Director and writer Joseph Sackett has explored queer themes in all of his work, from his short films to his feature-length debut Homebody. Homebody, which recently premiered at OutFest, follows the story of Johnny (Tre Ryder) and his babysitter Melanie (Colby Minifie). For Johnny, Melanie is his whole world — he admires her and copies her mannerisms, even stealing her lipstick. But when Melanie announces plans to move on to another job, Johnny’s heartbreak finds release in an unusual scenario: Johnny accidentally projects himself into Melanie’s body. Now, the two must find a way to switch back as Johnny attempts to live as Melanie.
Nerds and Beyond had the opportunity to speak with Sackett about his inspiration for the film, the casting process, and more!
Nerds and Beyond: Where did the original idea for Homebody come from, and what prompted your decision to expand the short I Was In Your Blood to the feature-length Homebody?
Joseph Sackett: I like to joke that Homebody is based on the true story of when I sent my spirit into my babysitter’s body. Of course, that exact thing didn’t actually happen. But the emotional seed of this story is definitely ripped from the headlines of my own genderqueer childhood. When we made the short, I wasn’t intending to expand it into anything longer. But at some point, the idea occurred to me that we could do the Being John Malkovich version of this babysitter story where he actually gets to inhabit her body and spend a day as an adult woman.
Nerds and Beyond: Homebody is comparable to classic body swap films like Freaky Friday, but it also differs in major ways. How did you find the balance between paying homage to those films while also subverting the audience’s expectations for a film like this?
Joseph Sackett: Yeah, I was really inspired by these high concept Hollywood movies that I grew up watching in the 90’s. Although, of course, we were working on an indie scale with fairly limited resources. So my producer, Joy Jorgensen, and I like to say we’re doing lo-fi high concept. I wanted to make a movie that was as fun and entertaining as those 90’s era romps, but updated with my own queer sensibility. When we were in pre-production, my DP, Laura Valladao, and I would watch movies together every week. There was one memorable week where we watched Mrs. Doubtfire and Dogtooth back to back. Those movies are very different, but they illustrate the two aesthetic worlds that we were trying to combine. I always thought it would be cool if this movie had the bones of a mainstream crowd-pleaser and the skin of a “queerdo” indie arthouse movie.
Nerds and Beyond: Homebody is not your first film to deal with themes of body swapping or performing societal expectations of gender roles — your short film Dominant Species tackles performative masculinity through the lens of aliens taking over human bodies. What is it about this particular theme that draws you towards exploring it?
Joseph Sackett: You know, I can’t say that I’m always conscious of what is attracting me to a given story when I’m writing it. I kind of just follow what excites me. Sometimes it’s only in hindsight that I can look back and recognize, like, oh of course that was me processing that childhood trauma or whatever. I’ve been thinking about gender and gender performance my whole life since as a kid, I got teased a lot for acting like a girl. And I experienced a lot of shame around what I now think of as my genderqueerness. So that was a part of myself that I actively suppressed. Which I think is a common theme for a lot of queer folks. Maybe now that I’m an adult and it feels safe for my brain to examine my queerness, that’s just where my thinking goes. Perhaps especially because that was a part of myself that I pushed away for so long. You know what they say, what you resist persists.
Nerds and Beyond: Casting is very important for this film, since so much depends on the chemistry between the actors portraying Melanie and Johnny. Was it difficult to find the right actors to bring this story to life, and what was the process like for casting Colby Minifie and Tre Ryder (both for the original short film and for Homebody)?
Joseph Sackett: The casting process was actually pretty easy. Since I had worked with Colby and Tre in the short, I knew that I liked their dynamic. So I wrote the feature with them in mind. But you’re right that the chemistry between those two characters is very important. But by the time we were getting ready to make the feature, it had been about two years since we shot the short. And even that shoot was only two days. Luckily, Colby, Tre, and I were able to do a bunch of rehearsals together to reestablish that chemistry. Those rehearsals were also a really valuable opportunity for Colby to observe Tre and channel his body language. She spends a lot of the movie as a nine-year-old boy, so we were both really grateful she got that time to work with him before we started shooting.
Nerds and Beyond: Homebody is a queer film that has a very innocent and young perspective of gender identity and sexuality through Johnny’s character. Was it always your intention to write the film as seen through Johnny’s worldview, thus making it a far less explicit film than many expect from a film with queer themes?
Joseph Sackett: Well, it was definitely always my intention to make a protagonist-driven film. Every shot in this movie is subjectively with Johnny, we are very close to his physical and emotional experience of this adventure that he’s having. When we were making the short, I really enjoyed spending time in this innocent space where the whole world was just this little kid and his love for his babysitter. Although, of course, it was a child’s version of love. So it doesn’t say “I want you” but instead says “I want to be you.” So, yeah, I think part of what made me want to expand this story into a feature was the appeal of getting to live creatively in this innocent, young headspace.
Nerds and Beyond: Homebody surrounds Johnny with a largely accepting environment. There are mentions of bullies, but Melanie remains understanding, even in the wake of their experience together, and his mother gets a supportive moment at the end. Was it important to you that while Johnny struggles with big feelings that confuse him, he has support around him on his queer journey?
Joseph Sackett: Yeah, you know, this movie doesn’t really have an antagonist. I liked the idea of Johnny, to a certain extent, being his own worst enemy. It’s his own shame, his own fear, that’s holding him back from expressing his true self. It’s about internal, more than external, conflict. I also really liked the idea of making a movie where a genderqueer young person was surrounded by love and support. And I wanted to make a movie where they got to have some fun!
Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope audiences ultimately take away from the film?
Joseph Sackett: I hope people leave the movie feeling good. I’m a happy ending kind of person, and it was my goal to deliver an uplifting vibe. Since we’re dealing with questions around gender and queerness, I think this is a movie that can spark bigger conversations. And if people want to engage with it at that level, I welcome that, of course. But it’s not a message movie. It is first and foremost entertainment.
Nerds and Beyond: For those interested in following your future projects, where can they find you?
Our thanks to Joseph Sackett for answering our questions! You can read our review of Homebody here.