Acting out

Call Me By Your Name director defends casting straight actors

Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name
Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) in Call Me By Your Name

Italian movie director Luca Guadagnino has addressed criticism about casting straight actors into gay/bi roles.

Guadagnino is best known for his 2017 hit, Call My By Your Name, based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman. The movie featured a romance in Italy between 17-year-old Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet) and a 24-year-old graduate, Oliver (played by Armie Hammer).

Related: Armie Hammer has been keeping his hands busy during the pandemic

In recent years, there has been increased lobbying for gay and bi roles to go to gay and bi actors – performers that have often found themselves sidelined by the movie industry in the past.

In an interview with British newspaper The Independent, Guadagnino, who is gay himself, was asked about calls to offer queer roles to queer actors.

He responded that he doesn’t quiz actors about their sexuality before casting, and says that gay people are incredibly diverse so that one can’t assume that one gay person will be better at playing a gay character than a straight person just because they share the same sexual orientation.

“I read too much Freud to be taking seriously these kind of critics,” he said. “Meaning that I honestly don’t believe I have the right to decide whether an actor is straight or not. Who am I to know what somebody is thinking of himself or herself within themselves.

“Yes, Armie is a straight man with a wife and children and the same can be said of Timothée. But do I ask them to swear on their sexuality, on their identities, on their desires, before I cast them? I don’t!”

“If I have to cast what people think is the real thing for a role, I wouldn’t be able to cast. I cannot cast a gay man to play Oliver. I have to cast Oliver to play Oliver because the identities of gay men are as multiple as the flowers in the realm of earth,” he said.

“So there is not a gay identity. One person who is gay is completely different to another person who is gay.

“So, if I have to be accurate to this kind of dull remark, I could cast Oliver but Oliver doesn’t exist. He’s a creature of [novelist] André Aciman. We go back to the last point I want to make which is that the beauty of acting is the possibility of the creation and embodiment of new selves through the art of acting.”

He went on to say that if actors are cast based on their own life experiences, The Silence of the Lambs might have needed to find a serial killer to play Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

“Does Mr. Hopkins need to be a serial killer himself to play that role?”, he asked.

Guadagnino was also asked about criticism from the screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory. The veteran screenwriter has previously expressed disappointment that the movie had no nudity, and called it a “bullshit” decision on Guadagino’s part to drop the nudity from the script.

“Nobody who knows my work can say to me with a straight face that I’m shy about male or female or other gendered nudity,” Guadagnino said. “So the critique or note that James gave was, in a way, devoid of pragmatism or a relationship with the movie itself.

“My question to him is does this movie need full-frontal male nudity. I don’t think so. It doesn’t.”

Related: Sequel to André Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’ to be released in 2019

Following the success of Call Me By Your Name (it won Ivory a Best Screenplay Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards, among other awards), a sequel novel by Aciman – entitled Find Me – was published last year.

Guadagnino said in March that he intends to film the sequel, with both Hammer and Chalamet reprising their roles. However, the development of the project has currently been placed on hold because of the COVID pandemic.