Timothy Greenfield-Saunders has made a name chronicling icons from a variety of fields—African Americans, Latinos, supermodels, porn stars. His latest endeavor sees the photgrapher/documentarian chronicling some of the biggest names in the LGBT community. The Out List, debuting tonight at 9:30pm on HBO, features surprisingly raw interviews with Ellen DeGeneres, Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, trans journalist Janet Mock, NFL player Wade Davis, NYC mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, our friend Lady Bunny and others. "Growing up, the fear of being gay was about being effeminate...not being a man," reveals Neil Patrick Harris. "I never felt sexually comfortable in my skin."
NewNowNext sat down with Greenfield-Saunders to talk about the project, his high-profile subjects and who he hopes The Out List reaches.
How did The Out List come together?
[caption id="attachment_108586" align="alignright" width="214"] Timothy Greenfield-Saunders[/caption]
It seemed like a logical progression to profile people in the gay community, given what's been going on with Prop 8 and DOMA. it actually started two years ago when I got Ellen to sit down for an interview. I basically have her a 30-second elevator pitch when I met her at a fashion show. Once I got someone of her stature on board, it was easier to get others to come forward.
Some of the interviews were surprisingly candid, especially from celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris, who have such polished public personas. How did you get them to open up like that?
Sam [McConnell] did the actual interviews but we created an atmosphere, I think, that made people feel comfortable being candid. That's my job as director. By time we sit in front of camera they feel like they can really express themselves honestly.
You talk to a wide range of subjects. How important was it for you to mix up boldface names and more everyday people just living their truth?
If you make it all celebrities, you kind of fail at your responsibility. But you need include some get people to watch—and upend people's expectations. I think we ended up with a great mix, and the pieces with people like Suze Orman and the lesbian sheriff from Texas really surprised me.
One of your subjects is gay Republican R. Clark Cooper. Was it hard listening to him with wanting to respond—or strangle him?
[Laughs] It was very hard for me to not challenge him. It's like he had Stockholm syndrome! I mean, how can you be Republican and be gay? But I think it worked because it opens up a conversation about what it means to be a true "conservative" versus the people who have taken over the GOP.
Did you discover some common threads among the subjects?
I think there were common points—marriage equality, stories of coming out—the kinds of things all gay people have something to say about. But I also wanted to draw out their personal journies. Religion was an oddly common theme, and something a lot of gay people are try to work within or through.
As a straight man, did you learn anything from making The Out List that maybe you didn't know before?
I'm pretty plugged-in in general, so I'm well-informed about these issues. I'm trying to reach the people, gay and straight, who maybe need to hear what LGBT people go through. Or who don't know the history—Larry Kramer's piece was so important because he talks about the 1970s and '80s. I was in New York at the time and lost so many friends. It's great that we've made progress on the AIDS epidemic, but its crucial we don't forget what came before.
View portraits from The Out List below
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