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Italian Princess Finds Love in Lesbian Romantic Comedy Alto

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Sunday Oct 25, 2015

Move over Jennifer Tilly -- there's a new lesbian mob heroine on the scene! Fans of "Bound" will love Mikki del Monico's directorial debut, "Alto," a charming lesbian romantic comedy set against the backdrop of New York City's Mafia. The film stars "American Idol's" Diana DeGarmo as a straight singer who falls for a lesbian Italian Princess, played by Natalie Knepp. Can they bridge their differences and unite their families, while staying on the good side of the Cosa Nostra?

"I wanted to put the main character in a difficult situation, and rather than shy away from the controversy of depicting Italian Americans as mafia in the media, I wanted to go headfirst into it with this character who is forced to deal with the mob and reevaluate everything she believes about love and family," said writer-director del Monico. "What inspired me to write it was my family; I wanted to write a wacky take on my family life that they would find interesting."

The film follows Frankie, the headstrong lead singer of the band The Altos (played in the film by real-life lesbian rockers Antigone Rising). She's engaged to a nice Italian boy, and everything seems to be going according to plan, until she discovers a corpse in the trunk of her rental car that they suspect is a mob hit.

Her sleuthing sister Heather (Melanie Minichino) convinces Frankie to attend the man's funeral with her, where they meet Nicolette (Knepp), the daughter of the new Brooklyn Mafia don. Her brazen flirting leads her to show up at Frankie's next gig, where she sweeps her into an unexpected romance that causes her mother (Annabella Sciorra) and father (David Valcin) to choke on their cannoli.

"You! So sexy -- you'd kill on 'American Idol!'" says Knepp's character to DeGarmo's -- an obvious nod to her second place win on Season 3 of the TV show.

"It was a thing that naturally occurred, and we decided to keep it," said DeGarmo. "We took the comedy up a notch, and they trusted us to add our own things, which grew from the natural abilities of the creative team."

DeGarmo said that she was very happy to be paired with Knepp, who was a great partner, as both wanted to do a great job for del Monico as credible lesbian leads.

"I didn't think twice about it," said DeGarmo about the same-sex romance. "You can fall in love with any human being, and I lucked out because Natalie was super awesome, and we had great chemistry from the first time we met. We had fun, but didn't take it too seriously. It was quite an experience, looking back, but when we were in the moment we were thrown into the deep end, and it was sink or swim. We got where we wanted to be."

She also got to show off her pipes as the lead singer for The Altos.

"Working with Antigone Rising on that was super fun," said DeGarmo. "They let me have my own creative ideas, and trusted me with their material. It was a mutual love fest in both the recording booth and on stage. I'm an OK singer, but nothing anyone wants to hear solo. But they were very patient with me, and I picked up a few tricks."

DeGarmo is used to thinking on her feet, growing up doing film and TV long before she starred on "American Idol." She's starred on Broadway in "Hair" and "Hairspray," but said that it was "vastly different" than film work.

"There are different techniques, particularly on stage in musical theater," she said. "You have to remember the size of it. One tiny movement of your face makes a huge difference on film, but on stage you have to dramatize every movement. I love the challenges of all these different aspects of performing. It's been fun stretching my own abilities."

But after a busy two years shooting "Alto," DeGarmo is done stretching her legs. This wild Gemini is interested in more TV and film projects but said that for now, her husband is glad to have her home.

Coming Out as Transgender

Adding to the intensity of the film was director Mikki del Monico's coming out as a transgender man during filming. He said that he was unprepared to deal with this side of himself for years, but was grateful when he did for the support of his family.

"I think it made me a stronger person, and made me capable of directing this film in an authentic way," said del Monico. "The character is tasked with finding her authentic self. And I've known that I was transgender my whole life but never talked about it. During the course of filming, I decided I was ready to tell people in my life who were close to me, which included the producer, actors and, of course, my parents."

Family is central to this film, and equally important to del Monico. Luckily, his family was very supportive; his father even appeared in one of the mob scenes, along with the producer's father.

Del Monico said that while coming to terms with his gender identity allowed him to better share Frankie's story as a woman challenged by a lesbian attraction, he won't be writing solely LGBT stories.

"For me, if there's a transgender character or story, I would be game for that. But as for what's coming out of my head, whether or not they are transgender is not taken for granted," said del Monico.

DeGarmo said she looks forward to this film finding an audience, saying, "It's a charming film with loveable characters, and I think people will realize it brings them closer to their family, and opens their eyes about gay relationships."

Del Monico would love to see interest for the film not only among his LGBT audience, but also among Italian Americans, families, mixed groups and people of color. He'd be happy if organizations like PFLAG watched it, or "just people who are sitting at home and want to enjoy a fun movie for an hour and a half. I think that the way the film has been equally accepted at LGBT and non-LGBT film festivals speaks to its crossover nature as a film about family and finding your way."

And watching it at home will be easy, thanks to the video-on-demand distribution method of just $2.99 for a 72-hour rental. Del Monico said that they didn't think a theatrical release would be beneficial for their movie, due to the high costs of advertising. Concerns over piracy led him to believe that VOD was the best way for those involved to recoup the investment they have made over the years of work they've put into the project.

If you'd like to see del Monico's work live, you'll have to wait until "Alto: The Musical" hits stages. The project is in the works, and del Monico hopes that he can collaborate with others to bring it to the theater. In the meantime, he'll keep writing these funny, quirky stories to bring to life in a visual way.

For more information, visit altothemovie.com.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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