Michael Witkes is the creator of the web series Interested In, a post-coming out story that follows the romantic and sexual adventures/misadventures of college student Parker (played by Witkes). While we’ve seen plenty of coming-out dramas, Interested In takes it to the next level, exploring (often with great humor) that awkward, sexually explosive phase directly after the closet, as Parker navigates queer dating for the first time, and figures out his new identity.
With Season 1 under his belt, Witkes is currently involved in the filming of Season 2, due for a summer 2020 release. Witkes tells us on how the series came into existence, and how he and his ultra-talented cast and crew have brought it from a pipe dream to a hit series.
Need the perfect entertainment for late-night viewing? Try this fascinating glimpse into the lives of young LGBTQ people.
Tell me about the origins of the series: how the idea originated, what you intended to do with the idea and how you went about accomplishing it.
I grew up loving television, film, and theater. As a closeted queer kid in the suburbs of Philly, there wasn’t a lot of queer content available. Gay characters were few and far between. As I got older, and started to accept that I was definitely not straight, more gay characters started to pop up. But most of the narratives about young gay men ended with the main character coming out or committing suicide. Since so many of the stories ended with coming out, I thought that, once I came out, I would immediately accept myself. I was obviously in for a rude awakening. I still had so much shame about my sexuality. That’s why I began Interested In directly after Parker comes out. We’ve seen how he gets there. But what happens now?
I wrote the first draft in 2013, while studying theater abroad in London. I started by writing short scenes, just for myself. It was therapeutic to turn my confusion into writing. As I wrote, I realized that all of the scenes were part of one story. Being a theater major, I decided to turn it into a play. I was initially scared to share it, which is why the first staged production didn’t happen until 2016! We performed it at a festival in NYC, and then again, with Quince Productions in Philadelphia.
As I worked on the piece, leading up to the stage production, I think I always knew it would work more effectively as a series. I think the intimacy and slice-of-life nature works better on screen. But starting it as a play really helped me workshop the idea. There’s nothing better than a live audience to help you figure out what works. After the play, I rewrote the show as a series. The structure remained the same. The first half of the play became Season 1. And the second half is going to become Season 2! I’m so excited to share it, since I’ve been sitting on it for a while!
How much would you say you developed it, and how much was truly a collaboration? At this point, how much of the artistic and practical work is done by you?
Well, I am the creator, writer, and executive producer of the series. So all of that aspect is my contribution, and that’s remained the same throughout. Film is obviously a highly collaborative medium. Season 1 was my first foray into film producing and writing. I couldn’t have done any of it without my amazing team. They helped fill in the gaps of everything that I didn’t know or intuit. I am incredibly grateful for them. They helped elevate the series above my wildest dreams. What we accomplished on less than a shoe-string budget for season 1 is truly incredible.
One thing that was important for me was that, when I was on set, I was mostly an actor. I trusted my team to take the reins during filming. I wear a lot of hats in this series, but I wanted to make sure my performance was the best it could be. So having a team that I trust has been crucial.
That brings up a question I was just about to ask. You wear so many hats during this, which hat is your favorite and what about it do you love? And which is your least favorite
I truly love to wear so many hats. People constantly ask me which role I’ll inevitably settle on. I just don’t see it like that. I want to do it all. I’m definitely happiest when I’m creative—so acting, writing. I will say, fundraising comes the least naturally to me. I’m so thankful that we just raised $15K through a Crowdfunding campaign! That process was a huge challenge.
I’m amazed at how realistic a sense you have for someone so young, that it wasn’t just an artistic vision but a pragmatic one as well. How do you balance those things in pursuit of your artistic goals?
Oh thank you! I think I’m naturally pragmatic. I recognize that having an idea is simply not enough. There are so many people with phenomenal ideas. But having an idea, or even a script, isn’t even half the battle. I mean, I myself sat on the series for a few years before doing anything with it. I’m so glad I did though, because those years taught me the importance of patience and diligence.
What do you see as the future of Interested In? Will we be following a character who at some point is 40 years old?
I think the exciting thing about the show is that it has the capacity to continue indefinitely. We’re constantly redefining our identities and growing into ourselves. I definitely have ideas for further seasons, but right now, I’m hyper-focused on Season 2. It’s hard to know what will happen next!
My main passion is expanding queer representation and exploring queer identity. Interested In excites me because it has the opportunity to continue to expand the multifaceted life of what it means to be LGBT+. Everyone has a place on the show. So if that means more seasons of Interested In, wonderful. If that means working on other shorts I’ve written-that sounds wonderful too! Hopefully I’ll get to do both!
Why is it important that people watch Interested In? What does it have to offer someone who’s long past the coming-out process?
Interested In explores the nuance of queer dating and queer identity. So I think it’s relevant to any age. Someone who’s recently out, or not yet out, will find it validating as they’re coming into themselves. Someone who’s been out for a long time, might find it more nostalgic. I think it’s important because it depicts queerness in various ways. It’s also simply entertaining. Some have even said sexy!
What gives you the most satisfaction about this?
Hearing from people who connect with the series. I ultimately want to make a difference. So it’s heartwarming when people reach out, from literally all over the world, and let me know that they enjoyed the series or found validation in Parker’s journey.
What is your favorite moment that’s happened during the course of developing the play and later the series, on or off-stage/screen?
One of the most satisfying moments was after our world premiere, at Cinema Diverse in Palm Springs. I talked at length with an older man about the series. He was incredibly complimentary and was impressed with the unapologetic depiction of queer sex. We discussed the differences between dating now and dating when he was my age. He wasn’t even allowed to hold hands with another man in public. He was part of the Black Cat riots in LA in the 1960s, which was a protest before Stonewall. So our rights literally rest on his shoulders. What an amazing opportunity to thank someone for creating a world where I’m allowed to make Interested In.
Where will the 50-year old Michael Witkes be, if all goes well?
My ultimate goal is to create a production company that produces queer content across all mediums. Theatre, film, television, you name it. So when I’m 50, I hope I’m still acting, producing, writing, and directing a la Ryan Murphy or Issa Rae. And I hope I’m well established so I can make a big impact. Creating impactful work that breaks the mold and expands LGBT+ representation is the dream.