When Ellen Page was offered the chance to create a show for start-up network VICELAND, her love of travel shows was the primary inspiration for “Gaycation.” But “Gaycation” didn’t just take her and best friend/companion Ian Daniel to exotic locations. It also opened their eyes to the way LGBTQ people live all around the world.
At the TCA Winter Press Tour, Indiewire sat down with Page and Daniel to find out how their experiences varied from Japan to Jamaica and beyond, as well as what went into balancing the lighter side of their experiences with the real issues they confronted. An edited transcript is below.
How long were you guys together, shooting the show?
ELLEN PAGE: We started in February and we shot the four episodes throughout the year, and we spent about two weeks shooting each episode.
So four episodes. One’s Japan, one’s Brazil, one’s Iowa and what’s the fourth one?
PAGE: One’s Jamaica and one’s America.
One’s America in general, not just Iowa.
IAN DANIEL: We went all over America on a sprawling road trip.
How important was bringing that global perspective into it?
PAGE: Well, that was the whole idea of the show. The show came out of wanting to do a travel show and LGBTQ communities in different countries. That episode was Japan and strictly about the LGBTQ community. And then we finished with America, which became a decision while we were making the show, because we wanted to be able to reflect and celebrate the triumphs America has had and also talk about the situations and the struggles that are still major and still exist and not by any means think we are going around the world and being judgemental. That’s not the show. That has nothing to do with the show. The show’s about going with an open heart and an open mind and learning.
I’ve seen the first episode — I’ve seen Japan — and I imagine that you took that experience and brought it with you to Jamaica and Brazil. How does that work in terms of the show evolving?
DANIEL: You just take your experiences and what you’ve learned — not necessarily the facts from that country — but what you personally learned or grew from. I think we are collecting these stories and they affect us emotionally and intellectually and we’re taking them to the next country. I think that each country is a different experience and the story I might have experienced in Japan, about the kid coming out, might affect the way I experience homelessness in Jamaica. I think it expands your empathy. It expands your viewpoints of the entire world. When you talk about the global thing, it’s so interesting to not know much about a country before you enter it and then get such a deep understanding of what’s happening in this country. We can only hope that the viewers come in with that attitude. Maybe they don’t know anything or they are as totally open-minded as we are. They watch it and they come out moved, and their empathy has expanded and on some level take action or responsibility for what’s happened.
Do you feel like things would have played differently if you would have shot the episodes in a different order?
PAGE: I think so. I feel like I know, for me, why I’m happy with them chronologically, the way they are. I don’t really want to divulge what it is. It’s weirdly personal. For me, I know why I’m happy the way it went, but it’s not really something I want to talk about.
I feel like ending in America is a really great idea, because of what you said earlier.
DANIEL: I think it was a conscious choice. Either we were gonna do that now or not and maybe do it later. When we are in these countries we are thinking about America and our own experience and what the big issues are here in America. I think we are always aware of that and comparing our life and our privilege to what’s happening in these countries. To end in America, it’s like we traveled this far and we have some opinions about what’s happening, but now we are in our own country and can talk about it in a much more detailed way about the issues that are happening here. I think the way the episodes unfold, I think that’s the way we are going to present them, I’m not entirely sure, but I think that makes the most sense. I think as a viewer you want to go on the journey with us completely. We’re starting in Japan, not really knowing what we are getting into, and then we end in America. It’s a very full journey and you can feel on some level experience what we’ve been through and learned and that’s why we are a vehicle for the viewer to go on these trips with us. I think it’s important.
When you insert vacation into the title, you expect there to be some lightness to the show. How important was finding that balance?
PAGE: Despite struggles and difficulties in a lot of areas, there can still be vibrant gay scenes and LGBTQ scenes and some can be more underground. You know, in some areas it can be virtually impossible to be a visible LGBTQ person, but there is still a tremendous amount of joy and vibrancy and love. That’s an important thing to reflect.
DANIEL: We have a lot of fun together and clearly it gets sometimes very serious and that’s just part of the dynamic. You want to have these highs, you want to have these lows. You want to have the full spectrum of the thing. You want your audience to laugh with you and to get to know you as a person and there is an entry point to the more serious issues. You want them to be affected by it like we are. The title is “Gaycation” — that’s a lighter way to enter the show and there are those components. But I think it’d be boring to just see us on a vacation together.
PAGE: I think there is something to be said to the fact that I absolutely love travel shows. I haven’t seen one that focuses on the LGBTQ experience. Obviously, there are gonna be fun parts of that and not, no matter where you go in the world. Because that’s the reality of the world for an LGBTQ person and we’re hoping to reflect that.
Is there a certain pressure that comes from being, perhaps, the first?
PAGE: I think if there’s any pressure, it’s one I feel delighted to take on. Of course, you want to do your utmost to be inclusive. You want to focus on the stories you feel are the right ones to focus on. You want to do your best to be absolutely open-hearted. If there’s anything it just propels you to work hard and do your best.
Was VICE involved from the beginning?
PAGE: Essentially, Spike [Jonze, who serves as creative director of VICELAND] was a close friend of mine and he asked me if I had any TV ideas. Pretty much the next day I was like, “Oh, I do.” We started talking about it, and I brought up Ian’s name and it happened quite quickly.
That’s great. Plus, you know, free trip.
DANIEL: It’s such a fortunate experience. We are privileged and lucky and love all these things. To be able to travel around the world and make it not just a fun experience. I mean, we are really learning things, trying to help people expand their minds and hearts and all that. It’s fun, but it’s complex. You go through something. You come home and you’re exhausted and you’re grateful and it takes a while to reflect on your experiences, and just now that we are talking about it in the press we are just starting to think, wow, what a journey, and when in life do you get to do that? Especially with your friend and it’s going to be broadcast around the world and have some affect, hopefully positive. You have to be utterly humbled by that experience and grateful and excited.
Is there anything you’re nervous about premiering?
DANIEL: Not nervous — we just don’t know yet how it plays. You guys are the first ones to watch it, and we are getting some idea about what you guys think about it. I’m not nervous at all, I’m just excited to see its effects. I think from time to time you watch it and you’re like, “Oh, was that the right thing to say?” We don’t much care about that anymore because we’re evolving with the show so maybe something I know now I didn’t know in Japan and that’s okay. The audience should experience that. You might get some judgment out of that, and I want you to know that we’re not perfect and we don’t know everything. Just because I’m a gay dude going on a travel show, I don’t know everything about LGBTQ issues. I’ve had to learn a lot. I’ve taken on that responsibility and I’m fortunate to do that and I’ve appreciated the whole thing.
You mentioned that you watch a lot of travel shows and I don’t really. From the outside, they seem a lot like they are about capturing a place, but in this case, you guys are trying to capture a community. Were there travel shows you used as kind of examples and guideposts?
PAGE: I don’t know if we had every had a conversation about examples going into the show. Personally, I’m a huge Anthony Bourdain fan. I’ve seen all of “No Reservations” and I always learn a lot. Obviously, his entrance into a country is food. But there’s all these different opinions and perspectives, probably an element of cultural history that I didn’t know about. Essentially telling us the unique stories that are important– It’s always been something that I’ve loved. For me, that’s something I would think about thinking about the show. And the show does in a way capture the country and capture the place. Our end is the LGBTQ community and why certain opinions exist, where did that come from? That’s to me, what’s exciting about it. You can see a reflection and you can see history. Particularly in America. That’s an episode I love because we went to a first nation’s gathering for two-spirit people; a community of people that were totally accepting before we showed up and did horrible things. That’s what I’m excited about. To show how things have changed historically in different cultures.
The challenge of trying to represent America in a 45-minute episode is pretty stunning.
PAGE: Brazil is the largest country in South America, and the reality is we have two weeks. We are in Rio and Sal Paulo and that’s, needless to say, the constraints of everything. We can’t go everywhere. We can’t go to every state. I guess we could. It’d be a much, much longer project and just because there is this American episode this season doesn’t mean there can’t be something else.
DANIEL: There could be some American subplots and all those things.
PAGE: Essentially what we try and do is always about the story and the issues. That’s what our focus is and that’s what we accomplish and it’s not really about what town are you going to. It’s about doing our best to tell the stories and issues about what we wish to be included.
“Gaycation” premieres today on VICELAND.