Michael Lannan is creator and Andrew Haigh director of Looking – HBOs dramadey about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco. Lannan has worked on shows like Nurse Jackie and Sons of Anarchy before taking his 2011 short film Lorimer to HBO. Haigh worked as assistant editor on films like Gladiator and Black Hawk Down before his breakthrough feature Weekend – about a 48-hour relationship between two gay men – scooped awards at festivals from SXSW to LA Outfest. We asked how the duo ended up working together?

ML:Sarah Condon and I had been developing my script together for a year or so and when we saw Andrew’s film it had very naturalistic and very contemporary gay stories – it was a very easy fit, I think.

AH:I got the script at the half hour format stage and it felt we would work well together.


Q:Lormier was set in Brooklyn – why move to San Francisco?

ML:It’s a very, very cool place – physically so stunning and a city with so much gay history. It still is a city with a lot of rough edges, which we wanted to depict, and it’s changing again with the tech world money coming in. It’s a very dynamic place.

AH:Also people have an idea of what San Francisco is like for gay people – just like they have an idea of what gay people are like. We show that it’s different than that. There’s a different world going on there now, which I think speaks a lot about the show, that we are trying to depict something different about being gay.

Q:Who are your three lead characters?

AH:Well, when we meet all three of the characters, they’re each at a point where this is not the life they predicted for themselves. Patrick is a 29-year-old video game designer who’s struggling with his desire to make a connection with someone. We meet him in the park, looking for a sexual connection, and then we hear about his ex-boyfriend getting married so it touches off a search for a partner.

ML:Augustine is a 31-year-old artist who has just agreed to move in with his boyfriend and they’re moving across the bay to Oakland, so Augustine is sort of struggling with all these issues of how to be himself within this relationship and how to move in with someone and maintain his independence.  He’s also struggling with his own creativity and his own ability to make his own art.  He’s working as an art assistant for another artist that’s more successful than him and so he’s just trying to find, rekindle that creativity and deal with his domestic issues.

AH:And then Don is maybe forties – 39, 40. He’s a waiter and he’s been a waiter for ten years. He’s got to a stage in his life when he’s realised it hasn’t become what he wanted it to become and he’s looking to change it.  He just isn’t quite sure how.

Q:How did you cast the leads?

AH:It was the same for all of them, really – a casting call. We auditioned Jonathan very early on and he was always our favourite I’d say. But it’s a long process of casting. I’m incredibly happy about who we’ve cast and that they all get on so well ‘cause you’re doing a show about friendship and the chemistry between those people is so important. They really do feel like they’re friends with each other and they love each other and care for each other. It’s not always that easy to achieve.

Q:Do either of you identify more closely with any of the leads?

AH:Well I know who he is.  [Laughter].

ML:Who am I, Andrew?

AH:You’re Patrick. You’re definitely Patrick. I think I’m a mixture of all of them.  I definitely have some Patrick in me, but I probably have a bit of Augustine, a bit of Don.

Q:Is there anything autobiographical on screen? 

AH:There’s nothing specific – not like, oh, that happened to me when I had sex with that boy against a mirror.

ML:(laughs) There are a few specific things from my life in that. I think they’re much either funnier or more exciting than they were in my own. I started making notes on that story seven, eight years ago and the starting points were people I had known. When Andrew came on board we brought his experiences into it and his ideas, and then we cast it and it continues to change.

Q:It feels to a degree that the cast are almost wandering off into bits of improv…

AH:Yeah, they do. Although we prefer the term embellishment. We’re going for something very naturalistic, so it’s about finding spontaneous moments. They all bring their own ideas to it and Lauren Weedman brings her own drugs to it…

Q:People have said this is the gay Girls. What do you think?

AH:Everyone’s very welcome to say whatever they want and it’s certainly not an insult.  We both really like Girls. If they mean it’s a contemporary experience of a group of friends, then yes, there are similarities. I think it’s a different show than Girls. It’s a different age group, there are different concerns and I think they are tonally different. It’s nice that they complement – we play after Girls in the US.

ML:And you know, Girls was the new Sex in the City at one point too, so everyone just has to have it.

AH:I want to be the gay Entourage.  Why can’t we get that? [Laughter].

Q:Like Girls there has been some online chat about race…

AH:We have two very prominent Latin characters. We have an African-American character. We have an Asian-American character, so I think we are dealing with different ethnicities. It’s about diversity, isn’t it?

ML:In all forms. Frankie, Murray and Jonathan all have interesting ways of being attractive and they’re not typical. I think it all fits more into a world that’s a little more naturalistic.

Q:It’s 15 years since Queer As Folk launched in the UK. The lead characters in Looking are gay, but it seems almost incidental to their story. Queer As Folk was about being gay – these are guys who are also gay.

AH:Yeah, I think that was really important to us. I’ve never understood why shows about gay people aren’t like that. The fact is that gay people and straight people have a lot of similar issues and concerns and struggles, and it just makes complete sense to me and always has done. I think these characters are gay and it’s part of their life, it’s an important part of their life, but it’s not the only thing going on in their life.

ML:We tried to do a show that can only be made now, that was a very contemporary version of these gay characters. Queer As Folk was a part of its time. I think right now a lot of gay people are welcomed into the mainstream, and that has a lot of implications for their lives and their choices. They have so many options they… (Laughs) ‘They’… as if I’m not one of them. We have so many options – it’s confusing and it’s exciting to be welcomed into the mainstream.

AH:I think gay and straight have collided together. You don’t have a gay ghetto anymore – they’ve come together and that makes sense.

Q:The sex scenes quite graphic – but they’re beautiful and awkward. It feels very honest.

AH:It wasn’t about being explicit or shocking people, it was just about showing gay sex as I think it is.  It can be intimate, it can be not intimate – it can be many things.

ML:It’s really not as easy to do sex scenes as it seems on TV sometimes.

AH:They’re fun to shoot though. (Laughter)

Q:Was everybody working out before shooting?

AH:I told them they weren’t allowed to work out. At one point I saw Jonathan had makeup muscles put on. I was like, take them off. That’s not happening.

Article | Oliver Hall