Hometown bad boy Bruce LaBruce is back at the Toronto International Film Festival with what could bedescribed as a sort of gay “Harold and Maude” (though LaBruce prefers a “reverse ‘Lolita'”). Set in Montreal, the film details the sexual relationship between a teenage boy (dreamy newcomer Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) and an 82 year old man (Walter Borden) that he meets while working at a nursing home. While the severely May-December romance at the film’s center certainly breaks taboos in itself, it doesn’t feature explicit sex — a first in LaBruce’s filmography.
LaBruce talked to Indiewire about that change of pace as well as the film itself — which debuted Monday night and screens again Friday.
So where did “Gerontophilia” come from?
It was kind of a long process. I thought of the idea about three or four years ago. There was a first draft that I wasn’t really happy with. It was a sort of first person narrative. So I brought in another writer, Daniel Allen Cox, who is a novelist and lives in Montreal. I was sort of stuck at getting it where I wanted it, so it was good to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. It was also good to have someone who lives in Montreal to bring some authenticity to it. It started out sort of as a gay ‘Harold and Maude’ but then went more in the direction of a reverse ‘Lolita.’ The trick was to try and not make it too sentimental because when you’re making movies about the elderly the tendency is to do that. Either that or this gross-out comedy sort of approach. I was trying to do neither.
It’s not sexually explicit. Which is a first for you at least as far as your feature films are concerned. Why did you decide to go that route? Was it the idea from the very beginning?
It would be very difficult to get this kind of [government] financing had we made it sexually explicit. And I wanted to make a more ambitious film in terms of the scale of it. It’s kind of tough – unless you’re Lars von Trier – to get financing for a sexually explicit film with that kind of budget.
How did you find your Lake and Mr. Peabody? Their chemistry is pretty crucial to the film working.
The casting was really important. One of the biggest challenges was that there’s sex and a love story between an 18 year old and an 81 year old, which I wanted to make believable. So the chemistry between them is really important. So casting both Lake and Mr. Peabody was really tricky. But we did it through conventional means. We used casting agencies and industry contacts.
For Lake, we looked at 20 or 25 young actors. And one of them was Pier-Gabriel and he just really had the quality I was looking for. I wanted the character to read really young, and he’s 18. And we needed this saintly, innocent quality which he definitely has in real life. And he’s also incredibly cute.
What about Mr. Peabody?
We auditioned quite a few people for Peabody too, maybe even more [than we did for Lake]. And Walter had been strongly recommended by industry contacts. He’s had such an illustrious career. He’s won the Order of Canada and has been doing stage work and political activism for decades. When I auditioned him, he was very open and had no vanity about having to show his body and being very literally naked or just emotionally naked. Which is very important. When we talked to more famous possibilities, the nudity was always a problem. And the fact that Walter is mixed race really intrigued me because I thought it would be interesting to have that as a non-issue in the film.
Yeah, it’s never even mentioned.
It’s not. And I guess the only problem is that he’s almost too nice. He’s such a nice man and everyone loves him. Everyone on the cast and crew adored him. I had to really get him to play against that and be more devilish. Not devilish, but a little more crotchety and a little more of a piece of work. In “Lolita” she sort of torments Humbert, right, or teases him a lot. And I wanted that kind of quality.
As it starts screening, what’s your dream reaction? What do you want people to take from this that would make you the happiest?
Part of the point of making it for me was to work in a more mainstream form and still try to be a little subversive, for lack of a better word. Because the film is so gentle and kind of straightforward the message is less obvious than my other films. So I hope that it works out both ways. That it works as more mainstream entertainment but also has a slightly radical message.
Going forward, this is your eighth feature and marks a little over 20 years since your first feature. Where do you want to go next after doing something that was clearly a significant change from the way you generally do things?
It’s very seductive. It has been the biggest budget and my first film with a union crew. It kind of spoils you working in the Quebec film industry, too, because it’s so developed and strong. But yeah, I’d love to make films with bigger budgets – even bigger budgets than this – because it’s challenging. This was really challenging, but in a fun way. So I’d like to try it again on an even bigger scale. But having said that, I’m going to Berlin tomorrow to finish editing a micro-budgeted movie and it’s very experimental and non-mainstream. So really I’d like to continue doing both.