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FilmOut: Q&A with Derek Villanueva, who has a breakout role in "Longhorns"

SAN DIEGO – Derek Villanueva wasn’t around in 1982, the time period for the comedy “Longhorns,” but he is full of admiration for Cesar, the fictional character that he plays.

Cesar was a rare creature in those days, an out college student who dared to stand out at a major university in Austin. And when Cesar falls hard for “straight” frat boy Kevin (Jacob Newton), Cesar walks away when Kevin rejects him amid an identity crisis.

“Longhorns,” written and directed by David Lewis, will be shown at 10:15 pm Friday, Aug. 26, at the Birch North Park Theatre as part of Film Out San Diego’s 13th annual LGBT Film Festival. The 12-minute short “Rubdown” will be paired with the feature film.

Villanueva talked about his role as Cesar, his nude scenes with Newton, and his new project in an exclusive interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Q: Congratulations on a nice performance in the role of Cesar. What attracted you to the role?

A: Thanks, it really means a lot! You know when I read “Longhorns,” I loved how strong willed and daring Cesar came across. He may be a fictitious character, but there were people like him in the ‘80s who risked their lives, in order to be true to themselves. I remember telling David how excited I was to play someone who was so ahead of his time. This is a character that knows what he wants to be, even if this causes him to experience rejection. Once filming wrapped I made sure to keep some of Cesar's wardrobe as a memento of him in my closet. He's the real deal, a maverick!

Q: You seemed to have great chemistry with Jacob Newton, who played Kevin, your love interest. Did you guys bond on the set?

A: Of course. Jacob and became good friends before and after filming. We bonded over a lot of things, one thing that helped was my eclectic playlist. I had everything from Patty Griffin, Neko Case, Sarah Silverman, to Lady Gaga, playing in the background on our drive over to our filming locations. We hit it off immediately. By the time we had to do any of the love scenes we had already established a close rapport to be comfortable being that close to each other during takes.

Q: You and Jacob Newton had a full frontal nudity scene that was set inn Kevin’s dorm room. Obviously, this is NOT pornography but male nudity remains fairly rare in films. What was it like to get naked in front of a film crew? Did you have any qualms about doing it?

A: To me it was important that the nudity be critical to the story and not just exploitative. Director David Lewis went out of his way to explain every shot in great detail ahead of time, so that defused some of the fear and awkwardness. Although, I did pull David to the side to inform him that I (how should I put it), I still had my "Jewish nightcap." I don't think he understood what I was referring to then, but probably put the two-and-two together once he saw the scene – how shall I say it - unfold on the monitor. But all-in-all, our crew was professional about everyone's nude scene. Now, seeing myself nude on a big screen along with hundreds of strangers in the same room, that’s a whole different level of awkward. My mom knows about this film, but I’m still not sure about letting her know when the film is screening.

Q: How does your own life experience parallel that of Cesar? How different was it for you to come out as compared to Cesar, who was out of the closet in the early 1980s?

A: In the film we see Cesar as the butt of all the homophobic joke(s), and you know I think we've all been there, we've all experienced some form of homophobia. I remember not being respected by my own family when I came out after high school. For years I kept my sexual orientation to myself because I feared that my family would blame my homosexuality on the sexual abuse that happened to me at an early age. And as crazy as that sounds, they did think that. They were seriously convinced (probably still are) that I became gay from this traumatic experience. I think Cesar represents everyone who is misunderstood, people who were ahead of their time, people who decided to take a stand. So I understand what it's like to be rejected for being true to who you are - and even though in general things are better today - it’s still a risk to be out in someone's family or church, small town or whatever can make the challenges very much the same today, as they were in 1982.

Q: Your new project is “Fabulous High,” and are producing, writing and starring in it. What’s this all about?

A: "Fabulous High" is a show I co-created with Sean Willis (director) a year ago. This show is my way in telling the world that we are ready to see LGBT high school characters lead a show, because they're usually seen as the token gay roles, or side roles. I wanted to do for gay teenagers what film and TV have done for gay adults -- show them as real complex characters. Just like their peers with the additional richness and complexity of being gay. The show features a large diverse cast, I think everyone will relate with one or many of the characters on this show.

Q: What is something that your fans don’t know about you?

A: I'm currently addicted to the The Walking Dead. I'm a huge zombie fan and I heart Barbecue ribs. Put both of those together and you've got yourself a perfect date!

Q: What’s next for Derek Villanueva?

A: Hopefully, I can continue doing projects that are interesting, challenging and that explore what it means to be fully human. I hope to grow more as an actor, as a writer, and maybe one day make my directorial debut with something that's meaningful.

The details

FilmOut San Diego’s 13th annual LGBT Film Festival will concludes Aug. 26-28.

Almost 60 films and shorts will be shown at the historical Birch North Park Theatre.

To buy individual tickets, click HERE.