White out: writer-producer Mike White comes out and discusses the gay subtext in his new comedy, Orange County. (film).
White is willing to go to Orange County, a raucous, loosely autobiographical comedy from MTV Films. It stars Colin Hanks (Tom's son) as Shaun, a surfboarding high school senior who decides to enroll at Stanford University to study writing and escape the vacuous mall culture of Orange County, Calif. A few obstacles stand in the way of his goal, however, including a flaky college counselor (Lily Tomlin); a clingy, alcoholic mother (Catherine O'Hara); and a devoted girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek's daughter), who realizes theft relationship is doomed if he leaves.
"I went through the main character's experience in a lot of ways--and am still going through it," White admits. "You wonder if, in a culture where great literature doesn't have a high value, there's a place for you--and does that mean you need to escape, or can you stick it out?"
Luckily, White has managed to do both, infusing subversive winks and personal resonance into mainstream-friendly fare like TV's Pasadena and Freaks and Geeks and the upcoming Jennifer Aniston movie The Good Girl.
That he always aspired to writing comes as no surprise. White's father, Mel, is a best-selling scribe who once worked as a ghostwriter for Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, and Jerry Falwell--before coming out and forming the gay religious activist group Soulforce. But Orange County's self-absorbed, wealthy father (John Lithgow), White says, "is really nothing like my dad, who was always [prolific]. He never sat down."
And while he relates to his Orange County hero's literary ambitions, White says his romantic life in high school was no inspiration for the film, since he barely had one. In fact, anxiousness to explore his sexuality became a major motivation to leave home for college. "That's certainly the underhanded gay reading of Orange County, if there is one," he adds. "If you substituted `I'm a writer' with `I'm gay,' you could certainly see there is a veiled coming-of-age gay story there."
For those demanding more overt pink power--and laughs--White tossed in a lesbian kiss, a pair of very close surfer dudes, and even a gay smooch for young Hanks--from legend Harold Ramis of '70s and '80s comedy show SCTV! Recalling Hanks's filming of that kiss, White smiles: "I think Colin felt that he didn't sell the kiss well enough."
For a longer version of this conversation with Mike White, go to www.advocate.com