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Director Andrew Fleming talks Ideal Home, challenging rom-com conventions, and striving for real LGBT representation

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Ideal Home is Andrew Fleming’s latest film, a wonderful comedy which balances laugh-out-loud humour with precious and emotional moments. Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd star as Erasmus and Paul, long-term lovers who share a wild and tempestuous relationship in Santa Fe. Their lives are thrust into further disarray when Erasmus’ grandson, one he never knew about, arrives at their home with only a plastic bag containing cash, a bag of cocaine and a Bible.

The inspiration for the story was drawn directly from Fleming’s own experience, it seems. “I lived with a gentleman and his son from a previous marriage to a woman. And that sort of happened in tandem with my inventing these two characters [of Erasmus and Paul] for another story, so I kind of put them into our circumstance.

“It’s not an autobiography, but I just kind of imbued it with things that had happened to us. I mean the circumstances were that the boy was his son, and we were not quite the bumbling parents Paul and Erasmus are, but my life kind of informed a fictitious story – fact and fiction melded together. Plus, it took a long time to get made, so I had time to keep adding to it and personalising it, until it was what it was.”

Despite the fictitious nature of the film’s characters, Fleming still sees himself in them. “I’ve said that I’m Paul on a bad day and Erasmus on a good day,” he laughs. “They’re a lot like me, but I’ve also said they’re a lot like people I know. I realised at a certain point that it was something kind of different, and that it was a gay love story.

“And I looked around and felt like, this doesn’t really exist otherwise, and I realised I’ve never really seen me or people I know represented candidly. It wasn’t an easy movie to get made, and that’s when I thought ‘I’m going to keep pushing on this’, because otherwise I think something like it won’t exist. If it does already, it’s usually much more serious, and it’s about falling in love, and half the time it ends tragically. But I’ve never seen a gay romantic comedy like mine.”

Of course, with the recent releases of films like Call Me by Your Name or Love, Simon, LGBT+ representation does seem to be improving in film. Fleming agrees: “I think it’s improving, but I think that there hasn’t been a moment when all the gays stop and say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re no longer just the supporting character!’ because that is still the case.

“But also, there is a lot of instances, especially in TV, where the character becomes assimilated and stops being gay. Most of the gay men I know, if you saw them across a dinner table you’d say, ‘Well that guy is probably gay’ you know, and I feel like so much of the depiction I see – and this is just as true with men and women – there’s a heteronormative, to use a really pretentious word, quality to it. And that’s not what I see or what I experience.”

The director has mentioned the difficulty he had getting Ideal Home made, but did it have anything to do with the fact its main characters were gay? “It’s very hard to get a movie made these days; it’s a lot harder than it used to be. The movie business in America – I can’t really comment on Britain, though we have a British star in the movie – it’s very difficult to make a movie made unless it’s a giant blockbuster based on a comic book.

“And it’s even harder to get distribution. But if you add on top of that something with two men… and they are not moral exemplars! They’re messes, and they make bad choices, they drink too much, they fight. It was the most difficult movie to get made that I’ve ever done, for sure. It took a very long time.”

The film received a simultaneous digital and cinematic release in the United States, which Fleming hopes will help with distribution. “The truth is, when I started making movies I realised that most of the time, people end up seeing films on cable, or they see it on DVD, or they download it. That’s just kind of the way it is. I just hope people see it, because I’m very happy with it. I’ve poured more of myself into it than with anything I’ve ever done, and my friends have told me as much. I got it done and I’m very happy with the movie.”

Santa Fe is arguably an unusual setting for a romantic comedy. When asked his choice of location, Fleming responded, “well precisely that reason! You’re used to seeing comedies set in New York or San Francisco, or maybe LA, or generic US cities, and I usually try to do something different.

“I love Santa Fe, and it reflects perfectly who they are as characters because they’ve created this idyllic lifestyle, and Santa Fe is a place people go to curate a lifestyle. It’s very much its own place, and it’s something I’ve observed – I live on a horse ranch in California, and I have a lot of English friends – there are a lot of Europeans who come here and love this idea of being a cowboy, which I think is adorable. More so than a lot of Americans.”

“There are a lot of very smart romantic comedies by people like Nora Ephron and Judd Apatow,” he says of rom-coms that deal with mature relationships, “and they deal with those sorts of things, it’s just that those stories are always about straight people. A friend of mine, she said – and I was kind of despairing because we were having trouble finding distribution – she says, ‘it’s a gay Nora Ephron movie!’ And I said, ‘if that’s not being redundant…’ he laughs.

“Honestly the story isn’t that unusual, it’s only unusual that it’s two men. Why is there not a story about the relationship between two men once things have stopped being caught up in that rush of young romance? Why can’t it be about the bumpy road? It’s not unique to explore the complexities of a relationship on the rocks, it is to see two people of the same sex in that situation.”

“I hope audiences enjoy themselves!” says the director. “It’s in equal measures a drama and a comedy, and I think it’s a funny movie. That’s the big thing, is to have a nice time. But a lot of my heart has gone into it and I hope people come away with it feeling like they’ve shared something real. I’ve gone to a lot of film festivals, and the range of reactions has impressed me; some people come out saying they’ve had the best time, some say they were really touched and moved. Every reaction I’ve got has been different, and it’s heartening to share it with people.”

As for future projects, fans of Fleming will be happy to know that they won’t need to wait long until his next work is released. “I just finished directing and executive producing a series for Netflix, which is called Insatiable, and it will be out in August. And it is a serious show, but also very funny. Certainly, if somebody likes Ideal Home they’ll be drawn into this, I think. I’m very excited about it, it turned out very, very well.”

Ideal Home releases in cinemas and on Digital HD from July 6th.

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