“Get in that tent with Jake!” Megan Mullally chirps at Heath Ledger. “It’s cold out there. Snuggle for warmth.”
Done up in magenta hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Mullally is on the set of the new indie comedy G.B.F. (that’s short for “Gay Best Friend”), and her character is attempting to bond with her gay son in the most mortifying way possible: She’s rented Brokeback Mountain, and she’s loudly live-blogging the movie’s famous sex scene while her son (played by The Hard Times of R.J. Berger’s Paul Iacono) cringes next to her on the couch. “Not a lot of foreplay,” she notes. “It looks a lot like grappling, but that’s a cowboy kiss. I guess they didn’t really need protection back in those days.”
“It’s beyond the realm of awkward,” Mullally laughs later. In a lot of ways, the scene is vintage Mullally — her patter is upbeat, inappropriate, and heavily improvised — but the movie lets her go big with her instincts. “This is a lot more stylized than some of the movies I’ve been doing lately, but I think that’s a good thing,” she says.
Stylized? If you glanced at the photo of Mullally, Iacono, and co-star Xosha Roquemore (who played the scene-stealing, fluorescent-beige-loving Joann in Precious) serving up sass at the top of this page, you had surely surmised the movie’s tone; fortunately, G.B.F. has more on its mind than just candy-colored flair. Directed by Darren Stein (Jawbreaker), the film follows unassuming gay teen Tanner (Michael J. Willett), who becomes the latest must-have accessory for the most popular girls at his high school after he comes out; meanwhile, his flamboyant-but-still-closeted friend Brent (Iacono) stews in jealousy, ignoring the helpful efforts of his overbearingly gay-positive mom (Mullally). “Anything that falls into the category of a ‘teen comedy,’ I’m always a little wary of,” says Mullally, “but this script was funny and smart.”
“The stereotype of the gay best friend is such an overdone thing now,” notes screenwriter George Northy during Vulture’s visit to the San Fernando Valley high school that serves as the movie’s primary set. Northy’s objective is to tweak the notion of a G.B.F. (as well as the entire teen-movie genre) by a few necessary degrees: “If you look at Mean Girls, you might wonder, ‘What if this movie was about Damian [the best friend who’s deemed ‘too gay to function’], and not Lindsay Lohan’s character? What kind of movie would that be?’”
Most successful teen comedies already feel filtered through a distinctly gay sensibility — think Heathers, Clueless, or Mean Girls — but G.B.F. amps that up further with some of its quirky casting choices (Natasha Lyonne as an off-kilter teacher, Harry Potter’s Evanna Lynch as a gay-hating student from the “O.M.G. Prayer Club”), its outrageous costumes, and the weirdly groundbreaking notion of centering on two gay high schoolers instead of one token gay in the supporting cast.
“I have a straight 18-year-old brother from Jersey, and he was asking me after week one, ‘Why are you so into this movie?’” Iacono says while on the hunt for a coffee. Though playing the hetero horndog on MTV’s R.J. Berger was his most high-profile role, the 24-year-old actor says this project is the first he’s been in that truly hits home.
“I was ‘straight’ in high school, or claimed to be,” explains Iacono. “I’m still attracted to girls, but I have a definite preference, and I identify culturally as a gay male, so that’s where my inclinations lie.” So what does G.B.F. let him do onscreen that he’s never done before?
“Be myself,” he answers. “Brent’s like 25 percent Lohanthony, 25 percent Elaine Stritch, and 50 percent Paul Iacono.” He then shows me his iPhone wallpaper photo: octogenarian theater star Elaine Stritch, walking a dramatic runway. “I think that was at the White House, maybe,” he muses, adding, “She is my spirit animal.”
Speaking of runways: With all of Mullally’s scenes wrapped, the cast and crew are buzzing about the day’s big set piece to come, an opening sequence shot in super-slow-motion where G.B.F.’s most popular teen queens walk through the school hallway as though they were striding down a Paris catwalk, their lesser acolytes trailing behind them. That kind of moment is a specialty of Stein’s, who captured Rose McGowan and company in super-slow-mo for his cult teen movie Jawbreaker, and even the cast members who aren’t in the scene have crowded into the tight high-school hallway to watch.
“As you can tell, this is what everybody’s been waiting for,” laughs Willett. “I’m watching because I have to do the slow-mo walk, too, at some point. I’m trying to pick up tips.” What has he learned so far? “There’s a lot of space you have to fill with some sort of physicality. For mine, I have to do a ‘bitchy wink’ in slow-mo.” How exactly does one learn to do that? Says Willett, “I’ve been watching a lot of Victoria’s Secret commercials.”
Finally, Pretty Little Liars actress Sasha Pieterse takes her place on set as lead hottie Fawcett, and she and her minions shoot their first take. “You guys, let’s just slow your walk down a bit,” says Stein. They go again, Pieterse stomping down the high-school hallway while tossing her golden locks to and fro, serving shampoo-commercial realness.
“There was a lot of hair movement,” murmurs a crew member, approvingly. “That’ll work.”
Stein beckons the actors over, where they crowd around the monitor to watch the ultra-slow-mo version. If the walk looked good at normal speed, it looks positively iconic when slowed down to emphasize every minute detail. Iacono, Willett, and the others on set burst into spontaneous applause.
“This is so surreal!” says a crew member as he watches Pieterse shakes her head in slow motion. “We’re, like, clapping for a hair flip.”
“Everything is better in slow-mo,” laughs Stein.