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This story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Roland Emmerich is at a bit of a career crossroads. The director has spent 30 years making such tentpole features as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and White House Down, which have earned more than $1 billion worldwide. But today he’s prepping a smaller project, the indie drama Stonewall, about the historic 1969 gay riots in New York that had a revolutionary impact on the civil rights movement. It’s Emmerich’s work as helmer on this upcoming Roadside Attractions release — along with his extensive advocacy on behalf of the gay community — that have earned the 59-year-old Germany-born director the 2015 Stephen F. Kolzak Award, which will be presented at the 26th annual GLAAD Media Awards. (Scandal star Kerry Washington also will be feted at the annual event.)
In advance of the honor, Emmerich chatted by phone with THR from Albuquerque, N.M. — where’s he prepping an Independence Day sequel — about the work that he’s most proud of and why adding a gay couple to a blockbuster action franchise isn’t “a big deal.”
What does this recognition from GLAAD mean to you?
It’s an honor because, like, I mean, all my life I could never, ever imagine to be honored for something like that. I grew up in Germany, and when I went to film school, I didn’t want to say “I’m gay” because I was worried that I cannot do the movies I want to make. I wanted to go and make movies like Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, and when you’re in Germany, a gay director, it meant something. You know they would always be like, “the gay director who’s trying to attempt a certain kind of film.” And so I was kind of like — I was out to my friends but never in public.
When I was 33, I came to America, and it was, for me, quite an awakening because there were no openly gay directors who were shooting action movies. And that really got me going, and I became more and more open and more public and then became a big supporter for some of the big organizations, you know, because I wanted to, and now I’ve made a gay movie.
And you get to receive the award from your friend Channing Tatum. Why him?
Because I like him very much. He’s so open about everything. It’s such a pleasure when famous movie stars are down-to- earth. It happens so rarely in this business.
Has being gay ever been a problem for you in Hollywood?
No. I was much more nervous about: Will I be able to make movies in Hollywood? That’s much more the overriding fear. But I’ve met a lot of my colleagues, and they were openly gay, and I thought to myself, “If [director] Joel Schumacher can be openly gay, I can try that, too.” In Hollywood it’s not a problem. I’m very proud our industry is so open.
When you look back at everything you’ve accomplished, is there something you’re most proud of?
I always get thrown into being known as “The Master of Disaster.” That’s the only thing I don’t like so much. People forget I made The Patriot, Stargate and Anonymous — which nobody probably saw — but I had a lot of
fun doing. And now Stonewall — it’s a really very special movie because it shows like a totally different side of me. Making all those other movies has allowed me to do a movie like that, you know?
Do you consider Stonewall a big departure for you as a director?
Yeah, but I use a lot of the techniques I’m using in my big movies. For example, it was nearly impossible to shoot this movie in New York in the original location, so I said, “Guys, let’s go to Canada, let’s get big tax rebates and let’s build an indoor set for the outdoor so we can shoot that.” It was the biggest expense of the movie, but without that we couldn’t have shot in that sort of amount of time, and it’s good. So you know, I think a young director would have tried to shoot it on location or something, and I kind of know how to make all this stuff look real and used every trick in the book that I learned over the last 30 years to make this a good-looking film and a big-looking film, and it didn’t cost that much.
Including more gay characters in film and TV is one way to increase exposure and is something you’re doing in the next Independence Day film. What can you say about those characters?
We have a gay couple in the film. We don’t make a big deal out of it. You start small and then you get bigger and bigger and bigger, and one day you have a gay character as the lead and nobody will wonder at it no more. But we’re not there yet. It’s really interesting, you know, when you go to a studio and say it’s [the lead] character and it’s a $150 million or $160 million film — they will not allow it. But when you have five characters, they allow [one of them to be gay] because they’re super-smart, you know?
You’ve been a leader in LGBT activism for a long time. Where do you think the causes stand today?
We’re in a good place, but we’re not there yet. The Supreme Court has to make its vote, and then it’s on to public relations and tirelessly hammering it into people’s heads because there are still a lot of people who hate gay people in this world. I mean, go to the country — there’s still gay bashing. We have to keep fighting.
Are marriage and children things you want for yourself?
I’ve been with my boyfriend for six years, and we’re talking about it. I always say, “Well, you don’t have to.” It’s a little bit like when you as a gay couple want to have kids then it becomes really serious. And kids? No. (Laughs.) But my boyfriend wants them. So that’s a little bit of a problem right now. We’ll see.
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