By Megan Wadding, April 2018 Web Exclusive.
“Falling For Angels,” a six-episode web series launched by Here TV and Pride Media, offers a provocative and informative look at same-sex relationships, exploring everything from love and relationship troubles to sexual health and heartbreak.
The series, which premiered in December, was inspired by six distinct neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including Boyle Heights, Koreatown, Leimert Park, Bel Air, Silver Lake and Malibu, features an all-star cast including Daniel Franzese (“Looking,” Mean Girls), Alec Mapa (Devious Maids), Steve Grand (country singer), Kevin Spirtas (“Days of Our Lives”), Blake Young-Fountain (The Skinny), Johnny Kostrey (“Aquarius”), Calpernia Addams (Soldier’s Girl), Adrian Nunez (30 Days with My Brother), Jason London (Dazed and Confused) and more. Each installment of the six-episode anthology series is helmed by a different writer/director.
Echo caught up with Franzese and Mapa to find out more about the series, their characters and their thoughts on the importance of LGBTQ storytelling, and here’s what they had to say.
Daniel Franzese portrays Brendon (Episode 5: Silver Lake), an event planner who’s been married to Jeffrey for some time. An expert cook, Brendon thinks there’s something missing from their romance, some vital spark of passion – and maybe they both need to have a different warm body in bed with them. But the morning after a threesome with the much younger Star (Diego Escobar), Brendon doesn’t feel revitalized …
Echo: What is it about the sharing of LGBTQ stories that is important for our community?
Franzese: I jumped at the chance to play another HIV-positive character. After my role of Eddie on HBO’s “Looking,” I realized how impactful it is to have stories told about underrepresented and marginalized groups, especially in the LGBTQ community.
Echo: How do you believe that telling the stories of LGBTQ people will change things?
Franzese: My character on “Looking,” according to GLAAD, was the first scripted character on television in six years and each year that a story wasn’t being told, we saw a rise in new infections. As an ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, I have seen firsthand how much representation matters and these stories, no matter how small, must be heard.
Echo: How long did production take and when did you begin filming for?
Franzese: We shot for two or three days in Silver Lake and shot at [the Finnish artist,] Tom Of Finland’s real Los Angeles house.
Echo: What first drew you to his project?
Franzese: I have worked with the [director, Billy Clift] before on a documentary and we clicked. He’s a great artist and I enjoyed working with him.
Echo: What about the stories involved in this series speaks to you personally?
Franzese: [Los Angeles] is always confused for a city, when in fact it is a bunch of little villages. I think people figure that gay people are only living in West Hollywood, when we are everywhere. I love that Fallen For Angels goes on to explore the other villages and what idiosyncratic gay cultures each one may inhabit.
Echo: Who do you believe these stories speak to?
Franzese: Anyone who in interested in love stories.
Echo: What effect do you believe the telling of the stories of marginalized communities will have? What is the goal?
Franzese: When you feature anyone or anything different in the narrate of film and [television] storytelling, you open up the opportunity for someone to mentally [step into] their shoes. It’s a unique and important experience for communities.
Echo: What has feedback been like so far?
Franzese: People who I have met are excited to see it.
Echo: I know you didn’t really want to get pigeonholed into playing LGBTQ characters, so what is it about this project that made you change your mind?
Franzese: I don’t care about only playing LGBTQ characters. It is more about wanting to play complex characters with arcs.
Echo: Your first gay character, Damien from Mean Girls felt like a massive step forward when it premiered. How was playing a gay character different then than today?
Franzese: Years ago people weren’t writing complex gay characters, and furthermore, ones who were different in ethnicity, size or age. Now we are seeing more stories being told and I am more excited then ever to consider playing them.
Alec Mapa portrays the wedding officiant (Episode 6: Malibu), the warmly good-humored, upbeat and supportive officiant at Scott and Levi’s wedding. He is unfazed when a drone begins swooping over the guests during the ceremony and later joins the festivities, breaking out some moves on the dance floor …
Echo: How did you get involved this in series?
Mapa: I got a call while I was picking up the kid from school and I said, ‘A day- shoot in Malibu with the legendary Calpernia Addams? Hell yes!’ I’m in the season finale.
Echo: How do each of the locations throughout Los Angeles shape the storytelling of that particular episode?
Mapa: Los Angeles is gigantic. I remember seeing on a meme that five different major American cities could fit in LA, from Downtown to the beach. I live in a hipster neighborhood that’s a robust mix of pre- and post-gentrification citizens. Comparatively, Santa Monica might as well be on another planet. In Downtown LA, the story and characters can actually change from block to block. It sounds corny, but in the end, we’re all just people.
Echo: Can you tell me a little bit about your role/character in the series?
Mapa: I’m the wisecracking officiant at the gay wedding of two really hot guys. I’m playing myself if I’d filled out that pastor certification online. My story is I’m a family friend who was asked to be present at this lovely occasion. It actually mirrors my own wedding because our officiant was my husband’s best friend. See how I just made it all about me?
Echo: What about the stories involved in this series speaks to you personally?
Mapa: Gay Asian men get zero screen time and experience horrific discrimination within the LGBTQ community. How many times have you seen a Grindr profile that says, ‘No Fats, femmes or Asians’? There is, however, an episode about two gay Korean men that takes place in Koreatown [in LA]. I filmed with the two actors who are in it and they’re both absolutely gorgeous and talented. Of course, I was immediately jealous, but I’m absolutely psyched that there’s an episode about gay Asian men where they get to be fully-formed human beings with hot sex lives. That never happens, but on this series it does!
Echo: What difference do you believe telling the stories of all LGBTQ people makes in the world?
Mapa: It’s hard to believe that your story as queer person matters if you don’t see yourself in any media. As a gay Asian man, I’m practically invisible in any media. My story isn’t told anywhere so I had to tell my own story on my Showtime Special “Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy.” When the narrative on [TV] and in movies is monolithic – when it’s only telling one big fat white story, where we don’t exist, or all the queer people or people of color have somehow left the planet – it takes on a strange unreality that is becoming more and more unacceptable.
Echo: When stories of marginalized communities do make it to the screen, it can be very powerful. What were some of the most powerful and poignant moments in the series for you?
Mapa: I loved looking around the last day of the shoot and [seeing a] cast of people who actually look like people who live in a city as diverse as Los Angeles. Every bit of representation counts. Living in our gay meccas, we forget we’re in a bubble. Somewhere out there are LGBTQ people who feel isolated and alone. When you see a protagonist onscreen who looks like you, it emboldens you. All of a sudden, your story has relevance. And if you identify with a protagonist who looks nothing like you? That changes hearts and minds.
Echo: What effect do you believe the stories of marginalized communities in this series will have? What is the goal?
Mapa: I took my family to see [Disney’s Coco] last weekend because my friend Selene Luna voices the character Tia Rosita. That Disney is behind an entire animated feature about Dia de los Muertos, and that millions of non-Mexican kids will grow up knowing what that is, blows my mind. Our shared human experiences – love, heartbreak, triumph over adversity – is the only story. But when you start to hear the story from different types of people, it creates empathy. It breaks down prejudice. It enriches your perception of the world. Building a wall between you and people who are different [from you] doesn’t protect you. It strangles your humanity.
Echo: Throughout your experiences in mainstream media, what positive changes have you seen?
Mapa: I was part of “Ugly Betty” 10 years ago, and back then, it was part of a larger push for diversity in mainstream media. There have been definite strides [such as] “Orange Is The New Black” and “This Is Us,” but the push for inclusion still feels like an uphill climb.