Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer star in Mike Mills’ “Beginners”

Here and Now

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

A story about a son coming out to his father is not so uncommon. A father coming out to his son, especially to his adult son, is less so. That’s the basis for the Mike Mills’ film “Beginners,” and the tale has much overlap with his own history:

My dad did come out of the closet when he was 75, after being married to my mom for 44 years. He had five years that were very wonderful gay years and then he passed away. And when he was sick, we had these amazing conversations about love and relationships and their relationship. And after he passed away, I was just so curious about him and their life, and where I came from, and who I was.

The film strays from Mills’ own story, but some elements create an experience for the audience which mirrors Mills’. One of those elements is the casting of Christopher Plummer as the main character’s father. Mills explains:

In a weird, funny way, it’s easy for Christopher to be like a father figure to the audience because we all know him — we all think we know him — we all have these associations with him, and then he turns them all on your head in this role, and choosing to play this character. And I remember when I cast him, I was like, ‘oh this might be kind of a little bit like what I experienced when my real dad did come out.’ It’s like, the audience won’t quite see this coming or it’s a little bit of a flip.

In addition to story of the relationship between father and son, “Beginners” tells of the main character Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor), and his love interest Anna (Mélanie Laurent) struggling to trust love. This theme is outside of the autobiographical elements of the picture, and Mills used others to inspire this storyline:

I have so many friends — women and men — that I’ve been in relationships with and just been friends with, that have a real hard time believing in love, or really thinking that this is something that’s really gonna happen in their lives. And these aren’t dysfunctional people, these aren’t crazy neurotic people. They’re very ordinary and for many different reasons, the idea that love will endure and that it’s real, is hard to really grab onto. And so, I was trying to make sort of a portrait of that.

After creating such a personal piece of work, Mills considers what his father would have said about the film:

His perspective would be so different, right? He would want to have it be much more about the gay side of the story and his life there, but the only way I could make it is by feeling that while I’m sure it’s my version — it’s not his version — that I made it with love and curiosity, and I feel like he would get that. 


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