They/Them (AKA They Slash Them) is described as a “LGBTQIA+ empowerment tale set at a gay conversion camp”; a new film from Blumhouse and the first Peacock original title. The queer storylines and representation are striking and I was keen to talk to one of the cast when the opportunity arose. In the film, Darwin Del Fabro plays Gabriel, one of the seven young campers, and it was fascinating to hear his insights.
Darwin’s career started in Brazil, and I couldn’t help asking about the part he played in a soap opera there called Ligações Perigosas, based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses. “Manuela Dias was the writer,” he told me. “She created a ten-episode vision of what is one of my favourite books and created a character for me! I’ve been lucky in this business: people would call me and would say ‘I have something just for you!’ Anyway, this character was called Collete d’Or, and was a performer coming from Paris to Brazil; thinking back, Collete wanted to express queerness and celebrate that with music and it was a fascinating character, especially for that time in Brazil, very surprising. I was intrigued with the challenge of playing that.”
So, what had it been like to move, with his career, to the USA? “I always dreamed to make an international career as an actor, particularly having seen Brazilian queer actors doing movies here: that was my goal. I wanted to be here and serve as an inspiration for other artists, not only from Brazil but from other countries; people who have a dream, who want to make a career while celebrating their identities and who they are.”
That took us neatly to the topic in hand, They/Them, directed by John Logan. It was easy to see certain types represented in the film, and celebrated to some degree, but I wanted to ask about the whole group of young queers. I asked Darwin whether he thought that group of campers represented the real-life queer community. “Yes,” he answered with an emphatic smile. “The representation is everything. We are putting queer characters as the centre and the protagonists of the story. It’s one of my favourite genres, I love horror: it’s fun and I take it to relax. Most of our cast and crew were queer, which makes a different environment, like we were all a family and very proud of the story we told.”
I picked up on a conversation near the beginning of the film about “choosing” a queer lifestyle. “I think you can choose your lifestyle and choose to celebrate your uniqueness and strength,” Darwin said, “and I hope that this movie serves as a message that there is nothing wrong and no-one can change you. You are perfect the way you are. The thing is, cinema is so powerful: when people perceive these seven queer campers entering, so diverse, that brings home that this industry is interested in celebrating diversity, and I hope that we continue to see that more and more. I live in Manhattan, New York; I go out and it’s so diverse: we have people from all around the world here, people of all types, and I want to see all those faces on the screen.”
As you might expect from that mention of a gay conversion camp, They/Them covered some serious subject matter. I asked Darwin how he approached playing his role with that in mind. “I think bringing awareness is just our biggest tool here,” Darwin answered thoughtfully. “I think if there is something that can save us or educate us in the world we live in right now (which is hard), that thing is cinema. So being approached to touch these challenging themes, bringing awareness that conversion therapy still takes place and that it is wrong: I think that’s important. We’re dealing with conversion therapy, but more than that: the message that it is real. John Logan was brilliant at writing this: he brought these queer characters together, they found their strength and learned that their queerness is their power and once they were together there were no limits for them. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question, but we can’t avoid touching on reality of the real world; it’s all about how we present that to the viewer, how we find ways to celebrate that and bring a good message that you cannot change a person. We’re talking a lot about conversion therapy, but there are layers to it: when you have someone telling you that there is something wrong with you, which in itself is a kind of conversion therapy, right there. We are born this way and we need to celebrate it, because that’s the beauty of being who we are, and queer kids around the world can see themselves here on the screen and understand that.”
I do hope he is right, and things improve in that direction. I have seen some of that in more mainstream films as well as horror, though not terribly widespread yet. “We’re getting there, little by little,” Darwin cheers! “But it’s a brilliant idea for me as a horror fan to put all this together: we have scare, the jump, all the tropes we love; but it all becomes stronger if we care about the characters. We don’t just want the next death, but we want them to survive instead. When we go on that journey with them, we are rooting for them and we were a little more scared because it could be ourselves, rather than those kids. When you have a script that is scary about those characters which we relate to, it makes the story a little more scary and more powerful, in my opinion.”
It must have been a tricky line to tread (for Logan, writer as well as director, particularly) between fun slasher and serious real-life topics; but real life is like that anyway, for queer people just like anyone else: we have fun, and we have fears too. “Yes!” agreed Darwin. “And our protagonist Jordan [played by Theo Germaine] is a non-binary character: how often do we see that? It’s bringing that to a wider audience: connect and see how powerful Jordan is here.”
That was very pertinent to me, a non-binary person myself, though I had some mixed feelings about Jordan’s tale (which I’m not going to spoil for readers here). Darwin had some insight to counter that: “I will tell you something though. I was very close to the beginning of the process, having read the first draft of the movie. We are in a very delicate situation in America with guns and violence. We queer are special though. Jordan develops some maturity during this movie, and it is interesting for me to think about how easy it is to be angry. It moves me to think we are not going to fix this world with violence.” Thought-provoking stuff, though the audience may be looking for characters who fight back more: do we want standard tropes, or do we want progress?
“Absolutely,” said Darwin, “but it’s so interesting for me. I just love Jordan’s character, and Theo’s performance: everything’s there. Those eyes and the groundedness and the mystery that Theo has; I’m a big fan of Theo.”
I had seen Theo before in Night’s End on Shudder but hadn’t seen Darwin’s face on screen until now. I asked whether there is something else out there that I should watch out for. “Yes. I’m working again with John in a movie where I’ve signed as a producer as well, coming next year. Actually, I’m working on two different projects with John: both are movies. One comes out end of next year, but the other is part of a bigger franchise so might take a little longer. I’m very happy that John’s given me the opportunity to be a producer on these two, a real opportunity to use my voice (I’ve always produced my own work in Brazil) and I thought it would take a while, but it’s happening faster, so I feel honoured. I’m a musician too and have just released an album, called Revisiting Jobim. I took one of my favourite albums that the composer Antônio Carlos Jobim made with Frank Sinatra in 1969 and gave six of those songs my new fresh look to them.” There was a musical scene in They/Them which included Darwin too: “we have Fucking Perfect, all together singing about how we’re perfect as we are. Also, we were all together in the same hotel, with a lot of singing during the production.”
Going back to the film (though I do enjoy it when conversations meander), I asked Darwin whether he had a favourite moment from the film. He laughed and considered how to tell while avoiding spoilers…“I have a very intimate scene with Cooper Koch who plays Stu in this movie; and as a queer actor, I haven’t seen much of gay sex being celebrated for its beauty and through power. It’s usually about shame or secrets. I wish people could see John’s description of the scene, because it was so beautiful: the sunset and the lake. So, I think that was one of my favourite moments. People ask, ‘aren’t you scared to play those scenes?’ No, because when I was younger, I wished I could see more of those scenes, celebrating the beauty of gay sex.” It was indeed an effective scene, especially with the brief dialogue first which brought Stu’s conflict to the surface. “Yes,” agreed Darwin; “I thought that when I first read it, that dialogue was brief but fascinating; a little gift from John Logan.”
My favourite moment was a particular line spoken by Jordan towards the end. “Oh yes, so powerful!” said Darwin. “I think Theo has a terrific career ahead of them.”
Now the name which people will want to know about, but which I had omitted until now: I asked Darwin what it had been like to work with Kevin Bacon. “A masterclass, just seeing him acting, and behind the camera too: you can understand why he has been an actor for so long, and now a producer too. So, with all his background, he wants to tell this story, and really help to tell the story, it means a lot. And I think back to seeing him back in Brazil in Friday the 13th, doing his debut in a slasher movie, and now he’s back in a summer camp again… life is too good.”
Now, They/Them is about to be released and I asked Darwin how he felt it was going to be received. “This is the first Peacock original movie, John’s directorial debut and my debut as an actor in America, so many new things happening. And the streaming world excites me: it’s the chance for a wider audience to connect with the movie, to identify and see those seven characters there, with their uniqueness. It just brings me hope that we have an industry, streaming platforms that want to go beyond the curve and challenge to tell new stories. I’m very excited: we’re getting to a better world, and cinema can help with that.”