Writer-director Jared Frieder’s coming of age comedy Three Months, inspired by his own personal experience, follows a queer teen, Caleb (Troye Sivan), who has just graduated from his South Florida high school in 2011. He’s passionate about his camera, his weed, and his loving grandma (Ellen Burstyn) whom he lives with. He continually turns up late and leaves early from the convenience store where he works with his queer best friend Dara (Brianne Tju), run by his nightmare boss (Judy Greer). Everything changes when he discovers that he’s been exposed to HIV after a condom breaks and he has to wait a long three months over the summer to find out his own status. At an LGBTQ+ support group he meets the sweet and more reserved Estha (Viveik Kalra). As they both wait for the results of their HIV tests and consider their futures they begin to fall for one another, and despite their shared anxieties, there are some really touching, tender, and romantic scenes between them.
With Three Months streaming on Paramount+ from Wednesday February 23rd, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Outfest Screenwriting Lab fellow Jared Frieder about bringing his script to the screen, what he wanted to add to the conversation about HIV/AIDS, working with Troye Sivan and Ellen Burstyn, the film’s incredible soundtrack populated by a wealth of LGBTQ+ artists, and his favourite queer poetry.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: there has been a lot of buzz around your screenplay for several years now, how did you come to direct the film as well and what was that experience like given that it’s partly based on your own personal experience?
“I set out to tell a story that I really needed as a queer kid, that would have made me feel less alone. It’s taken a really long time to get this film made, it’s actually been almost 10 years since I first wrote the screenplay and it has died a thousand deaths since then, both as a movie and a TV show. I’m so grateful that MTV Studios gave me the opportunity to make the film and to direct it. It was truly a dream come true to be able to tell a story that is so personal and to be in the director’s chair. I’ve been bitten by the directing bug now and I’m going to do it until I pass out!”
Most screen depictions involving HIV/AIDS, tend to either have been made in the 80s or 90s, or if they’re made now they are period pieces like Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin. What do you want to add to the conversation by setting your film in 2011?
“I loved It’s A Sin, and before that Angels in America, Rent, and Philadelphia. Those are some of the queer HIV narratives that raised me. I wanted to add a voice to the conversation to talk about what it’s like today, where with access to healthcare HIV is no longer a death sentence; people can live long, healthy, happy, prosperous lives. We have to focus on conversations that deconstruct the shame and the stigma that still persists against HIV/AIDS and the associated homophobia that started in the 80s and 90s during the height of the epidemic. I want to help create a conversation where we can change that and progress and treat people living with HIV with dignity and respect.”
Why did you want to have Caleb watching clips of Pedro on The Real World from 1994? Was that something that came in when MTV became involved or did you already have that detail in the script?
“It did not happen necessarily because of MTV. It was always important for me to remember and honour our queer elders, the people who fought for my rights that came before me who’ve made it possible for me to live the happy life that I live and to make this sort of movie. Pedro Zamora was the first openly HIV positive person to appear on a reality show and MTV aired the first same-sex commitment ceremony on television, which is featured in Three Months. To be able to honour him and to continue to fight for the things that he fought for was incredibly important to me and to MTV too. I’m so grateful that they allowed me the footage to do that and that they were so supportive of it.”
There are a couple of documentaries about Pedro if people want to know more about him: 2008’s Pedro, written by Dustin Lance Black, and last year’s Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way.
You’ve assembled an impressive cast for Three Months, led by Troye Sivan as Caleb. What were some of the qualities that he brought to the role? He’s a character who is not without his flaws, like the best of us!
“When I wrote Caleb, I wrote the kid who I wished I could have been in High School. He’s the nice Jewish boy who’s effortlessly cool, with a heart as big as his talent. Whereas Viveik Kalra’s Estha, the love interest, is the kid who I actually was in High School. Caleb is witty and heartfelt and a little bratty, but underneath it he’s dealing with shame and abandonment. Troye is such a gifted actor and was able to tap into all of those things while making it feel magnetic and lovable, but also grounded and real and honest. He carries this entire movie on his back, he’s in every scene and he’s accessing every emotion. He’s spellbinding. To work with him, as a big fan of his pop music, was one of the joys of my life so far.”
He also brings two new songs to your soundtrack, which is fantastic and includes the likes of Perfume Genius, Scissor Sisters, and David Bowie. What did you want to add to the film through your song choices?
“It was really important to me that the soundtrack predominantly feature LGBTQ+ artists because I wanted the world to feel and sound like Caleb’s world. I wanted the music to be fun, upbeat, and emotional. It helps to capture the tone of this film, which despite dealing with heavy topics and themes, is a comedy; it’s hopeful and fun. We don’t always get movies about this kind of subject matter that feel that way, but that was important to me because as queer people we deal with our hardships with humour, we’re so much funnier than straight people! I wanted to be honest and authentic about that in this film and the energy of the soundtrack helped me do that and to keep it fun and boisterous. Troye’s two original songs are so good people are going to explode when they hear them!”
A lot of films that might be categorized as LGBTQ movies tend to have just one or two queer characters, whereas in Three Months we have Caleb, his best friend, his love interest, his boss, his doctor, who are all queer, and then he goes to the gay club and the Pride Center where we meet more queer folks. I love that you populate this film with LGBTQ characters, how intentional was that?
“It was intentional in that when I tell stories I like them to authentically reflect my world and the world around me, which is full of gay people. That’s my community, that’s my family, it’s who I share my life with. So to be honest to my experiences that was a no-brainer for me.”
We must mention Ellen Burstyn as Caleb’s grandma. I particularly enjoyed that emotional scene when they’re on the bed next to each other, what was that like to direct?
“It was it was a fever dream! We filmed during COVID, so rehearsals were always really intimate with just a skeleton crew. It was amazing to watch Ellen and Troye connect and to see Ellen perform with such compassion and empathy and emotional honesty when talking about her character’s trauma of losing her son and how it connects her to what her grandson is going through. That’s one of the peak artistic moments of my entire life. Truly one of the reasons I fell in love with filmmaking were her performances in her movies from The Last Picture Show to Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Requiem for a Dream, and The Exorcist. To learn from her and to see her at work was just mesmerizing and I’ll take it with me forever. It was so special.”
Final question for you, what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?
“I usually say The Birdcage or Angels in America, but I really want people to check out a collection of poetry that’s such a gift and really resonated: Crush by Richard Siken. It won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 2004. It’s about pining and love and abandonment, the shame of being queer, and the romance and the relationships. I’ve never felt anything like that before for poetry, it’s incredible.”
By James Kleinmann
Three Months streams exclusively on Paramount+ from Wednesday February 23rd 2022.