You may know Michael Urie as Marc St. James from the ABC comedy-drama series Ugly Betty, or perhaps you’ve previously seen him on-stage in Hamlet, Chicken & Biscuits or the acclaimed revival of Torch Song. The Texan-born actor’s latest project, however, is the one making history: Single All The Way, directed by Michael Maye, marks Netflix’s first-ever Christmas film centered on a gay romance.
Renowned for its overwhelmingly heterosexual storylines, the holiday film genre doesn’t have a great reputation for representation. However, it seems the tides are finally changing; Single All The Way joins a growing canon of queer holiday movies, from Hulu’s Happiest Season (last year’s festive lesbian rom-com starring Kristen Stewart on the precipice of Christmas crisis) to The Christmas House, which was the Hallmark Channel’s first film to prominently feature a gay couple.
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Urie plays Peter, a Los Angeles social media manager returning to his New Hampshire hometown for the holidays with best friend and roommate Nick (Philemon Chambers) in tow, pretending to be his partner to avoid family judgement over his singledom. However, their plan quickly falls apart as Peter’s mother (Kathy Najimy) has arranged a blind date for her son with a local gym hunk (Luke Macfarlane).
PAPER spoke to Urie about his meaningful role in Single All The Way, working with the legendary Jennifer Coolidge and his own festive traditions.
Being involved in any first-ever project is big, but how does it feel to be at the forefront of Netflix’s first gay Christmas film?
It’s exciting and a little daunting, but I’m so proud to be pioneering this new genre for Netflix. There’s only a handful of LGBTQ rom-coms for Christmas, and as this is Netflix’s first gay Christmas rom-com, it’s kind of crazy that it’s 2021 and we’re marching on [with] these moments.
There aren’t very many queer films at this point that show queer joy. This movie does that. It’s about a gay man whose family loves him so much they will do anything to find the man of his dreams. That’s where the conflict is. The conflict isn’t coming out of the closet or navigating around potentially homophobic family members. The conflict is his family is meddling in his love life and they love it. It’s a very universal, relatable thing for people to watch. People who understand going home for the holidays are going to, I think, be really touched and delighted by this movie.
We have an incredible cast, a totally expert director and a tight script. Being at the forefront of this movie, I feel fully ready. We’ve got a great product and I’m proud Netflix is doing this and that I’m part of it.
Single All The Way embodies that heartfelt Christmas rom-com spirit. Was this your first impression of Chad Hodge’s script?
I was excited when I knew I was going to read a gay Christmas comedy because that didn’t exist. I was excited knowing that’s what I was picking up and it was fun immediately. It’s two characters who know each other really well, which you get to see a lot in other romantic comedies and Christmas movies. You know, a woman who is looking for love and can’t find the right guy is a charming and delightful thing to watch at Christmas and this is the same thing, only it’s a gay man. The movie is full of queer joy with queer references, queer people and queer icons.
I believe you shot this in April? What was the on-set experience of getting in the festive spirit halfway through the year?
Yes, we shot in April, so a lot of the cold is pretend. But we shot in a few places in Canada: one was a ski town, so that was very real snow. You hear stories about people shooting Christmas movies in August and they just pretend to be cold – that isn’t this.
"There aren’t very many queer films at this point that show queer joy. This movie does that."
The legendary Jennifer Coolidge is your Auntie in this film and she also was brilliant with you in Swan Song. How was acting opposite her?
Getting two movies with her that are so different, and she is so different in them, was great. I’ll never forget my year of being in Jennifer Coolidge movies. I’ve loved her since Best In Show and I think I’ve seen everything that she’s done. She is a legend, she is an icon. There are aspects of her that are so queer in the ways in which we love to laugh and surprise an audience. You watch a great drag queen play an audience and that’s sort of what Jennifer does. You think you know what’s coming and it’s never that.
By the way, it says in the script, "enter Aunt Sandy," and in parenthesis, "think Jennifer Coolidge," so Chad has always thought of her. She always surprises you and that’s why, I think, we love divas, drag and these queer icons from Judy Garland on. We know they are going to deliver and give us what we want, but we never know quite what they’re going to do. That’s J-Cool in a nutshell: she constantly surprises me and herself, she was making herself laugh on set. That is the mark of a true queer icon: they can tickle themselves while delighting us.
I feel like a Christmas at Jennifer's would be amazing. What does a Michael Urie Christmas look like? Do you have any traditions?
Well, I’m sitting right next to my tall, skinny, neon pink tree. As a kid, I liked Christmas, the food and the presents, of course, but when I was a single adult, before I met my partner Ryan [Spahn], I didn’t really care for Christmas. It felt like a bit of a chore and I kept thinking I’d rather go home and visit my parents when it’s warm.
Ryan comes from a family that loves Christmas and he loves Christmas and suddenly I loved Christmas. I love Christmas music and the way Christmas candles smell. There’s something special about falling in love with someone who loves Christmas. That’s why we love these Christmas rom-coms so much: there’s something really romantic and magical about that season and holiday. Christmas is always different for me, but I think this pink Christmas tree is going to be a tradition.
Photos courtesy of Netflix