Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Running with Running with Scissors writer-director Ryan Murphy and star Joseph Cross
Expanded Edition of 10-25-06 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Scissors writer-director Murphy, the film's young star Cross, his screen mother Annette Bening and Murphy directing both on set
It took three years for out “Nip/Tuck” creator-writer-director Ryan Murphy to bring his vision of Augusten Burroughs’ bestselling
memoir “Running With Scissors” to the screen. The movie, Murphy’s first, tracks the coming of age during the mid-70s of the
teenaged Augusten (played by Joseph Cross). Augusten’s mother, Deirdre (Annette Bening), a narcissistic housewife and poet
wannabe, falls under the spell of Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), who freely prescribes Valium and presides over a family of willful eccentrics in
their broken down Addams Family style house. Deirdre allows the Finches to legally adopt the teenaged Augusten who then shares a
series of adventures with the family and has his first gay affair with one of the Doctor’s patients, the schizophrenic Bookman (Joseph
The film is drawing heavy Oscar buzz for Bening’s performance. Murphy, dressed in a form fitting black dress shirt and black jeans
and his young star Cross, also in black and wearing tennis shoes without socks, sat down to talk with Windy City Times about Running
With Scissors. Highlights of our conversation:
WCT: I found that the movie was toned down from the book, I’m assuming on purpose?
RYAN MURPHY: The sex stuff was, yes.
WCT: And why was that asks the gay media interviewer?
RM: If you’d shot that as written it would be an “X” and you’d never get it released. I don’t know, I just instinctively felt that I
wanted to tell the story in a way that was responsible and I also think it’s easy for you to villainize the Bookman character and I
didn't want to do that. I think he’s equally as sick as the next character.
WCT: I read on Augusten’s blog that you basically got him at a lunch and said, “I’m not leaving until I get the rights.”
WCT: And even though you hadn’t done a movie and this was before “Nip/Tuck” something about what you said to him convinced
him to say yes.
RM: I just think that I had a similar childhood in many ways. Not obviously that ridiculous but we had the same point of view and I
said, “I really see the compassion in these people. They do monstrous things but I want to show you the reasons why they do them
so you can understand their choices” and he liked that. And I think that’s why I got the gig.
WCT: So you got the rights and wrote the script and then how did you find him (Joseph Cross)?
RM: I think I looked at like 400 people between audition tapes and names and I couldn’t find anybody and I was in despair and I
walked down to the Mercer Hotel in New York and there was Joe and he looked like Augusten and he looked like Annette (Bening)
and then he read and he was the only one that made me cry of all the people so I just knew he was it. He got it. He had such great
empathy and sincerity as a person and it’s a hard part but his chops were so great that I knew he could hold his own opposite that
cast and he did.
WCT: So what was it about the character of Augusten that spoke to you understood him so immediately, Joe? Did you have some
kind of childhood empathy for him?
JOSEPH CROSS: I didn’t have a childhood anything close to this. My parents have been together for 28 years and the whole family’
s really close. But I’d just gone to college and I’d just broken up with a girl and it was sort of a very lonely time for me. When I
read it what really spoke to me was the loneliness and isolation in the midst of the chaos which college was and which the Finch
house was for my character.
WCT: Did you have any hesitation about playing a gay character? That’s the standard question – from both the straight and gay
media – by the way.
JC: (laughs) Yes, I know.
RM: He only wants to play the gays now. Oh, the character’s straight, huh – pass! (laughs)
JC: No, I didn’t. I think I was more nervous about playing a real person than I was about playing a gay character and also the
sexuality is not the defining aspect of the character. It’s not graphic. It’s done in a very tasteful way. I didn’t really thing about the
sexuality all that much when we were doing it.
WCT: I know that Augusten Burroughs was quite involved during the whole process, right?
RM: I talked to him everyday. You know, we’ve been sort of connected at the hip for the past three years on this. We really have.
He was very involved. He had approval of everything. I gave him that. I wouldn’t do anything he didn’t like because I said, “This is
a movie to me but it’s your life to you” so I really wanted him to love it.
WCT: And out of 400 people did he look at Joe’s audition tape and say, “This is the one.”
RM: No. By that point I had cast everybody so he knew my taste was impeccable.
WCT: (laughs) Only a gay man would say that.
RM: Thank you. And when did you meet him, Joe?
JC: I met him actually a week before we started shooting. I wasn’t mimicking him and I wasn’t doing an impression of him so I
didn’t have to live in his house or spend time with him. I needed to meet him so I could interpret what I thought he would have
been like as a child.
WCT: Can we talk about your other cast members for a moment starting with Annette Bening. This is an amazing performance.
RM: It is.
WCT: How was it directing your first movie with such a stellar cast? Was it a sense of pressure or a relief to have these
heavyweights in the roles?
RM: It was easy because almost everybody in the movie did it for scale. It was a labor of love. They loved the script. They loved
Augusten and what it was about – which is survival. I worked the hardest with Annette just because I think her part is the most
complicated. We always saw it in the same way but when you first meet Annette, of course, it’s terrifying. She has three Academy
Award nominations and she has a ferocity to her but then you get to know her and she’s so funny and a pussycat and we became
very close in making the movie. No. I really knew what I wanted and actors want that as opposed to somebody who just lets them
try things. “This is what I want” I would say and I think they liked that.
WCT: The scene between Annette Bening and Kristen Chenoweth – the kiss – when Augusten interrupts them – was there more
lesbian content that might be turning up on a DVD at some point?
RM: Well in the book it was very graphic. He walks in and it’s so specific – she’s basically doing cunnilingus. It was never written
that way as I recall and first of all, you’re not going to get Annette Bening to do that even though she’ll do just about everything.
Secondly, I just didn’t think that it needed it. To me the truth of the scene was about the betrayal of the mother and the fact that
she didn’t tell him and the shock of it. I think you got it without needing to go that far. Not that you want to water it down but you
can’t win with something like that. Some people will see the movie and be like, “Well there was too much Bookman sex” or like you
said, “It’s not graphic enough.” I can only be true to what I wanted to do.
WCT: I don’t think I felt that it wasn’t graphic enough. I definitely got it and certainly, what’s going to be graphic after Shortbus?
RM: Is that sex scene in that really crazy? Is there a gay one?
WCT: Big time. It’s funny and hilarious and some of the sex scenes go all the way to the money shots. John Cameron Mitchell has
definitely raised the bar past “Nip/Tuck,” boy (laughs).
RM: Yes, it sounds like it. I should start putting money shots in “Nip/Tuck.” If I could I might.
WCT: Joe, you went from shooting Scissors to Flags of Our Fathers. What was it like to go from this very gay friendly sensibility
picture into this testosterone heavy, Clint Eastwood, kind of movie?
JC: (laughs) First you have Ryan Murphy and then you have Clint Eastwood who is the epitome of American masculinity.
RM: (deadpans) We’re the same.
JC: They were very different parts in very different movies and it’s great to be able to do that as an actor to go from one extreme to
the next. It was a tremendously overwhelming experience. It went from Ryan talking about Manolo Blahnik shoes to being in
Iceland with these other guys shooting a war movie.
WCT: Boy it’s all downhill from here now.
JC: I know. I have to retire now.
WCT: At 20. What are you going to do next?
JC: I don’t know. I think I’ll probably spend some time in school. That’s what I did right about the Clint movie. I did a semester
at Trinity and then I took a semester off to do all the press for this.
WCT: And what’s up next for you Ryan?
RM: I’m doing a movie with Meryl Streep and Annette and then I’m doing a movie with Julia Roberts. I have two movies lined up
and I’m doing them one after the other. The one with Meryl is called Dirty Tricks and it’s about women in Watergate, based on the
play and the movie with Julia is based on the book “Eat Pray Love” which is fantastic.
WCT: Is this fulfilling a particular dream for you? Working with these incredible actresses?
RM: I wouldn’t say “actresses.” I would say “actors.” I’m always drawn to the story first. Many of the stories that I’m drawn to are
very emotional which tends to be more female driven stuff but yes, it’s a dream. I mean I was President of the Meryl Streep Fan
Club in high school so go figure and now I’m doing a movie with her so it’s pretty overwhelming.
WCT: Have you seen any kind of difference working in Hollywood because you’re openly gay?
RM: No, are you kidding? It’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I recommend being gay to everybody. It really
gets you in a lot of doors. It’s like the best thing that could ever happen to you. It’s never been something that hurt me; it only
WCT: On that side of the camera.
RM: Well, maybe if you’re an actor, yes. Yes, that’s hard, very hard but for what I do – writing, directing, producing – it never hurt
and was never an impingement on anything I’ve wanted to do. What people want in these actors is somebody who is authentic and
has a sense of self. I think when you’re in the closet or when you’re hiding people can sense something in you. As storytellers, it’s
our obligation to tell the truth and it’s hard to tell the truth when you’re living a lie.
WCT: Could you work with an actor that was closeted?
RM: I have, sure.
WCT: So, has that been difficult, given what you just said?
RM: No. It’s different for me. I don’t judge anybody. Everybody comes to their own conclusions on their own time. I try not to put
my philosophies on anybody. If you’re a director and a screenwriter and you’re in the closet because you’re afraid I’d be like, “That’
s ridiculous.” If you’re an actor I get it. I understand it.
WCT: So, were the two of you together when Augusten saw the movie for the first time?
RM: Not it was just me. He saw it and he cried. He was overwhelmed and said, “That’s exactly the way it was” and that’s the best
compliment you can get. You know not many authors are so supportive. I mean he’s promoting the hell out of this thing. He loves
it and that’s a very rare thing where somebody loves the movie that’s been taken from their book so I’m very happy for that. That’s
what I wanted and I made it happen be it by involving him and making his truth so apparent.
WCT: Did you hear from him Joe?
JC: Yes, I just spoke with him yesterday and he really like it and has been very complimentary to me. We’ve been doing a little bit
of press together, too, which is fun and he’s been overly complimentary. Very, very kind to me.
WCT: To a middle-aged gay man like myself – all these things that are happening now are miraculous. To have an openly gay
man who is a writer-director and creator of one of the hottest TV shows sitting here talking about his first feature; to see so many
gay characters on television and in the movies that are shown in a positive light – is wonderful.
RM: It is. It really is.
WCT: And I’m glad to have some time with you to let you know that that’s appreciated, Ryan.
RM: Thank you. You were fun.
WCT: And Joseph, it’s great to talk with someone who’s obviously at the beginning of a long career.
JC: Thank you.