Loner Magazine - Craig Stott: On love, politics & his new film ‘Holding the Man’

Craig Stott: On love, politics & his new film ‘Holding the Man’

It’s a bit “like the unexpected arrival at your door of an old friend,” said Craig Stott from his home in Melbourne. Stott recently saw the premiere of the much anticipated film Holding the Man, a gay love story heralded as the Brokeback Mountain of Australia, in which he stars alongside Ryan Corr.  Aptly timed, in a climate of changing ideals and potentially changing policies (marriage equality is still unrealized in Australia), Holding the Man, directed by Neil Armfield (Candy), has both inspired and contributed to the conversation. Known to his friends as an outspoken political enthusiast, a history buff and a textbook Aries–exploded second, third, fourth & fifth chakras–(although he would never admit it and denies any accountability in astrology), Stott has broken onto the scene in a big way with the role of John Caleo. He’s also got really dreamy eyes 🙂

Craig Stott sat down with Loner, meaning answered our burning questions from an 8,000 mile distance via email, earlier this month. Here is the result of that most impassioned and thoughtful exchange.

Where are you right now? Be specific. I want to imagine you as you share with us.
Right now I am seated on a plastic and aluminum grey chair outside on the verandah of my house in Yarraville, Melbourne.  It’s very chilly today.  It’s almost dusk and birds are chirping.  I can hear the railway barriers ringing and the rattling of trains. I’m typing on [my roommate] Sheridan’s laptop because the net doesn’t work on mine.

I know you to be a passionate music enthusiast, what’s on your playlist right now? Do you have any current obsessions?
Currently I am listening to whatever is on my iPod that flashes up whilst I’m at the gym.  This could mean ABBA, Lykke Li, ACDC or Bowie.  I love Gregory Alan Isakov.  He makes me feel like it’s freezing outside and somewhere in my heart warmth oozes in the arms of someone I love.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.37.43 AMHolding The Man premiered Aug. 27 in Australia. How has the lead up to that and reception been for you?
The lead up to it is somewhat like the unexpected arrival at your door of an old friend.  You make a movie – with this comes the tribulations and the emotional heartache and all the stress and anxiety that comes with being the lead in a movie.  Then suddenly this tumultuous ride is over and you pick up the pieces of your life.  Then you wait.  And wait.  Life moves on but you know that somewhere, the film is being edited and perfected; only you are not privy to that.  Then you get a call from your agent saying that this beautiful, very private thing that you and a team of people have done behind closed doors is suddenly going to be screened in front of 2,000 people at a film festival.

Obviously, it’s provocative.  However, I wasn’t so much concerned about how the film would be received.  The film is based on a memoir by a man called Timothy Conigrave about his 15-year relationship with John Caleo.  We had the great privilege of talking to Timothy’s family in preparation for the film.  A private screening was organized for the family when the film was finished and when we heard that they broke down crying after watching it and said our performances captured the essence of the two boys, I knew my job was done. Whatever critics may write about the film, to me, we had received the ultimate praise.  Of course, it has been heartening to hear from so many people how the film has touched them.

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Holding the Man is an important and iconic Australian story – how does it feel to share it with the world? Do you think it’s being made now because of the timeliness of the issue? How important is the story and its themes (love, acceptance, equality – tell me if I’m leaving any out)?

I’m so immensely proud of having been a part of bringing this story to the world.  Gay love stories are not synonymous with Australia.  I knew from the first instance reading the brief that this was a rare opportunity to not only give voice to this magnificent story, but also give voice to a whole community in this country that is vastly underrepresented in the culture.  The timing of this film’s release has been unreal.  The night before we began our press junket, our former Prime Minister disallowed a conscience vote on marriage equality, which meant that members of Parliament were not allowed to vote according to their own conscience and had to vote in line with the party’s policy, which was opposition to marriage equality.  The things that Tim and John fought for their whole lives in the ‘70s and ‘80s; the right to love, equality, are still, in 2015, rights that are not by birth granted by the institution, but rather must be seized by the individual.  Given the timing of this film’s release, it will no doubt contribute to the global debates happening around gender and sexual identity.  That, I am immensely proud of.  The way politicians have politicized gay love as an oppressive tool to keep it as the “other” is deplorable.  Art offers us a pure means of expression, a way to see beyond the fog of politicians and preacher men.  That is why I do what I do.

A little over a year ago you were bouncing between houses and illegal jobs at clubs and restaurants—how does it feel to be the lead in a film that you love, that you fought for, with a story and message that resonates with you? It must be a dream come true.
Hahaha yeah a year ago I was scooping up drunk people’s vomit in shitty clubs in West Hollywood.  I by no means have “made it”, but I am certainly in a more advantageous position now.  I was almost done with acting last year.  It was becoming more of a burden than something that inspired me.  Then Holding The Man came along and I was enamoured again with the power of art.  I just want to keep working on projects that make the world a little more bearable to live in.

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Craig Stott in ‘Holding the Man’, when his character John Caleo is dying of AIDS.

What was the filming process like on Holding the Man?
It was actually a lot easier than I had originally anticipated.  I went into it with so much anxiety; “I’m gonna fuck this up,” “I have bitten off way more than I can chew.”  But when I got on set, all the preparation that I had done, both in rehearsals with my co-star Ryan Corr and the director, and on my own, clicked into place.  It really galvanized my belief in preparation.  You do it so you are free.  Ryan was my rock on set.  This was the first major role in a big movie for both of us and we leaned on each other throughout rehearsal and filming.   We play gay lovers and the relationship that we forged in real life transcended into something amazing on screen.  It has set the benchmark for how I approach working with other actors.  You must give your soul to the other actor.  And hope in return they do the same.

What do you want people to know about Holding the Man? What do you hope people walk away with?
I want people to know that love is love.  A huge step toward garnering public support for gay rights is for people to be exposed to gay stories and gay people (by the way, latest polls show that support for marriage equality in Australia is at 72%).  This leads to less misconception, less misrepresentation and ultimately a more inclusive society.  It is my wish that this film helps this process along.

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You recently caused a bit of a stir on an Australian national news show, Seven Network’s Sunrise, regarding marriage equality in Australia. Does it make you nervous to stand up for things you believe in in such a public way?
Does it make me nervous to stand up for things I believe in?  No.  You know a backlash will ensue.  There are always those who would impede social justice and equality for all because of their ideology or their own lack of altruism.  But you just sort of say, fuck em’.  Noam Chomsky points out that when you are an activist you have to think about how your actions will affect people “on the ground”.  Is what I am about to say going to further incense the situation or is it going to ameliorate it?  How is the maximum change going to be achieved and how can I facilitate this?  This informs some of my thinking.  But sometimes the rage gets too much and I cannot help but let my emotions take over.

You are now becoming involved with the newly formed Australian Equality Party. How did that come about and what is your role?
I started working with the Australian Equality Party through Twitter.  Its leader, Jason Tuazon-McCheyne approached me after seeing Holding The Man.  The party is trying to get him elected to the Australian senate next year in the federal elections.  They wish to provide the LGBTIQ community in Australia with an independent voice in the highest body in this country.  Of course, I was very interested.  The LGBTIQ community is greatly underrepresented in Australia and I wanted to lend my voice to the cause.  I act as somewhat of an ambassador for the party.  I’m trying to get a few mates of mine who are quite respected nationally and internationally to throw their support behind the party.  It’s coming along.  Slowly, but surely.

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What/who are you greatest influences?
My greatest influences, as in people I admire greatly, are mostly intellectuals.  Noam Chomsky, obviously.  Illan Pape.  Edward Said.  I love Robin Williams.  I think he was one of the most human actors ever to walk the Earth.  What we saw when we watched him was a human in all the complexities, joys and sorrows that encompass being human.  I strive so much to infuse my own work with that humanity.

How do you feel/what do you think about the world right now?
When I think about the world right now I feel great sadness, but every now and then glimmers of hope emerge that reignite my faith in humanity.  For example, [last week], Croatia opened its borders to the arrival of thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East and northern Africa who were being tear gassed and shot with water cannons by Hungarian police at the Serbian border with Hungary.  I hear that and I know that there is some iota of goodness in this otherwise train wreck of a world we live in in 2015.  I feel so passionately against American imperialism and the American-centric view of the world that we are expected to adopt.  Australia sucks up America’s arse constantly; the latest example being that we are now bombing ISIS in Syria at the behest of America, even though tactically it’s been proven that aerial bombing is not going to bring about a definitive end to the conflict.  We vote with the U.S at the U.N constantly, even when its standing practically alone because its policies of social injustice vis a vis the Palestinians are an outrage to everybody in the world save for itself.  I feel that colonialism, particularly British colonialism, has done lasting damage to the world and I feel that most of these injustices have never been rectified.  I feel that we in the West are constantly denouncing this group or that as a “terrorist” organization, whilst capitalism continues to exploit the poorest people in the world and whilst we allow post-colonialism to run rampant.  The hypocrisy of governments makes me ill, particularly when this hypocrisy is carried out for my supposed “good.”  But this is all fuel for me.  Bring it on.  Justice and equality will prevail.  It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 9.56.10 AMIn your own Twitter words: “Don’t get me started on politics, I never shut up.”  How would you advise young people/millennials to get involved, how do you/would you go about ‘making change’?
People are so powerful.  I think I forget that sometimes.  Whenever I get down about the implacability of the world, I think about us and how magnificent we are.  The human spirit is capable of great things.  I think it’s very important to remember that.  Ultimately, I think the greatest changes we can make begin with education.  We must be educated about the world we live in.  We must look for alternative sources of this vital information.  We must not trust completely what we read in the papers, because often it is one-sided and reported out of context.  History is probably the greatest teacher.  If everyone in the world were a historian, we probably wouldn’t be running around in circles making the same mistakes over and over and over again.  Being interested in the world is the greatest thing that came from reading the news.  It is with this power that you can educate other people.  This is where grass-roots political movements begin.  And then it spreads.  Governments change policies when they realize that supporting a particular opinion – which they know is wrong – is more of a liability to their political aspirations than a help.  This is when change happens.

What’s next on the horizon for you?
Next on the horizon for me is auditioning and writing.  There’s a film I’m attached to [that’s] getting on its feet, but other than that I’ll be waiting for the right thing to come along.  I want to finish a screenplay I’m writing by the end of the year.  I’m sick of reading shit.  I figure I’ll write my own masterpieces! Haha

Katie Booth is a writer/actress living in Los Angeles.  Cat whisperer and professional sleeper, Katie loves very old things and believes twitter will save the world.  She’s also a big fan of her geny and thinks they’re gonna be huge in re-informing our place in the world.

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