This boy's life.
It was about six years ago that I first met Jason Gould at the party of a mutual friend. I remember him as a shy, slightly sullen guy, unassuming and fairly withdrawn. We barely spoke. At the time, he had already costarred with his mother, Barbra Streisand, in the 1991 film The Prince of Tides, which won him critical kudos. And he had already been outed by the tabloids in a silly if fantastical story about his marriage to a male model. Suffice it to say, the Jason I met then seemed a tad shell-shocked. Flash-forward to September 2000: It's a late-summer day in Manhattan, and I'm scheduled to meet Jason again. This time it's for an Advocate interview concerning his film short "Inside Out," one of five movie shorts in Boys Life 3.
After a brief phone conversation, with no mutual mention of our previous meeting, he suggests coming to my small West Village studio. He arrives at my apartment a punctual, polite, and friendly young man, nothing like the skittish colt I remember. During our two-hour interview, he is funny, easygoing, and just a tad guarded. He remains reticent about certain subjects--his mother, his dad, Elliott Gould; and, oddly enough, his age. ("It's not like it's not public record," I jokingly remind him.) Yet even while deflecting a question, he's never defensive or anxious; his apprehension seems more like the measured response of someone raised under the fickle, frenzied spotlight of fame.
Jason Gould is the writer, director, and star of "Inside Out," the story of Aaron, the gay son of two celebrities. During the course of 30 minutes, he is chased by paparazzi, is outed by the tabloids, seeks solace in a support group for kids of famous folks (run by Christina Crawford), and turns to Scientology before he engages in an all-out striptease for the pernicious press. Much of it, of course, is more than a bit autobiographical. Toward the end of our interview I confess to Gould how antisocial he seemed to me during our first and brief meeting. "Well," he admits, "I thought you were very aloof." "Really?" I say. "Yeah," he says with a smile. "It's interesting the assumptions people make about others and how wrong they often are."
In his first feature interview with the gay press, Gould reveals just how wrong some assumptions about him are, the problems of growing up with an icon, and his ambivalence about being called gay.
So when did you come out?
I still haven't. [Laughs] I mean, I don't live a closeted life. I'm not ashamed of who I am. I'm pretty comfortable with my sexuality.
What are you up to? You received such good reviews for The Prince of Tides, yet you haven't acted in much since. Why's that?
I still act. I went to London and did the play The Twilight of the Golds a couple of years ago. And I'm in acting school--one of those classes with a master teacher where you have to audition to audition. I admit I haven't pursued it with the intensity of some young actors, probably because I grew up around the business, which is partly what my film is about. It's about being in the public eye and wanting privacy and what you have to sacrifice if you want to remain in the business.
Do you like acting?
Sometimes. I learn more about myself, and I like that. I learn about taking risks, exposing myself. That is interesting to me. But there are so few roles that come along that I really want to play. I don't want to play stereotypes. And now that basically everybody assumes or knows that I'm gay, I pretty much get offered only gay parts.
But you didn't play a gay character in The Prince of Tides.
No, but I got a lot of tabloid crap after that about being gay.
The tabloids said that you married a male model.
It was a ridiculous story. It was funny in a way.
Where do you think they came up with that?
Oh, I don't know. These people are ingenious with their imaginations. It's disturbing, though. [Sighs] I mean, there are so many legal ramifications to what they did.
Did your withdrawal from the public eye have anything to do with that tabloid story?
At the time, I was so shocked. The tabloid thing happened around the time of The Prince of Tides, which is what those tabloids do. They take advantage of anybody that's getting notoriety and try and make them look like shit or humiliate them to some extent--which is just the fact of how it works. First they called and asked me if it was true that I married a male model. I said, "No, it's ridiculous. It's totally false." And they said, "But we've seen the photo album; we actually had proof." So then I checked into suing them, but you have to prove malicious intent. It would have just drawn more attention to the whole thing, so it wasn't worth it. But it was shocking to me, not only because they could get away with it but in how they used and manipulated me. It was such an ugly part of being in the public eye, to me, that I withdrew.
Your dad, Elliott Gould, appears as your father in "Inside Out." Did you ask him to be in it?
I originally asked another actor to be in the part, but he didn't want to do it.
And your dad said, "Sure"?
Yeah, my dad is very generous with me. He's been in a lot of my movies, and I've made a lot of short films.
How many films have you made so far?
Finished short films? Well, I started making films when I was 7 years old.
And you went to film school, right?
I did, for a very short period of time.
I didn't like it. It wasn't a very supportive department at all, for me anyway.
The faculty or students?
The faculty. I had a teacher who just had it out for me. I don't know why.
And do you think it was because of your background?
Every time I tell someone, that's what they ask me. And I don't know. But it's certainly a possibility.
It was interesting, because I was in this class and we had to write a screenplay for a five- or six-minute short film and then read it to the class. So I read mine aloud, and everybody applauded afterward. Then the teacher asked me if I had help writing it. He didn't believe that I wrote it. And when I was about to shoot the film, he didn't give me the authorization. He simply said, "You're not prepared." He was not supportive.
Was it weird to ask your dad to be in it, because it was autobiographical?
No, my father was happy to do it. I wasn't even sure I was going to act in it. But I thought that playing the part would be provocative, and I liked that.
How did the film come to be?
Well, I actually began writing it as a feature-length script several years ago. A friend of mine produced a short film, and that inspired me to retool my own movie as a short since I couldn't find enough feature-length material, it was still a very ambitious short. We shot it in a week, and there were so many actors and so many locations, it was creatively satisfying, but we were filming three to five scenes a day in totally different locations. So it was crazy. We'd have two hours to set up, shoot a scene, and get out.
Are you happy with it?
When I first made it, I wasn't happy with it. I saw all the problems. There were scenes I didn't get to shoot and coverage I needed. I just ran out of time and resources. I focused on that for a long time, so when the film was in Sundance, I felt exposed and nervous because I had never had an audience see it before. Now that it's been finished for a while and I'm not so involved in it, I can appreciate it. It has a lot of meaning for me. It has substance and humor, and I'm proud of it.
The film is so autobiographical, people will assume much of it's true. For instance, Aaron turns to Scientology. Is that something you've tried?
I have no experience with Scientology. I just made that up. I did do a little research and watched one of their films. Not to be judgmental about other people's beliefs, it's just not something I would choose to get involved with, although there are people who obviously get something out of it.
I like the scene in the movie when you're on a date with this closeted guy and he learns who you are. He decides to stop seeing you because he's scared of losing his privacy. Has something like that ever happened to you?
No, it's really all based on my imagination.
So when you watch it, you really see a fictional character?
Totally. It's like Cameron Crowe's latest film, Almost Famous. It's his story, but it's fictionalized. It's not really autobiographical, but it's deeply personal.
Still, in the movie you tell your friend, played by Alexis Arquette, who sets you up with your date not to tell him who your folks are. Do you ever worry when you are out in a bar that guys are interested in you because of who your mother is?
It doesn't happen to me. I don't really cruise in bars. I've always been jealous of people who can. When people look at me, I can't tell whether they recognize me or they are attracted to me. So I get paranoid. That's something that I've always had to deal with.
Do you feel attractive as a person?
More than I used to. I always felt unattractive, actually. I used to walk around practically covering my face. In high school I was so self-conscious. I thought I was hideous, and sometimes I still do.
It's funny--until recently I always took it personally when someone wasn't attracted to me. I thought, Oh, God, I must be hideous. But what I learned is that whether someone is attracted to me has nothing to do with me. It has to do with them and what they are attracted to. And you can't really do anything about that. I mean, we all want everyone to be attracted to us. I want everyone to be attracted to me, but they're not. I'm as insecure as or more than the next guy.
At the same time, you're not a superstar. You're the child of a superstar. There are still a lot of people who probably don't recognize you.
Yeah, but I had no choice in the matter either way. I was just born into it.
Even so, you could have gone into a number of careers, but you decided to follow in your parents' footsteps in the entertainment business.
I wouldn't define myself as an actor or director, because I also write, and not just screenplays but little personal things. They haven't been published yet, and they may never be, but I do other things too that are not about being in the public eye. I mean, of course, that's all I know from both sides of my family, and like a lot of people, I've tended to follow what I know.
It's also a seductive industry.
It may be to some people, but to me, it's not. It's not seductive at all. I don't find adulation and fame appealing. I've paid a big cost for my parents' fame. There were times when, as a kid, I was out with my mom and we were literally stalked and chased by the paparazzi. For a child, it's quite frightening.
Do you think that your being gay makes it more complicated?
You know, the more I understand my own sexuality the more I ... I mean I don't mind being called gay, because I'm certainly attracted to men. But I also think that it's limiting. I think that within the gay community--and as a member of the gay community--it's limiting for us to stereotype ourselves. Attraction is more complex than the terms gay, straight, and bisexual. And I hope that eventually people will evolve into accepting a broader understanding of attraction.
I've always liked Gore Vidal's description of homosexuality as not a noun but a verb. Really, you can't define somebody as "being gay." It doesn't really tell you anything about them as a person.
And that's a big reason why I've never liked politics.
Really? Your mom is very political.
She is very political. And I find it interesting, but I don't like it. I never have. It separates people and creates these polar opposites--Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative--and it's not realistic. It's not real. What it does is create differences in people who are not really that different. And so do the terms gay and straight. I don't really want to support any of it.
After this film, what kind of work would you like to do?
I don't know; we'll see. I'd like to direct another movie. I'd like to be involved in something that has meaning to me, where I have something to communicate. I'm not interested in just being on a sitcom and making a lot of money.
After seeing your movie, I thought about how you would make a good star of a weekly television series. You have an easygoing and likable screen persona.
I don't think so. I'm interested in reality and honesty and expressing things that are true to myself in my work, whatever that may be. And that's a shift from what I come from.
I don't think that reality is the sensibility of entertainment. It's about image.
Have you ever asked your parents or have they ever given you advice about how to manage yourself in the business?
Your mom has somehow been able to manage herself in the public eye and do her work.
Sure, but her work is not her. A lot of people do talk to me about her and make a lot of interesting assumptions about her, but they don't know her. She's got a lot of imagery around her that she has created and that the world has created but that is not necessarily true. I'm more interested in reality.
She is someone who, from an extremely young age, was very ambitious about wanting to be successful and famous. And although your father's career has been less mythologized, he is obviously someone who worked very hard to become a successful actor.
It's interesting. My parents come from a whole other generation and time. I think for them, they came from nothing. They had no money. They wanted to escape their reality. These are people who looked to the movies for escape. But for me, that's not what I want. I don't want to escape reality. I want to live it and express it and use it to connect with people, in my life and in my work.
In terms of your being gay, is that something you've always known?
I had my first gay impulse when I was probably about 8 years old. I had a sleep-over with all these boys, and I kind of rolled over into the guy next to me, hoping he would touch me.
Did you know what that feeling was?
It was some attraction. I wanted him to touch me, but I didn't want to be responsible for it. I don't know about you, but growing up and being gay is very alienating. There's no support. Somehow you know that it's not OK to be who you are. You have this shame and guilt--this fear. It takes years to break through. People are so alienated when they grow up because there are no role models for them. You're growing up in a heterosexual family, and you're not that.
When did you finally come to terms with being gay--high school, college?
I never thought, Oh, I'm gay. I had crushes on girls too. I didn't have my first sexual experience until I was 16. I don't know if that's early or late now. I was afraid for many years, and it took me a while to be comfortable with my sexuality.
Did you sit down and tell your parents?
Yeah, when I was around 21.
Did you tell them together?
No. I don't remember my parents together. They've been separated for as long as I can remember.
But your father has always had an active role in your life?
Yeah. Not as much as my mother. I lived with my mother most of my life. I have maturing relationships with both my parents.
How was it telling your mom that you are gay?
I think at the time I probably said, "I'm not sure about my sexual preference," but I think she probably already knew. I don't think that I was a particularly effeminate boy. I was always in that middle ground. Very sensitive, and I never tried to act macho or get on the baseball team or play sports. My father, however, did not suspect. It was much more difficult for him. I think he thought it was a phase and that I would grow out of it. But he is of another generation. I hope that things are shifting. It seems like they are.
Chastity Bono's mom, Cher, also said that she had no idea her daughter is gay.
I can't imagine that Cher didn't know! To me, that is ridiculous. I've known Chastity since she was young, and this girl was a total tomboy. I just assumed she was gay from when she was 5. I can't imagine Cher could be in that kind of denial. But I guess she should talk to my dad.
Your mom must have been around gay people her whole life, right?
She certainly worked with gay people. But there were very few gay people around while I was a child.
What about David Geffen?
Yeah, I have known David Geffen for a long time. She had some decorators for a while, when I was 7 or 8. I think they were a couple. I remember feeling a little scared around them, like they were going to see through me.
Of course, for many gay boys growing up, and this was especially true years ago, the only visible gay role models are effeminate men.
And I was a very sensitive kid, and I saw that there was a lot of judgment against them. I picked up other people's hate and judgment of those kinds of people. When I was in elementary school, my best friend was an effeminate boy, and I knew people were mocking him and belittling him. He was a strong guy, and I don't think he ever submitted to others' views of him, but I was so sensitive to the fact that it was not cool to be gay. It was not accepted. I couldn't be gay in high school.
As one of the world's biggest gay icons, how did your mom respond?
I think she would love to have a grandchild, and I think that is probably the greatest disappointment to her. But you know, she may still get one. But I want to get a dog first. [Laughs] I love kids, but I know what a huge responsibility it is, and I do not take it lightly. I would also like to do it with a partner.
Do you have a boyfriend now?
As a kid, were you aware your mom was a gay icon?
Did it make you feel weird?
Well, I wasn't part of the gay community as a kid, so it wasn't a problem.
Did that have an impact on your later experience as a gay man?
I'm sure it has in many ways. At one point I was very uncomfortable with it. Now somebody can be a fan of hers and it's not threatening to me. There was a time when I was uncomfortable and not sure whether people liked me for me or liked me because they liked her. But that can be pretty transparent after about 10 minutes. Fortunately, I never really attracted those kinds of people, yet I do have friends that like her work and I know they like me.
And you can separate Barbra the artist from Barbra the person.
Absolutely. But I still think there are a lot of people who are intimidated by me because of it.
It does seem that your coming-out has prompted your mom's political involvement on behalf of gays and lesbians.
I'm sure I've been a positive influence, but she's a pretty liberal person, and she's very passionate about human rights. So I wouldn't take the credit for her support of gay rights, although she certainly got a more inside perspective from me.
Have you ever spoken with her about romantic issues or boyfriends?
[Pauses] I'm working on having a relationship with both my parents that is beyond the parent-child dynamic.
Has she seen your film?
What was her reaction?
[Laughs] Oh, shit, I was afraid you were going to ask that. I don't know, actually. I remember her saying that she thought it was interesting. But I honestly don't know. I wasn't there when she saw it.
How about your dad?
He liked it.
Your mother has a reputation for perfectionism. Has that affected how you view your own work?
I don't know if I blame her, but I know I'm hard on myself. I'm trying to be less so.
Did your mom's desire for perfectionism extend to her relationship with you?
She wasn't a militant mother at all.
Did you ever feel any pressure to live up to your parents' success?
I don't know if I ever felt that kind of pressure, but I was aware of the external expectations of other people, and that has been somewhat intimidating.
Have you resolved that within yourself?
That's another thing about exposing myself in this world. When I went to London to do the play, the media jumped on the fact that I'm Barbra Streisand's son. If that's the most interesting thing to them, then fine, I don't mind, but then they kind of focus on that. It's like they want to compare me. How can you compare us?
Do you internalize other people's expectations of you?
I think I did a little bit, but I don't so much now. I'm certainly aware of it.
Do you feel fortunate in your life?
I do. More so now than ever before. At times I felt like a victim of my circumstances. I'm just coming out of my cocoon.
When you made this film, did you worry that it would amplify people's misperceptions of you?
I just thought it was a character. To me, it's about someone who's alienated and looking for acceptance. The story line is just a metaphor. I've shown it to people, and they all seem to relate to it. And you don't have to be a celebrity's kid. It's about a search that everyone goes through. The film is through my lens, but really, its themes are universal.
For more on Boys Life 3 and links to related Internet sites, go to www.advocate.com
David Bahr writes for The New York Times, Time Out New York, and Us magazine.