“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.”
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...
“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.
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.”
“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.”