Bucolic backdrop sets stage for Romanian love story

Bucolic backdrop sets stage for Romanian love story

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Alec Secareanu makes an indelible impression as Gheorghe, a strapping Romanian farmhand in the fantastic gay romantic drama “God’s Own Country,” opening Nov. 11 at Ritz at the Bourse. Out writer/director Francis Lee’s striking film is set mostly on a Yorkshire farm where Johnny (Josh O’Connor) ekes out a hardscrabble life with his ailing father (Ian Hart) and his grandmother (Gemma Jones).

Johnny drinks himself sick most nights as a way to numb the pain of hard farm work and his closeted desires. When Gheorghe arrives to assist with lambing season, Johnny is initially wary of him. However, the immigrant proves himself adept at farm work, and shows tenderness to the prickly Johnny; the two young men get romantically involved.

Secareanu gives a riveting performance as a strong and sensual character. He generates an erotic charge from the smallest gestures, such as licking Johnny’s injured palm. And he conveys deep emotions with the slightest expressions. The actor imbues Gheorghe with a confidence that makes him sexy but also moving when he asserts himself in the face of adversity. Secareanu spoke via Skype from Bucharest with PGN about making “God’s Own Country.”

PGN: Alec, you birth and skin sheep in this film. What is your experience on a farm?

AS: I had literally no experience on a farm. I’m a city boy. I was born and raised and live in Bucharest. My grandparents had a house in the countryside, and I spent summers at their farm with chickens and ducks, but I am not fond of that kind of work. We had two weeks of preparation and I learned how to skin and birth lambs, and I learned how to inject animals’ cut hoofs, and make cheese. We had a long farming shift, from early in the morning to late in the afternoon, to understand what a farmer’s life is. It was useful. It gave us the physicality of the characters: how they walk, talk, move around and connect with the environment. It was quite intense.

PGN: How did you develop your portrayal of Gheorghe? He seems very observant, and has tremendous patience and confidence.

AS: We started working on the characters two months before we started shooting. Francis [Lee, the director] asked me questions about Gheorghe’s background: where he was born, his parents, his school, his other relationships and how he ended up in the U.K. We built his life from scratch. He’s more processed and more aware of what’s happening around him and is more connected to nature. He kept his head down to learn to survive and make money, and do his work and support his family back home. We thought about how much sugar he liked in his tea.

PGN: Has Gheorghe always been gay?

AS: You get some hints that there was someone before in his life and he invested in that person and was disappointed, so he’s cautious about getting involved with anyone. I like that there’s a mystery. You don’t get his background but you can feel it and get hints. You have to let the people use their imagination.

PGN: There is tenderness and toughness to Gheorghe. How did you balance those elements of his character?

AS: It was an honor and privilege to play him. It’s a very strong character. He’s a bit like Jesus — this tenderness and warmth he projects. But there is also this idea of social justice and equality. He’s not afraid to stand for himself, he knows who he is and what he deserves.

PGN: What can you say about your physical scenes of fighting and fucking with Josh?

AS: It was all very deliberate. For the first two weeks of preparation, Francis kept us as far apart as possible, and we met briefly only for rehearsals. After shooting, we moved in together and spent more time together, so our friendship happened at the same time we were on screen. We became more comfortable and gained each other’s trust. All the sex scenes were choreographed. We built their lives and we were comfortable around each other because we had to get out of our comfort zone for these parts.

PGN: Kim Davis recently went to Romania to make a case against same-sex marriage in your country. There was an outcry from the LGBT community. What can you say about gay rights in Romania?

AS: Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 1996 and they are talking about a referendum. The Coalition for Family is trying to change the constitution to make marriage specific between a man and woman, and they want us to go backwards. The society here is still very traditional in the rural area. But there is a lot of homophobia in Romania so I’m pleased the film is being shown here. It’s a love story; it’s not trying to make a statement or be political. It’s about two people who meet at certain times in their lives and they clash.

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