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MOVIES Peter Macdissi reflects on making 'Uncle Frank'
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-11-21

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In the Amazon Studios movie Uncle Frank, out Nov. 25, Peter Macdissi plays Walid "Wally" Nadeem—the partner of the title character (played by Paul Bettany). However, the dynamics are a bit different in that Frank Bledsoe is closeted from his South Carolina family (although it's a different story in New York City, where the couple reside)—and the story takes place in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Macdissi (who happens to be the real-life partner of Uncle Frank director Alan Ball, who created the TV shows Six Feet Under and True Blood) talked with Windy City Times about the film and his role.

Windy City Times: A lot of people see Hollywood as a bastion of liberalism, especially in the wake of this presidential election. What are your thoughts about that?

Peter Macdissi: For sure, Hollywood is a bastion of liberalism. We've come a long way, but I don't think we've come enough of a long way. However, taking a risk is not really synonymous with doing business with Hollywood, in my opinion. I think we have a long way to go, and I am happy to be part of that journey.

WCT: This movie seems to be a labor of love for you and Alan. Could you talk a bit about the genesis of this movie?

PM: I knew Alan was writing the script, and he presented the first draft to me because that's how it works with us. I read the first draft and cried my eyes out—it was so moving. Obviously, the story is very personal for him; it's an homage to his father, so it's special to him.

How it became special for me was the inclusion of a character like Wally, who I wanted to portray as a realistic character and not as a cliche. Things have gotten better for me; it's definitely not like it was when I was in my 20s, when I first started in the business. [Macdissi is Lebanese.]

It was exciting to work on something we felt passionate about—and the whole cast was really there with us. I can't tell you what the budget was because that would be embarrassing, but we really lucked out.

WCT: And you mentioned that incredible cast, which includes Margo Martindale, Paul Bettany, Stephen Root and Sophia Lillis—who I think is a future Oscar winner.

PM: Without a doubt… As for Frank, a lot of actors were itching to play him. A lot of A-list actors wanted to play him, but I didn't want a name; I didn't want a commodity. We wanted an actor who knew his craft, and that's how Paul came along; [hiring him] was a no-brainer. As for Sophia, we saw her in the [TV miniseries] Sharp Objects and the minute she came on, I said, "Wow—look at that!" You can't take your eyes off of her; having her was also another no-brainer. It's just a strong cast.

WCT: Were you concerned about any blowback from having Paul in the title role, as some feel that only LGBTQ actors should be in LGBTQ roles?

PM: You know, the issue was raised, but it was something I was not worried about. Why? To me, Uncle Frank is beyond just being gay. His sexuality is not the most important thing in the movie. His journey to acceptance is [central]; he could've been straight and gone on the same journey. There are more layers than him being gay, and Paul has done such a great job.

I know we're in the nascent stages of people being able to play any role, regardless of sexuality. I just hope we get to the place where it doesn't matter. We're getting there.

WCT: I think it's a reflection of how some of the public feels. [Gender identity is different,] but I know there was practically no dissent when Felicity Huffman played a trans role in the [2005] movie Transamerica. Now, I don't know if she could film that role.

PM: Yeah. So far, Uncle Frank has been in several film festivals, and I have not heard one single comment about that issue. I can't see anyone else but Paul being Uncle Frank.

WCT: What was the weirdest part of immersing yourself into the 1960s and '70s?

PM: Well, I wasn't even born at that point, so I did some research and checked out some books. I became acquainted with things like the fashion of that time.

WCT: What would you like people to take away from this movie?

PM: Oh, my God—there are so many things! Just to understand what's important in life. We get so distracted; there are so many things that derail us. Having those connections with those in your life is the most important thing. And I know it's a cliche, but love conquers all. It's not about our differences; it's about our similarities.


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