Andrew Fleming: An Ideal Director

June 25, 2018
Veteran director Andrew Fleming (The Craft, Threesome, Hamlet 2) talks about on screen representation, "third act" gay relationships, and what it takes to make an Ideal Home.

Ideal Home sees Steve Coogan playing Erasmus Brumble, a flamboyant gay celebrity chef, author of a string of books and star of numerous TV cooking shows. Paul Rudd is Paul, Erasmus’ long time partner, personally and professionally, who has to mediate Erasmus’ mercurial moods on set and at home. Their lives are thrown out of whack by the sudden arrival of Bill (Jack Gore), a 10 year old boy who proves to be Erasmus’ grandson by way of his estranged son, Beau (Jake McDorman). With Beau currently in jail, the endlessly bitchy pair take it upon themselves to make a place for Bill in their lives.

What was the impetus behind this one? What was your inspiration for telling the story?

It came about in a circuitous way. These two characters came into my head, this bickering gay couple, and I tried to make a story happen with them, and it never came together. And then somebody pointed out to me that I was living in a relationship with a man and his son, in my house – this was a while ago – and they said I should write about it. And I felt like, I don’t know how to write about this, because we were kind of a conflict-free household, but I thought If I introduce a kid to these characters and they’re sort of caught unaware that they’re suddenly parents to a 10 year old, and they’re not expecting it… and so as I wrote it, it became personal and it’s filled with lots of things that I’ve done or said or been in the room for, but originally it was just these two characters.

How did the casting affect the way the characters were portrayed on screen? Once Steve and Paul came on board, did they change or develop anything?

They made it funnier for sure, because they’re both seriously funny people, and it was always a comedy to a certain degree, but they just can’t help but be funny. They’re also really good actors. So it was just, you know, win-win. But I did spend time with each of them, and they would pitch out ideas, and we would come up with solutions. So they both had a huge effect on the script and their characters. I think they lightened it up.

Would you say initially it was leaning more towards drama?

I think it was a comedy/drama, but I think that they made it funnier for sure. I think tonally it’s the same, but they’re both writers and they both understand how comedy works, so they will not leave a scene without it being the best version.

Was it a fairly improv-heavy shoot?

Not really. We talked about a lot ahead of time, they made contributions in advance, I spent a lot of time with Steve and then Paul, just sitting in  hotel lobbies and coffee shops and offices, asking “Is this the best version of this, is this the right idea, emotionally?” They’re both writers, as I said. So it was great to have that perspective. I used to do a lot of TV, where there’s a bunch of writers around to bounce ideas all the time. It can be kind of lonely. So it was great to have that. They were really true collaborators.

Why is it set in Santa Fe specifically, which is a visually beautiful but an odd location for a large film? And why a celebrity chef?

Well, it’s largely because everyone was like, “well, I get to go to Santa Fe to make a movie.” But also, I like this idea which ties into being a celebrity chef, that Erasmus is this guy who started off in one place and said, I’m gonna build this really beautiful life, and it’s going to be projected out there for the world to admire, and that it looks perfect on the surface. But then underneath it, there’s some weird stuff going on. So there’s a disparity between how great their life looks, and how shitty their relationship is, because I can relate to that.

Thematically, the film seems to be about maturing even late in life. Sometimes you can be an adult but still conduct yourself in childlike and irresponsible ways. Taking on maturity is a major theme here. Can you expand on that?

I think so. I also think that I haven’t seen a movie about gay characters around that age, who are not necessarily in the first act of their lives, or, the third act is staring them down, and you find that all of your choices are starting to catch up with you.

I also feel like I haven’t seen a lot of movies about long term gay relationships, and how things get frayed and how things fall apart. It’s usually younger, gay characters, optimistic. And I like the idea of slightly cynical people who’ve made some mistakes, and don’t behave that well. I think that was probably the toughest sell: that they’re not all light and bubbly and virtuous, but they’re gay characters. And a couple of times I think that’s made people uncomfortable, but I will say that everything in the movie is true to me. It’s true, something I’ve done, it’s something I’ve seen. Something I’ve been in a room for, something that’s been said to me, and I don’t apologise for it.

But I will say it’s been interesting, the reaction, it’s been overwhelmingly positive, but I think a couple of people have been been uncomfortable that these are these are not poster child characters. These are not the heroic versions of gay characters.

Otherwise they’d have no journey to take. If they’re paragons of gay virtue, seen through that lens, where do they have to go? What do they have to do? What would be the point of that?

Also, I didn’t want it to be about fighting homophobia. I feel like for most gay men in this country, apart from bullying in high school – but everybody gets bullied in high school – they’re not experiencing homophobia on a real level in the workplace, out in the world. The movie wasn’t about the struggle for acceptance. I liked that idea, because I’m not defined by my struggle for acceptance in the world – I have been out for so long, I don’t care. And I wanted to see that on film.

I wonder how that’s going to play for an Australian audience? We recently had a referendum on gay marriage, and  things got quite ugly. There was a lot of anti-LGBTI sentiment out in the culture which was pretty nasty to some friends of mine, so I’m a little concerned.

I’m curious. I would love to know what the reactions are in Australia and everywhere.  This is part and parcel to what happens when something like gay marriage is declared legal and normal. There will be people who say “Hey, wait a minute, it shouldn’t be” in the minority, and it shrinks. Just a few generations ago, many wouldn’t accept it of themselves, there was this kind of shame and that obviously still exists, but I think it’s changing so rapidly it’s kind of remarkable.

Do you think because quite recently historically gay relationships weren’t accepted, that’s why we don’t see a lot of stories about “third act” gay relationships in the culture? 

Yeah, but I know a lot of gay couples who have been together for a long time now, but I didn’t when I was growing up. I only knew of one out gay couple – that was Christopher Isherwood and Don Rafferty,  and they were in Los Angeles and I was acutely aware of them because they were in the ’70s the only gay couple that was public, and I actually met them once when I was a teenager, which is astonishing to me. So, it’s something I’ve been aware of and I know a lot of gay men that have been together for decades and decades and decades. And when I wrote this, I was in a relationship for 23 years, so maybe I felt under-represented.

Ideal Home is out now. Read our review here.

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