As the unapologetically femme character of Ethan, Moore steals every scene he’s in
Love, Simon doesn’t look or feel, on the surface of it, like a particularly revolutionary film. If anything, it will feel familiar to pretty much anyone who’s ever watched a John Hughes movie, with its floppy-haired, charismatic teenagers having life-defining moments in a Waffle House, and wistful conversations about how they “just don’t fit in” against an indie soundtrack. But Love, Simon’s conventional feel is actually exactly what’s so radical about it – because it’s more a coming out story than coming-of-age. In recent years, LGBTQ cinema has given us diverse, Oscar-winning gems like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, but it’s a push to name any other movies quite like this one: a family-friendly teen high school comedy with a big heart and a happy ending, that just so happens to be about a gay guy.
The film’s lightly conservative portrayal of gay adolescence – in the form of the white, middle class, bro-ish protagonist Simon – also threatens to be its only major drawback. Simon’s insistence that he’s “just like you”, as his family tearfully and wholeheartedly accept him as gay, could ring hollow for LGBTQ kids with different backgrounds and experiences. Ultimately, though, the film retains self-awareness, in part through the appearance of a recurring character named Ethan, portrayed by 27-year-old new star Clark Moore, whose slight and thoughtful scenes add a nuance to the film that elevates it immeasurably.
Ethan is the only out gay kid at Simon’s school – and through his unapologetic embrace of his femme, queer identity, he highlights Simon’s internalised homophobia (and teaches him how to let it go). A brief scene towards the end of the movie also sheds light on Ethan’s backstory, which not only deepens his character, but highlights the fact that kids from different cultural backgrounds to Simon will face different challenges. Beyond all this, he also steals every scene he’s in with perfect one-liners.
We spoke to Moore about why he related to Ethan, his thoughts on misogyny in the LGBTQ community, and why we need more big budget, cheesy movies about gay kids.
What drew you to the role of Ethan?
Clark Moore: I've wanted to be an actor since I was seven, that's actually when I signed with my first agent. I've been auditioning my whole life, there just hasn't really been the right role for me or the right space for me. When I read the description of Ethan, I was just like, ‘Wow, this is so close to my experience’. It's very similar to the things that I dealt with when I was growing up. I was just praying that I would get chosen. I've identified with other roles in the past and not gotten them so this was the big break.
What was it about him that you identified with?
Clark Moore: The fact that he is out of place in this school. He is the only out gay teen at the high school – and the only out gay character in the film from the beginning – and that was my experience. There were a couple of out gay students at my high school, but I could probably count them on one hand, no more than two for sure. That was hard. You're incredibly visible, and as a result you become a target of bullying, and that's what Ethan experiences in the film. He’s an easy target and people pick on him a lot. I was fortunate enough in that I had a supportive friend group and a supportive community and my school was really liberal so I didn't deal with that kind of bullying that much on a day-to-day, but I think that being an outsider, both in your school life and in your family life, that's really, really hard to deal with.
“For so long the gay character has been the best friend, the supporting character, the comic relief to the primary narrative. I'm so glad that we're finally shifting that” – Clark Moore
The character of Ethan is a counterpoint to Simon in some ways, although they also relate to each other. He shows the internalised homophobia that Simon is dealing with – is that something you’ve had experience of too?
Clark Moore: For sure. There's this hierarchy within the gay community of masculinity and femininity, which is not only internalised homophobia, but is also internalised misogyny – that we value masculinity over femininity. The people who get the most attention sexually or romantically, the people that are idealised within our community are the ones who represent more of a traditional expression of masculinity. Especially since we’re now moving past the taboo of homosexuality in general as a culture, it's interesting to see how people still try to find ways to fit into the mainstream narrative.
What were your favourite LGBTQ movies growing up – can you think of any?
Clark Moore: I'm trying to think of gay films that I saw when I was younger... I think that's part of the problem, is that so many of them, like Brokeback Mountain, I didn't watch that until I was much older because my mother didn't feel comfortable taking me to see a movie like that. She made it very clear to me, ‘This is not because these people are gay, I would not feel comfortable taking you to see any movie that is overtly sexual in this way.’ It was such a graphic, dramatic portrayal of a gay experience. That’s part of the reason why we feel starved of this kind of content. Just before you called, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I found a link to an article that was a list of “10 gay films that have happy endings”, the whole concept being that there are stories out there that aren't only focused on, like, the plight of the homosexual in America. I think they do exist, but they haven't been directly in my sphere of influence...that's what's so impactful about (Love, Simon), everyone can see it.
(As a teen I watched) a lot of the stories that weren't traditionally gay in themselves, like Mean Girls, The Devil Wears Prada, Sweet Home Alabama. (Movies) that had nothing to do with the gay experience, but they at least had one gay character in there that we can relate to. The thing that I love about (Love, Simon) is that for so long the gay character has been the best friend, the supporting character, the comic relief to the primary narrative. I'm so glad that we're finally shifting that.
What are you working on next?
Clark Moore: I’m in the process of developing quite a few projects right now. Alongside being an actor, I'm also a writer, and so I've been developing a pilot idea that I have and also a feature idea that I have, so I'm really looking forward to shopping that around.
I think that what (Love, Simon) does a really good job of is representing as many different versions of the gay experience as possible. There are obviously things that are left out, but the fact that my character is even in it – a voice from an LGBT person of colour that has more than just quick, sassy, biting lines, he has some depth, some vulnerability, and he’s also pivotal to the narrative itself – that I haven't seen in the past. So, I'm really excited to explore more of that, and to open up those stories as well, to just show that there are many, many versions of the gay experience.
And then (I also want to write) stories that have nothing to do with the gay experience at all. I am gay, I am black, and I am from the South, but also I have to pay my taxes, and sometimes I fall in love, and sometimes I have dreams and I have goals and I have aspirations – many of those things have nothing to do with my identity, but are stories that I think are worth telling as well.