Oh yeah, him! Brian J. Smith. What about that guy, huh?

SP: He was fantastic! He was just so natural and he made it so easy for me because I’m straight, so for me I didn’t know what to expect. You never know how you’re going to live the character until you’re doing it and he was just so easy and such a joy to work with in our scenes.

WCT: What’s been the reaction to the film, Seth?

SP: There’s been a really positive reaction. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s an independent film that just won’t die and keeps generating more interest—and rightfully so.

WCT: So what’s up next for you? Hate Crime II?

SP: Oh, that would be something.

WCT: Actually, this would be a good movie NOT to have a sequel to—not to try and cut you out of a job, but ...

SP: Right—that would be a step in the right direction, politically speaking anyway.


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