In the nifty little sleeper “The Revival,” now out on VOD and DVD, Zachary Booth gives an electrifying performance as Daniel, a drifter who turns up at the Southern Baptist church where Eli (David Rysdahl) is a preacher. The two men quickly initiate a clandestine relationship. However, their taboo fling becomes increasingly problematic — especially when Eli’s wife, June (Lucy Faust), discovers evidence of her husband’s affair.
Booth makes Daniel a terrific foil for Eli, who is grappling with his forbidden desires. Daniel seduces Eli with a blowjob and taunts him verbally. The drifter also turns up in Eli’s church one day and has an intense encounter with the preacher in front of the congregation.
The actor imbues Daniel with an air of mystery that is alluring and seductive. Booth is no stranger to playing queer parts. He appeared as a gay man in last year’s “After Louie,” a gay son in the dysfunctional family drama “Last Weekend,” and one half of the troubled gay couple in Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On,” among other roles.
Currently appearing Off-Off-Broadway in the play “The Thing with Feathers,” at the Barrow Group Mainstage, Booth spoke via Skype with Gay City News about “The Revival,” his penchant for playing gay, and his new play.
GARY M. KRAMER: Daniel is a drifter. Can you recall a period in your life where you have been adrift?
ZACHARY BOOTH: I created a backstory in my mind for Daniel that wasn’t related to personal experience. But there was a period when I was an adolescent. My mom was sick with cancer, and she passed away when I was 15. It’s been 20 years, and it’s only now that I realize how shut down I was. I was existing in the world but not communicating with anyone what my life was like. That’s drifting — being in the world without connecting. It offers a level of protection. The downside being, of course, that you lose out on a lot of what life really is.
GMK: What do you think Daniel wants from Eli? Is he just there to fuck him, or is it more that he wants to fuck with him?
ZB: Eli offers Daniel incredible stability. Daniel is not sleeping under a roof and four walls. He’s also not getting a lot of interest from anyone else. The fellowship that comes with the religion and camaraderie of that is really powerful. It sweeps Daniel up. Because their relationship is so forbidden for Eli, it makes Daniel feel that much more special to be desired by someone who feels it’s wrong to desire him.
GMK: What is the appeal of playing queer characters? You’ve made quite a career out of taking gay roles.
ZB: I don’t go seek them, but I certainly wouldn’t turn a role down. I try my best to look at every role and not identify it by its queerness. It’s the arc of the character, the risks they are taking, and the story they tell. I do take it into account. I have collected a menagerie of queer characters. There are challenges they face that are intriguing to me as an actor and a storyteller.
Honestly, when I get a part and it’s a gay role that does go into my mind. There is a fear: Can I only play queer characters? Or is that the way people are looking at me? But all these roles are ones I identify with and I am passionate about. I’m inspired with the filmmakers I’m working with.
GMK: There is considerable talk in the film about sin, and shame, and regrets. The characters made bad decisions. How did you process these emotions?
ZB: I don’t know that Daniel’s decision comes out of shame or regret like Eli’s. Those are powerful emotions and they can drive us to do things we don’t think we’d be capable of. This film explores what a lifetime of repression can do to someone. We are as a society where certain religions repress sexuality. We haven’t grasped how damaging that can really be. If we take a look at the events surrounding us and the backlash of the repressed and the oppressors — the fight they are putting up with these ideas — the turn of this story is not far-fetched; the root is in the shame and the regret.
GMK: Are you religious, or spiritual? What do you put faith in?
ZB: I put faith in a lot. I’m not religious. I’m not raised with any religion. My mom told me if I wanted to go to church to be back by lunch. I went to a Jewish temple when I was kid, my sister reminded me. I’m definitely spiritual. I went through a period in my life where having some faith saved me. The cast and crew had terrible upbringings in strict religious homes. I was the clueless guy from New York who said his prayers and meditated.
GMK: You are currently appearing in the play “The Thing with Feathers” that also plays with the themes of power and relationships. Can you discuss that?
ZB: The story is about an older man who seduces a young girl online. He shows up at her house and nothing is as it seems. It’s about power and manipulation and what happens when we irresponsibly use our power. It touches on sexual harassment. It’s topical with what’s happening in the workplace and these huge figures, and the abuses of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein.
If there is to be lasting change, it’s involves talking to one another. Pointing figures and getting angry on social media isn’t the most effective approach. We have to be accountable for our own actions and know they have an impact on the way we treat each other. The play touches on that abuse in a big way — before, during, and after.
THE REVIVAL | Directed by Jennifer Gerber | Breaking Glass Pictures | bgpics.com/2017/the-revival
THE THING WITH FEATHERS | Barrow Group Mainstage Theatre, 312 W. 36th St. | Through Feb. 10: Mon., Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 7 p.m. | $25-$35 at barrowgroup.org/thing-feathers-scott-organ