QUEERTY EXCLUSIVE — What’s it like to not only live through history, but to see your life dramatized on the big screen, perms and all? With eight Oscar nominations announced today for Milk, the biopic about slain openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the woman who ran the political campaign that vaulted Milk to elected office — Anne Kronenberg — is once again in the spotlight. In the movie, Kronenberg is played by Alison Pill, but we sat down with the real McCoy — in her most extensive interview since Milk‘s release — to find out why at first she didn’t want to read the script for Milk and what happened the first time she set foot in that historic camera shop.
QUEERTY: Did you have any trepidation or fears about the movie?
Anne Kronenberg: Lots. I didn’t believe it was going to happen. There had been so many scripts and director’s engaged in trying to make the film that I was very reticent about the project. But then I got a call from Cleve [Jones] and he said that I had to read Lance’s script. He said, “This one’s different,” and he was right. [Lance] really understood how to do it. everyone else tried to put in Harvey’s whole life, but Lance focused on a one year period of his life. He had Harvey as a storefront politician and put his whole life in that one year, making it much more accessible to the audience.
What do you think of the film coming out at the same time there was this renewed political energy in the gay and lesbian community?
The timing was just wonderful. It would have been great had it come out before the election, but I think the film really speaks to people. I’m getting notes from people all over the country talking about how they see the film and want to get involved. People are really beginning to see the connections to the women’s rights movement, the black rights movements and all the other civil rights issues. The film really serves to remind us of some of those basic truths about what it is we’re fighting for.
What’s it like seeing yourself on the big screen?
How many times do you say to yourself, “Who would I want to play me in a movie?” and now that I’ve had it happen to me, I find it’s humbling. I can see how people develop big egos over these things.
I heard you gave Alison Pill, who plays you in the movie, one of your earrings as a gift.
That’s right! How’d you find that out?… I used to wear this one big big earring. It was by Lauren Birch. She used to be this street artist and went on to be a big name designer. What we used to do in those days was wear a single earring in your ear and your girlfriend would wear the other.
And you were on the set. What was that like, seeing your life turned into a movie?
It was so much fun. Both Lance and Gus, they really nailed it. Those of us who are still around– and unfortunately there are fewer of us now then there should be– really felt that the film captured the moment. It was a great experience to go back and relive that part of my life. They totally recreated the camera shop, down to the stupid cinder block walls and the notes posted on the cork board. The fist time I walked in I started to cry–with happiness.
What was your first impression of Harvey?
Well, it was odd. I walked into the camera store and he was yelling. I was a little intimidated the first day or two. I had come from a family that never really argued or yelled and Harvey did. He told me that I had to yell back or I wouldn’t make it. His personality just gooshed out of him and I came to appreciate that about him.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the gay and lesbian community since the time you worked with Harvey?
The normalcy of being gay. Now again, I live in San Francisco. I don’t view things from out in the Midwest and middle America, but rather from my own protective bubble, but it just no longer seems to be the big deal it was back then. It’s almost common.
A lot of people are saying what we need right now is a new Harvey Milk. Do you think we need another leader like him for us to get full equality?
I think we need lots of leaders like that. There will never be another Harvey Milk. He really was a visionary in the way he encouraged people to come out and be visible. I think that’s his legacy. I don’t think we’ll ever have someone like Harvey today, but he made it clear that we don’t need just one or two leaders– we need many leaders.
In the film, a lot is made about how the gay guys don’t quite include you at first and it seems that gay men and lesbians still don’t always work together. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know I agree with the premise of the question. My perception is that gays and lesbians do work together, but come to it from different places. I think a lot of lesbians became a part of the movement as an outgrowth of the women’s movement and Harvey understood that there was direct connection between women’s rights and gay rights. Even though the Equal Rights Amendment never passed, Harvey was a supporter of that. At least, 30 years ago [the gay movement] was mainly white men, but one of the things that made Harvey successful was that he was a supervisor for all people. I’ll quote him and say that if we can unite all the minorities, we can be the majority.
There are folks like HRC who really work within the system and say say, “Hey, we need to take our time and wait” and then you have a lot of these new activists saying, “No, this is morally wrong. We need to be loud and vocal.” Which one is the right approach?
I think you have to do both. If you see the film, David Goldstein [who helped field Milk’s opponent, Rick Stokes] would say that you have to work slowly and win over people slowly. Harvey said, “Get in their faces. Get out and protest. Put a public face on who we are.” You have to do both.
Why do you think the No on Prop. 8 campaign failed? As a former campaign manager, what would be your advice?
Hindsight is always 20/20. I think we can learn a lot from Obama’s campaign. You have to use young people. You have to build their interest and excitement and get them involved. I don’t think [No on 8] used that involvement. They didn’t reach out to the communities they could have. And they have to be open about it and not be afraid to show who we are. As Harvey used to say, “Put a human face on it all.” That’s what politics are really all about, not issues. You want to garner as much support as you can.
What is Harvey’s personal legacy to you? How did he change your life?
He awakened in me my call to public service which I’ve had my entire life. He taught me that you can change things on the inside, that what the world needs are bold advocates for change.