Outfest spotlight on Stephen Guarino: "Big Gay Sketch Show" star hits the big screen

Stephen Guarino is best known for his terrific performances on "The Big Gay Sketch Show," but over the last two years he has quietly developed a reputation as a skilled big-screen performer, landing roles in several big-budget films.

Happily, mainstream success hasn’t pulled him away from gay-themed projects – including two films at Outfest 2010. I recently spoke with the affable actor about both the Outfest films and his upwardly mobile career arc.

I read somewhere that as a kid you spent one day on The Mickey Mouse Club. Is that true?

Where did you get that info? Was it on my IMDb or something? But it’s true. I was on The Mickey Mouse Club for one afternoon when I was 14 years old. I was this really fem, fat little girly boy with a serious sense of self-entitlement. My job was to come out and say the word of the day, and I was so stupid that instead of saying the word they gave me I said the word “tripping,” because we were all saying it at school. That’s what the cool word was. I had no idea it was a drug reference, and it got cut. That’s my Mickey Mouse experience.

Did you work consistently as a child, up through adulthood?

Oh, yeah. I worked in Orlando as a kid actor in a lot of commercials, and there were some really bad sitcoms on Nickelodeon back then. There was a lot of work in Orlando at that time.

Tell me a little about BearCity.

BearCity is a movie about big fat hairy guys. When I auditioned for it I thought, ‘I’m still a twink, I couldn’t possibly be seen for any kind of bear.’ Then I got into the audition room and they were reading me for bears. I thought, ‘There must be some sort of mistake.’ I’m really much skinnier in my own mind. Even up to the time when they put out the little bio about the film I thought they were going to play me up as a chaser, but no, I’m just part of the bear couple.

The movie is about a twink coming into the bear culture. He falls for a bearish guy, a muscle bear. Then there’s this separate couple that I am part of, with the actor Brian Keane. We play a couple that’s been together for awhile and we’re having conversations about opening up the relationship. We end up being the sappier, heartwarming side of the film, whereas the twink goes through a bunch of more sexual things with Gerald McCullouch.

I had just done some other movies, I was on kind of a roll doing some really high-budget movies, and my agents showed me the script but they really weren’t sure I should do it. Sometimes a gay film can have a budget of like $50 and it can be rough. But I looked at the script and thought that given my type, the kind of things I get cast in – goofy sidekicks and all that – that I would never get another chance to do something this fleshed out. I have a breakup scene, I have a crying scene, I have a naked shower scene, I have a three-way scene. The whole film reflects very full characters.

Was it a fun film to shoot?

It was the best time ever, but it was so fucking hot I almost died. We couldn’t afford air conditioning. We shot ten straight days in New York in the middle of August with no air conditioning, and I can tell you, if you’ve never been in the Eagle bar at noon on a hot summer day after five million men were stinking it up the night before, it’s really rough.

You’re also in a short film at Outfest, "GaySharkTank.com"

It’s directed by Guy Shalem. It was the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done. We shot it at Neil Patrick Harris’s boyfriend’s house up in the Hollywood Hills, and it has like thirty guys in it – the most competitive, funniest gay comedians in the business. Everybody that I’m in competition with for parts was in this. They literally had a bar, we all got drunk, and then it was a fight to see who could be funnier.

You’ve done improv comedy, live theatre, sketch, TV, film, and probably a few things I don’t know about. Do you have a preference?

Oh my god, yes. All I’ve ever wanted to do is theatre. I want to do boring long fucking plays where two people talk onstage, and I will do it anywhere – Kentucky if I have to. But no one will cast me in that. I swear, the harder I try to get in theatre, the more TV and film I get. I absolutely prefer theatre, but something about my personality is too contemporary, and I can’t seem to get into the theatre I want. The film and TV pop up all the time. I think it’s because I care less about it. I went in for Michael Bay for Transformers, Part Three and I was like, “Hi, I’m Stephen,” and he was like, “Hi, I’m Michael,” and I was like, “And what do you do, sir?” I honestly had no idea who he was, I hadn’t even watched part one or part two. But when I go to a theatre audition I care so much that I can’t fucking do it.

What’s your favorite project that you’ve ever worked on?

I’ve got to say BearCity is the most fun I’ve ever had in a film. But the greatest thing that I do, for me, is a show called The Nuclear Family, an improvised musical that ran off-Broadway for five months in 2005. We’ve toured all over the country with it. In fact, we’re going to Michigan in August to do it. It’s the most fun anybody could have on stage.

What are you working on right now?

The Big Gay Sketch Show. We’re in our third season. It’s kind of like the best show you’re not watching. It’s almost impossible to get gays to watch TV on a Tuesday night. But we get a lot of exposure online. Season Three is now available on iTunes, and it’s the best season we’ve ever had. It really looks like a million dollars, and it’s finally found its footing with relevant gay humor.

Will you be at Outfest?
Yes, absolutely. I’ll be at opening night, and I’ll be at screenings for both films.

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BearCity screens at Outfest 2010 Thursday July 15 at 7:00 and Sunday July 18 at 2:30 p.m. GaySharkTank.com screens as part of the “Boys Shorts” program Sunday June 10 at 11:00 a.m. and Monday July 12 at 9:30 p.m. For more information and a complete listing of Outfest 2010 films, log on to Outfest.org or call 213-480-7065. Special ticket packages are available.

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