By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Timothy McNeil’s feature debut, Anything, stars Matt Bomer who plays the trans woman Freda, and John Carroll Lynch who plays Early, a newly widowed man that moves to L.A. to assert his independence and strikes up an unlikely friendship with the transgender sex worker. Goliath talked to first-time filmmaker Timothy McNeill about the movie, its controversy, and inclusive message of love.
Give us a little background on the movie?
It started off as a play in 2007 and had a good run into 2008 where Mark Ruffalo saw the play – and he asked me to write a screenplay based on the play. He then asked me to direct as well which was a surprise to me as I’d never directed a movie before. The movie was shot May and April of 2016, and it was a very interesting process that allowed for a lot of thought to go into it. There was no rush, and it was a turtle-like process.
‘Anything’ was adapted from a play to the screen – how do you think that comes forward in the film?
I have always loved watching plays being made into films, so I already learned a lot from how filmmakers succeed and fail in the process of adapting a play to the screen. One of my ideas was to purge the too many ‘writer-ly’ impulses in the script. I like the idea of a play of having a lot of space, time, and internal life, and in a movie, you have the opportunity to expand much more on that.
The movie has been well received at festivals but has also received criticism from the transgender community for portraying (yet another) trans woman as a prostitute. How do you respond to that criticism?
It’s been hard to hear the criticism – but if any movie is going to be at the source of the controversy, I’m happy that it’s our movie. I hope it can be part of the dialogue, because of the controversy. It has a lot to say. As a writer, I’m drawn to stories of people that have had their rights suspended, oppressed, or repressed. Unfortunately, that is something you see in the trans community. They are marginalized because of their sense of self and working as a sex worker is, unfortunately, part of the marginalization.
Matt Bomer plays the trans character, Freda – how was it to work with him? And how did he prepare for the role?
Matt is maybe the most disciplined actor I’ve ever worked with. His work ethic is extraordinary. He has a sincere desire to get it right. I love him as a human being, and he is just the sweetest, most genuine mensch. I think he has a really big career ahead of him – like with all the actors in the film.
The casting of Matt Bomer also met criticism from the trans community for casting a cisgender male to portray a trans woman. What do you think of that criticism?
I saw Matt Bomer act in the Normal Heart, and when I approached about this role, he immediately responded to the material on a soul level. I don’t desire to put actors in a box and keep them from playing something they really want. It’s part of my filmmaker code, and I hope the trans community understands that, when I saw Matt Bomer, I knew that I had found him and that I had found her.
What is it about the unlikely connection between a man from the deep south and the trans woman from Los Angeles that is so poignant?
I think it’s the story of oppression and repression. When I moved from Mississippi, I came to L.A. at 28, and I was struck by being in L.A., and I felt a sense of freedom – an ability to reinvent oneself more than what I had experienced before. For me. L.A. set me loose because the city does that to people. It’s what happens early in the film where Early (John Carroll Lynch) is being opened up to opportunity and understanding.
How do you see this movie dealing with trans representation – especially in Hollywood?
The idea of focus on this issue and the controversy of this movie is just the beginning. How people respond to it another piece of the puzzle. When our stories are told, they will change perception. It’s happening right now, and places like LA and New York City are at the forefront of changing that perception. It’s an ongoing battle, but as long as complex stories like this are brought to the mainstream, we can influence and shift society. I feel like we’re in a revolution right now, don’t you? This is how society is remade, and we shift to live in a better world.
Anything you’d like to add?
I would say this, I have been a very fortunate first-time filmmaker. I worked with a cast that came into this with an open heart and desire to be part of the change. The same goes for the entire crew. The movie has a lot to say about love in a unique way. The setup of the movie may seem standard, but it seeps into people, and I don’t think they will be disappointed.
‘Anything’ opened across the U.S. in the middle of May.