The Queerty Interview

Michael Urie & Drew Droege on their new film and “coke-fueled wedding parties in Palm Springs”

You know Michael Urie & Drew Droege.

Urie, of course, scored Emmy nominations for his role on Ugly Betty. Droege’s work lives on the fringe–he’s perhaps best known for his hilarious video series where he impersonates actress Chloe Sevingy. The two have the giggly rapport of longtime friends or collaborators.

That’s fitting–the longtime friends have come together to celebrate the release of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, the Droege-led and penned play directed by Urie (captured by David Horn for BroadwayHD).

Urie & Droege sat down with Queerty to talk their new film, which opens at LA film festival Outfest July 18, and streams on BroadwayHD beginning July 19.

So how did this come about?

DD: About five years ago, I was invited to a wedding—a straight wedding—where the guests were asked not to wear bright colors or bold patterns. And the phrase “bright colors and bold patterns” just struck me as such a title. And my friends just wanted a really nice color palette for their wedding, which, they swear to this day, that they had a beautiful desert wedding palate. Their guests were all wearing beige. But about a month or so after the wedding, gay marriage became legalized and I immediately saw gay publications having wedding sections, every gay couple being asked “when are you going to get married,” and there was this push towards—you can get married, but you should get married. And as happy as I was for marriage equality, I just questioned why we should want that, and why we should want the same things immediately that straight people should want.

Related: Michael Urie To Billy Crystal: If You Don’t Like Watching Gay Sex On TV, Change The Channel

On the other hand, I always wanted to write a play where a group of gay friends got together at a house just like the plays that I loved growing up, like Boys in the Band or Love, Valor, Compassion, but something that was more in the mouths of my friends and  our generation and what we’re sort of going through. So that was sort of always banging around, but then I decided, instead of making this an ensemble play that I can have four characters—or I tried rather—to have four characters on stage but only one actor playing one character talking to these other three characters on stage because I wanted to write my dream role, who I don’t see represented in a lot of gay media. The big, loud, drunk mess. The slob who’s making mistakes and doing the best he can. The queen that we all love but we’re afraid of being. And I didn’t want to be afraid of being this guy. But those are the guys that get dismissed in our culture. And I thought by doing a show where you had to look at this guy that you would only see this guy, and that you don’t get to look at the hot guy in the Speedo, or the successful guy, or the really sharp, witty guy.

Tell me how you met.

DD: Michael & I met through his partner, Ryan, who was the first person I met when I moved to LA years ago. Many years ago. So Ryan and I had been friends when he started dating Michael. We first worked together on a movie called Such Good People, which Michael was the lead in. I just did a small supporting role. But then we all worked together—Michael, Ryan and I—all worked together on a Logo show, Cocktails and Classics, a dinner & a movie show that ran four seasons. But Michael saw a pared-down production that I had done in LA directed by Molly Prather, who actually helped me write and develop the show. She was my first director. But at that point, it was just me on stage with three chairs. And Michael saw this as a full production in his mind and came to me and said: “Can I direct this, and can I turn this into a play and do this in New York?” So we did.

Related: Discos, hookers, stars and divas: the must-see list at this year’s Outfest LA

MU: We met through Ryan, we got to do one little movie together, and Cocktails and Classics. And he stays with us a lot when he’s in New York. He stays in our guest room and we got to be really good friends over the years. And this one time he came and he was doing his show. And I didn’t know anything about it. I assumed it was going to be a night of comedy or characters or something. I really didn’t know. And we went, and I was totally blown away. And as soon as I saw it, I saw this fully-fledged idea in my head of a play. Like a fully produced play. Drew, because he’s a genius, is able to do the entire thing with just two chairs and a couple of beach towels and a margarita. But when I saw the work, I saw a whole patio. I saw a house with an inside. I saw a pool. I saw these things that I knew would help him, and in turn, help the audience. Because the audience has to do a lot of work with their imaginations. Drew helps you, he helps you define who these other three characters are. But it’s up to the audience to fill these characters in, and the more we give them, the more freedom they have to imagine. And we wanted to get as close to reality as possible so that they could the could then take the rest of the leap, to be as available as possible to use their imagination, to get themselves the rest of the way there.

Was it always a choice to not show the other characters?

DD: It was always a choice to not show the other characters. Like I said, it’s really important to see Gerry, the character I play, as the life of the party, as the death of the party and the heart of the party. And quite honestly, if there was some hot guy in a Speedo, we’d all be looking at that.

Related: How To Succeed’s Michael Urie On His Bromance With Nick Jonas

How did you guys get hooked up with David Horn?

DD: David Horn came to us through BroadwayHD. He’s directed all of their shows for them. He’s also done all of the Great Performances on PBS, so he’s a master of knowing this form. I met him on the day of the taping; he had done tremendous amounts of research. Watching the show multiple times, coming to see the show multiple times. He saw it when I did it. He saw it when Jeff Hiller took it over from me and did the show. So he saw it live, he saw taped performances from before, and he was on top of it. A total pro.

MU: Gio Messale and everybody at BroadwayHD came to see our show, and decided it would be good for their site, which was very exciting. We’ve seen a lot of the wonderful things that BroadwayHD has done, and I knew that they would do a great job with ours. And in fact, the crew, the team that they use, directed by David Horn, works with PBS. And I worked with him on a show called Buyer and Seller, which was a one-man show that I did for a long time that we turned into one of these movies. And I knew that David had a keen eye and would be excellent to work with. And he also—and I was quite flattered—he asked me my opinion a lot, and he felt that what was important to him was that the audience see it the way I wanted them to see it, and that was really, sort of, I think, most useful in getting Drew’s play to the stage—giving the audience the best view of Drew. Putting Drew in the best places so that what he was doing and the story he was telling was as clear as possible.

So when David came and asked, “Well, where should we put the cameras?” He had some ideas, and I had some ideas, and it was important to me to make sure to get what it looked like from the vantage point of the characters that we actually don’t see on stage. So Gerry, Drew’s character we see and hear, but the other three characters we don’t get to see and we don’t get to hear. We imagine what they see and what they hear because we know where they are, physically, where Gerry is speaking to when he’s speaking to them. So I wanted to make sure the camera was close as possible to an over the shoulder shot onto Drew. And so we’d have whatever chair they were sitting in would be in the frame, but the camera would be on Drew. The camera’s always on Drew, he’s the only one up there. But we knew we wanted to put the camera where we could feel these characters who weren’t there, even in a close-up.

Gerry is a character who thinks he’s troubled by the evolution of the community, but in reality, he’s troubled by his own demons. It’s a notion that begs all kinds of questions, like have you ever had a coke-fueled wedding pre-party in Palm Springs? Michael, what about you?

DD: I have absolutely had coked fueled wedding parties in Palm Springs!

[Laughter]

I think it’s a rite of passage. I love the character of Gerry and I wrote him from parts of myself; he’s also a lot of friends I’ve had over the years. And yeah, I think that’s like most of us to question what’s happening in society. That’s a lot easier than to question or confront our own personal demons. I think he ends up dealing with both, but he certainly doesn’t arrive at the party expecting to do that. But meeting this young kid, and just being worn down by the drugs, and the booze, and the evening, he lets down his guard and you see why he’s actually in pain, and always the clown, always the life of the party. That’s easier, to sort of put on a show. I’ve had to learn that as an adult that I don’t always have to be the life of the party. I get to exercise my demons on stage, and I’m very comfortable now going to parties socially and not being that life of the party, and being quiet, and being introspective. That’s really fun for me to do now, but Gerry hasn’t learned that lesson yet. He feels like he has to be on all the time. Also, Gerry, I don’t consider him a performer. I’ve never thought of him as an actor of some kind. But he definitely gets called a thespian as a child, and there’s that frustrated performer in him, but he doesn’t have an outlet to get out all of these feelings except at a party where he can shine. But it’s also where he’s at his worst.

MU: I’m sorry to say I have never been to a wedding in Palm Springs, and thus never had a coke-fueled night before a wedding. In Palm Springs.

In a way, Gerry strikes me as being similar to a Trump voter, in that he’s someone who doesn’t know how to cope with a changing world and evolution of his community. What is it about American culture that creates people like Gerry who can’t seem to deal with change, and who react with destructive tendencies?

DD: I think we all have trouble with change. It’s terrifying. And think there are just as many closed-minded liberal people as there are closed-minded conservative people. And it’s a problem that we’re in as a nation, as a world, in that this is how I think and I will not be moved, and I will not change and I don’t have to. I mean, that’s kind of the problem that we’re in right now. So yes, in a way, Gerry is very resistant to things like Waze and Lyft. I make a lot of digs at things that he thinks are new-fangled, or bands. Which makes him seem very much like an old man, very much like a 40-year-old. But then, he does change, I think. He definitely softens, and I always think the play ends hopefully. I think he’s going to be ok because he’s learned that he’s not—you know, he’s been in denial of the situation that he’s in. He comes to terms with it as much as he can in one night, and he’s ok. He realizes I’m going to be ok. So yeah, I definitely think that he and the character of Mack definitely change.

Is this character based on anyone specific?

DD: Gerry is a lot of me. He’s also a lot of people that I’ve known over the years. Just that person who is the life of the party until he’s had one too many and becomes the worst part of the party. But also, I wanted to give that person credit and a life on stage, because I think we easily dismiss them as being the side character who’s only there to lift people up or tear people down. And he’s literally just asking for love and acceptance and understanding. And I think that’s really what I relate to Gerry: that I feel misunderstood a lot. As someone who’s a professional comedian, I don’t think people always hear me screaming. I think that’s something we can hopefully all relate to.

Where do you get so much energy? This is a 90-minute monologue…

DD: I would go to the theatre so exhausted so many times and not know how I would get through it. But something about the audience or knowing I had to get through the show got me through it. But I genuinely loved playing him so much. I would get out on stage and realize that this man is on drugs, that he’s very nervous because he really wants this new person in his best friends life to like him. He wants everyone to like him. And I was just sort of able to channel that, that person who’s pushing and maybe doing too much even when they are completely exhausted. And that’s where I got the energy. Plus, I don’t know, I’m a nervous wreck. I need to constantly put that energy somewhere.

Michael, you don’t show it on screen in this film, but it’s something you know about too. You’re about to do Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway. That’s a four-hour show! Who else is in the cast?

MU: Yeah, so Torch Song comes to Broadway in the fall. Preview starts October 9, and the show opens November 1 officially. It’s the full off-Broadway company from the off-Broadway production [Jack Difalco, Ward Horton, Hope Radja, Michael Rosen and Mercades Ruehl]. Moises Kaufman is back to direct with a brilliant design team, and Harvey Firestein himself has edited the text down himself. So it is not the four-hour Torch Song Trilogy of yore; it is now the three-hour Torch Song. Still three plays, just not a trilogy. One intermission. It’s a great night. I’m very excited to go back to it. In many ways I feel like their sort of cousins, these two plays, Torch Song and Bright Colors and Bold Patterns. They’re both kind of, as Drew pointed out, Arnold, who I play in Torch Song, and Gerry who he plays in Bright Colors are both outsiders in their community. What Arnold wanted in the 80s was to be a husband and a father and everyone else in the gay community wanted to just have a great time and party. And now, here we are 30 years later. And Gerry, he just wants to party and he doesn’t want to have to adhere to the norms.

Of course, he wants the option, he wants the legality of it, but he doesn’t want to adhere to the norms of heterosexual marriage: “living in cul-du-sacs and wiping Fudgsicle juice off our brat’s noses,” as Julia Sugarbaker of Designing Women once said.

Bright Colors and Bold Patters screens at Outfest July 18, and is available streaming on BroadwayHD July 19.