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    Cooper Koch Talks About the New Queer Thriller They/Them

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Out gay actor Cooper Koch delivers a breakout performance in They/Them, a fabulous queer horror film now out on Peacock. Koch plays Stu, one of more than a dozen teens sent to a conversion therapy camp. Stu, a swimmer, wants to be straight, but as the film progresses, he joins the other queer, trans, and nonbinary campers as they fight the horrors of conversion therapy while also trying to stay alive as a killer is on the loose!

    The film is full of twists as it focuses on LGBTQ empowerment. In a recent phone interview, Koch chatted with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about They/Them.  

    Gary M. Kramer: Stu is initially living in fear and self-loathing because he is gay—which is apt for a horror film. Can you talk about his character and his transformation?

    Cooper Koch: He’s coming from a place of such repression—where he doesn’t want to be who he is—that at first he bullies and hurts people. I was going for the aspect of “hurt people hurt people.” He’s trapped, and it takes being around a community of queers to open him up and accept himself. That is something I can relate to. When I was in high school and in my first year of college, I really didn’t want to be who I was. And it took being in acting school to realize that if I want play other people, I need to be able to be myself.

    Gary M. Kramer: There is a fun scene where the campers break out into song, which validates the film’s messages about self-worth as well as how we all put on masks to present ourselves. Can you talk about the ideas of identity in the film?

    Cooper Koch: I think the song is the turning point. That’s the moment where Stu decides to jump in and join everyone and take off his mask. He is wearing a mask the whole film until that scene. It’s his moment where he accepts himself and everyone else. For myself, it took a second for me to be confident and comfortable in my identity. And it is such an important thing to love who you are and be yourself. It’s unhealthy to not.

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about playing up the sex and violence?

    Cooper Koch: It is set up in such a way that you’re rooting for Stu. The way the [seduction] scene is shot with the music and the lighting in the cabin and the lake, it is beautiful. And it should be that way. So, when it all gets flipped upside down, it makes it all the more tragic and horrific.

    Gary M. Kramer: Did you feel objectified as many characters in “straight” horror movies are?

    Cooper Koch: I didn’t really feel that way. I felt it was a moment to celebrate queer love and joy. I didn’t feel that I was an object of desire. I wanted [the sex scene] to be two gay men making love, but there is a lens you can see through that is male/female/they gaze. It’s super sexy and hot and I’m so happy with it.

    Gary M. Kramer: What are your thoughts about the film’s LGBTQ representation? They/Them boasts an authentic cast. What can you say about being an out gay actor and creating a project like this?

    Cooper Koch: I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to be cast in it. To have actual trans, nonbinary, and queer people playing all of the roles is how it should be. We should tell these stories more to build more awareness and represent our community. 

    Gary M. Kramer: The film has a moral point in that the heroes are fighting against an oppressive system of people who want to “change” them. What can you say about the film’s morality and how Stu fares?

    Cooper Koch: I don’t think it’s just at all. It’s sick and horrible what is done to him. He is caught in a trap. He doesn’t deserve that. He is definitely not kind in the beginning, but I think, through being with his fellow campers, he learns and he grows into himself and ultimately accepts himself.  Of course, he doesn’t deserve [conversion therapy] treatment—no one does! Both Stu and Kim (Anna Lore), go to the camp and want to be changed and then they both change their minds. 

    Gary M. Kramer: Have you had any experiences camping?

    Cooper Koch: Camping is a weird thing for gays. It’s just not a place for a young gay man. Maybe that’s just my opinion. I did not like camp. I went one time as a kid because my mom made me and my twin brother, who is also gay, go for a week. We tried to escape because we hated it. 

    © 2022 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on August 11, 2022