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Spoiler Alert's Jim Parsons on why movies need "everyday, boring people" who just happen to be gay

The producer-star of Spoiler Alert, based on a real-life romance between two men, is on a streak of playing gay characters

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Jim Parsons
Jim Parsons
Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images (Getty Images)

It isn’t exactly surprising that in Jim Parsons’ body of work, his most well-known and career-launching role is a straight man (The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, in case you’ve lived under a rock for the past 15 years). Like fellow queer artists Neil Patrick Harris and Kristen Stewart, Parsons had to follow Hollywood’s more conventional path before tackling LGBTQ characters. Of course, queer representation is on the rise, and Parsons can now bring to the big screen, as both producer and star, a film like Spoiler Alert, a story featuring romance, comedy, drama, and two lead characters who happen to be gay men.

Based on TV journalist Michael Ausiello’s memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, director Michael Showalter’s adaptation centers an “ordinary life,” as Parsons says. Opposite Ben Aldridge as Kit Cowan, Parsons retells the ups and downs Ausiello faced, concluding with his partner’s terminal cancer. (As its title suggests ... this is not a spoiler.) As Kit’s parents, Sally Field and Bill Irwin lend extra poignancy to the film’s depiction of real lives. As Parsons tells The A.V. Club, the sexuality of these “characters” both is and isn’t integral to the story—and both is and isn’t part of his recent career trajectory toward gay roles, from The Normal Heart to The Boys In The Band.

Spoiler Alert | Official Trailer 1

AVC: You’ve used the phrase “a regular life, boring love,” in reference to your own sexual orientation. It seems to me that Spoiler Alert is in line with that in its depiction of these regular gay men. How much was “ordinary” part of your approach here? Is such naturalism even achievable in filmmaking? Watching your scenes with Sally Field, I felt like, yes, it’s possible. 

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JP: I’m glad to hear that it felt possible doing it. And to your point, I think—I know—that that’s what was so powerful about the source material. This story resonated so much with me [because] it was such an authentic tale of what it is to just live your ordinary life—in extraordinary circumstances, as it were in this case. That was the appeal. And the power of it was, when these people hit these hard times and these good times, it’s only amplified by the fact that you’ve been able to see them just kind of living around each other and just kind of communicating as everyday, boring people.

AVC: How much is that part of your goal as a storyteller? Especially as a producer, where does Spoiler Alert fit into your overall artistic mission?

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JP: You know, it’s funny. I feel like my missions are very internally driven. Like, it’s not so much that I feel like I lead with words to get me somewhere as much as I read or see something and respond to it. And it triggers something. I’m just like, “That’s what’s next.” And, yes, this felt that way for me in that it gave me something that—I’m not sure how consciously I knew I was craving it. But to be able to be the actor taking part in such a, again, natural, realistic, full, layered, full scope of a gay relationship between this couple? I just haven’t been offered a lot of that or hadn’t seen a lot of that, this deep-dive exploration of these two men together like this. And I do think it answers a deeper need and calling for myself and hopefully others. But the first reason I wanted to do it was not so deep, it was just interest in it. It excited me. But I think it’s because of a deeper, deeper desire to see that and be a part of that.

AVC: Forgive the leading question, but is it safe to say it’s not a coincidence that after becoming a household name for playing Sheldon, a character who happened to not be gay, that you’ve since played many characters who do happen to be gay?

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JP: Well, it wasn’t so much a conscious choice as it was the material and the people offering material that the last five to 10 years started fitting into that. I’ve kind of responded to each uniquely and separately and wasn’t necessarily looking to build some sort of ladder like this. But I will tell you that it has surprised me, the fulfilling level of growth and realizations about myself as an actor and about myself as a gay man that I’ve had getting to play these varied homosexuals in film and TV, in things like this. And going back to what we were just saying, I do feel there are ways in which I’ve reached a momentary apex of that. Because not only are these interesting people-slash-characters in an extraordinary circumstance, but it’s flexible. We really get to watch them exist together and the small, intimate conversations they have together and these little stolen moments, whether it’s the stuff in bed or whatever. It feels very rich to me, personally and artistically.

Jim Parsons stars as Michael Ausiello and Ben Aldridge as Kit Cowan in director Michael Showalter’s SPOILER ALERT, a Focus Features release
(L-R:) Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge in Spoiler Alert
Image: Giovanni Rufino / Focus Features LLC
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AVC: Between Bros, Fire Island, and Spoiler Alert, 2022 has been a fascinating year for the intersection of LGBTQ stories and quote-unquote mainstream cinema. How do we reach a point where a film like this isn’t “a gay romance involving cancer,” but is instead “a romance involving cancer—oh, and the characters happen to be gay”?

JP: Yeah! I’m not sure. I know for us specifically working on it, we reached it with this. The desire to tell this story was more that it was a deeply moving, interesting story. And the sexuality, while an integral part of it, was secondary. It was just an extremely moving story about these two humans who went on this extraordinary journey together. Tragic, out the other side with a better view of life and of themselves, hopefully, and a better ability to love. I remember we went to a test screening. And Showalter and I were talking afterwards and he said—I may not get the words exactly right—but the essence was, “We assume when you buy a ticket to this movie that we don’t have to explain why gay people are human or why gay people are just like us.” That is the given going into this. You buy a ticket to see a love story, and not just between these two men, but between their extended family and their friends and this whole community. Again, very true to life. I don’t know, I feel like there’s been steps to where that’s become clarified in my mind. And whether I knew it or not, that’s what drew me to it to begin with: to get to partake in these conversations with another character, with another actor, in scenes of such depth and nuance that I had grown up watching mostly straight couples do. And in that way, these scenes don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s just two different people than you’ve seen before have these scenes together.

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AVC: I like that idea, that it’s “both and”—it’s integral to our viewing experience that they’re gay and it’s also incidental in the story.

JP: Exactly. It’s so true. And, you know, of course it’s a huge factor in their lives, but it’s not the biggest factor in this movie, in this particular story.

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AVC: Lastly and most importantly, let’s talk about your playing an entertainment journalist, because several parts of this film hit very close to home for me.

JP: [Laughs] Oh, God, help me.

AVC: What kind of research did you have to do to play Michael Ausiello? Or have you been on the other side of press interviews for long enough that you think you could do this job?

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JP: No, and I don’t want to try! Let’s be frank about it, it doesn’t sound easy. You know, I would say that I already had some empathy. And now I’ve got a lot of empathy for the idea of having to be the one to go, “What do I ask this person that keeps them talking?” I mean, it’s a complicated landmine that you get into every time you enter an interview room or get on a Zoom. Hopefully it’s not, by the time you’re done with it.

I also had a problem where frequently, “TV writer” would come out of my mouth. And Ausiello was always like, “No, you don’t write for a TV show, you’re a journalist.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I mean I’m a TV journalist, not a TV writer.” So that was just me being stupid.