As Netflix’s first gay Christmas rom-com Single All The Way, directed by Tony-winner Michael Mayer and starring Michael Urie, Philemon Chambers, Luke Macfarlane, Jennifer Robertson, Kathy Najimy, and Jennifer Coolidge, launches globally this week, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann poured a couple of large glasses of eggnog and had a virtual fireside chat under the mistletoe with the film’s screenwriter and executive producer Chad Hodge about making this Yuletide gay AF.
Hodge—who was raised in the suburbs of Chicago, but now lives in Los Angeles with his fiancé Rob and their two dogs Frederick and Emmett—has previous festive entertainment experience having co-written the book for an adaptation of Irving Berlin’s classic movie musical Holiday Inn with Gordon Greenberg for the Roundabout Theatre Company, which opened at Broadway’s Studio 54 in 2016.
He received a Writers Guild Award nomination for Best Episodic Drama for the hit Hulu drama series Good Behavior starring Ann Dowd and Michelle Dockery, which he was the creator, showrunner, and executive producer of. Prior to which, he created and executive produced Wayward Pines on FOX, starring Matt Dillon, and created NBC’s The Playboy Club starring Laura Benanti, and The CW’s Runaway starring Donnie Wahlberg.
Hodge’s previous film credits include writing 2018’s The Darkest Minds starring Amandla Stenberg, based on The New York Times bestselling YA series by Alexandra Bracken. Following Single All The Way, he will turn his attention to directing his own screenplay, Anita, about the former beauty queen, singer, and orange juice spokeswoman who became a notorious opponent of gay rights in the 1970s with her Save Our Children campaign, Anita Bryant. The film will be produced by Darren Star and Howard Rosenman, and star Neil Patrick Harris as a version of Hodge himself as he conducts research interviews with Bryant, who will be played by Ashley Judd.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: What are some of the Christmas movies that you tend to watch to get you in the festive spirit?
Chad Hodge: “I love Christmas and Christmas movies. Love Actually is one of my favorites, along with the big ones like Elf, The Santa Clause, and The Holiday. Then going back to the classics like White Christmas and Holiday Inn, which is sort of a Christmas movie, it’s all the holidays! I don’t tend to watch many of the new Christmas movies that come out each year. Then there are some that aren’t technically Christmas movies, like Notting Hill, which I think of as a Christmas movie because it’s one of my favorites to watch around this time of year.”
So you’re someone that enjoys watching a good rom-com as well as writing them?
“Absolutely, I love rom-coms! I’m definitely not a cynic in that way. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favourite movies and that’s the ultimate rom-com.”
Tell me about how the idea of writing a Christmas movie came up and what were some of the things that you wanted and as well as what you didn’t want to see incorporated in a gay holiday movie?
“It was actually something that I was approached about doing. I had worked with producer Joel Rice on a couple rom-coms that I wrote way back in the day for ABC Family, which is now Freeform. One of them was called I Want to Marry Ryan Banks and starred Bradley Cooper. We got him right before he did The Hangover! Joel was working on some projects with Netflix and they told him that they wanted to do a gay Christmas rom-com. So he called me and said, ‘Chad, do you want to write a gay Christmas rom-com?’ And I immediately replied, ‘I definitely want to write a gay Christmas rom-com!’ I really like to change up what I’m doing from one project to the next to keep myself on my toes and I’d never written a Christmas movie before. I thought it would be a lot of fun and also a little groundbreaking. At that point there hadn’t really been any gay Christmas movies and even now there have only been a small handful and this is still Netflix’s first gay Christmas rom-com. So I was really excited by the idea.”
“I actually made a list of things that I wanted to see, both in terms of the story and fun little things that I wanted to be included. I wanted it to be something that I’d want to watch myself and for it to be a Christmas movie that would be recognizable and enjoyable for an LGBTQ audience. At the same time, I didn’t want to do a movie that would only speak to a gay audience and that no one else would find interesting or relatable, because Christmas is so much about family and so I wanted there to be some sort of family aspect to it.”
“I didn’t want it to be a story where you could pull out one of the gay guys and drop a straight girl in there and it would still work. So the first thing on my list was that I wanted the core relationship to be something that is unique to gay friendships and relationships. In my experience, as gay men we often date each other and then a lot of times if it doesn’t work out we’re still friends. In fact, I’ve dated most of my friends at some point, which is not something that most straight men and women can say. I wanted to take the idea that a lot of times when it comes to your gay best friends, other people will go, ‘You guys are so close, why aren’t you just together?!’ Which is funny because usually the answer is, ‘No, we’re best friends’, but sometimes those relationships do actually turn into something more and sometimes they don’t. So that’s how I came up with these two best friends who perhaps should be together, and are too scared and too comfortable in their friendship to do anything about it.”
“The other thing that I wanted to see was a totally supportive family. I didn’t want it to be a movie about coming out or the pain or the hardships of being gay. All of those things are obviously valid and part of most of our experiences at some point or another and already the subject of many movies, but I wanted to tell a different story. I’m fortunate enough to come from a very supportive family and I wanted to draw from my own experience and make this something where the main characters being gay is definitely central to their specific relationships and to the humour and to the pop culture references and to the way they speak, but their queerness is not essential to the story.”
“I wanted it to be really fun for an LGBTQ audience and include athings that we all love, and of course Jennifer Coolidge was on that list! I knew we needed some diva music, we needed Whitney, we needed Britney, and we open the film with a Girls Aloud track. I’m the oldest of five kids and I always got my little brothers and sisters when they were young to do shows in the basement and they hated it but I would force them! I was the writer, director, producer, and did everything. So that came out in the scene where Michael Urie’s character is with his nieces doing the dance that he made them learn years ago which they do every year to the Britney Spears song. Little things like that came out throughout the movie and and Netflix was super supportive of my approach.”
Tell me more about Jennifer Coolidge because I understand that you actually wrote the role for her. When I spoke to her about the film she mentioned that she felt a little reluctant about saying the gays are “always obsessed with me” line because she was a bit worried that even though she’s saying it as her character it might read that she was being full of herself about the gays loving Jennifer Coolidge.
“I think she was probably just being humble. She didn’t say anything to me about not wanting to say that line, but I know what she means, because in the trailer it comes off like Jennifer Coolidge is saying it about herself, but it’s really this character Aunt Sandy and when people see the movie I think they’ll understand it’s coming from the character.”
“I always get asked the question about whether I wrote a role for a certain actor but I never do becuase whenever I’m writing I picture characters in the way you picture characters when you’re reading a novel, an image of a human comes into your mind, but I don’t picture an actor. But with Single All The Way, I wanted Jennifer Coolidge in this movie because I knew that she would add such a great element to it. I came up with a character and wrote it with her voice in my head. I had no idea if she would do it or not, but if she hadn’t done it I would’ve rewritten the role. The script actually went out everywhere when we were casting and it said ‘Aunt Sandy (Jennifer Coolidge)’, before we even had Jennifer Coolidge for sure. When she read the script, she came on board right away and she was awesome throughout.”
“I had actually randomly met her on the street one afternoon years ago. I was walking around Larchmont Village, which is a cute little neighbourhood of stores in Los Angeles, and I heard this voice behind me go, ‘Excuse me, excuse me, sir!’ I thought, ‘that voice sounds really familiar’, and when I turned around I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Jennifer Coolidge!’ This was around the time that Legally Blonde and Best in Show came out, so I was already a huge fan.”
“She said, ‘Can you help me?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, what do you need?’ And she points to a lamppost with a missing dog notice on it, saying please call this number if found, and she said, ‘Don’t you think that dog in the picture looks like that dog over there?!’ And there was this man sitting with on a bench with a dog. I said, ‘Yeah, maybe. It does look like the dog’ and so she said, ‘Would you help me to approach him?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’
“So she goes up and says, ‘Sir, are you sure this is your dog? We just saw this sign’, and he’s like, ‘It’s absolutely my dog’, and showed us the collar and a marking on his dog that made it clear it wasn’t the missing dog. They went back and forth for a little while and then she came back to thank me for helping her, and said ‘I’m just a huge animal person and I got so scared that that was the missing dog’. So that’s how I met Jennifer Coolidge and she really is a big animal person. I relayed that story to her manager when we sent her the script for this movie, and she goes, ‘Yes, that sounds exactly like Jennifer!'”
Did you talk to her about that moment when you called her?
“Yeah, once she was cast and everything I did and she laughed. She kind of remembered it, but I’m sure she does that kind of thing all the time. When I called her to talk about doing the film we had a blast. We talked a lot about the character and the look and why Aunt Sandy is the way she is. We had some long, really cool conversations. My favorite moment was when we were talking about the character and then she said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…’ and then there was a long pause and I thought we’d got disconnected or she’d hung up or something. I was like, ‘Jennifer?’ and she goes, ‘Yeah, yeah’ and I go, ‘Oh, okay, I wasn’t sure if you were still there’ and she goes, ‘I’m still here. I was just thinking, I’m so glad you’re into the same shit I’m into!’ She’s amazing.”
Can you give me an insight into writing the lead character of Peter played by Michael Urie? He’s feeling anxious but it has nothing to do with him being gay.
“A lot of movies are all about leaving your small town for the big city. That’s a very queer thing too, most queer people who come from small towns eventually leave and move to New York or LA or any other big city where there are gay bars and you can be around other queer people. As we get older we might start to question that. I’m here in LA and it’s fun, you’re around your peers and you’re more accepted that you would be in your small town, but there is something you give up by leaving, like your family. I liked the idea of someone like Peter, who has all of the things that you’re supposed to have as a gay guy—he lives in LA, he has a cool job in the world of social media, and goes to all the right parties—but he’s missing something, he’s missing his family. I wanted to write about feeling unsettled when you think you have everything that you’re supposed to have, so that was the inspiration for Peter. That he’s found this relationship with plants is partially inspired by my fiancé. Several years ago, he got out of a relationship and he was down about it and he wanted to leave LA and change everything, but instead of doing all that he discovered a love of plants. So I I stole that from him and gave it to Peter.”
It turns out that Peter’s mother Carole played by Kathy Najimy has surprisingly good taste when it comes to matchmaking doesn’t she?
“Yeah, she’s like, ‘How about about Luke Macfarlane?!'”
Exactly! How about the town hunk who’s a ski instructor and personal trainer, as well as being kind and sweet and adorable?! And he’s an example of an adult gay man happily living in a small town, even though he’s not getting much action on Grindr!
You mentioned that cool social media milieu that Peter is in, surrounded by hot gay influences and attending a fabulous gay Christmas party. I really liked the writing of those scenes, because I think you got the balance just right, you made the dialogue quippy and fun, but there wasn’t that tone of bitchiness that we’ve been used to seeing in a lot of movies or TV shows over the years when gay characters get together.
“That was very much on purpose. That’s the stereotype of gay guys living in LA or New York that you would see on sitcoms in the 90s and early 2000s. When it came to the gay characters, we were always there for the funny, bitchy side joke and now we’re lead characters, so let us be human. Not that we’re not funny, and not that we don’t give each other shit and all that, but I wanted it to be real so the queer audience will watch it and go, ‘Yes, that’s how it is’. I’ve been in LA since 1999 and the Christmas party that Peter goes to is based on my friends Josh and Philip who would host a huge gay Christmas party every year at their house in the hills, so I named the characters Josh and Phillip in the movie.”
One detail that I really appreciated was Carole mentioning that she is reading a book called Loving Your LGBTQ Child, which she can’t quite get out properly and says LGBTT. In a very subtle way it made me appreciate that this warm atmosphere of acceptance is not by accident, she’s worked on being the best mother she can be to her gay son. It made me think that she’s probably a PFLAG member too, or that she would be a good one.
“I have so many friends whose parents started out one way and are so different now when it comes to their kids being gay. My mom has always been very supportive, but some people’s parents start off being very unsupportive and depending on how old you are, if you came out in the 80s or 90s at the heights of the AIDS crisis, they’ve might’ve worried, ‘Does this mean you’re going to die?'”
“So many parents I know have gone from saying they couldn’t support their gay child to literally being the president of their local PFLAG. Carole’s way past whether she supports her son or not, now she’s just trying to set him up and get him into a relationship and make sure he finds true love. Also keeping it real, my mom would never be able to remember LGBTQ and she loves me and has all the best intentions in the world, but I guarantee she could never put those five letters together in the right order!”
Final question for you, what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?
“It has to be Madonna: Truth or Dare. I’ve loved that from the moment it was released in 1991. I was 14-years-old, so it was a critical time when you’re discovering your sexuality. I was certainly not out of the closet and didn’t even self-identify as gay yet, but watching that film, the way that those dancers were captured was incredible, because they were just these cool gay guys who were being fierce and fun and not embarrassed or closeted. I loved Madonna and Madonna loved them, so it made me feel like it was OK, seeing these gay men in this really positive, normal way. Of course, they’re on a world tour with Madonna, but apart from that they were normal! They obviously accepted themselves and it was one of the first times where you saw gay guys on screen just totally being themselves. There was an element of the HIV/AIDS crisis in there which was important, but it wasn’t about how you were going to die if you were gay, which was what everything else was about at that time. Showing those guys like that in 1991 paved the way for gay characters to be in different movies and shows going forward. I still love it and I still watch it as if I was watching it for the first time. I’ve kept my BluRay player for very few reasons, one of them being that I have the Bluray of Madonna: Truth or Dare which I bought a few years ago to replace the cracked DVD that I’d had for years before that!”
I’m glad that you mentioned that film because Madonna has always been an incredible ally. I can clearly remember myself sitting in my living room as a teenager watching a VHS copy of that when it first came out, which one of the straight rugby lads from school had leant to me. It was unspoken, but maybe he realized that I’d appreciate that aspect of it.
“That’s amazing. I don’t know if you noticed, but I did a little hat tip to Truth or Dare in Single All The Way?”
Yes, I loved that moment. That is the kind of detail that makes this a gay holiday movie. I was listening to it and thought that sounds kind of familiar and a little bit weird!
“Which is exactly how Peter reacts too! He’s like, wait a second?! I actually sat down to write that scene for Aunt Sandy where she’s giving a pep talk to everyone before the show and was thinking, ‘what would she say?’ So I was going to write something original and then I thought, ‘what if she says word-for-word Madonna’s speech from Truth or Dare?!'”
By James Kleinmann
Single All The Way launches globally on Netflix on Thursday December 2nd 2021.