Something in the Lair
by Ronald Sklar
Photography by Eugene Gallegos
When New-York-based actor Peter Stickles yearned for a role he could sink his teeth into, he wasn’t just whistling “Dixie.”
As the lead vampire in the new Here TV drama The Lair, Stickles plays a vampire so evil that his name is Damian. And yet, he doesn’t play it straight. It’s all about this premium cable TV channel’s new original scripted drama, which premieres this summer.
“Think of it as a gay HBO,” Stickles says. And as they say on Fire Island, it’s fabulous.
In it, Damian and his crew lure young men to a sex club where they are promptly recruited to join his bulging vampire army. Part campy fun and part “murder” mystery, The Lair is sucking off viewers – both gay and straight – from the mainstream networks.
“I’m very evil,” Stickles says of his character. “It’s a lot of fun. He doesn’t have any good in his body at all. He’s very manipulative. He’s very sly, and he’s ruthless. He will stop at nothing.”
Not exactly typecasting, but Stickles the actor has been ambitiously pounding the Manhattan pavements for good parts since he arrived here from middle-class upstate New York over a decade ago. Even though he’s past thirty, he can still play teenaged, which is a mixed blessing for him.
“That’s the frustrating thing about being an actor,” Stickles says of grabbing any role you can get. “You work once, and it’s a blast, for a month, and then it’s over. But I’m still very optimistic and excited about working.”
Another blessing that’s mixed is the fact that Stickles is out and proud, and not afraid to take on gay roles that may catch casting directors’ minds in one narrow-minded gear.
“A lot of times, it’s not good, and it hurts,” Stickles says of his decision not to remain in the closet in order to build a mainstream career. “A lot of time, people can’t watch a gay guy playing a straight role. I was reading an article about Rupert Everett, about how his career is not happening, that [people in the business] won’t hire him for the lead because he’s gay. It’s unfortunate, and I do understand how people can have a problem with that, but in the same respect, I just want to be publicly out anyway, because in ten years it will all be different.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of success with a very small group of people. I live in Chelsea, which is the gayest neighborhood in the world, and people recognize me, but there will have to be a time when I can show that I can be more versatile.”
He’s already enjoying success from the smash indie hit Shortbus, which was sexually charged and critically acclaimed. It won hip audiences over big time, and then drew scores of closeted gawkers upon its release on DVD, much like the voyeur character Stickles plays in the film (“I was to represent the audience,” he says of his role, “looking in on these characters.”)
Of the experience, he recalls, “The director [John Cameron Mitchell] wanted to use graphic sex as a language for the film. And I was thinking, my gosh, this is terrifying. I wanted to throw up just thinking about it. Yet I have to do this movie. There were five or six hundred submissions [auditions] of people on tape talking about their sexual experiences. A lot of these were heavily produced short films. People put a lot of time into them. Mine was simple and easy, but they responded to it. The director is a true artist. The workshops took a year. It was a true labor of love. There was no money for it. Nobody wanted to touch it. Everybody wanted to see it, but no one wanted to touch it.”
At last, though, Shortbus was touched.
“It took three years,” Stickles says. “Investors dropped in and dropped out. It was so frustrating. It took forever. We went to Cannes. We were all invited. In Europe, they embraced us. It was an amazing experience as an actor. I’m glad I got to do that. It helped me to feel fearless in a way. I feel like I can do anything.”
Like Shortbus, The Lair is demanding of Peter’s time (filming the entire season took eleven days) and body (graphic sex scenes are par for the course).
“It’s soft core,” he explains. “I have no problem with that. I have no problem with sex or sexuality. It’s fun. It’s silly. Many of the guys I work with on The Lair are porn stars. I have no problem with porn stars. I have a great deal of respect for them. They’re real people. They’re artists. These days, it’s almost respected; it’s not as dirty as it once was. The other [non-sexual] scenes were way more intense, but doing the sex was very technical. It was more like, stand here, put your head here, now go slowly down his thigh… and the crew is completely bored. They could care less. It’s all start and stop, start and stop. It’s very, very, very technical.”
For Stickles, though, the rush comes from the horror more than the sex.
He says, “When I was little, I would hide Fangoria magazines under my bed like Playboys. My parents hated it. But it’s sort of an adrenaline rush that you get from watching horror. I am able to have more emotions when dealing with horror: fear, running, violence, and hiding. It’s intense. I eventually contacted Fangoria, and they hooked me up with my first role in a horror film. Since then, I worked with a small family of horror filmmakers in Jersey, Philly, and New York. I love working with this small group of people who are truly passionate about what they’re doing.”
As far as mom and pop, who now reside retired in Florida, Stickles doesn’t exactly show them his work to hang on the refrigerator door (“I recommend that you don’t,” he advised them of possibly viewing Shortbus). As well, he heard that his uncle in Buffalo had gone to see him in the film, and walked out.
Mainstream work, then, still lies straight ahead. Or as they say, gaily forward.
“I don’t think Middle America is watching The Lair,” he claims. “To them, I’m still a nobody.”
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 26, 2007.
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