Interviewing an actor who you’ve described in a review as “unconvincing” has the potential to be a little uncomfortable. Not so with the languidly charming Jesse Archer, who surprised me by not only having read the review in question on Mambaonline but also calling me out on it when we met. It could have been an attempt to gauge me by my reaction (which I’d like to believe was fairly composed) but thankfully he didn’t seem to take my comment too personally.
You may have first noticed Jesse in the gay film festival hit Slutty Summer or perhaps the film adaptation of Boy Culture, but he’s in South Africa as a guest of the OIA Film Festival in connection with another film; A Four Letter Word. He both stars in the movie, and was also its co-writer (along with director Casper Andreas). He’s clearly not just a pretty face as the wry and insightful writing is the highlight of the film.
He plays Luke, described by another character as a “gay clichÃ©,” who happily sleeps his way through Manhattan. His life is thrown in disarray, however, when he finds himself actually falling in love – and with possibly very much “the wrong man.”
A resident of New York City, Jesse also writes a monthly column for US gay magazine Out and has just published his first book, You Can Run, which is based on a two year adventure in South America. The home page of his website asks (demands?), “If you’re not sparkling, what are you doing?,” and this seems very much to be the motto by which he lives his life.
You’ve been to South Africa before?
Yes! I have a friend here in Johannesburg and he also has a place in Cape Town. I stayed in Cape Town for a while, did the whole Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe thing as well. I was working for a design company [in Cape Town] for a few months as well. I didn’t do much, I just held the other end of a tape measure, you know, but he paid me and I had a great time!
Yes, but not too much time though. I’ve spent enough time to do the Apartheid Museum, and that’s about it but I’m enjoying it this time around. The weather’s nicer actually! It seems more integrated here in Johannesburg; the races seem to mix a little more. Cape Town is very separated.
Where did the desire to become an actor come from?
I suppose I didn’t want to take Maths, so I did theatre because I’ve always been very outgoing and I like having different personalities.
And the writing?
Writing is something I’ve always done. I’ve always sort of documented my life in different ways in journals and things, and most of the writing I do is autobiographical in some respect, whether it’s the film or the book or the column I write for OUT magazine.
What do you hope A Four Letter Word communicates?
That you should be true to yourself, whoever that is and whatever that is.
To what extent is it about your own experiences?
Good question. Some would say that I am the character of Luke… There is definitely a huge part of me in Luke – one that doesn’t want to grow up, sort of a Peter Pan character, but another part of me is the Zeke character [a more intellectual activist in the film], I think. Those are two parts of my personality, absolutely. And I really enjoyed writing them sort of clashing, because often they do within me as well – especially the scene where Zeke says he should have compassion for gay teens killing themselves and Luke says, “why should I?”, ‘cause I went through all of it myself.
So the characters represent a debate in your own mind…
And have you reconciled those two sides of yourself?
I don’t know that I have! It depends on how many drinks I’ve had and where I am and who I’m talking to! But I can be very political and very daffy, as you put it [in the review]. I like that word.
In terms of coming from Oregon… What was that like growing up there?
Oregon is actually one of the most liberal states, believe it or not, in the whole country. But, that said, I didn’t have any gay role models growing up, there was just this one guy in high school who got beat up all the time so yeah, it was very, very lonely. As I imagine it is for many people here or anywhere for that matter.
And at what point did you come out?
During my first year at college. I ended up going to USC, which is in southern California. I looked in that big book of schools and made sure that USC had that gay and lesbian group… You know, secretly, not actually admitting that I was gay or anything.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with promiscuity because, quite frankly, some of the most intimate moments I’ve had have been with complete strangers…”
Did you ever consider not coming out to the public in terms of your career?
No, acting wasn’t as important to me as being myself – and that’s sort of always been my philosophy.
Other actors find that limits their ability to cross into the mainstream, but that doesn’t seem to bother you…
No, not at all, in fact it annoys me when they say that because, you know, they’re so “courageous” to take a gay role. I figure I’ll be really courageous when I take on a straight role. I mean seriously. It’s all fear-based and it’s so insidious. It’s really entrenched in the industry – especially if you have gay managers and gay agents telling their gay clients not to do a gay role or to come out of the closet because it may hurt their career. It’s really unfortunate and that stops with me for sure.
Has it hurt your career?
Oh, I’m sure yes. In fact I was told in LA several times that I was too gay for this or that, you know. One time I was auditioning for a straight role and I was supposed to be wooing this girl and the guy who was doing the audition said “now wink at her dad” and I thought ‘am I that gay?’… Apparently I am… (Laughs) I think there’s enough varied gay roles that I don’t really need to look outside of that. Of course there’s no money in that or gay literature either but I never saw myself represented in Oregon; so it’s important to put it out there so that people feel less alone than I did.
Do you have actor friends who are in the closet?
I know people, and yes, I do confront them. I think it’s cowardly. I mean people like Mika who is such a twit, he’s such a faggot, and I love his music and it’s fun and it’s great to be a faggot, but he’s like ‘that’s not important’! But if it wasn’t important then just be yourself and admit you who are. Okay, so maybe you don’t sell to those teenage girls who are heart-throbbing for you, but at least you have your integrity intact.
You seem to rejoice in gay people behaving like gay people as opposed to “acting straight…”
When it comes to South Africa… I was on Gaydar last year and I see there are like no ‘fems’ and it’s all like ‘anti-fem.’ Then you get this whole muscle-mary thing, this over-masculine acting… Just be yourself! If you’re feminine naturally, be that way. Or if you’re masculine naturally be that way. And if you are that gay clichÃ©, if you are like really feminine, then more power to you, just be that. What I don’t like is when people act more “gay” than they really are. That’s bothersome.
I was involved with Joburg Pride this year and I was really annoyed by the way some people are embarrassed by Pride. There seems to be this total lack of awarenes