A Downtown Revival Logo’s ‘DTLA’ Brings the Gay Drama Back to Life Michelle McCarthy 2/14/2013
It’s been seven years since the last gay drama series hit the airwaves—a fact that producer Larry Kennar (The L Word, 50 First Dates) wanted to change. His latest project, DTLA (short for Downtown Los Angeles) on Logo, is a scripted dramedy that follows the lives of a group of friends—both gay and straight—in the City of Angels. We spoke with Larry and DTLA star/executive producer Darryl Stephens (Noah’s Arc) about why they chose to focus on Downtown, the project’s lack of a script and how young actors are jonesing to play gay.
What is DTLA about? Larry: It’s about a group of friends going through life and love and loss. They’re people who happen to be gay and are friends. Not every person on the show is gay, and it’s not about having to be gay. The actual story is about a couple, Lenny and Bryan, who are breaking up, and how it affects their group of friends.
How much was scripted and how much was improvised? Larry: I wanted to try to make it as real as possible, so a lot of it was not scripted. Some days I would literally show up and say, “You’re going to say this and you’re going to say that. You’re going to talk about it, cry and walk out the door.” I knew what the scenes and stories were going to be, but I always encouraged people to go off the script. I wanted to find the moments that felt organic. Also, pretty much all the characters and stories had elements that were contributed from the actors. That’s how I created the characters—I sat down with the actors and learned about them. I wanted them to relive those stories in a way. I wanted their opinions because I wanted them to be emotionally invested. Darryl: I’m much more comfortable with a script and then improvising around it. I needed to know exactly which points I was hitting. I would have to write scripts out for myself. I like having the freedom of improvising, making the emotions real in that way, but I’m not great just jumping on a set and having no words.
Which stories did you use in the script from your own lives? Larry: The relationship between Lenny and Bryan is based on a relationship of mine. I’m Lenny. All the crazy things I’ve gone through in my life—there are pieces of that in every story.
Darryl: The storyline around Matthew and Marky was something that actually happened to me. I had a boyfriend who was acting in a play. I was at the play with his mother when he got naked. [Laughs] Having input in the story allowed me to personalize it. It’s such a different process than if you’re doing a show on a network and the script is locked.
Did you consciously go after gay actors? Larry: Not really. Most of the actors who auditioned were straight. It was like, Can I get any gays in here? I found that the younger generation didn’t seem to mind playing gay. They thought, Who cares? It’s not a big deal. Brokeback. Darryl was someone I went after because of who he is. There were some iconic figures that I wanted to have, like Sandra Bernhard and Melanie Griffith. But I found that people really want to play gay.
Was that surprising to you? Larry: Yes. I think it shows how far we’ve come and also that a different generation isn’t as afraid of it. It’s just not an issue. It was a draw to get certain celebrities to do my show because they got to play gay.
Darryl, you’ve played gay and straight characters. Is there a difference for you? Darryl: I played a transgendered woman on Private Practice, and I’ve never wanted to be a woman. Regardless of the gender or sexuality, if you can understand where the character is coming from—most operate out of love or fear or fear of losing love or not finding love. All those things apply to each person. The sexuality is almost completely irrelevant.
If there’s no longer a stigma attached to playing gay, why are there so few gay shows? Larry: There just hasn’t been any interest on the television network’s side to develop gay dramas for a long time. The storylines on the network shows are safer because they don't explore the sexual side of things. Some of the images we’re seeing with gay programming may be stereotypical to some. I don’t consider Drag Race a gay show; it’s a fun show. People know that not every gay man is like one of those drag queens, but there is something about the humor that travels further.
People just weren’t trying to do it, so I said, “We have to do it or else it’s going to be obsolete.” I hope that if we continue to be successful that there will be other opportunities for gay scripted shows. After Queer as Folk andThe L Word, nobody wanted to copycat those shows. So instead we’re going to have gay characters on series in strong supporting roles. Now HBO is developing a gay show that’s kind of like Girls but with gay guys. So I think it’s coming around again. I want DTLA not to be just a gay series but something that all people can identify with.
Why did you want to focus on Downtown Los Angeles? Larry: I wanted to tell stories that took place in a very urban area that was not gay-specific. I wanted to have the feeling that these people are friends not because they’re gay. Most of my friends are straight. I have a lot of gay friends, but they’re my friends because they’re my friends, not because they’re gay. I’ve been met with a lot of negative reactions—“Why aren’t you doing a show that is set in WeHo?” or “There’s no gay scene in Downtown L.A.” Well, there is, and who cares if there isn’t? I wanted it to be a public place where everyone can exist as opposed to walking down a hall, turning the corner, opening a door and seeing guys with their shirts off dancing to circuit music. That’s an exciting world, but I wanted the show to take place where everyone could exist.
DTLA airs Fridays on Logo. For more info, go to logotv.com.