Geography Club” is a loose adaptation of Brent Hartinger’s fine young adult book about gay teen Russel Middlebrook (the appealing Cameron Deane Stewart) navigating high school and his sexual identity. Russel has a secret relationship going with school quarterback Kevin (Justin Deeley), and their romance is evolving at the right speed for both boys. However, after Min (Ally Maki) spies the guys kissing one night, she invites them to join Geography Club. The club, a secret gay-straight alliance, is named “something boring” to prevent other students from joining in order to identify and expose the school’s LGBT teens.
Russel at first observes the club and then begins to participate, but Kevin wants to keep his sexuality secret and does not attend the meetings. “Geography Club” plays out all the dramas of teen life –– from Russel’s anxiety about being asked to date a girl to his participation in a bullying incident and the angst Kevin feels about coming out. The film makes the issues surrounding peer pressure and self-expression credible despite the supporting characters being underdeveloped and the film being somewhat haphazardly constructed.
In a recent Skype session, the genial Stewart spoke about playing Russel and making “Geography Club.”
GARY M. KRAMER: What were you like as a teen?
CAMERON DEANE STEWART: Oh, boy! I’m 22 now. A couple years ago, I was in high school myself. I was the kid who was friends with everyone, but I didn’t really have a group that I felt I fit into. I was athletic, but didn’t play sports in high school.
GMK: What appealed to you about Russel?
CDS: Russel is mature for his age. He is strong-hearted and strong-willed. I guess I fell in love with his vulnerability. I felt there were so many positives that could come from playing him. The ultimate goal is for people to see Russel as he is.
GMK: How did you identify with him?
CDS: Everyone struggled with something in high school. I came from a pretty conservative place in Texas. I watched kids in high school get bullied or they didn’t come out or were stereotyped as the gay kid. This film was an opportunity for me to send a message to the youth that love is universal and that there is a group out there that is going through exactly what you are.
GMK: What do you think about Russel being a role model?
CDS: So many times, in TV and movies, the gay characters are — I don’t want to say stereotyped — but they centralize on one idea of what that person may be. Russel breaks that mold. He’s average. A guy’s guy in some sense. I wanted him to be relatable, and I wanted to show a different aspect of a kid struggling with this. I wanted him to be an everyman, not extraordinary. I wanted him to be relatable emotionally, and break the stereotypes as much as I could — not a caricature of what the gay kid might be. He isn’t in the novel or in the film.
GMK: Do you feel pressure playing a character that has become a favorite of readers?
CDS: Sure! He’s not quite Harry Potter, but it is fantastic to have such a built-in following. The goal from the beginning was to show an honest portrayal of a kid struggling in high school. I had not read the books prior to filming, and so I based the character off the script. But I wanted it to be as truthful as possible to what novelist Brent Hartinger and screenwriter Edmund Entin wrote and bring it to life.
GMK: How did you approach the character?
CDS: The best way I can describe it is taking experiences from people I saw who struggled to come out or tried to find a group they fit into. Everyone has been in a situation where they don’t fit in. You take that and mold that to fit the character. I guess I never felt in with the jocks. I was athletic, but there’s that period where I felt like an outcast and didn’t quite fit in so I pull from those emotions.
GMK: Do you play football?
CDS: [Laughs.] I’m not good at football. I played soccer for 11 years. I played football in middle school, but once I hit high school, it fizzled out. I remember that last day of shooting, the football game was our final scene. I was so winded running up and down the field. Exercising is the last thing on my to do list. I still do it as minimally as I can.
GMK: Russel is described as a romantic. Are you romantic, or you more of a love ‘em and leave ‘em kind of guy?
CDS: I’m a romantic. I can’t lie. I’m a sucker for rom-coms.
GMK: Russel risks everything to define himself. Do you think he makes the right choices?
CDS: Yes, 100 percent. I think there is no reward without risk. He has a complete understanding of himself by the end, and there’s no use in being with anyone else if you don’t know who you are.
GEOGRAPHY CLUB | Directed by Gary Entin | Breaking Glass Pictures | Opens Nov. 15 | Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St. | cinemavillage.com