Michael J. Willett
When Sex and The City popularized the concept of a sassy gay best friend—G.B.F., for short—as a fashionable girl’s must-have accessory, who knew it would trickle down to high school?
After its first screening at the Tribeca Film Festival last April, G.B.F. has made the rounds on the festival circuit, and now, the snappy comedy from Jawbreaker director Darren Stein and first-time screenwriter George Northy, is finally getting a theatrical release. In the film, three high school queen bees compete for gay BFFs in the name of street (and hallway) cred. Openly gay actor Michael J. Willett plays Tanner, a comic-book-reading introvert who inadvertently comes out to the entire school before flamboyant best friend Brent Van Camp (played by fellow out actor, Paul Iacono, channeling Pretty In Pink’s Duckie). Courted by the popular girls—and styled into a bowtied millennial queer—Tanner quickly finds his values and most important relationships in danger.
Like a latter-day Clueless or Mean Girls meets Another Gay Movie, G.B.F. satirizes pop and queer culture (one girl uses a Grindr-style app to track down closeted gays), high school life and Mormons. It’s also chock full of quotable quips, fantastic songs—Tegan and Sara, French Horn Rebellion and Dragonette are all on the soundtrack—and gay faves Natasha Lyonne, Rebecca Gayheart and Megan Mullally.
“I relate to Tanner a lot,” admits Willett, who first blipped on our radar a few years back while co-starring on Showtime’s United States of Tara as Lionel Trane, the assured, aggressive first boyfriend of Keir Gilchrist’s budding teen queer, Marshall Gregson. “When I was in high school I felt more introverted and shy,” he notes, “and moved from clique to clique.” He admits that he was a bit of an outsider, a private with artistic impulses. “I definitely think a lot of Tanner was me, and how I felt about keeping to myself and having my own feelings.”
Conversely, Willett never felt objectified as a gay male “mascot” or accessory during his school days. “There weren’t a lot of out gay kids at the time,” he explains. Yet while the film depicts a heightened reality, he feels that things have changed, and today’s teen girls definitely appreciate a bit of homo male action in their lives. “A lot of girls are obsessed with One Direction in part because some of the guys might be hooking up,” he laughs. “I was hanging out with some fangirls and they were going off about how they wanted the boys to hook up! I felt it was really cool because my film is relevant and important and speaking to today’s kids. That was both shocking and totally cool because it’s just what we need for the film to do well!”
Deliciously, Mullally appears as Brent’s outrageously (and awkwardly) pro-queer mother. Willett says that his own mother isn’t quite so OTT, but certainly is just as accepting. In fact, she outed him at age 13.
“She could see that I was gay, and she approached me to see if I was able to talk about it at the time,” he recalls. “She was asking me how it was to be gay, and I didn’t know! Honestly. I ended up buying her a book called Is it a Choice? and said, ‘Read this.’ Maybe kids today have an advantage of being more accepted.”
“I was hanging out with some fangirls and they were going off about how they wanted the boys to hook up! I felt it was really cool because my film is relevant and important.” —Michael J. Willett
His first breakout role, Lionel was originally scheduled to appear in just two Tara episodes, but went over so well they expanded him to a recurring character. Sadly, the character perished off-screen in the show’s third and final season. “It was sad but it felt good,” Willett reflects. “Because I had made my character important enough to care about after he was gone.”
Recently, MTV green-lit eight episodes of a new scripted, high school series for this year, Faking It, in which Willett plays Shane, one of the school’s most popular—and openly gay—kids. He also just wrapped a gender-bending turn in the fantastical, green-screen shot Paragon School For Girls.
When not playing teenagers—“My face has ‘permanent embryo syndrome,’ so I’ll probably be playing high schoolers for another 10 years or so,” he muses—the California-bred actor, who got his start in commercials and bit roles on shows like Cougar Town and Blue Mountain State, takes to the recording studio under the single moniker, Willett. Three singles—including the Scissor Sisters-esque electropop track “Burning Desire,” which will soon see a provocative music video—are currently available on iTunes and Amazon, while his YouTube channel includes an awesome mash-up cover of Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness” and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.”
Currently dating, Willett admits that he’s heartened by the almost weekly coming out announcements from fellow actors, singers and high-profile personalities. In fact, he wouldn’t mind playing UK swimmer Tom Daley. “Hopefully I could get a really nice body,” he says, laughing. “They could train me and I could be superfit. It would be nice.”
G.B.F. is in theaters everywhere January 17. Visit Facebook.com/GBFMovie for more info.