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From James Bond to ‘They/Them,’ John Logan has always brought a queer eye to blockbuster spectacle

Photo Credits: (clockwise from left): Getty Images, ‘Skyfall’ / MGM, ‘They/Them’ / Peacock

His scripts got Russell Crowe in Gladiator shape, made James Bond admit he (might) have had some queer flings, and gifted us with Michael Fassbender kissing… Michael Fassbender.

Yes, you may not have known it, but a gay man has been behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster entertainment since the ’90s.

From Any Given Sunday to Skyfall to Penny Dreadful to Oscar-nominated screenplays for Gladiator and The Aviator, John Logan’s prolific career had previously stuck to the script. But that all changes this summer with They/Them, a slasher set at a gay conversion camp—which happens to be Logan’s directorial debut.

Now available to stream on Peacock, the Blumhouse-produced horror flips the tropes of the genre on its head, and gives Logan the opportunity to directly explore queer themes and characters for the first time in film.

In conversation with Queerty, the writer/director goes deep on his love of slashers, shares why They/Them doesn’t make queer characters the victims like some might expect, and explains how the film’s wholly unexpected musical sequence came together. Logan also reflects on how his perspective as “a little show-queen” has brought the drama and the spectacle to mainstream movies for the past 30 years.

Be warned: Mild spoilers for They/Them are ahead!

John Logan (center-right) with some of the cast and crew of ‘They/Them.’ Photo Credit: Getty Images

Queerty: You’ve spoken previously about your love of horror and how you’ve long felt connected to movie monsters as metaphors for “the other,” but I wanted to dive into the slasher subgenre a little bit more, because it seems to have its own unique queer appeal, right? Is there something about slashers that feels inherently queer to you?

John Logan: Well, first of all, I love slasher movies. And I’m sort of unapologetic about that. Normally, we have to go down an alley and whisper the fact that you love a slasher movie, but I grew up on them and I love them. 

But, you know, one has to be aware of the complicated relationship that horror movies and slasher movies have with gender and sexual identification. Because, going through the first phase of slasher movies from the late ‘70s through the ‘80s, queer characters were mostly non-existent. And when they did exist, they were jokes or victims—or killers occasionally. But they were never the hero, they were never admirable characters you aspire toward.

And I think one of the things audiences go to the movies for, is to find characters they [can] aspire toward, who remind them of themselves—or the best version of themselves. And I never saw that, and I missed that. 

So, COVID happened, and, like every writer I know, I had the chance to write something from my heart, just for myself. I’ve been turning these issues over and over in my mind about queer horror and about queer heroes and what situation might be right for them. It seemed to me, to embrace the tropes of the slasher movie—like it’s the camp in the woods and the killer with a mask, and all that—but then, to put it through a queer lens where the kids are not running in terror, they’re not being victimized, they’re our heroes. [That] seemed to be a really noble experiment—at least as a screenplay. So I started writing and I just sort of fell in love with those seven kids.

On that note, when the film was announced, there were a number of people—queer folks, in particular—who were a little weary about the premise. It was almost like, “Oh no, are we about the watch about ourselves get picked off, one-by-one?” Had that been reflected back to you at all? It’s clear that’s something you were very deliberately avoiding with the film.

Yeah, of course. I mean, the last thing I’d ever want to do is victimize my heroes, you know? As always, with a hero in a movie—whether you’re writing Jordan in They/Them or James Bond— they have to go through a crucible, they have to go through suffering, they have to be challenged in some way. The kids in this are challenged physically, but even more insidiously, they’re challenged mentally, because those counselors are trying to take away their humanity. They’re trying to take away their very identity, which is so awful.

And I talked to kids who’ve been through conversion therapy. Yeah, they talked about the physical suffering—they talked about the forced marches, or the sleep deprivation—but much more insidious, they talked about the psychological pressure, the sort of gamesmanship, of constantly being forced into a gender role, of constantly being misgendered, of constantly being told they are not who they actually are. So what I tried to do with the characters is have them go through a combination of all of that, from sort of physical duress that you’d find in a horror movie, and the more sophisticated psychological pressure that actually exists in these conversion camps.

Pictured: Theo Germaine and Austin Crute — (Photo by: Josh Stringer/Blumhouse)

You’ve had this incredible career in Hollywood over the past thirtysomething years—scripting so many iconic movies—but this is the first feature you’ve directed yourself. Beyond this coming from such a personal palace, how did you decide that They/Them would be your directorial debut?

It was just because it was so personal, frankly. It’s like, when I was writing Jordan or any of those characters, I just felt they were parts of me. They were parts of me who were crying or singing or laughing. And I was so protective of them in a really weird way—in a way that I’m not for characters in plays or other movies.

I’ve known [producer] Jason Blum for years, and Jason is great about first-time directors, pushing people to direct, and he loved the idea of me directing—as did Peacock. So, you know, they handed me the keys to the car, and I decided to drive it. And I’m very happy I did, let me tell you.

 

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So, if They/Them is this very intentional reclaiming of a genre for the queers, so to speak, it’s fascinating to look at in terms of the rest of your filmography—many of which are these big blockbuster titles that aren’t nominally “queer movies.” As you see it, are there ways you’ve brought your experience as a gay man to your previous scripts? You’ve done 007 films, Gladiator, Alien: Covenant… 

Yeah, I mean, when I was first starting out—when I was doing Any Given Sunday, or Gladiator, or The Last Samurai—people were always very surprised to meet me because they thought I was gonna be this big, burly, tough guy with a beard, you know? And I’m like, “No, I’m little show-queen, John Logan.” [Laughs.]

No, but I understand what drama is. I love drama, and I love big movies and big storytelling and world creation. And, as I got more confident, more experience, I was able to look at things through a slightly more queer lens. 

I mean, certainly Skyfall—to do a homoerotic seduction between the villain and James Bond was sort of revolutionary for a lot of people. And I must say, to their credit, the Bond people and [director] Sam Mendes loved the idea from the time they heard it, because it was very modern.

And it’s the same way for something like Alien: Covenant—creating a gay couple, or having scenes with Michael Fassbender and himself that are incredibly homoerotic, you know? 

But I think the world is getting more sophisticated, cinema’s getting more sophisticated and more accepting, in a way, of the stories, which is very important right now. And it’s beholden on me to say something about They/Them, which is mass-entertainment—it’s meant to be a popular movie. And it is a time for movies like this because, as queer people, our identity, our human rights, or human dignity, are under assault—currently, right now, in America and across the world. 

So, to get to tell a story that is empowering, about the differences that make us who we are, is very important. And, you know, it’s something that Blumhouse and Peacock understood right from the beginning: That, yes, we’re making a popular horror movie that I hope will appeal to all audiences, but, in a way, it’s also a necessary story to tell right now.

Absolutely it is. And, personally, as a longtime genre fan—as a longtime James Bond fan, in particular—I want to say that the perspective you bring to these movies is very much recognized, and has meant a lot to me and others, I’m sure. Truly, that homoerotic Skyfall scene blew my mind a bit.

[Laughs.] Oh, well good!

I was like, “I knew [Bond] was bisexual!”

[Laughs.]

But to pivot back to They/Them with our final moments here: I have to say that, never in a million years did I expect for Pink’s “F**kin’ Perfect” to turn up in a horror movie. Can you tell me about how that moment came about? It’s a pretty surprising scene.

It is! Well, the point of it was to be joyful. Because the movie tries to present the queer experience 

in its totality—and that’s exuberant, that’s sexy, that’s funny, that’s traumatic, that’s tense. It’s all of those things. And one of the tropes of the summer-camp movie is the sing-along, you know? So I thought, “Yeah, we’re gonna do a sing-along, but we’re gonna do it queer.”

So that was the perfect song for us. Because what’s happening to the protagonist is they need to be told they are f*cking perfect. So it was a joy to envision, and it was even more of a joy to film, as you can imagine.

Oh, of course. So what did it take to bring the scene together? Was it all in a day’s work?

No, it was not all in a day’ work. [Laughs.] The first rehearsal I had with the company—you know, I asked for rehearsal time because I am a first time director—and the first rehearsal I had with the kids, we did “F**kin’ Perfect.” I was like, “Okay, we’re gonna sing it, you’re gonna sing it, you’re gonna understand why you’re singing it, you’re gonna stand up, and you’re gonna dance it.” So we kept working on it all the way along. By the time we got to that day, everyone was really prepared. 

But it was still a crazy day where I’m like, “Not only do I get to pretend to be Marty Scorsese, but I also get to pretend to be Bob Fosse.” So it’s like, John Logan’s never had a better day in his life than the “Perfect” day. [Laughs.]