Actor Brian Sheppard (seen above) stars in his first feature as lead. He plays struggling poet “Brian” in the gay romance Beautiful Something. He spoke by phone on April 13 from New York about how he arrived at being in the film and gave insight on its production. He was also particularly candid about his own life story.
Sheppard was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He lived in the inner-city with his grandmother. In fact, his grandmother raised him for nearly the first decade of his life. His mom had him at age 14 but due to problems with drug addiction couldn’t totally be there for him.
His grandmother was lost to cancer the day before his 9th birthday, which forced him to go live with distant relatives in Indiana. He went from the inner-city in the South to a pig farm in the Midwest. He jumped from no siblings at all to instantly having two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother, as well as having a mother and father, though adoptive. Sheppard said it took two or three years before he felt at home there, two or three years before he could even call his adoptive mother “mom,” but once he did, he said it was an idyllic childhood, practically pastoral.
His third-grade teacher cast him in a school production of The King and I at age 11. He played the little prince in the acclaimed, Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Sheppard said after that, he was hooked. He even recounts a moment after the play ended where he sat in the lobby of his school and cried. He knew he wanted to be an actor, possibly a musical-theater actor. He went on to do every show, every school play, every year until college.
Unfortunately, his dreams of becoming a musical-theater actor were a bit dashed. He attended Butler University in Indianapolis to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in theater. His experience there discouraged him from wanting to do musicals and for several reasons. For one, Sheppard said the school had clear-cut views, which pushed students either to do Opera or traditional theater with no real in-between. Sheppard said he couldn’t hold a flame to a lot of the singers and dancers who trained or devoted their whole lives.
Being discouraged from musicals though made him realize where his true strengths lie. He, like most actors, fell in love with Shakespeare and gained an appreciation for his poetry and language, an appreciation which would also aide him in his future character in Beautiful Something. After graduating from Northern Illinois University, just outside Chicago, with his acting Master’s degree in 2010, he became involved in a theater company on Cape Cod. That company did all-male, Shakespeare productions, which Sheppard did for about seven months until losing his car in a late-night accident. With no way of getting around, he impulsively decided to head to New York where one doesn’t need a car.
In 2013, Sheppard was doing Hamlet when Steven Patterson, a co-star, recommended that he work on the project Beautiful Something. Patterson was the mentor for Joseph Graham, the writer-director of that project. Sheppard got a draft of the screenplay in May and said it felt really gritty and pretty raw. He said it terrified him, that it was in-your-face and pushed boundaries. Yet, he felt he had to be in this movie. The scenes were fascinating and he wanted the challenge.
His character similarly named “Brian” is a writer suffering from writer’s block who ventures out into the Philadelphia streets in the evening looking for a muse to inspire him. Those muses take the form of various men with whom he wants to have sex. Sadly, those various men are not the muses he hopes they are. He gets a lot of rejections over the course of the one-night in which the film is set. Yet, Brian keeps at it.
This provided the opportunity for Sheppard to work with various actors. Peter Patrikios who plays Dom, the bartender, was a jokester, according to Sheppard. David Melissaratos (pictured above) who plays Chris, the first sexual encounter, was a kind of “bro” who was awkward but excited about the intense, sex scene they have. Sheppard said the director would ease the tension for Sheppard and Melissaratos who are both straight by making them sing the song “Happy Birthday” and dance until they giggled, relaxing them into their intimate gay scenes.
Grant Lancaster (pictured above) who plays Dan, a former roommate and love interest, is the actor with whom Sheppard’s character has the most back-story exposed. Sheppard said that it’s in that scene with Dan that reveals the conflicted feelings Brian has about writing and how much he needs a muse. A Philly actor among the cast is Matthew Rios (pictured below) who plays Sergio, the last encounter for Brian. Sheppard said Rios is naturally cool, never stressed and also described as oozing sexuality. Yet, Rios’ character is a definite counter-point to the fleeting men who come and go.
However, Sheppard had the most words about the movie’s titular character, Jim, played by Zack Ryan (pictured below). Sheppard said Ryan is new to acting and was so green but filled with so much enthusiasm. In fact, Sheppard called Ryan a “ball of energy at first.” He had a frenetic nature, but Sheppard said that probably came from a nervousness being in his first feature but eventually mellowed out. A brotherly relationship developed between he and Ryan. Jim is coincidentally an aspiring actor who has to perform Shakespeare, and given Sheppard’s appreciation for the Bard, he certainly sat down with Ryan the night before and helped the ball of energy with that Shakespeare scene.
Sheppard admitted that his favorite scene in the film involved Ryan and Carlo D’Amore who plays Tony, a bar patron who wants to hook up with Jim. Brian has to come between Jim and Tony and intentionally ruin the hook-up. Sheppard said he was given freedom to perform the scene however he wanted with no direction from Graham. The scene was filmed in the Ruba Club in North Philly and they had no rehearsals. Sheppard had two takes and the ability to wing it.
Sheppard got the script in May 2013 and filming began in November. He had done several readings of the script during the summer. He said that was enough time in advance for the whole thing to settle in his bones. That clearly allowed him to operate without direction for that club scene. He even said through osmosis the character became a part of him and that the character is still a part of him, nearly three years later. He said he thinks about the character a lot and the character showed or revealed things about his own personality.
He said that his biggest takeaway though is knowing that he could do it. Beautiful Something was his first feature as a lead. Up until then, he’s really only done stage-work. Doing a film was something he’d had no prior training, which gave him a little insecurity and not a lot of confidence, but through it all he said he learned a lot about the filmmaking process, which can obviously fuel him for future films.
The experience of course is one thing. The reactions to the film are another, and critical response has been mixed. Gary Goldstein, writing for the Los Angeles Times, panned the film. Goldstein does point out the retro vibe of the movie, which was intentional. Sheppard said Graham was crafting a non-era specific look, only because the movie is semi-autobiographical and is mostly reflective of Graham’s life in the 1980’s. A typewriter used by Brian is in league with that but Sheppard reveals that it’s more a character choice, a conscious choice by Brian to force struggle upon himself.
Sheppard is probably less concerned with a film critic’s opinion though than he is that of his family. He said his adopted mom saw the movie at a festival in Indianapolis. She called him in tears, presumably happy tears.
Whatever one thinks about homosexuality, by the end of Beautiful Something any superficiality is peeled away. Lust and looks are eschewed. The only thing that is left is that pure feeling of love. If nothing else, the film should be viewed for that aspect, but, be forewarned, as Sheppard’s character says in the film, there is “hot, man-on-man action!” (as pictured below)
It opened today, May 6, in select theaters. Screens in the Cinema Village 12th Street in Manhattan and the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles. It will be available nationwide on May 17 on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, DirecTV, Dish Network and Cable VOD.
Follow Brian Sheppard on Twitter @bsheppzilla.
For more information about Beautiful Something, go to its website on Facebook.