In bed with Derek: without turning into treacle, Boy Culture thoughtfully examines the gay male struggle with intimacy, Much of the film's realism is thanks to actor Derek Magyar.
X's confession is voiced by scruffy straight actor Derek Magyar, who manages to perfectly project that gay guy we've all known, or been--too cool for school, fixated on the physical, just out of reach.
"I just went in playing X as a very masculine man," Magyar says during a chat at Hugo's, a teahouse in West Hollywood, Calif. "It made no difference to me whether he was gay or straight."
Dressed in a gray sweatshirt and cam-out-lage pants, he looks as effortless as X. "I look like I'm shipping off to Baghdad tomorrow," he jokes. "[But] I'm auditioning for a movie after this."
It's difficult to imagine Magyar soon finding another role as juicy and complex as X, a high-end call boy who's as introspective as he is sexual and as cynical as he is romantic.
Boy Culture, directed by Eating Out's Q. Allan Brocka, follows the hungry-for-love X and his two roommates: Joey (Jonathon Trent), a promiscuous teenager obsessed with X; and Andrew (Darryl Stephens), a recently out video store clerk with whom X falls madly in love. Also figuring prominently is Gregory (Patrick Bauchaul, a 70-something recluse and X's client, who tells his young charge that he won't sleep with him until "you want me half as much as I want you." In the interim they dissect the nature of gay love and relationships and develop a bond that transcends john-client relations.
Boy Culture, awarded Best Screenplay at Outfest 2006 to cowriter Brocka and Philip Pierce, is more than the story of a hooker attempting the straight and narrow; it's an examination of how gay men interact as friends, lovers, or an uncomfortable combination of the two. Most of the men in Boy Culture are unable to commit to one person. Unsatisfied viscerally, emotionally, and intellectually with themselves and their partners, they are perpetually looking for someone better.
"The lead character, X, is sort of the cynic in all of us, the antiromantic," explains author Rettenmund. "In a way that outlook is a defense mechanism, and X for many years functioned as a human defense mechanism. To survive emotionally, it's easier to take no risks. But to thrive emotionally, risk is necessary."
In taking on X, Magyar didn't equate the character's sexuality with his commitment phobia. To the actor, that fear is not endemic to gay men or even just to men: "We all try to hide from feelings of love, until we choose to accept them, for the fear of being hurt, being used, feeling heartache, having that pain, and building up a wall."
That all may be true to an extent, but these words clearly come from someone who's never swum the shark-infested waters of the gay singles scene. The strength of the film--and what makes the novel continue to resonate a dozen years after it was first published--is the fact that X's struggle with commitment and satisfaction is fundamentally gay.
It's not news that gay men have a lot working against them when it comes to establishing functional relationships based on mutual respect and support. But Boy Culture honors that reality by offering up a truthful yet hopeful ending that's more evolved than, say, one in a Sandra Bullock romantic comedy or even the Sex and the City finale.
"I honestly think straight people have the same issues, but they're more conditioned to put the 'settle' in 'settle down,' preferring to be with someone simply to satisfy a social compulsion to be married, have kids, end of story," Rettenmund says. "I think it's good that fewer gay people settle down early on. It sucks being alone, but if you pick the wrong person, it sucks being together."
By David Jay Lasky Photographed for The Advocate by Michele Laurita-Wickman