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Greg Berlanti: Gay director looks at his 'Life'— and his life
Extended for the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.

Images for this article: (click on the thumbnail to see fullsize)

There's a good reason why Greg Berlanti hasn't directed a movie since the gay romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Club 10 years ago. He's been busy. Really busy.

The openly gay television show creator, producer and writer has been overseeing a lot of projects for the small screen—Brothers & Sisters; Eli Stone; Dirty, Sexy Money; the revived Dawson's Creek; and the brand-new No Ordinary Family. But Berlanti, who graduated from Northwestern, had always wanted to get back to movies and in the next few years expect to see his name on several of them. In addition to directing the romantic comedy Life As We Know It, with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel opening this weekend, Berlanti has written the forthcoming comic book blockbuster Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds and is now working on another one—an adaptation of The Flash. Relaxed and looking at least 10 years younger than his real age of 38, Berlanti recently sat down with Windy City Times for a lively chat.

Windy City Times: What made you say "yes" to coming back to directing with Life As We Know It?

Greg Berlanti: It felt like I was doing the same thing running on TV—whether it's directing or crafting the emotional experience the audience gets to have. You get a lot of experience doing that in television and it really fills you up, but about three years ago I felt like I wanted to make stuff that's a little higher quality in terms of having more times to do things right. And you get more time in features to cast something, to shooting and editing, etc. So I read a number of scripts while I was working on some other things but with Katie [ Katherine Heigl ] attached—this was the thing that most appealed to me. It was very familiar territory for me—in terms of something with both tragedy and comedy in it.

WCT: Was Josh [ Duhamel ] attached at that point?

Greg Berlanti: He was not. We auditioned him.

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WCT: Hmm—let's look at the list of hottie guys. What a terrible thing to have to sit through, eh?

Greg Berlanti: [ Laughs ] You'd think it would be a much longer list but the truth is that there are not a lot of guys in Hollywood that look like Josh does but also have the range that he does from comedy to drama. I think he was a nice surprise for everybody in the audition process and, also, for the studio.

WCT: The movie really has some tricky shifts in tone from comedy to tragedy, and then back again.

Greg Berlanti: I think that's the nice surprise about the movie, and I really hope that that word gets out there about it—that it's trying to do more than just one thing. I always compare it to one of those Working Title romantic comedies with a cast of characters around the leads—all those comedies out of London like Notting Hill, About a Boy or Love, Actually—all which I love.

WCT: Part of the appeal, based on what you've done before, had to be the ensemble feel of the movie, which, I am happy to say, includes a gay couple. So—thank you for once again for representing.

Greg Berlanti: Well, the neighbors in general were not in the script and so we added them and amongst them I, of course, added a gay couple. It's been a big part of my work in TV and film and it just feels normal to me and we didn't want it to be a big deal.

WCT: It is normal, world!

Greg Berlanti: Exactly. So we just wanted to have another couple on the block that happened to be gay and had kids. Maybe it's subversive [ laughs ] when people go see their standard romantic comedy.

WCT: So the baby thing—where do you stand on that? It's such a prominent storyline now—the gay couples with the kid.

Greg Berlanti: I have a partner of five years and we're not legally married because we can't be in California, but I'd like to have a child one day. I don't think either of us [ is ] ready for that work-wise and I had a dad who worked all the time and I would probably be a father who worked all the time right now, but all of my friends who happen to have kids are incredible parents and just as good as straight parents. This is a unique family in this movie and a lot of the stuff that I do is about people who end up as family and didn't expect it.

WCT: Speaking of supporting gay characters—which I love that you put in all your projects—I'm particularly thinking of "Brothers & Sisters" with Scotty and Kevin, who is such a cranky pants.

Greg Berlanti: [ Laughs ] Kevin can be cranky.

WCT: Okay, [ with ] all these supporting gay characters, when do we get back to having the gay characters move back to the forefront, as in The Broken Hearts Club?

Greg Berlanti: First, I would like the time to write something original again and there's doubt that if I did do something original again at least one of the things I would want to work on would be something that would have a gay lead or leads.

WCT: So now you're working on a couple of comic-book movies—for which the new show No Ordinary Family is a nice lead in. Of course, you're aware of the homoeroticism built into these comic-book heroes with their tight costumes and hidden identities. Was that part of the appeal of projects like Green Lantern and The Flash for you?

Greg Berlanti: I make a joke in Broken Hearts Club about one of the characters having had a crush on Aquaman when he was a kid, so there definitely were things about that for me. The thing I always really identified with about comic books—and only years later realized that it had to do with my sexuality—was that they were outsiders but could look and seem like they were "normal" but yet they harbored this secret. I think that's what drew me to them and what's so emotionally evocative about them for me—that burden of feeling different. Also, so many times they're not of this world and yet they're forced to protect that world—something they're really not even totally a part of.

WCT: So let's talk about that poster for Life As We Know It. How hard was it to get Josh to put on those tighty-whities and emulate that baby?

Greg Berlanti: The baby was walking around in her diaper and my friend said, "Want to see if Josh will try that?" and I said, "I'm not going to ask him to dress up in his underwear and follow the baby around!" But I finally did and he was totally cool with it. When he was doing it I said, "There's a chance this will be the poster and in the commercials and on the DVD box the rest of your life so just know that" and he was okay with that.

WCT: With that body, who would not be?

Greg Berlanti: [ Laughs ] Exactly!

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