Recent Comments

    Out Gay Actor Robin de Jesús Talks About Role in tick, tick…BOOM!

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The screen adaptation of the off-Broadway musical tick, tick…Boom!,starting November 19 on Netflix, features out gay actor Robin de Jesús as Michael, an ad executive whose roommate is a struggling musical theater composer named Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield). De Jesús has an infectious musical number, “No More”—when Michael moves into a new apartment—as well as some poignant scenes as his friendship with Jonathan hits some rough patches while Jonathan struggles to finish a song for a workshop for a show he hopes to produce.

    De Jesús, who made his Broadway debut in Larson’s Rent, recently chatted with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making tick, tick…Boom!

    Gary M. Kramer: What are your thoughts on Jonathan Larson and his legacy?

    Robin de Jesús: The production [of Rent] is why I say Jonathan was such an amazing ally. The two male leads are white men, yes, and those are the characters that maybe Jonathan was most like. But the production centered on people of color and had commentary on the AIDS and crack epidemics. When you set a story in New York City—even if it is a one-man show—New York inevitably ends up becoming a character because it has that kind of presence. Who [Jonathan] chose to highlight, and how he highlighted them, was so important. Even though Tom Collins and Joanne Jefferson [characters in Rent] are college educated, there is something that feels very working-class, even if it is hipster working-class. It spoke to demographics that were not typically acknowledged. People felt seen by it. It was very intersectional, and that’s why the fans connected to it. All we want is to be seen. Even when you are shy, you want to be seen. And the emotional availability; his lyrics are simple but insanely human.

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about performing the musical numbers in tick, tick…Boom!? You have a tremendous energy, but I’m sure it can be exhausting.

    Robin de Jesús: That day shooting “No More” was quite tiring, but it was joyous, so we were sustained by that. We had to do all the choreography, acting, and all the lip-synching in double time, which is bizarre and so hard. We learned it before the pandemic shutdown, and during the break, everyone’s lives were predominantly more sedentary. Coming back, I didn’t have endurance that I had prior, so it was getting my rev up again. I wanted to add rehearsals because I wanted it to be perfect.

    Gary M. Kramer: There is a stirring musical number in the film that recounts Jon’s friendship with Michael. Why do you think Michael is so supportive of Jon?

    Robin de Jesús: My big thing with Michael was that when I auditioned for the role I thought: how do I present? He is an advertising guy. But I don’t think he’s just a guy in a suit. That label doesn’t identify him. He is Jonathan’s roommate. They have been friends since childhood. They love watching Sunday in the Park with George together. They live in SoHo. They are not not cool. I’m not going to embrace that—and not play someone in advertising—I’m just going to be me. Lin [Manuel Miranda, who directed] eventually told me that was what separated me that I wasn’t playing that. Where we see Michael in written scenes is in moments of frustration and caretaking, but that’s why watching Sunday in the Park with George is so good; Michael does enjoy that musical theater nerd-dom, and that his friend Jon is brilliant, and when he needs him, he will be there for him. And it might seem in the film that I’m always there for Jon, and he is not always there for me, but there is reciprocation. Jonathan is in an annoying, self-absorbed place in the film, but overall, we don’t sit there all the time.

    Gary M. Kramer: Do you worry about being typecast?

    Robin de Jesús: When you attach the adjective “gay” to something, people assume that that is one note of acting. You often hear gay actors who only play gay, or only played gay, so we don’t know if they are that good. But no one says a straight white guy who only plays straight, so we don’t know if he is talented or good. I’m aware gay is only one thing, so this character was nice to be a person who was more—and quiet. Traditionally, as a gay Latino, this role wouldn’t have gone to me. When you hear gay Latino, you immediately think John Leguizamo in To Wong Foo … . It’s frustrating because people don’t realize that that erasure of gay and Latino folks and all marginalized groups, that whenever our characters are not multi-dimensional that contributes to violence, and a reduction that eventually hurts us and the culture. It is a very big deal. People always want to simplify. But sometimes you can fix these issues with literally one line. Words matter.

    © 2021 Gary M. Kramer

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

    Published on November 18, 2021