Newly paraplegic Morgan Oliver (Leo Minaya, Manito; How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer) just wants his life to be like it was before the accident. A chance encounter with Dean Kagen (newcomer Jack Kesy) on a basketball court makes Morgan more determined that being in a wheelchair will not change him. Dean supports Morgan when he decides to enter as a wheelchair competitor in the same bike race that took his ability to walk. But when Morgan risks his life to win and Dean walks out, he is pushed to the brink, teetering between what he wants and what he needs. With amazing performances by Darra “Like Dat” Boyd (VH1's hit Flavor of Love), Madalyn McKay (Pan Am; Taffy Was Born) and Theodore Bouloukos (Vacationland; Between Something and Nothing) and gorgeous cinematography by Chris Brown (Phoenix), Morgan is a powerful story of perseverance, determination and, of course, love.
In 2004, before we even made our 3rd film, Phoenix, Michael and I began talking about MORGAN. With each story Michael and I ask ourselves why it must be told, what sets it apart, and what makes it relevant, not just to a gay audience, but to any audience? Back then we called the concept ““Hot Wheelz”.” I began interviewing gay men in wheelchairs. Through a Web site specifically for paraplegic and quadriplegic gay men, I found a beautiful young man named Robbie S. He had been a tennis player. I had several long, candid conversations with him: how did he become paraplegic, what did it take to survive, what was rehabilitation like, what was the moment like when he realized he would never walk again, what can he still do and what can’t he do, how does he go to the bathroom, how does he have sex? He was open to all my questions and generous in all of his answers.
Michael and I began crafting the story. Then we got scared. Would anyone want to see a movie like this? We put everything we have into our movies, we risk everything. Is there a place in the world for this film? I got emails from Robbie, “How’s the script coming? When will you start shooting?” I told him I was having second thoughts. He told me how important he thought the film was and how important it was to him. “You’re giving voice to a bunch of us that nobody makes movies for.” But I couldn’t do it. We made Phoenix. It did well, but I couldn’t stop thinking about ““Hot Wheelz,” or about Robbie.
We picked up the story again and began fleshing it out. Finally it clicked: the relevance of “Hot Wheelz.” It is a story about a young athlete who must discover himself again after a bicycle accident leaves him in a wheelchair. We were writing the scene at the end of the movie between Morgan and his mother and Peg just said it, “You just have to find that part of yourself again.” We looked at the words on the page. There is was. We all have something in our lives: loss of a loved one, divorce, unemployment, an accident, something that takes away a piece of ourselves so we feel like we don’t know ourselves anymore and we have to rebuild. That’s the relevance of MORGAN. We were moving ahead again.
We had a reading. I knew I needed to find the right actors and team to make this happen. It’s a funny thing about making a movie. You could attach a different set of people to the same script and it would turn out a different film. The first person we found was Leo Minaya. You might remember him from the Sundance sensation Manito, for which he won the Ensemble Acting award. He also starred as America Ferarra’s love interest in the Sundance film How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer. Then we found Jack Kesy. Jack has some great training under his belt, but not a lot of experience. Michael and I love discovering people. Ever heard of Matthew Montgomery? We gave him his first role in our first film Gone, But Not Forgotten and look how that turned out. Jack is a very natural actor. He never pushes anything. He just is. The only problem was, we weren’t sure who would be in what role.
We spent an afternoon with them. We’d bought an old wheelchair and they both got in, rolled around and we read all of their scenes. “I need to see you kiss,” I told them. I had talked to each of them on the phone about this beforehand. It’s something I require of any actors playing love interests because (a) I want to see their chemistry and (b) I want to make sure they’re capable of onscreen intimacy before I’ve started shooting the film. I don’t need anyone freaking out. Well, they kissed and their chemistry electrified the room. Not bad for a couple of straight dudes. After that, it was clear: Leo should play the title role and Jack should be the love interest. We didn’t tell them yet. They left. I said to Michael, “Do you think that’s the first time that either one of them has kissed a guy?” I never asked and I never will.
Our dear friend Scott Gofta met Darra “Like Dat” Boyd on set. I’m sure you remember being introduced to Darra on VH1’s hit show Flavor of Love Season 2 & Flavor of Love Girls Charm School Hosted by Mo’Nique. She read for Lane and she was great.
We interviewed a number of women to play Peg. She is a very strong woman, but there is a vulnerability to her that makes for a very interesting dichotomy. Finally Madalyn McKay answered a casting call. Madalyn has a deep-rooted energy that could pull the scenery off the walls if it’s not contained. I couldn’t wait for Michael to start working with that.
I called everyone and offered them the roles. They all jumped at the chance. They all have delicious roles and they would get to work with an experienced actor’s director like Michael. Interestingly, each of them was in transition: Leo had not worked since 2006 and Jack had never done anything, so both of them were trying to get their careers going. Darra was a reality show star, but really needed to prove her acting chops. Madalyn had done a number of commercials and a horror film and really needed to add a role like this to her resume. That magic that happens for a perfect storm began to brew. I knew I had the right cast for Michael to guide, to mold, to reach inside and pull out of each of them something that they would all fight (they always fight), something they didn’t know was there. Michael has a way of pushing people until they finally do something they didn’t know they were capable of. He’s like the Olympic coach of Directing. I knew the actors would all, at some point hate him, but in the end he would make sure that they deliver a performance that no other director could get out of them. Nothing about making movies is easy. I knew it was going to be a rocky, risky road to make this film. But rocky risky is my favorite flavor of fun. It is my pleasure to present to you my beautiful cast, an important and touching film, and last but not least, my partner in art, life, love and all other things that matter, Michael Akers. And yes, Robbie, I finally made happen. I give you MORGAN.