From Val to ’Sal’
It is rare for a rising male star, married to a woman, to readily admit he has watched gay porn as well as observed two men having live sex. The latter incident is preserved on screen in James Franco’s "Interior. Leather Bar.," wherein actor Val Lauren is clearly seen during one of the film’s most buzzed-about sequences.
"I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for ’Interior. Leather Bar.,’ " Lauren said with a laugh during a recent interview. It is only one of two daring movies he has made recently with longtime friend Franco. The other is "Sal," an excellent, intimate look at gay 1950s matinee idol Sal Mineo. It will be available from Tribeca Film on VOD starting Tuesday, October 22 and in select theaters on Friday, November 1.
"Playing Sal Mineo was the first time I had to play someone who wasn’t from my imagination but was a real-life guy," Lauren reflected. "It was a definite responsibility to his memory, his family, his legacy. and not something I took lightly."
Mineo was only 16 when he starred alongside James Dean and Natalie Wood in the now-classic "Rebel Without a Cause." He received an Oscar nomination for his turn as Plato, a shy high schooler smitten with an attractive, braver fellow student played by Dean. Mineo received a second Academy Award nomination and won a Golden Globe a few years later for the epic "Exodus." In the 1960s, he became one of the first major Hollywood actors to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. He was tragically murdered outside his West Hollywood apartment in 1976 at the age of 37.
"Sal said something about his homosexuality that I really dug: ’I’m a human being first and an artist,’ " according to Lauren. "He refused labels, both on himself or others. He didn’t let his sexuality define him. I’d never played a homosexual or bisexual character before, but I learned what Sal believed, that we are all first and foremost human beings."
Lauren, a member of L.A.’s repertory theatre company, Playhouse West, as well as a veteran of numerous TV shows and indie movies and the notoriously gay-friendly Franco made "Sal" in 2011, prior to this year’s "Interior. Leather Bar."
" ’Sal’ was good preparation for ’Leather Bar’ in terms of being the first time I collaborated with James on a film," Lauren said, "and we established ways of working together and communicating that would serve us well on ’Leather Bar.’ "
The actor, who will next be seen opposite Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman in the big-budget adventure "The Last Knights," has nothing but praise for his friend and recent director. "I’ve got to say that working with Franco has been the most rewarding on-camera creative relationship I’ve ever had; I’d be happy working with James for the rest of my life."
Playing Mineo involved considerable "interior and exterior preparation" on Lauren’s part. "I was fortunate to have a few months to prepare for ’Sal.’ I had a lot of challenges to face: I had to capture his distinct voice; I had to lose about 20 pounds to gain his lean physique and grow my hair out; I had to do a lot of voice and physical work."