The new film Homebody, featuring actor Colby Minifie (The Boys, Jessica Jones) and helmed by gay director Joseph Sackett, initially seems to be a riff on the body-and personality-switching mini-genrewhich includes dramas such as Persona (1966) and comedies like Freaky Friday (1977/2003) and Big (1988)that re-emerges every several years.
"Joe is just very interested in 'body-transplant' stuff," Minifie told Windy City Times.
Homebody, now available on Fandor and other digital platforms, differentiates itself from its predecessors by deeply centering issues around gender identity and queerness. Minifie portrays Melanie, a Brooklyn woman studying to be a doula (a professional offering practical and emotional support for pregnant individuals) who regularly cares for a young boy named Johnny (Tre Ryder).
Melanie is unaware of the deep fascination Johnny holds for her. It's not just the fascination of a childhood crush, either. Melanie, to Johnny, epitomizes a feminine ideal that he's deeply drawn to; he wants to experience life as she does.
Johnny gets his wish one afternoon after he and Melanie watch YouTube videos about transcendental meditation. He taps into the ability to step outside his own body and inhabit hers instead. While there, he is free to explore different boundaries of genderbut he also unwittingly arranges for a hookup with Tom (Whitmer Thomas), Melanie's friend with benefits, and is eventually called in to assist with a birth Melanie was preparing for.
Minifie has frequently collaborated with Sackett before, including on the short film I Was in Your Blood, upon which Homebody was based. Ryder co-starred in the short as well.
When Sackett presented her with the Homebody script, she thought, "It's every actor's dream: 'Oh, my friend wrote me a movie.' I was like: 'yes, please, and thank you.'"
But Minifie was not faced just with learning the part of Melanie. She had to learn how to accurately portray Johnny portraying Melanie. That meant learning how Ryder moved.
"We spent a lot of time together," Minifie explained. "I had known Tre for three years by that point, but we hadn't spent a lot of time together in the time in between [films]. So I spent a lot of time just watching him. We also called in a friend, Sam Pinkleton, who's an incredible choreographer, dancer and director. He watched Tre for a while and then would give me notes like, 'He leads with this part of his body.'"
Minifie felt like she had a certain amount of liberty in the interpretation however, since Johnny isn't really seen moving out-and-about a great deal in the film's early scenes. She said: "There was this added layer of objectivity that I got to play with, which made it much more fun, rather than just doing an impression."
But she was tested by later scenes in the film. By that point in the story, Melanie has returned to her body, and she and Johnny are both inhabiting the same physical being, usually bickering with one another.
"I was completely paranoid about reflecting what was going on in [Melanie's] head," Minifie said. "I asked them to hire a friend of mine…to sit in the other room with a microphone connected to an earpiece. She was doing the scene for me in my ear. A lot of that got re-written in post- [production] and we did a lot of ADR [automatic dialogue replacement]. Joe was just looking for 'pieces' of me, what was going on in my face, to match what was happening in her head."
Minifie wanted her overall performance to reflect not just a bodily transformation but a young person both scared by and relishing the opportunity to embody a different gender. Johnny is not identified as transgender or nonbinary in the film, but Sackett said in promotional materials for Homebody that Johnny's story reflects at least a genderqueer experience.
"At a basic level, we all go through feelings of [being] constricted by what society says about how our genders should present," Minifie said. "I oftentimes feel most comfortable in male clothing, or what we deem to be male clothing. I love wearing a dress once in a while, but if I'm going to feel most myself, I'm going to wearing going to be a suit.
"That's a very super-microcosm of what this movie is sayingit is about how we move in a world where there are so many constraints about who we are. What's great about this time we're living in is that these constraints are being broken down, explored and challenged in a great way."
Minifie said she loves being part of the fast-paced action on The Boys, for which she is now filming new episodes in Canada. But she appreciates the opportunity to have taken part in Homebody's gentler story as well.
"Sometimes it's nice to have movies that are sweet and hopeful, that explore a coming-of age in this time we're in, in such a beautiful and specific way," she said.
Homebody can be seen at www.fandor.com as well as other digital platforms.