There is so much to love about this coming-of-age film currently playing at theatres in Toronto. The Xtra Mile talked with Connor Jessup, the star of Closet Monster, and Stephen Dunn, the writer and director about their film, a truly collaborative effort.
For Stephen Dunn, his film is very personal. A native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, he grew up during a time which witnessed a number of gay hate crimes in the city and one of the worst and most disturbing happened in the graveyard behind his school which became the inspiration for the crime in the film.
“I was too young to understand what that meant or anything about my own sexuality because I was very young then and I just knew I felt different, I felt in danger, I felt afraid and that I just wanted to make a film, my first film and this was the story and to tell a story how one can overcome the fear and this internalized homophobia that comes with it when you connect sexuality to this kind of violence. I worked backyards from there to develop the story.”
For Jessup, a childhood hobby coalesced into a passion and vocation.
“For the first few years, it was really just a hobby on my way to becoming a doctor and then as I did it more and I worked and I started getting jobs here and there and actually, I came to understand what acting was and at the same time I started to fall in love really, sincerely with movies and these two things were happening at once and here I am.”
Writing the script
Seeing Jessup’s performance, you’d think the script was written for him in mind, and actually, it was. Dunn describes it as serendipitous or was it synchronicity? You be the judge.
“I was writing the entire film in a library on the University of Toronto’s campus called Hart House and I wrote it over the summer and every week a bunch of nerds would come in to play a board game in the exact same room that I was in. Connor was amongst these guys and they were all playing the game quietly in this super silent room and no one ever spoke anything and I had no idea what the game was but I had seen Connor’s work and I knew who he was, of course, he had no idea who I was … As I was writing the character, Connor was in the room with me and I sort of subconsciously I guess wrote with him in mind and it was totally serendipitous … We sent him the script and yeah, he agreed to come on board and it was all very exciting and his story begins.”
Landing the role
Connor Jessup gives a stellar performance playing Oscar Madly age 18 creating a poignant portrayal of a young man at a crossroads.
“I was travelling and I got sent the script and I didn’t read it for a while because I am bad at email and finally I read it and I was immediately attracted to lots of parts, obviously, the character, but more generally, to the tone that I thought Stephen captured so wonderfully and the personality of the script. It is very rare to find a script that does have personality and that was really it.”
Preparing for the role, Oscar Madly
For Jessup, it’s all about classic script work that helped him to prepare for the role.
“I talked to Stephen a lot. We shared books, we shared ideas but mostly it was doing your homework, getting to know the script and the character intimately.”
In my review, I described Closet Monster as both a dramatic feature with touches of comedy running through it and as a coming-of-age film. I wasn’t too off the mark. Here’s how Stephen describes his film.
“It’s a lot of things. It’s a drama. It is a comedy but essentially at its core it’s a coming-of-age film. Actually, personally, I love coming-of-age films … and every coming-of-age film is vastly different and can be interpreted in so many different ways … but at the core it’s about a young man searching for his identity and I would say that’s the way to describe it.”
Seeing the visually stunning shots of St. John’s, Newfoundland left me feeling a sense of wanderlust and wanting more. It gave the film a depth and added to the story’s complexity. For Dunn, choosing to shoot his film in St. John’s was personal.
“I live in Toronto but my heart is still in Newfoundland and I wanted to go back home and shoot my first film. I love Newfoundland cinema and I think we have some incredibly talented voices coming out of the island … and I hadn’t really seen a film that expressed what it is like to grow up there in St. John’s in a modern setting … I wanted to show the modern side of the city and what it is like to currently exist there and you know it’s not all jigs and reels and fiddles and there is a lot more to the island and that was a very important part of the process for me.”
Jessup can’t say enough good things about the cast and crew, and Dunn hopes his film will resonate in a universal way with a wide audience. And I can’t say enough good things about this film either, and I have no doubt that it will resonate with a wide audience as it is a gem of film and appealing on so many levels. It is well crafted and acted, beautifully shot, and the storyline, the journey to selfhood and search for identity, is beautifully handled.
If you have a chance, do see Closet Monster for you won’t be disappointed!
We at The Xtra Mile extend a special thank you to Stephen Dunn and Connor Jessup for taking the time to do the interview with us. The Xtra Mile and our community are grateful. We would like to wish you both the very best in your future endeavors and projects.
Elevation Pictures presents Closet Monster playing in select theaters in Toronto