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Interview

John Cameron Mitchell: From Hedwig to Head

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When your first film as a director, writer, and star is the hit of Sundance and snags you countless awards and accolades, what do you do for an encore? If you're John Cameron Mitchell, you hold an open casting call for actors to participate in a workshop for a new film that will require, among other things, the performers to have sex on camera. The untitled film is the latest brainchild from Mitchell, best known as the triple-threat behind the gender-bender musical comedy Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Mitchell is seeking four to six young actors to workshop a new film he will direct but not appear in. The film is being produced by Process, the company responsible for such films as World Traveler and I'm With Lucy. Interested actors are asked to submit videotapes, and those chosen will workshop a script with Mitchell in New York. Mitchell said he hopes to work in the style of such directors as Mike Leigh and Lars Von Trier, developing a script around his actors.

"I want to explore themes of monogamy, sex, and love," said Mitchell from his home in New York. "I want intelligent, charismatic, sexy people. Not sexy in a Hollywood way—you can be a little overweight, a little bald. Just be completely unique. When I find those people and I find the ones who are attracted to each other, I want to write with them and for them. I want them to be equal partners in the creation of this."

One visit to the website (www.thesexfilmproject.com) lets you know Mitchell isn't messing around; the site features an explicit photo of a man orally pleasuring himself. "Make sure people aren't behind you when you pull the website up," said Mitchell, laughing, then adding, "We put that up there to show we're not playing around when it comes to being uncensored. But just because it's fully explicit doesn't make it porn. Porn, even as legally defined, is devoid of artistic intent. We want the sex to be absolutely necessary to the narrative—as charged with emotion and humor as sex is in real life, not as sex is in pornography. I would love it if there were a sex scene that actually propelled the plot, was erotically stirring, and makes you cry and laugh. Those are the things that happen in life. It's much more complicated than porn and Hollywood movies would have you think."

But why is real-life sex on camera necessary? "I know there is so much to be gained from it dramatically," said Mitchell, who said the sex will not be gratuitous. "There's no turning away from it. There's no glossy Hollywood veneer that makes you safe from it. But I want them to feel they're in safe hands as a director. I'm not just trying to shock. I want to reveal something about the human heart, and this is one of the tools of doing it that Americans have shied away from." Mitchell doesn't yet know if the film will be union or not, stating it depends on the actors he chooses. However, SAG actors are eligible to apply. "I wasn't sure we'd be able to use them at first, but it turns out it can be worked into the agreement," said Mitchell.

Mitchell will divide his time between working on this film and, strangely enough, a children's movie he's writing. He readily admitted that people have every right to be suspicious of the project. "There are a lot of silly projects out there," he agreed. "But this is a serious endeavor. I expect it to be a fun and life-changing experience, not just for me but for the leads of the film. I've been doing this too long to invest in an experience we're not going to make fun. We don't want freaks and divas; we want people on the same page who can support and respect each other. The only discomfort should be the discomfort of a challenge."

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