Actor Devon Graye on How Queer Horror Film 'Hypochondriac' Personifies Trauma

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday August 6, 2022
Originally published on August 5, 2022

Devon Graye
Devon Graye  (Source:IMDb)

Devon Graye has been acting for nearly half his life, having received his break playing the young Dexter on the hit Showtime series in 2016. Since then the out, 35-year old actor has appeared in nearly 40 films and television roles, including two current releases: the Jason Peele horror hit "Nope" and the indie thriller "Hypochondriac.''

In "Hypochondriac," written and directed by Addison Heimann from his own experience, the film follows a gay, Hispanic potter, Will (Zach Villa), who is haunted by childhood traumas that cause him to lose body functions and devolve into madness. Graye plays Villa's boyfriend, Luke, who must navigate his bf's physical and emotional issues as his crisis evolves. The film premiered at the SXSW Film Festival this past spring where it was called a breakout hit by the Hollywood News. The site writes about the film: "a beautifully poignant and intimate study of the human psyche, and quite simply blew us away when we watched it."

According to his Wiki biography, Graye married actor Jordan Gavaris in 2018. The pair met in 2013. Graye is also a screenwriter, having penned the script to the 2019 horror film "I See You." and his script for "Allison Adams" was featured on the 2016 Black List for most popular, unproduced screenplays.

Writing about the film for The Queer Review, James Kleinmann writes: "There are plenty of good ideas here, strong acting performances, and some particularly striking, almost kaleidoscopic sequences of overlapping visuals—indicative of Will's fractured mental state—with nice work by cinematographer Dustin Supencheck and editor Mike Hugo, that make the film look and feel distinctive, along with an unnervingly discordant score by Robert Allaire. Heimann offers us a lead character who we care about, engagingly played by Villa, particularly in the lighter more comic scenes.. this is definitely a worthwhile, sometimes challenging watch and a promising feature debut. Heimann deserves credit for filtering such a traumatic personal experience into a creative work that lingers in the mind."

EDGE spoke to Graye about how he became involved in "Hypochondriac," finding romance in a horror film, and the film's message of finding treatment when dealing with emotional trauma.

Zach Villa and Devon Graye in "Hypochonidriac"
Zach Villa and Devon Graye in "Hypochonidriac"  (Source: IMDb)

EDGE: Tell us about your new film, "Hypochondriac?"

Devon Graye: "Hypochondriac" is a film that's based on the director's life, which chronicles his mental breakdown. He had something that took place with his mother and childhood trauma that reared its head later in his life. The thing that I love and responded to so much in the script is that he uses this cool technique that personifies the trauma: the Wolf character that arrives and hunts Will. I immediately recognize things in my own life and was like, I know that Wolf and he is in my life at times.

EDGE: What attracted you to the role of Luke?

Devon Graye: I went on an audition, and I thought I was auditioning for the role of Will. I liked his role because I noticed that his darkness existed in me sometimes. When I found out it was for Luke, I thought it was cool, because I don't usually get to play the guy helping the person that's having the breakdown. I'm usually the one always playing the person having the breakdown. I found it exciting to be able to play Luke, the person who helps Will.

Devon Graye in "Hypochonidriac"
Devon Graye in "Hypochonidriac"  (Source: IMDb)

EDGE: I found the romance between you and Will (Zach Villa) surprising, especially because I wasn't expecting it in horror film. What was it like creating this relationship with everything that Will is going through?

Devon Graye: Chemistry is everything. You can't really fake that. It's either there or not there. Zach is such a giving actor, he's open, and doesn't make it about himself. Even though he was the lead of this film, he makes it about the other actors. When I'm in a scene with him it always feels real. He's such a good actor that it was very easy for me to actually pretended that I was in that moment with him helping him through these experiences. It was really a lovely accident that the stars align, and the chemistry was there for us. So much about acting is listening and being there for someone else, plus we both just really respected each other as people.

EDGE: The film is effective in its inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, but what makes this a queer horror film?

Devon Graye: There's definitely a need to have more queer films. There is still a resistance to embrace gay themes with two men at the center of a story. What I like about this film is it is not about them being gay. It's about what Will is going through and the trauma he is experiencing. I love that you get to see a healthy relationship between two men. You get to see two people communicating and you get to see something that is recognizable in any relationship. I think that's great, and I just want more of that. I say all the time that I would love to play only gay characters, my entire career, if the gay characters were written as well as the straight characters often are.

Devon Graye
Devon Graye  

EDGE: Acting in a horror movie must lead to a lot of intense experiences on set. How do you unwind after shooting?

Devon Graye: The scene that comes to mind was the sex scene that turns into a violent scene between the two of us that I found typically intense. Usually, I can walk away from most scenes and feel fine, but that one, I remember still feeling pretty shaken. The great thing was it was my last scene I filmed before wrapping. I think I just came home and ate ice cream. Ice cream solves all of life's problems.

EDGE: Since this film deals with trauma and mental health, what message would you give those in the LGBTQ community?

Devon Grade: The first thing to remember is that you're not alone. Battling mental health can be an incredibly isolating experience. As a gay kid growing up in a very conservative household, I definitely spent a great deal of my life feeling alone and deeply depressed. But finding a community of other people going through the same thing — or people who are on the other side after struggling with their mental health — is hugely important.

It's what ended up saving me. Getting to talk with people who let me know I was okay just the way I was and that I had a future and that I was in control of my life, not anyone else. It took years, but I'm so happy to be on this side of things now. Loving myself like I never thought I would. And I definitely found therapy to be an important tool. I would recommend people struggling with their mental health to not be afraid to ask for help. Whether it's a therapist, or counselor, or a hotline. Asking for help is one of the bravest, strongest things we can do. 

EDGE: What is the most important message that the movie delivers?

Devon Graye: The idea that we all have our things that present as trauma at some point in life. It's not about killing the trauma or trying to get rid of it. It's about sitting with it, accepting it, facing it and allowing it to make us stronger and learning to live with it by our side. Hopefully by doing these things it gets smaller and smaller every day. That's why I love this film. I think it is so beautiful that you actually can physically see the trauma as a character with the protagonist. I think that immediately just makes it feel relatable because it's not very common that you get to see that in a story.

EDGE: What is your favorite horror film and why?

Devon Graye: I love this question. I'm a big horror nerd so picking one will be difficult. The one that comes to mind right away is 1974's "Black Christmas." There's something about that movie that gets under my skin. The soundtrack is creepy. The combination of the Christmas Carols mixed with a score of horror and dread is just so scary. Margot Kidder is so good in it and I'm such a big fan of hers.

EDGE: You also had a role in Jordan Peele's "Nope." What was it like working on that set?

Devon Graye: It was a dream. I did "Hypochondriac" literally a month before I went to go do "Nope" and "Hypochondriac" was a very small movie with a small crew then I get on the "Nope" set with a budget of 68 million, but both sets felt the same. They were both so welcoming and lovely. Jordan Peele could not be more of a lovely and grounded person. I'm still pinching myself every day to make sure it wasn't a dream.

You can see Devon Graye in "Nope" in theaters and in "Hypochondriac" is also in theaters in limited release.

Watch the trailer to "Hypochondriac."