A Messy Luna
Diego Luna, famous for steamy roles in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and the "Dirty Dancing" prequel "Havana Nights," has taken on a grittier character in Gus Van Sant's much-anticipated film "Milk," which chronicles the rise and untimely demise of America's first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk (played brilliantly by Oscar winner Sean Penn).
(Photo: Focus Features)
Luna's role is that of the needy and alcoholic Jack, who shows up one night on Harvey's doorstep, becomes his lover and goes on to arouse contempt in the seminal gay activist's inner circle. Luna's part is a relatively small one, yet he manages to steal the show in virtually every scene he's in.
The 30-year-old Latin heartthrob, on the road to promote the moving biopic, discusses why the film is so important, how he first learned about the legendary San Francisco supervisor and what the experience was like watching himself as Jack onscreen with his very pregnant wife beside him.
(Photo: Getty Images)
On why the story of Harvey Milk is important:
There are films you do because you're part of an industry, and you take those films because they give people jobs. But there are films that matter and have something to say. The story of Harvey Milk needs to be told. Harvey's story should remind people that that there was someone who cared about respect and celebrating differences. We cannot forget him. His story happened 30 years ago, so itâ€™s not that long ago, and I believe this country needs another thousand Harvey Milks. There are places like San Francisco where you can live you life freely. But itâ€™s not the reality of this country. Itâ€™s not the reality of the world.
On first learning about the life of Harvey Milk:
I heard of Harvey for the first time when I was 16. I came to the Castro with a friend of mine, a director who lives here [in San Francisco], and he told me a little bit about who Harvey was, but I didnâ€™t really pay attention. In a very naĂŻve way I thought freedom was normal. I had just been to Amsterdam, where I thought everybody just breathed freedom, and I thought it was normal for everybody in the world to breathe the same kind of freedom.
I felt so guilty when I watched the documentary ["The Life and Times of Harvey Milk"], because until then I didn't realize that freedom was so special. So I felt honored when Gus asked me to be part of his film "Milk," about Harvey's life.
(Photo: Getty Images)
On whether the community and opinions about the community have changed since Harvey Milk's time:
I do believe we havenâ€™t changed. I do believe we havenâ€™t got the message. We still doubt the strength we have and the power we have. Life is about creating the reality we deserve and creating a world you want to live in and see your kids and your family live in. And if you donâ€™t work every day for that to happen, then you donâ€™t deserve anything.
Harvey is an example of making things happen. He was ten months in office, but he worked years and years to make people know that they shouldnâ€™t be afraid of being who they are. In fact, they could celebrate who they are.
It doesnâ€™t matter how much time we have in this world -- itâ€™s what we do with that time, and Harvey did a lot.
On whether the film will change minds about the gay community:
Yes, but it's not just about the gay community. I don't think we should think so thin. The film is about respect for differences, whatever those may be. And it tells you that being different makes this world richer, and being around different people makes our reality richer. You can choose to be with people who think like you and people who get excited by what gets you excited, but that to me makes a very boring life. We can choose to be around by people who surprise us, people who challenge us to understand what their lives are like. You would have to like to use your brain, which I like to do. And I think we have to force this to happen. I think this film is going to help with that.
(Photo: Getty Images)
On playing the character of Jack:
I thought of Jack as one of those terrible jokes. Imagine being gay in Mexico and telling your father that you like men, and your father hates you and sends you out of your house. And then you escape to some place where you say you're not going to tell anyone you're gay, and then they ask you where you're from, and you say you're from Mexico, and [because you're Mexican] they treat you just as badly as your father did. That's how I imagine Jack. I imagine that's what happened to him, and he found alcohol as a great way to forget who he was, you know? There were bubbles like San Francisco where he could hide. But the problem with bubbles is that they break easily. You can't expect to live your life in a bubble, because it means your life is going to be short.
On watching himself onscreen in "Milk" for the first time:
It was weird -- very weird. I was sitting with my wife and she was 8 1/2 months pregnant . I just didnâ€™t want the film to be such a shock for her that we would have to run to the hospital, you know? [Laughs.]
But I have to say that for the first 10 minutes it was like just watching a film I had made, but then I just became part of the audience and was touched by the story and by Seanâ€™s performance and the performances of all the cast. I was finding out along with the rest of the audience who Harvey Milk was.
I thought I was watching, hearing and feeling a little bit of Gus Van Santâ€™s heart. He begins the story by telling you that Harvey Milk would die. Other filmmakers might have waited till the end of the film to show you Harvey's death and would try to break your heart with that. But Gus started out by saying, This guy is going to die, like all of us, and that doesn't make him important or not. What makes someone important is what he does with his life. Gus said, Let me show you what this man did and who he was. It's what makes this film different from anything else.
I'm only onscreen for a tiny bit of the story, so I had a chance to enjoy it. I always used to suffer a lot when I see a film I'm in, but I didn't suffer watching this one. It's a special film.