The one and only Guillermo Diaz sits down with us to talk about his relationship to the bear community, his all-encompassing love for Madonna and his brand-new film You Can’t Stay Here.
“This has been a long time coming” Guillermo Diaz said as we settled in to begin our chat.
Truer words had never been spoken. As one of the few out, working bears in Hollywood and an icon of our community, we’ve long wanted to do a feature with Guillermo.
Many know Guillermo Diaz as “Huck” from the hit ABC series Scandal but the gays, and particularly the bears, have followed his career for much longer than that. He first rose to prominence starring as “Scarface” in the cult classic film Half Baked back in 1998. He also starred in other indie films of that era including: Party Girl, Stonewall, 200 Cigarettes, and High School High. He later appeared in studio features like The Terminal (2004) for director Steven Spielberg and Cop Out (2010) opposite Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. In addition to that he appeared on the ABC comedy series United We Fall, NBC’s Law& Order: Organized Crime and was a guest star on Comedy Central’s Broad City, Showtime’s Weeds and HBO’s High Maintenance.
More recently Guillermo appeared in Universal’s romantic comedy, Bros and made his directorial debut with the independent feature entitled Dear Luke. His latest project – You Can’t Stay Here sees Diaz return to his indie roots in a film by noted queer underground filmmaker Todd Verow. It is a project that he not only stars in but is also coproducing.
After bonding over our mutual love for Madonna (I had just seen the opening night of the US leg of The Celebration Tour the night before our chat), we got down to business.
After being labeled by the late Ryan Shea, our friend and colleague as an “icon in the bear community” in 2019, I asked Guillermo to revisit the topic by asking him if he identifies as a bear.
“I totally identify and I’m super into bears!” he exclaimed.
He went on to explain that he had attended California’s legendary Lazy Bear event in the early 2000’s and that to this day he still gathers with the community at the LA Eagle while lamenting the loss of Faultline, a feeling shared by most bears in Los Angeles. When asked how he discovered the community he said:
“I think it just sort of happened organically. My partner is a bear. And most of my friends were too, so that’s just the scene that we gravitated towards. I wasn’t really into the West Hollywood younger/ twink scene. And then, I just sort of stayed there.”
And thankfully he did. I don’t need to tell you that bear representation, especially in Hollywood, is severely lacking. Add to that the fact that Guillermo is also Latino and it’s an even bigger deal in light of the amazing career he’s had thus far. When asked about the importance of representation he said:
“It’s extremely important for me as a viewer and a consumer. I get super excited when there’s someone out there that looks like me. As an actor and a producer and all of that though, I can’t think about it too much because then it puts a lot of pressure on things. This is gonna sound so cliché, but I try to focus on the work and stay driven and doing the things that I want to do and work with directors that I want to work with and work on the projects that I want to work on.”
Which is exactly how he came to work on You Can’t Stay Here.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Todd Verow. I was living in New York City at the time, about two years ago. I was doing a show there where I was a recurring guest for over a year, and I sort of creatively felt a little bit stifled. The money was good, but I didn’t have a lot to do, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ I sought out Todd on social media and I messaged him, and I was like, ‘hey, I love your work, I would love to work with you.’ And he was like, ‘I love your work too’.”
The two arranged to meet up in person and discovered a mutual love for horror films and thrillers and agreed that they’d like to work on a project that fell within those genres. From there Todd went off and wrote You Can’t Stay Here.
Inspired by real events in 1990s New York City, You Can’t Stay Here follows aspiring art photographer Rick (played by Guillermo) as he spends his days and nights cruising in Central Park. After he witnesses the murder of a gay man, he’s drawn into a dangerous and sexy game of cat and mouse with the magnetic killer that leads him to question his own sanity.
The film is loosely based on a string of murders in the 90’s where gay men were being seduced by a killer who later drugged, killed and dismembered them. The film also touched on the AIDS crisis and the targeting of gay men by the NYPD at cruising spots. Guillermo, as Rick, gives a strong and layered performance as a man struggling with his sexuality and the impact it has on his relationships with his ex-wife, his son and his mother. It also focuses on how Rick uses the Central Park cruising spots as a way to find at first catharsis, and then release. I asked if his own experiences informed the story and how he played the character.
“Todd wrote the script. And then I gave him my ideas and we tweaked it. I would tell him stories about myself because I grew up in New York City/ Washington Heights in the 80s and 90s. No one cruises in person now, everyone’s on apps, but back in the day you did it in person. My first sexual experiences were cruising in a park or at the Port Authority bathrooms. Some of that stuff is in the film. Rick is still struggling with his sexuality. We see his ex-wife in the film and his son and he’s living with his overbearing mother who’s dealing with dementia and that’s all very traumatic for him. He finds solace in going to The Ramble in Central Park and cruising there, but it’s all very taboo. It’s a secret life that he’s living.
For me it mirrors my life. I didn’t come out until I was 27. During all those years of figuring out my sexuality – well, I never had to figure it out – I always knew I was gay; but I was just figuring out how to deal with life as a gay man – I was very in the closet and not out there about my sexuality. There was a lot of lying to my friends and lying to family and then I’d go cruising. Unfortunately, it was a very typical slice of gay life during that era. I related to it completely. A lot of the stuff that happens in the film were stories that happened to me or to Todd.”
After witnessing a murder in the cruising area, Rick’s life becomes entwined with the enigmatic Adam, played by Justin Ivan Brown. After a near catastrophic encounter with the killer, Rick continues to go down the rabbit hole with Adam, trying to outsmart and ultimately stop him since the authorities were doing precious little to stop the killings. Despite being in consummate danger, Rick cannot keep away from Adam which speaks to his underlying self-loathing and the very real fact that Adam is feeding off of Rick’s fear of him. The dynamic between the two is reminiscent of Count Dracula and Mina Harker, a reference that Guillermo excitedly explained was the inspiration for how he played his scenes with Justin.
“There’s a scene where I first encounter him, when he’s chasing me. He asked me to invite him back to my place and I’m like what? What do you mean? And then he says it again and then if you look closely, you’ll see it in my eyes, that I kind of go into a trance and then invite him back to my place. I always played it that way, as if it was Dracula talking to Lucy or to Mina.”
What goes down afterwards would require me to spoil too much of the movie so you will have to see it for yourself. Suffice it to say that the story goes to some strange and titillating places with an ending that is definitely up for interpretation as was confirmed in my discussion with Guillermo. What I can say is that Guillermo’s character ultimately finds his way towards self-acceptance and finally embraces his homosexuality.
“Rick is dealing with his demons and coming to terms with them and facing them; not running away from them. When we do that in life that’s when shit becomes easier, you start breathing and relaxing into yourself and into life. I think that’s what happens with Rick. And again, our movie is told in a very stylized way. The audience is left to make of it what they want. “
When asked what he wants moviegoers to take away from the film he said:
“I just want them to have fun watching it! It is a really interesting and very different kind of film. It’s a queer film, so that’s super exciting. I also want audiences to take away the brilliance of Todd Verow. I feel he’s super underrated and not highlighted as much as he should be. I hope people take away a new favorite filmmaker from the experience because he’s just wonderful!”
And when asked what his message is to his bear fanbase was he said:
“Grrrr!” We both laughed of course but then he said:
“I want to thank them because they’re such an accepting, tolerant and fun crowd. They’re not caught up in all that bullshit of being super skinny and all that. It’s been so great for my self-esteem. I’ve never really thought about it that deeply, but the bears are a group of guys that are super-hot and fun where nobody’s worrying about what they’re wearing or how skinny they are. It’s just a fun-loving group of people and I appreciate that and all the support they’ve given me.”
Oh! And in case you’re wondering what Guillermo’s favorite Madonna era is, it’s the Erotica era – a bear after my own heart!
You Can’t Stay Here will be playing at New York City’s IFC Center until January 11 with an additional Q&A scheduled for Guillermo Diaz and Todd Verow on January 10 after the 7:10 PM screening. Tickets HERE.
The film will have its Los Angeles premiere at Laemmle Glendale February 8.