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Playing friend and foe alike: actor-activist Mark Webber talks about the gay reality behind his diametrically opposed roles in Storytelling and The Laramie Project. (film).

Storytelling, the new film by Todd Solondz (Happiness), received some gay press last year when the famously perfectionist auteur excised an entire gay story line from its multichapter body. However, the director did, at least, leave a gay oral sex episode in its second segment, "Non-Fiction"--although he snipped a straight one.

"It would have been cool to have two blow jobs in one movie," muses fresh-faced 21-year-old actor Mark Webber, who plays the recipient of both servicings. "But I'm extremely happy with the final version. Todd's an amazing director, and he shoots, man. He shoots and shoots and shoots until he gets it. He said to me himself that he could have made at least four or five other movies out of the footage he shot."

Webber plays Scooby Livingston, a laid-back, disillusioned high school senior fostering fantasies about becoming a TV talk-show host. He sees a chance to inch closer to his dream when a well-meaning but unfocused film director (Paul Giametti) drafts him as a documentary subject. Dad (John Goodman), Mom (Julie Hagerty), and two younger brothers (Noah Fleiss and Jonathan Osser) also take part, while off-camera, dramas transpire involving their harried maid (Chuck & Buck's delightful Lupe Ontiveros), girlfriends, and a gay buddy.

"Scooby's got the kind of free-flowing vibe," Webber says of his droopy-eyed, doobie-smoking character. "He's out there just doing his thing, and I saw him as a really open, very calm, sensitive guy in tune with everybody's feelings." So in tune that when a gay friend confesses an attraction, Scooby invites him to partake of a very special Scooby snack. And in a later scene, when concerned younger jock brother Brady (Fleiss) confronts Scooby about the resulting gay rumors circulating at school, his older brother calmly tries to comfort him.

"That thing goes on," notes Webber, who's heterosexual. "Things are changing, but in certain parts of the world it's not a good thing to be gay. If people find out you're gay, you're fucked with."

Yet Webber harbors few such superficial concerns himself, having experienced an undeniably down-to-earth life so far. The Minneapolis-born, Philadelphia-bred Webber's childhood was informed by poverty, welfare, and, beginning at the age of 9, two years of homelessness. "My mother and I took over abandoned buildings to sleep in," he recalls. "Through that experience I started organizing and got linked up with a national underground movement. My mother is the founder and director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, an organization made up of poor women, children, working-class men, teachers, students, and anyone who's about ending poverty and homelessness in this country. And there are a lot of different organizations out there I'm affiliated with."

Webber's character in another new film is far less progressive-minded: Aaron McKinney, one of Matthew Shepard's murderers, in HBO's The Laramie Project. The role also takes him leagues away from the kinder, gentler parts he's played in the upcoming Al Pacino starrer People I Know, Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending, and, of course, Storytelling. "Scooby never would have laid a hand on Shepard!" Webber says.

Adapted from the critically acclaimed play, The Laramie Project recreates interviews with residents of Laramie, Wyo., conducted by a theater group following Matthew Shepard's murder, mixing documentary footage and reenactments to paint a poignant picture of the suddenly high-profile town and its citizens.

"It's an odd feeling when you're doing something based on real life and true facts," admits Webber, who was only peripherally familiar with Shepard before getting the part. "Every thing was done in Laramie. I was in the exact same courtroom where everything went down, where this kid was arraigned and sentenced, where all the real-life people were sitting."

To take on the killer's demeanor, he studied Internet audio clips of McKinney and numerous photographs. And he says the Laramie experience further fueled his activist fire to make change in the world, much like playing one of Brandon Teena's killers did for Webber's friend Brendan Sexton III, a fellow Solondz vet and political activist.

"After seeing The Laramie Project, I was really emotionally moved. I'm not a racist or homophobic person; I'm not a fascist," Webber, says. "I'm a cool, chill guy and I'm open to everybody and everything, so I left the movie reaffirmed with those thoughts. And now I look at the greatest takeover I'm embarking on--Hollywood. I'm going to utilize all the fame and fortune I get to continue to make change."

Find more on Mark Webber, Storytelling, and The Laramie Project at www.advocate.com

Ferber contributes to Time Out New York and other publications.
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Author:Ferber, Lawrence
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 19, 2002
Words:761
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