October 31, 2023
EDGE Interview: On the 'Down Low' with Director Rightor Doyle
Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 10 MIN.
In Rightor Doyle's lunatic dark comedy, "Down Low," Gary (Zachary Quinto) a tentative, newly-out, middle-aged man hires hot 'n cocky young Cameron (Lukas Gage) to give him a massage. When he sheepishly requests a happy ending, Cameron obliges and that prompts a series of truly zany events that lead to a dead body, a drunk neighbor locked in a closet, a devasting reveal and a visit from a sexy necrophile... for starters.
The script was written by everygay's favorite rimmable "White Lotus" scene-stealer Gage and Phoebe Fisher.
But beneath the crazy-crackers antics are deeper, more subversive messages about self-love and actualization as well as conquering fear and toppling the seemingly impenetrable walls of repression.
The film manages to blend the thriller/horror and rom-com genres rather seamlessly in large part thanks to first-time feature helmer Doyle who created, wrote and directed the Emmy-nominated series "Bonding," based on his own experiences with BDSM. The show won the Audience Award at OutFest 2018 before premiering on Netflix in April 2019. He recently shot a pilot for Netflix titled, "Little Sky."
Doyle also created, wrote, and produced the web series "The Walker," in which he starred opposite Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Mamie Gummer, Lily Rabe, and Betty Gilpin.
As actor he appeared in 18 episodes of HBO's "Barry," as Nick Nicholby, opposite Bill Hader. Other credits include brief TV stints on "You're the Worst," "Girls," and "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," as well as the film "Young Adult."
On Broadway, he was in the original production of the 2010 play, "Enron."
Born and raised in New Orleans, Doyle currently resides in New York City.
EDGE spoke with Doyle about "Down Low," currently available to buy or rent on Digital via Sony.
EDGE: Why isn't the film getting a release? It's great that Sony picked it up and it's coming out on digital, but it should have had a release.
Rightor Doyle: You and me, girl! I don't really know. It's a difficult market for films at the moment and there weren't a lot of sales that were going around. Obviously, people feel very passionately about the film. And sometimes it's one way or the other. I think that the film pokes the bear, in many ways. I thought that was a very exciting thing, even when I read it. I felt scared and thrilled by the content and what we were doing. I think that there is an audience for this movie. And I really hope that people find it because I think that it's certainly the queer, gay movie that I have always wanted to see. So, I hope that in this version of release, it does find a life.
EDGE: I do as well for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's inspiring to see two lead queer roles played by actual queer actors. Hello!
Rightor Doyle: Hello! Well, that was a big part of it. And that's something that we (FilmNation) had long conversations about. It felt so important to the identity of the movie. And it feels so important to me and to my fellow collaborators and actors and artists that the movie feels authentic in that way.
EDGE: You subversively twist the coming out story. These are queer characters who do nasty, despicable things, all within the dark comedy spectrum, but it's also about something bigger.
Rightor Doyle: Yeah, I jokingly say that the movie is so gay, it's homophobic. (laughs) What I saw in the movie when I first read the script was the idea that that the judgment of others comes with its own burden and its own cost and ultimately, people will think that we do bad things no matter what we do. So, we decided to take 'bad things' to the limit, to see how far we could go and still be human, still be empathetic, still be true. And ultimately, to brush off the idea that one thing is good, and one thing is bad.
EDGE: Tell me how you got involved? I know you've known Lukas for a while...
Rightor Doyle: We've known each other for a really long time, and he had seen "Bonding," the TV show I made for Netflix, and he really loved the show and was like, 'I'd love an opportunity for us to work together.' And I said, 'Me too.' And then, you know, life happens. I was working on other things. And [during] the pandemic, I got sent this script by FilmNation, through Lukas. I read the first 10 pages, and I was like, 'oh my god, who was going to make this movie?' And I kept reading it. And I was like, 'it's me. It has to be me.' So, I called Lukas and I said, I'm gonna do everything in my power to try and get this job.
EDGE: Did it come together quickly?
Rightor Doyle: It came together really quickly because I had some other projects that were also in development, so essentially, we got put on this track to move a bit quicker. And Lukas and I both knew Zach (Quinto) independently of each other. And he just felt like such a perfect fit for the film. I just love him, and I love his work. And this was certainly an opportunity for him to do something a little outside the box of what people normally see him doing. So, after that, it rolled and rolled and rolled. And by the end of summer, we were shooting it.
EDGE: I assume Lukas was always attached to play Cameron.
Rightor Doyle: In my mind he was, but he did a chemistry read with Zach that was, like, proof of concept for the producers. I think it also was a bit of a chemistry read for me, too, in terms of stylistically how I wanted to approach the film. It's a very zany, ballsy comedy, but I don't think we're playing the jokes super hard. It feels very organic. I wanted to show them how I was approaching it.
EDGE: You do some tricky genre-blending--rom-com meets horror/thriller. Lukas has called it "an unhinged queer version of "Pretty Woman." Then you add that darkness to it. You don't Garry Marshall it.
Rightor Doyle: Yes, exactly. "Pretty Woman" as it was originally intended. The punchy idea behind the script I think is so great. And it sells a lot of people on the concept. But I found this beating heart underneath it all. And I use genre and tropes to divert people off the path of what that beating heart is so that, essentially, the connection that they have really surprises you, because we've shifted our way through comedy and through dark, more scary elements. And it all comes back around to the connection of these two people. And I hope it in a way that thrills and touches people.
EDGE: Tell me about assembling what I call 'the trio of greats,' Judith Light, Audra McDonald and Simon Rex.
Rightor Doyle: I mean, gay icons all unto themselves. I think that that's something that we were very much going for, we wanted it to feel as gay as possible. And all of them are incredible performers that we were so lucky to have. And I think they all felt it was a really fun, strange stretch for them. Judith's character is completely off-the-wall, and she just does the most amazing job with it. And when Simon walks in, the movie flips on its head. And you really need someone with that resonance and power that Audra has to come in and knock that final scene out of the park.
EDGE: Did the script change as you guys were filming it?
Rightor Doyle: Yeah, it changed and morphed. Even prior to filming, we were working on deepening the script. I had some ideas. I'm good friends with VINCINT, whose song "Higher" is in the movie, and that song had just come out when I got the job. There was a different song in that area. And I was like, 'we need that sort of gay club experience.' Gary needs to have this 24-hour experience. He needs to finally feel that feeling. The move is called "Down Low," and that song is called "Higher," so there's some really great stylistic elemental things that all come together.
We had two hurricanes that came through Long Island when we were filming, so sometimes the script changes had more to do with
how we needed to shoot the movie in 28 days than it had to do with changing a joke here or there.
EDGE: "Down Low" played a number of festivals. What was the reaction like?
Rightor Doyle: Crazy. So out of body. Zach's been to a lot of festivals, and, obviously, seen a lot of movies with first time audiences, and he said he'd never seen a reaction to a movie like this before. Not to give things away, but there are parts of the movie, especially when you get toward the end, where people are screaming at the screen and laughing. There are some pretty wild things that happen. It's such a joy to sit there and let the movie marinate up until the parts where it really starts to explode.
EDGE: I wanted to get your take on queer cinema right now--where you think we are and where you'd like us to be headed?
Rightor Doyle: Well, I think 'beheaded' is the right word. We love to kill ourselves. (laughs) I'm thrilled with the amount of queer cinema that there is. The more the merrier, The bigger, the better. This movie, we keep talking about how gay it is and how significantly queer it is. And that is a big part of (it), but I think the genre trope-iness of the movie invites a lot of people into the conversation. There's a bigger thing to talk about than just coming out. There's a bigger thing to talk about than just queer relationship dynamics. And I think that is where we are stepping into in terms of the movies that we are making now. We're allowed to be in genre. We're allowed to do many different types of queer cinema, that's ultimately just cinema.
For more information on "Down Low," including streaming options, click here.
Watch the trailer:
Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute