Interview – Jim Parsons on exploring the mysteries of complex people in ‘Spoiler Alert’

Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, Spoiler Alert is a heart-warming, funny, and life-affirming story that follows the 14-year love affair between entertainment journalist Michael (Jim Parsons) and his photographer partner, Kit (Ben Aldridge). Through Kit, Michael discovers the family he was robbed of as a child, from Kit’s small-town parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) to their extraordinary circle of Manhattan friends. And while Michael imagines his life unfolding like the plot of one of his favourite romantic comedies, even he can’t predict the twists and turns that will transform and deepen their relationship.

Leading up to the films Australian release on February 9, I was lucky enough to chat with Spoiler Alert’s star, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) to discuss his friendship with the real Michael Ausiello, working with Ben Al dridge, and how at this point in his career he is focusing on exploring the mystery of people.

Jim Parsons: Hello, how are you?

Nick: I’m well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you and talk about this beautiful film. How are you today?

Jim Parsons: Thank you, and I’m very good.

Nick: That’s good to hear! Like I said, I genuinely loved this film. I saw it a few weeks back, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today.

Jim Parsons: Oh, thank you. That’s very kind.

Nick: I’m fascinated by the title of Michael Ausiello’s book – Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. I’d love to find out what you believe Michael and Kit’s most heroic traits are, respectively?

Jim Parsons: I think in terms of the story, which I know more about Michael from this story than I do about him in real life, but I think Michael’s most heroic trait is his refusal to stop trying to help Kit, and being there for Kit during the journey he had with cancer.

I think it was an extremely interesting aspect to me, because whether he knew it or not, there’s a part of Michael trying to do what he was too young and didn’t have the autonomy to do when his mother died of cancer. There was this deep love for Kit, and we really wanted to honour that. I think it’s also a second chance at a tragic situation, to help in ways that he couldn’t before.

And God, Kit’s most heroic trait… Kit’s most heroic trait to me is his willingness to dive into any situation that strikes his curiosity. I think Michael had fear and control issues that kept him from doing the same, and he was very fortunate to find a person like Kit did. There was such a balance to that. There was a bravery that Kit had about living life in general, and he dragged Mike into events and situations that he wouldn’t have done, were it not for Kit.

Nick: You mentioned something there that I hadn’t thought about in regard to Michael’s control issues. And ultimately, this is his story that you are telling, so there is a level of bravery in relinquishing that over to you. I know you were very aware of the book before the film, but how did the film come about and what is your relationship like with Michael Ausiello?

Jim Parsons: Michael had asked me to host a Q+A at a Barnes & Noble for the book, and so I read it in preparation for that. And my husband and I were on vacation together when I read it, and he watched me read it and saw how devastated and moved I was by it. So, he actually asked if it would be a good movie, and I really didn’t know. I mean, it’s certainly a good book and it touched me deeply. Then he read it and said it would make a great movie. It was really his idea.

So Todd [Jim’s husband] approached Michael at the Q+A at Barnes + Noble and said we we’re interested in optioning this, and I know there were some other offers along the way, but Michael went with us. He was a really good partner the whole way along. He was brave and willing to give up his story over to a team of creatives to make a movie out of it.

The biggest gift he gave me personally, was allowing me to find the difference between him and what was now going to become the character of him. He was never anything but grounded about that, and in retrospect, that was a bigger gift than I knew at the time. He rightfully could have made things more difficult at times, and he just never did. He never lost his sense of clarity, and maybe it has something to do with the fact that he has an insider seat on the industry, so it’s not a mystery to him what’s going on. Whatever it was, it was a very healthy attitude that he had.

Nick: This is a truly beautiful story, and even though it is based around a tragic event, there is still so much humour, heart and joy within it. As someone who has done both comedy and drama over your career, I’m curious to find out what you find more difficult – making an audience laugh, or making an audience cry? And which one is more satisfying when you get it right?

Jim Parsons: Oh God! I don’t know that I could tell you which is more difficult! I will say that certain types of comedy, like the type I did on the TV show for 12 years, it’s quite regimented in its timing.  Where there’s a little more leeway in more dramatic moments. In some comedy, there is a lot of space and leeway, but I wouldn’t necessarily say either one is more difficult.

At this point in my life, I am enjoying exploring the more – not just dramatic – but the mysterious depths of what is two humans relating to each other and letting that happen, as opposed to trying to get to a punch line. There is such a great joy in doing something and hearing an audience laugh. It’s harder to hear them reacting to a dramatic scene, but there’s not doubt when somethings worked in a comedy essence.

Nick: I’d love to touch on what you said about ‘exploring the mysterious’ aspect of relationships. The most powerful scene for me in the film, is the restaurant scene after Kit’s official diagnosis, and Michael and Kit take the photos of each other. You and Ben [Aldridge] have phenomenal chemistry throughout the film, but the acting you both do here is incredible. You both do so much by saying so little. Can you talk me through what that day was like on set, and your preparation with Ben to get those performances on screen?

Jim Parsons: It was heavy. It was a joy as an actor, having been given the gift to tell this person’s story. And this scene in particular was very emblematic of that feeling we all had through the film. In real life, Michael and Kit actually went to Benny’s Burritos after that diagnosis, and they really did pass that camera back and forth like that.

But it was [Michael] Showalter [director], who was really the one who focused on the aspect of not much happening. He verbalised how he was just letting us float in that awkward, stunned time. They’ve just been hit by this ten-tonne weight of information, and it seemed to turn into a scene where Michael wanted to take control of the situation. He wanted Kit to tell his parents, but Kit wasn’t fully buying into that. But during the scene, he finally accepts it. It’s the beginning of taking the next steps in this process.

I remember so distinctly that feeling of being off camera with Ben, and every take we would walk in and take the same seats, do the same thing, take after take. And it was very quiet. Ben would usually put a hand on me right before we were going to go. It was really intense, but it was such a pleasure to show what it is for two people to grow closer through these really hard moments. Where they get this profound connect that sometimes only a tragedy can give you. It was a strike of good fortune that the other actor involved was so eager and able to dive in to it with me the same way.

Nick: That was so well put, Jim. I really appreciate that answers and your time today! I could talk to you about this all day!

Jim Parsons: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to meet you.

Thank you to Jim Parsons for his time, and to Universal Pictures for setting up the chat. Spoiler Alert is in Australian cinemas February 9.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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