EDGE Interview: With New Film 'The Mattachine Family,' Nico Tortorella's Latest Role is 'Life Imitating Art'
Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 6 MIN.
"What is it about gay dads that people find so interesting?"
That is not only a line from queer actor Nico Tortorella's new movie "The Mattachine Family," directed by Andy Vallentine, in which their character wants to become a dad, but it was also a question Tortorella had for the screenwriters upon initially reading the script. Coincidentally the 35-year-old actor, who uses they/them pronouns, received the script before becoming a dad themself. Perhaps the universe was, in literary terms, doing a little "foreshadowing."
"It really was just one of those life-imitating-art moments," Tortorella tells EDGE in a phone conversation.
As for "The Mattachine Family," the "Scream 4" star couldn't believe that a movie about gay dads pondering a child had not been made before. Tortorella references "Modern Family," but says nothing has been done outside of that.
"There, hasn't, at that time, been queer parent stories, at least in mainstream film. So, I immediately saw myself as Thomas."
"The Mattachine Family" is currently running the festival circuit. It follows couple Thomas (Tortorella) and Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace) as they decide whether or not to have a baby after their foster child is returned to the birth mother. It is based on writers and real-life couple Andy and Danny Valentine's journey into gay parenthood and surrogacy.
Arguably, the topic of pregnancy is absent from cinema unless it comes in the form of a horror movie. In fact, most movies that center around pregnancy are heaped with paranoia and tales of the occult. But for real people going through it, the scares are corporeal. If you are a gay couple, there are added layers too. That is what is explored in "The Mattachine Family," a gay couple finding the meaning of family and what it means to them individually. It's a tough theme. Maybe that is why it hasn't been explored much in mainstream cinema.
Tortorella says they have been thinking a lot about why Hollywood isn't keen on having honest discussions about queer families. It's not that cinema is wholly to blame. He thinks the country has gone backwards in both a political and legislative way. For every step forward, there are a few steps back. Tortorella says the LGBTQ+ community is having conversations about sexuality and gender, but at state and country levels there have been some major blows: "It's hard to have the queer family conversation before we can figure out the queer identity conversation. Unfortunately, we are still at that spot, and it doesn't seem to be getting better right now."
But people are getting smarter, right? The technological age is churning out more advances every year making access to information faster and more accessible than ever. Maybe it is not how that information is being passed, but what type of information. "I don't know necessarily that intelligence and access to information computes to emotional intelligence," says Tortorella.
Education is what fuels conversations about gender and sexuality but people have a way of only finding the answers they want to hear. However Artificial Intelligence in regards to thinking patterns may change all of that. In what capacity? Nobody knows.
"I think that this idea of being trans and this idea of being other than is going to go even farther now that we have computer mechanics at our fingertips," Tortorella says. "Quite literally, once we start becoming the machine, which is already happening, we are already a cyborg in so many ways; we have our phones. But once it's actually integrated, this idea of trans humans goes even farther than anything we've ever imagined possible. I think identity is just gonna continue to shift. At a global level, we are still at very, very basic understandings of who we are, where we come from and what it means to be in love, you know, in relationship with someone. Hopefully, this new form of intelligence will allow us the time and mental space to seek things in ways which we didn't even know possible. But, I don't know if that happens in our generation."
Then there is the question of social media. What was once used to connect people has become a platform for business, going so far as to create stars of their own. Tortorella says the social media channels don't center the creators anymore, it centers the platform. Algorithms are too busy analyzing one's behaviors. "It doesn't necessarily serve the art right now," Tortorella says.
"Social media is going to demand more from its users and creators, whether or not, more emotionality comes with that, is really up to the creator and the person who's watching it."
The same can be said of a family. In "Mattachine Family" there are tones of under-managed mental health and what that means in the blueprints of building a family. Can, or should, traumatized people, have kids? Tortorella says it is sometimes unavoidable.
"I believe that in every house in this country and across the entire world there are hurt people, raising, hurt people," Tortorella says. They contend that there are varying types of trauma inside each person and in today's world it is sort of a competitive sport played out online as to who has the most trauma. Tortorella isn't sure if that is the right platform to heal. "It just creates more division across the board." But, they also say, as much as trauma can be wounding it can be helpful.
"I'm excited for my children to experience a level of hardship, you know," Tortorella says. "I obviously want my children to have incredible lives and I hope that they will. But I believe the only way to do that is to experience conflict and to work through some shit and to be sad. Our ability to feel those things, from my perspective, our ability to feel anything is a fucking miracle. And the harder stuff makes you a better person if you have the ability to look at it and become wiser for it."
As for the actor's own family, their journey has been widely publicized. The struggles of fertility and conception as a gender fluid couple were interesting. As Tortorella said in the beginning, it was like art imitating life, and their journey to building a larger family is already underway.
"Yeah, we're actively working on it. Right now we're not trying to wait," they say. "You know, we are in our mid-to-late thirties and if we want to stack them it's time to get to work."
Speaking of work, Tortorella can't speak too much about it, but they are currently working on something away from the camera and inside a music studio. "I have figured out a way to create something that I can have complete autonomy over – that's mine. And music really is the only mainstream art form where you can say and do whatever you want and can be somewhat digestible. I've just, like, figured out a new vehicle for the things that I wanna say and I can't share it with the world."
Whether it is a movie about an unconventional family or Tortorella's own, there is one thing that the actor wants to make clear: Families come in all types of packages, and they can succeed. Whether or not there is a definitive answer on how they succeed through existing pain might never be clear.
"I do know one thing for sure though," Tortorella says, "is that love and family has the potential to heal everything, whether it be in the moment or forever; love conquers."