Frank Christian Marx kisses and tells (about ’Men to Kiss’)
Earnest is a handsome, straight-laced banker; Tobias is free-spirited philosophy student. They make an unlikely couple, yet their affection for each other drives "Men to Kiss," the new German film that bubbles like a classic screwball comedy, except that it’s updated to the urban playground that is contemporary Berlin.
The two are deeply in love (and lust); but what complicates matters are their friends. The sweet, if naïve Earnest is a bit overwhelmed by Tobias’ circle of friends, while Tobias finds an adversary in Uta, Earnest’s childhood friend who has returned to Berlin to claim him for her own. What ensues is a battle-of-wits between the determined Uta and the wily Tobias, with Earnest caught in the middle.
"Men to Kiss" is froth, but with a serious subtext - something that Frank Christian Marx deftly balances in his script (written with an assist from André Schneider and Jürgen Hirsch). Marx also makes easy-on-the-eyes screen eye candy as Earnest, embodying his easy-going manner with a great deal of sexiness; and he has great chemistry with Udo Lutz, who brings much depth of feeling to the outrageous Tobias. It also has a terrific comic villainess in Alexandra Starnitzky, an actress with wonderfully oversized manner.
With a top-notch cast, sunny Berlin locations and a wacky sense-of-humor, "Men to Kiss" is a welcome change from most German gay films, which are often more sober coming out studies. In this film, directed by Robert Hasfogel, Earnest and Tobias are very comfortable with their sexuality; just not with each other.
The film is quickly turning out to be one of this season’s more popular titles on the LGBT Film Festival circuit. It recently won the Audience Favorite Award at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival - no small achievement for a film in German with subtitles. And recently played to a sold-out, most enthusiastic audience at the Boston LGBT Film Festival.
The most convivial Marx was in Boston where EDGE caught up with him for this interview. He travels with his film to Canada, Hawaii, Mexico and cities on the West Coast in upcoming weeks for screenings of his film.
It’s about Berlin
EDGE: Did you come up with the idea for the movie?
Frank Christian Marx: When I came to the project there was already a script written by one of the co-writers. The characters of Tobias, Earnest and Uta were already in there. But they were shown in a very different way and they were part of an ensemble-esque story. When I rewrote the script I put the relationship of Earnest and Tobias in the center of it. The script used to be a story about a couple of friends and now it´s a much more personal story about this man who is trying to cope with his absolutely crazy boyfriend and the transformation he has to go through to know what he really wants, and of course it´s about Berlin.
EDGE: How did Robert Hasfogel (the film’s director) get involved?
Frank Christian Marx: That´s a trick question. There´s a mystery surrounding him that we tried to keep. Ok, let me lift the curtain a little bit for you. We had an actual director for the first part of the shooting but for personal reasons he had to depart from the film so our production company Ente Kross Film, which I founded with Udo (my partner in the film) took control of the second part of shooting and the whole postproduction. So the name Robert Hasfogel is a little bit of Udo and me too. And the funny thing is that Robert Hasfogel - the person that not really exists just won an award in India.
EDGE: German gay movies are usually more sober. This one is closer to some of its American cousins. Was that your intention in making the movie?
Frank Christian Marx: It definitely was. German gay movies are normally coming out stories or very dramatic stories with a heavy issue. We wanted to change that. I think we are the first German gay romantic comedy ever that´s not dealing with these issues. Our intention was to make a movie which is light and fun, but also make Tobias and Earnest a very believable couple. You know when the audience is not buying us as a couple then we lost.
EDGE: Can you cite any influences in your concept?
Frank Christian Marx: I grew up loving all the old screwball comedies like "Bringing Up Baby" or "What´s Up Doc?" They were so over so top and so hilarious. In the matter of showing the chaotic relationship of Earnest and Tobias on screen they inspired me a lot. So for me Tobias is Katherine (Hepburn) or Barbra (Streisand) and Earnest is Cary (Grant) or Ryan (O’Neal). I wish we would have had more budget so we could have make a car chase scene like they did it in "What’s Up Doc?" (laughs)
Not all about fun
EDGE: Are the characters taken from real-life?
Frank Christian Marx: You know the thing is in real life it´s the total opposite. Udo is more much serious and I am the nut job. So yes, some of the situations are based on real life. I once had a boyfriend who couldn´t cope with me because I am not your ordinary straight thinking guy. He said the sentence to me which is quite important in the movie: "I wish that I could get you more."
EDGE: The film has a screwball comedy quality, but also has a serious subtext. Was that your intention?
Frank Christian Marx: It sure was. The script already had some very over the top situations and we added even more of them. But what I also added was the strong bond between the two main characters. Like I said earlier you have to root for them - you have to wish that they will last as a couple. And it´s not all about having fun in life. Earnest is alone in Berlin, Tobias’ friends are the only friends he has beside Uta, and this woman is very dangerous in the context of Earnest’s happiness. So when Earnest is realizing that Uta is playing games with him, it gets dead-on serious. He´s about to lose the love of his life, so that was something I wanted to make very real. In the case of the character of Tobias we wanted to show his other not-funny side as well. We wanted to show that he can be heartbroken like every other person.
We are Gay
EDGE: As to that subtext, is the story as much about Earnest growing up and accepting his being gay as it about his finding true love?
Frank Christian Marx: Earnest is openly gay, he don´t has a problem with identifying himself as a gay person, but he do has a problem finding his place in the crazy world of Tobias. He don´t know where he fits in or if this is the right kind of relationship for him. He is more serious and straight-laced, but as you can see in the movie there´s more to his character than at first glance. There´s a crazy person inside of him too. He´s just not realizing it in the beginning.
EDGE: The trend in America is towards to conformity - so many gays being like straights. You celebrate the difference in this film. What do you think of the assimilation movement?
Frank Christian Marx: I hate the word "straight" acting. Do we want to be straight? No. WE ARE GAY. Every female man can be very manly in some situations and every manly man can be very female. For example, I am a so-called "straight looking" guy. I have a beard, I´m tall and I am masculine. But believe me, you have to see me when I´m watching a comedy in a movie theatre. I break out in laughter and I can´t stop, and the sound of that is very similar to a little girl. I can scream like a woman when I´m watching a horror movie and I can be a big queen. I think everyone can, even the heterosexuals. So why not stop complaining about female males and male females and starting to take them as they are? My friend got used to that to take me as I am.
Different than Earnest?
EDGE: Are you like Earnest?
Frank Christian Marx: I really love Earnest. He is so sweet and in a way very innocent. He believes in the loyalty of Uta and don´t suspects anything. You could say he´s a little naive. He likes his world to be controlled by him what makes it so funny and also serious when everything is collapsing. To answer your question: I share with Earnest his sensitive feelings but other than that I´m very different.
EDGE: Are you like Tobias?
Frank Christian Marx: You could say I have a crazy Tobias-like side in me. I´m living my life very differently to other people.
EDGE: Is Uta American? German? I couldn´t quite place her national origin. She´s a bigger-than-life character and a wonderful villain. Was she like that in the original script or did you change anything about her?
Frank Christian Marx: Oh, she was a villain in the first draft also. But she was not so much the center of the story. I added more scenes with her to show what kind of woman she is. How manipulative she can be and what an absolute threat to Earnest and Tobias she really is. But in some way she´s not only evil. There´s one scene where you can´t really know if she is playing the girl next door or if this a side that´s hidden somewhere. I think she really loves Earnest and she wishes that they are innocent children again, but now she really wants to have him by herself and seeing Earnest so happy with Tobias is shaking her to the core so she has to take actions.
There is so much of this woman that lies underneath and is not outspoken and Alexandra did such a wonderful job portraying this character. A character you love to hate. And for her national origin: she´s German and has lived in America for a very long time. And the English words she is using in all her conversations are a total attitude. When you see the first scene between Earnest and her you realize that there´s not one English word spoken. But as soon as she meets Tobias she´s turning into that uber-life villain.
Friends vs. friends?
EDGE: Your film is also about the rifts that develop between couples when each attempts to bring their friends into the mix. Do you see this as a common issue not yet addressed in gay rom-coms?
Frank Christian Marx: Yeah. I think this is something that’s very rarely addressed. I mean you have the parents meeting the new boyfriend or friends coming to terms that their friend is gay but I never saw a gay movie about this issue before. I don´t know if they are movies out there like that. If, yes, I wanna see them. I also experienced that in my life, with a boyfriend whose friends I couldn´t get along with. I mean I tried to, but it just didn´t work. You cannot lose yourself in a relationship. You have to be with your friends too because they are the ones who will be there even when the relationship ends. And if for any reason your partner doesn´t like to spend time with your friends than you have to be the one to do that, even without him. Friendships are the most important thing in life. Well, for me they are.
EDGE: The relationship between Earnest and Tobias is so passionate. Was it difficult to find that level with your co-star Udo Lutz?
Frank Christian Marx: Not at all. Ok, at the first day of shooting it was a little bit difficult; but later this day we had a conversation on my terrace for hours. The next day we realized that we in some way had created this intense chemistry which later made us best friends and business partners. It was so easy to interact with Udo. He is so adorable and very talented. I love him. I really love him.
An awkward moment?
EDGE: The film has a great look -- were you involved in the way it uses color and light. That is, in describing the film, were these elements that you brought to the project or did they come from the director?
Frank Christian Marx: Like I said earlier the movie is not about the director´s work, it´s about the work of Ente Kross Film. With Udo´s help I watched over the whole post-production and that was sooooo amazing to get thrown in the water and experiencing all the craziness of post-production. During the shooting these camera elements were all Till´s work (the director of photography). He shot the film so beautifully and he knows exactly what he´s doing. We learned a lot from him. So there´s a little bit of Till in Robert Hasfogel too.
EDGE: Did much of the script end up on the cutting-room floor?
Frank Christian Marx: There are two or three scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor for various reasons, mostly involving the character of the friends. The earlier script had more of them in it, but it wasn´t necessary to the story telling so we decided to cut it. Like I said the script used to be very different in the first draft.
EDGE: The film has one fairly explicit sexual scene, was that awkward for you as an actor?
Frank Christian Marx: Yes and no. Udo made it very easy for me. We did the scene for five hours I think, lying completely naked on the table, being watched by the team members. I have to say we drank a large amount of wine before that to loosen up (laughs). But once we found the right move it was something really special. All the heterosexual team members were so wonderful in the process and at the end they applauded. I personally think that this scene is very important for the movie. I wanted to show them a sexual couple, as a couple who really likes to have sex with each other. You can find this in every heterosexual rom-com. I don´t wanted us to be this sexless couple. I wanted us to be steamy.
A learning experience
EDGE: Berlin is as much a character in the film -- is it like New York use to be as an urban gay playground?
Frank Christian Marx: Yes it sure is. In "Sex and the City" New York was the 5th lady. In our movie Berlin is one of the core characters also. You know we are all thirty-somethings and Berlin surely is a town which can you really enjoy at this age (and also at every other age). Berlin is so colorful. And it has a big gay scene with soooo many different kind of places and a club for every sexual variety. And apart from the sex we love to get to know and welcome new people. I could never live anywhere else in Germany.
EDGE: Was it a difficult shoot?
Frank Christian Marx: Oh boy, yes. But don´t let me start. We learned a lot and "Men to Kiss" was a perfect learning field.
EDGE: Where do you see your career as going -- would you like to continue to act? To write? Both?
Frank Christian Marx: As a producer and filmmaker I want to prove with the next movie that we and our production company are not a flash in the pan. We want to add something to the German gay and lesbian film community that isn´t there yet. A matter of course of gay stories without coming out or disease topics but interesting, exciting, funny and dramatic tales where is it not important that the characters are gay. They just are. In other countries they already have stories like that, but not here.
As a writer I want to grow a lot more. With the first draft of the script I already had a shell to work with, being written by one of my co-writers. That made it so much easier. i just had to find the real story in it and continue building it up.
As an actor I wanna expand myself more. The next movie is very dark Australian film. It´s about this guy who lost a friend because of a hate crime and is going a very dangerous and dark path in his life when he decides to turn the tables and goes on a mission to kill homophobes. He´s meeting up with a boy with a similar mission and they´re turning into this "Natural Born Killers"-esque couple. Oh, it´s gonna be so controversial and I´m so happy to be a part of that. The movie will be directed by Christoph Scheermann who already proved himself as a very exciting filmmaker of LGBT short films. My partner in the movie will be Bartholomew Sammut, who I cannot wait to work with. The filming will take place in Melbourne, Australia. That´s the second time I´ll be travelling to Australia (after our world premiere in Sydney). We are in pre-production right now. If you´re interested go to the website .
You know, two years ago I was fired by my acting agency because I´m decided to be openly gay. And now, as an open gay actor I have more work than ever before. Isn´t that strange?
Liked in the States?
EDGE: How was "Men to Kiss" the film received in Germany?
Frank Christian Marx: It didn´t come out yet in Germany. We only had a preview at a German gay and lesbian film festival where Udo was while I´m doing the US festival tour. I just got word that the audience also loved it. After promoting the movie in the States I will be give all my effort to promote it in Germany.
EDGE: How is it being received in the States?
Frank Christian Marx: Before Queerscreen, our first film festival, we were told that we shouldn´t have too much high hopes because it´s a German gay comedy with subtitles, not knowing if there´s a crowd for that. But you know what? There IS. We were the surprise hit of the festival, got two awards at the next festival in India and recently got an honorable mention as an audience favorite at our third festival in Miami. So many people came to me telling that they loved the movie. I didn´t expected this little independent comedy getting so big and I´m so grateful to every single member in our team, because they were working their asses off to make it work.
EDGE: What’s it like watching yourself on the screen?
Frank Christian Marx: I´m very critical when it comes to my acting. I can say that all the other actors did a wonderful job, but whenever I see myself on screen I´m criticizing something. But I guess, that´s normal. Once again it was such a wonderful learning field in the cutting room floor to not look after how you look like or how you think the quality of your acting is, but to tell the story in the right way and make it believable.
EDGE: Are you getting offers for dates here in the States?
Frank Christian Marx: I love American men and I have some American roots in me as well. And I love flirting a lot. So yes, I have the possibility to do that here. (smiles)
The festival vibe
EDGE: Do you like your festival tour so far?
Frank Christian Marx: Oh my God, the festival´s people were so great to me. I´m really making good friends and contacts here. And you met so wonderful people and other actors and filmmakers. For example I had the opportunity to met Murray Bartlett, the star of "August," and there I found myself spending time with this wonderful gorgeous man who I adored since I first saw him in an episode of "Sex and the City." It´s so amazing what these guys, who run the festival accomplish, it´s all about community and the festivals are changing my feeling about community. I was never that much of a community person. Now I wanna be that kind of person. For example, Boston really opened my eyes to the older LGBT demographic when I had lunch with senior members and supporters of the festivals. Right now I´m learning how important it is to have social groups and supporting systems.
EDGE: What is different about German gay culture and American gay culture?
Frank Christian Marx: It´s not that much of a difference. I mean, of course we can do things you aren´t allowed to do here. We can be very more openly with our sexuality as you can. But we have the same problems, On the outside everything is wonderful and everyone is excepting us but we have people who hates us and who are trying to get rid of us so we have to stand together and fight for it. As simple as that sounds it really is.
At the screening of "Live Free or Die" with Bishop Gene Robinson he really inspired me.
He said: "We have to find our voice".
And I´m just starting to find mine.
EDGE: How can our readers get in contact with you?
Through our production company or through my Facebook page or to the film’s Facebook page.
Watch the trailer to "Men to Kiss":
Upcoming screening dates for Men to Kiss are May 23 - 26, 2012 in Mumbai, India; May 26, 2012, Fairytale Filmfestival Calgary, Canada; May 26, 2012, San Diego, CA; June 2, 2012, Out Twin Cities Film Festival, Minneapolis, MN; June 3, 2012, Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, Honolulu, Hawaii; June 22 - 28, 2012, Kansas City Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Kansas City, MO; July 12 - 23, 2012, QFest, Philadelphia, PA; and October, 2012 (dates to be determined), Reel Affirmations, Washington DC.
To find out more about "Men to Kiss" and its upcoming dates, visit the "Men to Kiss" Facebook page.