Val Lauren started his acting career on the stage, performing original plays at the Playhouse West Repertory Theater. He simultaneously worked on television shows and independent films, including the Sundance Institute film True Love. In 2011 he played the lead role in James Franco’s bio pic Sal, about Sal Mine; the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. In Interior. Leather Bar, he plays his own version of Al Pacino’s slightly homophobic cop in Cruising. He was kind enough to lend us some minutes over the phone from LA to answer some of our questions.
What attracted you to be part of “Interior. Leather Bar”?
Two components were attractive to me. One, James and I really like to work with one another, we’ve been collaborating in plays and movies for a long time. The other component was to do something to do with the movie Cruising, Al Pacino is an actor whom I really respect and to visit a movie or artistic endeavour that he explored seemed like an interesting and exciting thing for me, just because I looked up to him for such a long time.
How was it to step into Pacino’s shoes? Were you tempted to play him instead of the character?
As an actor there’s always a temptation to want to do a lot, but we decided that I wasn’t really playing Al Pacino, but rather the character that Al Pacino also played in the movie Cruising. So although I was acting a version of myself, it wasn’t a characterization, or trying to mimic Al Pacino or anything like that.
How was working with Travis Matthews?
He’s a very calm, creative man. He’s very relaxed on set and it’s always a great thing when your director has a competent and relaxed point of view, so he made things very collaborative and easy and I really enjoyed it, I would do it again.
We can see in the film that you did trust him quite a lot, and Franco as well. But was there a line you weren’t willing to cross as an actor?
I guess so. I mean, I wasn’t asked to do anything I had to say no to. But sure, there’re always lines that as actors we’re not willing to cross, and they depend on the actor, but in that film I wasn’t asked to do anything I had to say no to.
The film plays a lot with the lines between fiction and reality. How much of it was staged, and how much were your actual reactions to what was happening around you?
That’s a very good question. The film is a performance. If you really think about it, based on the script that we had and the things that Travis ends up revealing, the story and the events of the day as they played out were all scripted. The fact of the matter is, I knew what we were doing before we were shooting. I had a script. So it was a very tricky thing to navigate, to perform a scenario where I don’t know what’s happening, when in fact I did. That being said, the original reactions that I had about the project actually happened alone when I read the script at home for the first time. By the time we were shooting, I did know what it is that we were doing and what we were going for, but the way that Travis set that environment up, it was never black or white. Although it was fiction it was set up in a very realistic way and there were always surprises and turns, so there was a grey area, and I think the film lives in that grey area that’s between performance and reality.
When you watched the finished film, did it turned out as you expected? Did you have any surprises?
I guess I was surprised it was even more humorous than I thought it would be. I really like the humor in it, and also the editing and the way Travis glued it all together. No one knew exactly how it was going to end up, except for Travis and for James. So yes, there was definitely an element of surprise and I was quite happy how it all turned out.
Would you call this film a porn film, or does it have elements of porn to it?
Not at all. It has sexual scenarios in it, just as other films. I’ve seen other films that have extreme sexual scenes in them, but in this film it just happens to be between two men, instead of between a man and a woman. But I don’t associate it with porn, really, in any way, shape or form.
What’s your own personal opinion on explicit sex as a storytelling tool?
I don’t think it’s a matter of gender, I think it’s a matter of individual taste. You know, how necessary is it to be explicit. If it is a necessary storytelling tool that pushes the story forward, then I don’t believe there should be limitations and boundaries in art. It’s just up to the individual viewer to decide if that’s something they find to their taste, or if it isn’t. Much like violence in movies, it’s more of an individual opinion on whether or not they can tolerate or grow from or enjoy those scenes. But as the artiste, as the creator, I don’t believe there should be any limits, really. Limits should be set by individuals for themselves, as they choose to do it that way, but not by the people creating material.
What upcoming projects can we see you in?
I have a movie coming out called “The Last Knight”, with Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman. It’s a story of a rogue samurai that is sent on a mission to avenge his master, and that should be very cool, very different film. I also have a film called “The Sound and the Fury”, that should be out sometime next year, there’s also another called “Desires of the Heart”, it’s a psychological thriller/love story, that was shot in India, Sudan and Georgia, and that should be very different and cool as well.
You can read our review of Interior. Leather Bar here