The Miseducation star on acting, stereotypes and America
Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Its baffling that in 2018 conversion therapy centers are not only legal in many places but continue to thrive. These institutions are far more toxic than just “pray the gay away” — their programs teach self-loathing to suggestible teens, all but ensuring emotional trauma.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the first of two dramas dealing with the subject set to open this year (the other one, Boy Erased, arrives in November). The eponymous Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teen who, after being caught making out with another girl, is sent to one of these camps in upstate New York. Her personality still in flux, she must fend off a barrage of misinformation about her sexuality.
Besides Cameron, the movie introduces other youngsters in the same boat: keeners who drink the Kool-Aid, oblivious to the long-term consequences, kids who pretend to buy into the program just to go home, and those who see the treatment for what it is: depraved exercises haphazardly put together to give the impression of cohesive therapy.
Among the latter group we find Adam (Forrest Goodluck), sent to the camp by a father who fears the young man’s sexual orientation will interfere with dad’s political career. A detached attitude and a fair amount of weed help him get by, but there doesn’t seem to be an escape for his predicament.
I had the opportunity to talk with the 20-year old Goodluck over the phone. While born in New Mexico, Forrest has a strong connection with Canada: he shot The Revenant in Alberta, and starred in the residential school drama Indian Horse.
Over the course of our conversation, Forrest reveals himself a socially conscious and committed performer. So much so, he let actress Jennifer Ehle — the de facto villain in Cameron Post —shave his hair for the sake of his character. “It was a seven-minute long take. The razor was tickling me and wanted to laugh. I was fighting that.”
What surprised you the most about conversion therapy?
How widely accepted they are. There have been more conversion therapy centers opening in Manhattan in the last two years than in the past decade.
The movie takes place in 1993. Do you think teens sent to conversion therapy today would be better prepared to cope with one of these programs?
I don’t think so. Kids are kids. Whenever you’re messing with the psychology of people who are still developing you can really fuck up their heads. You’re in an age in which nurture and care and love are so important. if stripped of that, it will affect you into adulthood.
Have you put much thought into what would happen to your character after the last frame?
We all talked about it. The film is an origin story for homeless teens. Desiree (Akhavan, the director) was telling me the majority of homeless teens are gay. They feel disenfranchised or run away.
What was the hardest scene to shoot?
We were shooting the film during the election. The morning after Donald Trump was elected, we realized this film that was supposed to be very niche had become important because someone like Mike Pence — who adamantly supports conversion therapy — would be in office. That day, we had to shoot a scene in which Chloe jumps on the table and starts singing. Somehow, she was able to fight through all those emotions and deliver a powerful performance. But it was a really low day.
What’s your criteria to pursue a role?
It has to feel honest and respectful. Of course I’m going to end up playing a lot of native roles, so I look for the ones that speak to my values and my family’s. I’ve turned down a lot of roles that don’t, or feel like stereotypes. I’m not above shooting a romcom. I’m looking for something that feels real to me or has integrity.
What’s your drive to continue acting?
Being able to breath fire into a story. The best actors are the ones who establish this delicate balance with the director: both bring something to the table and create something together. I saw that happen with Leo (Di Caprio) and Alejandro (G. Iñarritu) in The Revenant. You can’t unsee that and you chase it with every role.
Do you feel a bit spoiled? Iñarritu is a very high bar for future projects.
The highest bar. I don’t think there’s a better director alive today. To start with something like The Revenant is such a blessing because now I see the possibilities of artistic expression. He showed me that’s possible for a brown person to say what you want, and say it unapologetically
The Miseducation of Cameron Post director Desiree Akhavan says there wasn’t a particular element of conversion therapy that shocked her — It was all of it: “I met people who had undergone gay conversion therapy,” she says. “There was so much violence in what happened to them. One boy was prescribed Viagra and forced to sleep with girls. Another wasn’t allowed to speak to his mother and sisters for years, while living in the same house.”
The film portrays a couple of slightly less violent techniques. One from the original book — the drawing of an iceberg, where the teens must specify the elements that supposedly triggered their same-sex attraction — and one from research, the “cannibal theory”. “According to cannibal theory, you’re not attracted to the people you are attracted to,” says Akhavan. “You want to be them, and you’re jealous and want their traits for yourself.”
The one moment of levity in Cameron Post is a singalong courtesy of 4 Non Blondes “What’s up”, but it came with a price. “It was the most expensive piece in the budget”, confesses the filmmaker.