Exclusive Interview: Hulu’s Love, Victor showrunner & exec producer Brian Tanen “I think this kind of representation will really matter to kids who are questioning”

This Wednesday June 17th sees the mid-Pride month release of all ten episodes of the new Hulu Original series Love, Victor. Set in the world of the 2018 GLAAD award-winning movie Love, Simon, which was inspired by Becky Albertalli’s much-loved YA novel Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the series stars Michael Cimino as Victor, a new student at Creekwood High School. Like Simon before him, Victor is a teenager on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance. While facing challenges at home and adjusting to living in a new city, he’s also questioning his sexual orientation. In need of some help to navigate the ups and downs of high school, Victor reaches out to Creekwood alum, the out and proud Simon (Nick Robinson) who, a year on from that LGBTQ fairytale kiss atop the carnival ferris wheel, is now living with his boyfriend Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale in) in New York City.

Victor (Michael Cimino). Photo by: Mitchell Haaseth/Hulu.

Ahead of the series premiere, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Brian Tanen, Love, Victor’s co-showrunner, executive producer and writer of two episodes, about what this kind of representation would have meant to him as a gay teenager, why Michael Cimino is perfect for the role of Victor, the importance of Nick Robinson’s involvement in the series, and his current favourite gay screen representation.

Love, Victor co-showrunner Brian Tanen.

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: What did you make of the film Love, Simon and the novel it was based on and why did you think it would work as a spin-off TV series?

“Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger are the writers of the film Love, Simon and the creators of Love, Victor and they brought me on as a co-showrunner to work on the series. When they pitched this idea to me they told me that they’d had such a wonderful, magical experience with the film and they thought maybe they were done with that world. Overall the reception to the film was incredibly positive, and that it was wonderful that it existed, this wish fulfilment version of a coming out story in which the young person was accepted for who they were and that their parents had a great reaction, and it was heartening for a lot of people to see this represented on film. But at the same time but they told me that they kept hearing the same critique from time to time, which was that although a lot of people felt like it didn’t represent their experience. So they started to wonder whether there was a story to tell where we could represent the experiences of teenagers who haven’t had it so easy and for whose families it was going to be a journey. That’s why television was such a great medium to tell this story because in film the characters have to come to a conclusion by the end of two hours, whereas with television people can grow over long periods of time. They can start in one place and end in another, and that felt really true to both a young person’s coming out journey as well as to the reaction of a family that might not be well-suited to hear that kind of news.”

Victor (Michael Cimino) and Andrew (Mason Gooding). Photo by: Gilles Mingasson/Hulu.

Yes, I think that is something that works very well, that evolution over the series of the characters’ attitudes. As well as being co-showrunner you wrote two episodes; episodes two and eight, so one towards the beginning and one towards the end. With episode two Victor’s still fighting who he thinks he might be at the traffic light party. So that episode really highlights that internal struggle he’s going through doesn’t it?

“Yes, it really does and I think it reflects the experiences of a lot of gay people when you’re fifteen or sixteen. I remember from my own experience, I had a girlfriend in high school and I knew I had those feelings, but I hadn’t put a name to it yet. I hadn’t labelled myself and I was afraid of that eventuality, I was afraid of that future for myself. I hadn’t gotten over my own internalised fears and so I think we wanted to tell this story of him having a girlfriend and figuring it out.”

Mia (Rachel Hilson) and Victor (Michael Cimino). Photo by: Ali Goldstein/Hulu.

I can certainly relate to that. I was sixteen when I had my only girlfriend and she kept in touch with me afterwards. I think we’re still Facebook friends even now.

“I’m still great friends with my high school girlfriend and we’ve checked in with each other a lot during this crazy quarantine time. The love that happens between young LGBT teenagers and their respective boyfriends and girlfriends, even if they haven’t figured it out yet, that love is real, the relationships are real, it’s just a different kind of love and they’ll eventually figure out who they are and what they want.”

Victor (Michael Cimino) and Mia (Rachel Hilson). Photo by: Mitch Haddad/Hulu.

And I think that’s something that the series conveys well. Mia, Victor’s girlfriend,  is a fully fleshed out character and the relationship is a layered one, it isn’t just like she’s this vehicle to explore that part of the plot.

“That was super important to all of the writers, that Mia be her own character with her own hopes and dreams, her own stories. That Victor wasn’t using her, that this was a love story of its own, a doomed one as you may be able to tell from the start.”

Victor (Michael Cimino) and Benji (George Sear). Photo by: Mitchell Haaseth/Hulu.

And I think episode eight might be my favourite episode in the series, it really encapsulates beautifully I thought that message of It’s Gets Better, and the idea of chosen family and the importance of belonging to the LGBTQ community and that being a thing for Victor to be part of, and also the importance of queer spaces for us to be in, like the club that we see in that episode.

“It’s my favourite episode too. I’m the writer of the episode and I’m gay, and the director the episode Todd Holland is also gay. We were able to include not only gay, but LGBTQIA actors to populate that world of New York and to see what it would be like to be a young queer person who’s out and having a great time. And for me it was exciting to write because I think the whole season you’re routing for him to realise this about himself and to accept it, and even when he’s faced with other queer people it’s still scary for him and it’s still a little bit of a journey and he really comes around in that episode and learns not only accept it but to celebrate it. It’s meant to be the definition of Pride.”

Benji (George Sear). Photo by: Mitchell Haaseth/Hulu.

The group hug in the apartment is very sweet and moving.

“Thank you!”

And the fabulous Tommy Dorfman is in that episode aren’t they?

“Yes! Tommy Dorfman is a great actor, they play one of the super friends at Bram and Simon’s apartment. We have Keiynan Lonsdale from the film Love, Simon who plays Simon’s boyfriend Bram. And there’s River Gallo too.”

Benji (George Sear) and Victor (Michael Cimino). Photo by: Mitch Haddad/Hulu.

Yes I loved that we got to see Keiynan Lonsdale as Bram again! He’s an important part of that episode isn’t he?

“Yes, it’s an Easter egg for fans of the film, and it was so great also because we were telling the story of a non-white LGBT teenager and to have another non-white LGBT young person for him to talk to was this really great representation that you rarely see on television.”

And of course we hear Nick Robinson’s voice early on in the series as Victor begins messaging him. How important was it to have Nick Robinson involved in the series, and that iconic denim jacket from the film of course?

“It’s been wonderful for a number of reasons; he’s a producer on the television show and he’s also the series narrator and I think not only does it connect the TV show to the world of the film, but it also really allows us to get inside Victor’s head. When you’re a young LGBT person but you haven’t come to terms with that you sometimes act in ways that are contrary to what you actually want and having him write to Simon, and having Simon respond, allowed us to hear what was really going on in his head, even if he was doing the opposite of his true desire. Have you seen the whole series yet?”

Victor (Michael Cimino), shown. Photo by: Gilles Mingasson/Hulu.

Yes, I watched over two days and really enjoyed the binge!

“Thanks so much, I’m so pleased! It’s so rare to get to work on a television show like this and I think about what it would have meant to me to have a show like this when I was a teenager. It makes me emotional thinking about that and I’m just excited for this to be out in the world.”

Was there something you watched on TV or film growing up that made you feel like it was OK to be gay?

“I can’t remember seeing any positive representations of gay characters in TV and film when I was growing up. A lot of the stories were about bad things happening to gay characters, stories from the nineties which were very AIDS-centric, important stories, but not the kind of stories that you see for straight people like rom-coms and family shows and things like that. So I think this kind of representation will really matter and be important to kids  who are questioning.”

Derek (Lukas Gage) and Benji (George Sear). Photo by: Gilles Mingasson/Hulu.

Absolutely. Let’s talk about Michael Cimino, what do you think he brings to the role of Victor?

“I find Michalel Cimino incredibly winning. You find yourself really rooting for him and when he’s happy you find yourself feeling happy and when he’s sad you just want to protect him at all costs. I think there’s a real vulnerability to him naturally that makes him a good choice for Victor.”

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Same, Dolly, same.

A post shared by Brian Tanen (@briantanen) on

Your Instagram account regularly features photos of Dolly your adorable dog, tell us all about her!

“Me and my partner have a Spaniel Corgi mix called Dolly, and she is named after Dolly Parton. Which, yes, is an incredibly gay name for a dog! And we’re obsessed with her. She’s our daughter! She would occasionally come to work with me in the Love, Victor writers’ room, so she was a little bit of a mascot for our writers, she would hang out and help us break stories!”

Victor (Michael Cimino). Photo by: Ali Goldstein/Hulu.

What’s your favourite LGBTQ+ film, TV series, book, play, artwork, music, or person? Something or something that had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why, or something current, or both.

“Absolutely, the thing that comes to mind right away is this hilarious television show called The Other Two which was on Comedy Central this past year. One of the creators is gay and the show is deeply funny, and while one of the main characters is gay, it isn’t specifically about being gay. I just love that sort of modern representation in that show. And then growing up, whatever queer content there was I consumed it. I think there’s such a desire from the community, such a hunger for anything gay that when a show comes out like this people want it to represent everything, they want it to reflect their own experience and I think there’s been a nice growth in gay representation in film and books and TV, but it still has a way to go. I used to love the books of Alan Hollinghurst. I devoured all the Armistead Maupin Tales of City books. But honestly anything that’s gay content I will probably watch it or read it!”

By James Kleinmann

All ten episodes of Love, Victor premiere on Hulu on Wednesday June 17th 2020.

Tuesday June 16th join the #LoveVictorWatchParty with the cast at 8pm PT/11pm ET and watch the premiere episode of Love, Victor live on Twitter. Stick around after our #LoveVictorWatchParty for a moderated Q&A with the #LoveVictor cast at 8:30pm PT, hosted by @TwitterOpen@TwitterTV and @TwitterAlas.

Love, Victor – Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original

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