Ash Christian to attend film's screening Saturday night in San Diego
SAN DIEGO -- "Petunia" is one of those indie gems mined by FilmOut San Diego that will have audiences howling.
Director Ash Christian, who co-wrote the screenplay with Theresa Bennett, will be in San Diego on Saturday when the comedy is shown along with "Remember To Breathe," starting at 7:30 pm at Birch North Park Theatre. Christian will participate in a Q&A session with the audience afterwards along with "Remember To Breathe" stars Lee Meriwether, Susan Blakely and director Marc Saltarelli. Tickets are $10 HERE or at the box office.
The dark comedy revolves around a dysfunctional family headed by middle-aged parents, therapists Felicia and Percy Petunia (Christine Lahti and David Rasche), who cannot heal their own stale marriage. Their three grown children are Charlie (Tobias Segal), who is gay and exploring celibacy; Adrian (Jimmy Heck), who is a closeted sex addict; and Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas), who is newlywed to Vivian (Thora Birch), who has her own deep, dark secrets. Michael Urie plays George, who is in a polyamorous relationship with fitness freak Robin (Brittany Snow) and piques the interest of Charlie.
Christian is the "mad scientist" who concocted the zany plot. "Zany" is often a common adjective to describe the films by the Texas native, who is familiar to FilmOut audiences for "Mangus!" shown at the 2012 LGBT Film Festival.
He works as an actor, writer, director and producer. He won honors as Outstanding Emerging Talent for "Fat Girls" at Outfest 2006. He co-produced the hit Broadway musical, "Next To Normal," which won three Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Christian tells San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that his writing of "Petunia" therapy for him; how they found newcomer Tobias Segal and enticed stars such as Christine Lahti, Michael Urie, Thora Birch, Brittany Snow and Eddeie Kaye Thomas; and what the future holds for him.
SDGLN: What’s the back story on the “Petunia” screenplay?
"Petunia" started as a gay romance and blossomed (pun intended) into this wacky family. We started writing "Petunia" to help me get over my first love, which was a crap experience. ... It was this crazy time when I moved to New York and fell in love with a guy that lived in the same apartment building - in the apartment directly below mine. I usually write to get through things because it's all I know to do - and that's how "Petunia" was born.
SDGLN: What kind of budget did you have to work with, and how did you land such a stellar cast featuring the likes of Christine Lahti, Michael Urie, Thora Birch, Brittany Snow and Eddie Kaye Thomas?
We made the film with a budget less than "Avatar" ... A little less. (laughs) I kid, I kid. I can't tell my dirty secrets. But it was low.
A movie like this is a risk and luckily we've had a lot of success, thus far. I was friends with the majority of the cast beforehand (Brittany Snow, Michael Urie, Thora Birch and Christine Lahti) so they knew me and my work ... I think they were mainly attracted to the material and the meaty roles, which aren't always available in TV and studio films. It really was such a wonderful experience working with such talent.
SDGLN: Tobias Segal is amazing for his first big role. How did you find him?
He auditioned. Our casting director, Susan Shopmaker, brought him in to read for Adrian, the other brother, at first. But then, once we saw him read, we sort of knew that he was our guy. He came back and read for Charlie, and it was very obvious that it was his part. He's a true talent. It's exciting to see an actor really take on a role and make it his own.
SDGLN: FilmOut San Diego audiences know you from “Mangus!” which was part of the 2012 LGBT Film Festival. What do you hope that audiences take away after they see “Petunia” at the Birch North Park Theatre?
This film isn't meant to change the world. It's entertainment. I hope the audiences have a good time while watching the film. Audiences seem to really love it. You fall in love with this family and the crazy characters within it. Basically I make movies to take audiences out of this crazy world we live in for a couple of hours -- to relax, laugh -- show them insane things -- and make them feel better about themselves.
SDGLN: OK, I’ve been through your hometown of Paris, Texas several times. How does living in a red state like Texas shape you as a person and as a filmmaker?
Honestly, I love Texas. It's strange. I know it's in fashion to hate Texas and of course, I don't agree with the politics ... but I love the people. And the food. And the cost of living. The simplicity.
Granted, it has inspired a lot of quirky characters in all my films. Growing up gay in small town Texas wasn't awesome. That's for sure. But there's something charming about it. And it shaped me and my sense of humor and made me not take things so seriously. I can find humor in most anything after growing up with insane Southern Baptists. ... Nothing is crazier than that!
SDGLN: You’ve had a lot of success in television, theater and film. Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully really rich (and happy!) in a giant hot tub with a lot of hot boys. But I hope to get there by continuing to make films and television. ... I'm focusing on writing and creating some fun TV pilots and I'm back to acting (my first love) - which is a lot of fun.
I love making indie films but they are hard to get made, financially. ... There's nothing better than when it works though. And the moment you have a positive audience reaction is really amazing. I can't imagine doing anything else.
SDGLN: What’s next for you?
I'm doing a film called "F*cking People" shooting in New York with some great, well-known actors (who we can't announce yet) ... and producing a few films. I'm writing a lot and trying to create. I'm planning on shooting a film called "Shampoo Girl" in London soon ... I'm obsessed with that city, so I must make a film there. I'm addicted to making movies!
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.