Nathaniel Quinn Filmmaker ran at Highways Performance Space as a theatre piece August 31st - September 9th 2018, and is now in development as a feature film.
“The ensemble of actors, many of whom play multiple roles, all seem passionate & committed to the material. Hughes’ Quinn is a soft, introspective pleasure in the center of it all, embodying the fragility of the character perfectly while allowing the other actors to shine against the foil he provides them. Laurence Fuller (as Jason), Rebekah Brandes (as his girlfriend Miranda), Rex Lee (as his agent), & Greg Ainsworth as Quinn’s husband, are standouts in a cast that acquits itself admirably” LA Blade
It began two years ago at a gritty indie film festival called Dances With Films, “Road To The Well” was premiering and I wanted to see as much of the other films screening as I could. One full house a clean black and white image flickered on the screen, the title crossed the image “Guys Reading Poems”, what followed was a clean slick wholly original new piece of cinema, with integrity, complexity and lots of vision. It starred many accomplished and talented actors, at the helm was a man called Hunter Lee Hughes.
Meeting him afterwards Hunter’s quiet unassuming and sophisticated demeanor, had a kind of sitting back at first and watching things unfold, planning the course of action. A quiet observer, calmly waiting for that wildness that might come into his life and take hold of his heart with inspiration. A steadily flowing river spoke behind his piercing eyes.
After a couple years of conversing with Hunter and attending his acting class at one point, he sent me a script, asking me to read one of the title characters Jason at a reading he was hosting at his house. Blake was there, the producer and a few other people who ended up in the ultimate cast. The reading was all said and done a success, it was mostly cold read, but I was familiar as were most, I felt it went well and if things went forward then I’d be there. A couple weeks later, Hunter told me the production was on, but I had to audition. It turned out the producer Bradley Bernstein was not so familiar with my work at the time and wanted to see more. It was a fair request, and I felt I had nothing to loose at the time, so I just let it rip on the scene about loosing oneself in the process of auditioning.
Soon after Hunter sent me an email saying:
“Your audition today not only ranks the best I saw today, but among the best I've ever seen. Throughout the session, I saw a man fighting for his own integrity as an actor, then transcending even that into a more primal struggle that was gripping, unpredictable and deeply moving. There's no doubt: the part of Jason Quinn is yours if you want it. There's also no doubt that, should you decide to join our production, that the nature of this work will make our journey difficult and tense and vulnerable at times, on both sides. In a way, I felt guilty for you to go through the process that happened over these last weeks. But - in the end - the result produced was extraordinary. I'm sure there will be more tense, awkward and difficult moments. But if you agree to be part of this, we now fight together to bring to the stage the primal conflicts of the artist's life that are being ignored by others because it's unseemly and too vulnerable to admit that truth, both in terms of the "press release" aspect of a career in the arts and the soft-hearted sentimentality underneath it all: we desperately need to feel important, we desperately need to love and be loved. I think it will be a very worthwhile battle.
I know that - in terms of material rewards and career advancement - we don't have very much to offer. Your career is on the ascent no matter what, clearly. However, I do believe in my heart that Jason Quinn could be a quintessential part and turning point in your career as an artist. It's a part that has the potential to be a story to an official biographer down the line as a surprising moment when your powers came together in a very satisfying and life-altering way. There is something undeniable in you that the part provokes that only a very dense observer could miss. There may be a sadness in knowing that such a good part for you may not be widely seen - 120 seats at Highways Performance Space - but I feel that tackling him will somehow profoundly serve you. But, then again, I am very biased as I badly want you to play the role.”
How could any actor say no to that?
There’s a lot in this piece about the gritty realities of making ones way in the film industry, what life is like to climb the ranks of a leading man in LA. Some things I certainly related to, the dichotomy of compromise that happens, to take an experimental theatre piece for a 49 seat theatre or to put such lofty notions aside and pursue the big budget projects. Clearly I haven’t put my ideal aside yet, I still believe in the art form and that all things will grow from quality. Rex Lee played my agent and once upon a time I did have a rep that was very similar to this guy, very by the book in terms of his business.
Ultimately this piece was about true love transcending circumstance. As a heterosexual man it was a really interesting to see the human being, beyond notions of identity. There was a huge amount of love within the cast and crew, we were like a family. I had missed doing theatre so much by that point, it was not since London I had the opportunity to tread the boards, I’d been so busy pursuing film in LA and it’s so rare for the stars to align for theatre out here. But this was just the perfect coming together of circumstances the right script, right director, role and team behind it. That spirit of collaboration that fed into a common goal of telling this story about love it was a fully realized emotional experience and I was at a perfect point in my life to tell this story. As I read the script more, I realized it dealt with the nature of the muse, finding inspiration to create in another, some external force you want to make the world for
Of course all these elements to the story lead us to Don Bachardy’s house. Hunter was Don’s old friend, when he was 20 Hunter had posed for Don in a series of nude portraits, the artist was quite famous for his portraiture and for evocative selections of the male nude. Most apparent in Don’s personality were the impressions made by the now ghost of his former lover Christopher Isherwood, the two had shared a long life together in that house in the Palasades and as he talked it was almost as if we were expecting Christopher to walk around the corner, his name was brought back with every sentence and subject that passed our lips. The love was so deep he still spoke to us from within Don. They were eachother’s lifelong muses, inspired great works of literature and an oveur of a lifetime of paintings and drawings. They challenged each other constantly. There are numerous documentaries about their love, the two became gay icons on the art and literary scene in California, close friends to the likes of Truman Capote, W.H. Auden and Tennessee Williams. Christopher’s book “A Single Man” was later turned into an Oscar nominated film by Tom Ford.
I asked Don if it ever caused rifts between them to be so direct about eachothers creative works and he laughed in that uproarious way and said “oh yes, of course, there were days and sometimes week we didn’t speak because we were pouting about something... mostly me”. Christopher had pulled out of Don the young artist that was latent inside him before he had even decided what his life would be.
The history of their life together was evident even on the walls as we walked around they were covered in paintings and photographs by LA artists, many of them I didn’t recognize but could see the quality and personal touches which made for authentic pieces. I whispered to Hunter he must know all these artists because the only one I recognize is David Hockney.
“Why shouldn’t somebody else have my image, what am I going to do with it?” Don chuckled as we spoke about the iconic Hockney portrait, that captured the very living room we were sitting in.
Yesterday Hunter took me to the artist Don Bachardy’s Studio to select the right painting to feature in the play “Nathaniel Quinn Filmmaker”, which goes up August 31st at Highway’s Performance Space in Santa Monica.
David Hockney kept popping out from the walls. It was only after about an hour sitting in that living room did I realize where I was sitting, it was from Hockney’s iconic portrait of Don and Christopher. The older pulled the young artist out of his skin and allowed him to flourish, developing his personality and his unique abilities. There was a joy and a deep sadness which came over him as he talked about Christopher’s sense of humor and his firmness. I was personally very intrigued to hear how much they informed each other’s work. Their openness to collaboration and pushing eachother in their work was inspiring to hear and admired their courage for doing so. It gave me hope that two artist could become that close and that true love was possible in that way.
As I watched the two look over these portraits of Hunter I realized that there was a real love between them, that Hunter had been absorbed by Don and reimagined. Don’s loving embrace of Hunter and his affection for him was clear as he stated quite frankly that it was one of the most satisfying subject relationships he'd ever had.
All this translated back into the piece, I dug deep to find the muse most powerful for me at the time, and it cracked me open. I had to loose that love in my real life to regain it from Hunter and the connection we shared on stage was one of the most powerful I’ve had with any actor.
My character Jason tries to make Nathaniel fall in love with him, in order to inspire the muse within him and to create a film. It was very spot on in its revealing of human motivations in the arts. I used to create with ambition as a younger man, now its so much easier to create for love, the work becomes more open, especially in its more passionate moments that fuel of love is infinite, where the selfish drive dies out. This piece was about true love transcending circumstance.
There was a preshow at the beginning of each performance, Jason is working out a poem he calls “The One By The River” as with so many aspects of this piece it was art imitating life as at the time I was writing a poem called “Minotaur’s Song” about the minotaur growing up by the riverbanks of Elysium. Hunter let me read out sections of the poem during the show:
There have been very few true muses I’ve found really cracked me open in my life some have passed, the ghost of my father inspired me for years to finish a screenplay about his life, some directors like Simon Evans, Paul T. Murray, Jon Cvack and Hunter and various family members tend to hit me in a raw place emotionally. I felt cracked open by the muse I used this time around and needed to regain that love from Nathaniel on stage.
To be an actor we give over feelings reserved for those closest to us to the crowds of unknown faces in the dark, they breathe our love, desires and fears, they soak us in and what we’re left with in private is a beginning, each day we begin again, begin to understand something of ourselves again, begin to understand that great triumph of love that escalades within, there it can only be, all else falls on destiny.