EXCLUSIVE: Charlie Carver Proudly Forges His Own Path

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“I’ve always been proud of who I am -- I came out to my
family when I was 17 -- but the movie, that process did awaken something in
me,” Charlie Carver, who came out publicly last January, tells ET about making I Am Michael, a new biopic about Michael
Glatze, a prominent gay activist who renounced his homosexuality and turned to
religion. Directed by Justin Kelly (King
Cobra
)
and based on Benoit Denizet-Lewis' New York Times Magazine article “My Ex-Gay Friend,” the new film
sees Carver portraying Tyler, a college student involved in a throuple with
Michael (James Franco) and Bennett (Zachary Quinto).

One-half of the Carver twins -- his identical twin brother
being Max -- the two are most famous for their joint roles on Desperate Housewives, Teen Wolf and most recently, season one
of HBO’s The Leftovers. “I’ve always considered myself very lucky to
work with my brother,” Carver says, explaining that they serve as a support
system for one another. “Hollywood can be tough.”

MORE: Felicity Huffman Praises 'Desperate Housewives' Co-Star Charlie Carver for Coming Out

Only recently has Carver, 28, stepped out on his own with I Am Michael and a small role in When We Rise, Dustin Lance Black’s upcoming ABC miniseries about the rise of the LGBT rights movement in the U.S. The release
of both projects comes a year after Carver posted a series of heartfelt
Instagrams
expressing that he is “a proud gay man,” while adding that he “was
of the opinion that my sexuality could stay off the table.” But as his and his brother’s
profiles continued to rise, those lines blurred.

Working on a film like I
Am Michael
, directed by an out filmmaker and starring Quinto, who has long
been out, gave Carver some added perspective. “I’m so glad to have met, worked
with and become friends with Zach,” he says, one year to the day of publishing those
Instagram posts. “He’s somebody who I admire very much and somebody who has
carried who he is out in the public in a very admirably way.

Pt 1: “Be who you needed when you were younger”. About a year ago, I saw this photo while casually scrolling through my Instagram one morning. I’m not one for inspirational quotes, particularly ones attributed to “Mx Anonymous”- something mean in me rebukes the pithiness of proverbs, choosing to judge them as trite instead of possibly-generally-wise, resonant, or helpful. And in the case of the good ol’ Anonymous kind, I felt that there was something to be said for the missing context. Who wrote or said the damn words? Why? And to/for who in particular? Nonetheless, I screen-capped the picture and saved it. It struck me for some reason, finding itself likeable enough to join the ranks of the “favorites” album on my phone. I’d see it there almost daily, a small version of it next to my other “favorites”; I’d see it every time I checked into the gym, pulled up a picture of my insurance cards, my driver’s license.... Important Documents. And over the course of about-a-year, it became clear why the inspirational photo had called out to me. As a young boy, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I knew I wanted to be a lot of things! I thought I wanted to be a painter, a soccer player, a stegosaurus... But the acting thing stuck. It was around that age that I also knew, however abstractly, that I was different from some of the other boys in my grade. Over time, this abstract “knowing” grew and articulated itself through a painful gestation marked by feelings of despair and alienation, ending in a climax of saying three words out loud: “I am gay”. I said them to myself at first, to see how they felt. They rang true, and I hated myself for them. I was twelve. It would take me a few years before I could repeat them to anyone else, in the meantime turning the phrase over and over in my mouth until I felt comfortable and sure enough to let the words pour out again, this time to my family...

A post shared by Charlie Carver (@charliecarver) on

“For me, I wanted to feel I was in a place where I could
work comfortably and where I felt like I had something to say,” Carver explains.
“Part of my decision to come out was because I was ready to take on that
conversation in a more public forum.”

And to take on more gay roles. “One thing I warned myself to do is never to be afraid to take another gay
part, especially a well-written one,” the actor says, adding that since coming out,
he is more conscious about what projects he wants to be a part of. “I just
think, How can I create? How can I have
the career I want, but also, how can I contribute to expanding the narrative
available to LGBT people and the narrative for people to see?
I think there
are a lot of stories that happen to include LGBT voices that aren’t told.”

While both projects
weren’t a result of Carver coming out (I
Am Michael
was filmed in 2014 and When
We Rise
was already in the works), they are significant in that as a publicly
gay actor, he’ll be playing gay characters based on real people. “Having out
actors playing out people is important, in terms of representation,” he
says.

MORE: First Look at James Franco and Zachary Quinto's Threesome in 'I Am Michael'

While I Am Michael
features what has already become a notorious sex scene with Carver, Franco and
Quinto, garnering most of the attention for the film leading up to its release,
the character of Tyler -- and the whole movie, for that matter -- runs much
deeper. Playing Tyler gave the actor a chance to delivered one his most layered
performances yet.

“He had the right amount of boyish vibe, intrigue and sex
appeal. It felt believable that he would be longed and/or lusted after by a gay
couple looking to spice up their relationship,” Kelly says of casting Carver,
before adding that the actor brought such a surprising amount of depth to a
confrontational scene between Michael and Tyler that it was pushed to later in
the film to heighten its emotional punch. “Charlie, in that scene, gives me
goosebumps. He really brought a lot of emotion to that scene and made you
really feel for his character, but also feel for the character of Michael, who
at that moment is so clearly lost and confused.”

As for that sex scene, which is hardly long enough to merit
all the salacious attention that has been paid to it since the film premiered
at Sundance Film Festival in 2015, Carver accidentally added fodder to the fire
when he said it was “hot as hell” to shoot. While he was referring to the
temperature of the room, it was spun into click-bait headlines “without people
having seen it,” Carver says.

“We had this A/C unit that wasn’t really working well,” Kelly
says of filming in a converted attic of a Long Island, New York, house during
August, before adding: “It wasn’t until after, at the end of the day, that I
thought, Oh, wait. We just shot a
three-way with James Franco, Zachary Quinto and Charlie Carver. That’s kind of
crazy.

Carver’s other role as Michael, a U.S. Navy soldier who has
a secret relationship with soldier-turned-gay activist Ken Jones on When We Rise, saw the actor
discovering new stories about the LGBT rights movement. “In trying to situate
myself and imagine what it would have been like living at that time, I came
across a couple of people,” he says, specifically highlighting the story of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War veteran who
was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force and later died of complications
from AIDS. Now buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., his
tombstone reads: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing
two men and a discharge for loving one.”

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“His tombstone is
one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read,” Carver says after reading it
aloud over the phone. “I think it speaks a lot to what this series is trying to
get across.”

While both Carver
and his brother are in Fist Fight
with Charlie Day and Ice Cube and still developing the series Blooms for MTV, the actor is looking
forward to using I Am Michael and When We Rise to carve out his own space
as an actor separate from his twin. “Out of all the things I have worked on
individually, I am really excited for these to be coming out when they are,” he
says, hoping they will be a catalyst for exploring more solo projects,
especially stories about LGBT people. “There's a lot to look forward to this
year.”