sxsw 2023

Lukas Gage and Zachary Quinto Made a Riotous Gay Comedy About a Dead Body

Photo: Matt Infante

When Lukas Gage and his close pal Phoebe Fisher started writing Down Low, they knew the movie would contain two specific things: a threesome and a dead body. Everything else was up for grabs.

This was before COVID-19 hit, and the Euphoria alums thought they were working on the script as a sample solely so they could land gigs on other movies. The problem: It was too good. Gage’s agent has advised him not to reveal that they wrote the initial draft in a single weekend, but he’s content with the way inspiration struck. What poured out of Fisher and Gage was a raucous comedy about a happy-ending masseuse hired to pleasure a deeply repressed blue blood who has spent his life feigning heterosexuality. When the massage therapist discovers he’s this middle-aged guy’s first source of male intimacy, he insists they level up by finding a third playmate.

Threesome? Check. Dead body? Well, let’s just say it’s not either of the aforementioned protagonists.

Down Low premieres at South by Southwest this weekend and seems poised to be one of 2023’s breakout indie gems. Gage plays Cameron, the chatty, gum-smacking chaos agent who unleashes pandemonium on the otherwise staid life of Zachary Quinto’s Gary. Their elaborate attempt to dispose of the corpse involves an Ambien-addled neighbor (Judith Light), a crack vial they simply must smoke, a stolen Fabergé heirloom, and an ode to Nicole Kidman drowning herself at the end of The Hours.

“The first draft was a little bit more unhinged — a little less of an arc, less of a third act,” Gage says. “It kind of ended out of nowhere, and there was no real conclusion, like, Was it a dream? Originally, we really wanted a fast-paced, fucked-up rom-com. But it was always about two very different people that are in this larger-than-life, crazy circumstance and what they learn from one another within this 24-hour period. There’s a little bit more heart in this version. It was needing a little bit more of a soul and a little bit more redeemability from the characters.”

Gage cites the breakneck dialogue of His Girl Friday and the odd-couple pairing of Pretty Woman as Down Low’s primary influences, but what really hooked Gage and Fisher was the latter’s original conceit. Before Garry Marshall and Jeffrey Katzenberg softened it, Pretty Woman was a gritty drama called $3,000, the sum Richard Gere pays Julia Roberts for her escorting service. Down Low isn’t a story about sex work per se, but it is one about two people who find lawless harmony despite leading two wildly different lives.

During the pandemic, production companies were looking for projects that could shoot in as few locations as possible. Most of Down Low takes place at Gary’s plush Long Island home, which resulted in a greenlight from FilmNation. Bonding creator Rightor Doyle signed on to direct, and Gage went to town on a Hustlers-esque mood board that encapsulated Cameron’s impulsivities. The demon twink had become a queer internet micro-phenomenon, so Cameron suddenly made more sense than ever. Gage assumed he’d need to find a “name” actor for the role, but FilmNation was satisfied with his rising profile. Now that audiences have seen him cackle through a golden shower on You and get rimmed by Murray Bartlett on The White Lotus, this feels like a logical next step.

Gage knew Quinto through mutual friends and had told him about the project long before it was a reality. Quinto hasn’t gotten to do a lot of comedy over the years, instead toggling among genre fare (Heroes, Star Trek, American Horror Story, NOS4A2), drama (High Flying Bird, The Boys in the Band), and highbrow theater (Angels in America, The Glass Menagerie). “That’s part of the reason why I leapt at it,” he says of Down Low. “It felt like something I hadn’t seen before in terms of the brand of humor. I finished a job right before the pandemic and was happy for a long break during that time. I wanted to do something that was unexpected for that first thing back, and this certainly was that.”

Quinto’s co-star takes that sentiment a step further: “I feel like the world is going to be so shook when they see how fucking funny you are in this movie, Zach,” Gage says.

Down Low is wacky and full of winking pop-culture references — Flowers in the Attic, Dennis the Menace, Ben Affleck’s penis in Gone Girl, the bawdy CupcakKe song “Deepthroat” — but the movie has a sweet crosscurrent that reveals itself as its misadventures escalate. Gary and Cameron both know a thing or two about familial hurt. They’ve just chosen different ways of dealing with it, and neither is completely right or wrong. By the time they’re recruiting a weirdo (Simon Rex) off the dark web to help take care of the whole cadaver conundrum, they’re fully bonded in pursuit of a greater cause. The couple turns out not to be so odd after all.

“That was one of the things that I think surprised people,” Quinto says. “The trick of this movie is that you think it’s going to be one thing. You think it’s got this unhinged quality to the humor, but I do think underneath it is a kind of heart and a kind of depth that sneaks up on people and that has more of an emotional impact that they might then they might expect.”

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Lukas Gage Wrote a Riotous Gay Comedy About a Dead Body