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Michael Johnston of Teen Wolf and Hannah Marks Talk Coming-of-Age Comedy Slash

Michael Johnston of 'Teen Wolf' and Hannah Marks Talk Coming-of-Age Comedy 'Slash'

Michael Johnston of 'Teen Wolf' and Hannah Marks Talk Coming-of-Age Comedy 'Slash'

The stars discuss their latest film about a questioning teen who finds himself through fan fiction.

Writer-director Clay Liford’s Slash is a coming-of-age comedy that dives into the fan fiction subculture. Neil (Michael Johnston) explores his sexuality through his fan fiction sci-fi adventures starring the hunky polysexual Vanguard (Tishuan Scott). When his notebook is stolen and passed around his high school, his classmate Julia (Hannah Marks) comes to his defense and reveals her own erotic fan fiction writing. They form a bond that takes them from the high school classroom to an online erotica forum, and finally to a comic convention in Houston where Neil has to reconcile his online persona and real life personality.

Michael Ian Black, Missi Pyle, and Jessie Ennis are memorable in their supporting roles, but Hannah Marks (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) and Michael Johnston (Teen Wolf) carry the film with a balance of comedy and sincerity that make this unusual story of high school outsiders feel charming, even as Neil’s fantasies of a naked, oiled Vanguard mid-orgy play across the screen.

Like Neil, Johnston experienced several firsts on the set of Slash; the role was his first lead. While Neil writes fan fiction, Johnston stumbles upon fan fiction celebrating his character Corey on Teen Wolf. Marks also shares a similarity with her character. Like Julia, she’s a writer, though she favors screenwriting over fan fiction. Her film Eskimo Sisters, which she describes as "a female Superbad" was optioned and then featured on 2015's Hit List of the year’s best screenplays.

PRIDE talked to Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks about their roles in the film, and Johnston’s role as Corey on Teen Wolf.PRIDE: When most people hear, 'It’s a movie about erotic fan fiction,' their first impression probably isn’t, 'Oh, that sounds like such a sweet film.' But in addition to being really funny, Slash is also a really sweet. What were your expectations, and what was your reaction when you read the script?

Hannah Marks: That was something I was surprised by too. It’s a lot of kids talking about sex, but they actually have very little experience with sex, so I think it does come off as very sweet and endearing. They’re just trying to figure it out. They’re in a pretty weird coming-of-age movie.

Michael Johnston: There’s a lot of sexuality involved, but when I read it, it’s a movie that’s very different, very unique. If I was nervous about anything it was just portraying a character who is just so real. I’m not a hero saving the day. I’m not trying to not get killed by werewolves. I’m just a normal kid trying to figure out myself. I was really drawn to that, and I was excited to play that story. There just aren’t that many movies like that.

PRIDE: What drew you to your characters?

Michael Johnston: In the movie, Neil experiences a lot of firsts in his life. He’s very new to everything. It was the same thing for me when I was shooting the movie. It was my first lead. It was my first time going to Comic-Con. It was my first onscreen kiss with a forty-year-old man [Michael Ian Black as Denis]. If it came off as—if there were nerves or anything—it was pretty real because it was my first time kissing a forty-year-old man, and we did it in a park and there were people who weren’t part of the production just watching like, 'What the hell is going on over there?' So, a lot of it just came naturally to me.

Hannah Marks: You know, I was a little nervous to play Julia, because she never shuts up, and I was worried that people would think my character was just a know-it-all who doesn’t listen. And she is that a little, but she’s enough of a three-dimensional person that you understand where she’s coming from, and I just loved how opinionated she is. She really speaks her mind, and she really feels that she’s right, and she’s really passionate and ambitious, and that’s something that really excites me because you don’t see that very often in characters that age.

PRIDE: Michael, I saw you auditioned for Slash before you were know as Corey on Teen Wolf.

Michael Johnston:Yes that’s true, I auditioned for it shorty after I got on Teen Wolf, and only recently has my character become a big part of the show. And actually, that might be part of the reason I got it, I don’t know. They came back after I was on Teen Wolf—it was a long time, eight months later—and I found out I got the part. So, it’s only fitting that I’m on a sci-fi show and the stories my character is writing are sci-fi stories. And I have a lot of fan fiction written about my character on Teen Wolf, so I kind of knew what it was. I also do a lot of voiceover and there’s voiceover in the movie, so there were a lot of things that I was able to connect with.

PRIDE: I’m wondering how surreal it is to read Teen Wolf fan fic about your character.

Michael Johnston: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s um…I just think it’s funny, and I think, 'Wow, I can’t believe there are people writing fan fiction about me.' And then, to a lot of people that’s their masturbation material, so I’m just like, 'Wow.' But I mean, hey, it’s cool. I’m just honored to have fans. That’s pretty amazing.PRIDE: Hannah, how did you immerse yourself in the fan fiction subculture before shooting?

Hannah Marks: I wasn’t too aware of it before shooting. I was pretty much just aware of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I knew there was a big internet culture. I really didn’t know too much about it, but I felt like as long as we weren’t making fun of these characters, that if we were really doing it justice and doing it honestly, that we would handle it correctly. I think that once people who are into fan fiction actually see the movie that they’ll love it, because we really are trying to honor what they do—because a lot of them are really good writers. I think if you don’t see the movie you won’t know that we’re honoring it in the way that we are.

PRIDE: Why do you think Slash appeals to people who aren’t into fan fiction?

Hannah Marks: I think it can appeal to everyone because of how honest it is, and how specific and unique these characters are. I think if you just want to see an honest relationship between teenagers that’s not 30-year-olds on 90210 pulling up in their Lamborghini, you should see this movie because it reflects what it’s like to be a teen today and to be an outsider. Nobody is a cliché and nobody is a stereotype.

PRIDE: There’s this scene where Julia is trying to break into a male-dominated subculture, and she gets some really discouraging feedback. I’m wondering if you've found any parallels in the film industry.

Hannah Marks: I think that scene was very necessary because Julia spends the whole film criticizing other people’s work, and it’s good to see the other side of that. But I have definitely experienced that being in the industry. I mean, I was a child actor so I feel like I’ve see a lot of the—I don’t want to say sexism necessarily—but I’ve seen how it’s different to be a girl than it is to be a boy in this industry. There have been times when I’ve gone into business meetings with guys and I’m not handed a business card, but they are. Or I’ll ask a director a question about my character and they’ll say, 'I don’t know, you’re a teenage girl. You have a little pea-brain.' And it’s like, wait, you can’t justify a character’s actions by saying they have a pea-brain. I don’t think you would tell me that if I was an adult male. So, I don’t want to necessarily call it sexism, but there definitely are some differences, and I don’t think they’re totally conscious. I think it’s something that everyone in the industry is working toward fixing.

PRIDE: Yeah, that’s definitely a—uh—that’s an interesting motivation for a character.

Hannah Marks: Yeah, and it’s definitely interesting that in a lot of movies the women are much younger than the men, and there are so few female characters. Like sometimes we’ll go to the movies and there will be a full male cast and there’s only one woman in it and she’s like 20 and she’s super hot, and that’s all the representation we have. We don’t even comment on it because we’re so used to it. I remember seeing a movie [Unknown] with Liam Neeson where his wife is January Jones, and I was like, oh, we’re just not going to acknowledge his wife is 24 years old. It’s crazy, but we see it all the time and we don’t say anything.PRIDE: You have a great onscreen chemistry in Slash. What was it like to work together?

Michael Johnston: We hit it off right away. We didn’t have a chemistry read together, but when we first met it was in a shuttle to the airport. And I got in first, and we were pulling up at Hannah’s house and I put my hand out to give her a handshake. And she just gave me a big hug and said, 'No handshake. We’re going to get really close really fast.' The whole movie was just a cool collaborative effort with her. We would be in each other’s hotel rooms every morning talking about the scenes we were going to do. Every once in a while, we’d have ideas and the director, Clay [Liford], was just a really cool guy and he’d let us try our own things. Hannah and I really hit it off and we just had so much fun.

Hannah Marks: It was really, really, really important to me that we were close. Our chemistry is what holds the movie together because our relationship is so central to the story. So, I wanted us to be close, and I wanted us to spend time together, and that happened kind of naturally. Clay fostered an environment where we could spend a lot of time together, and it was great to have an acting partner who was so game.

PRIDE: I know we have a lot PRIDE readers who are big Teen Wolf fans.

Michael Johnston: Yeah, right now [Corey] and [Mason] are boyfriends, and I think we’re the only couple left on the show. A lot of the couples kind of got split up for various reasons. I think [Teen Wolf creator] Jeff Davis would get in trouble if our characters broke up, so I think I get to stick around. I was talking to him like, 'Hey man, are do we get to do a really cool breakup scene and fight,' and he’s like, 'No, you guys are gonna be lovebirds until it’s over.'

PRIDE: Oh, I think people will be very glad to hear that.

Michael Johnston: Yeah, I think we have to [stay together] honestly, because this season is going to get pretty crazy. We’re just trying to like, stay alive, and get through high school. We have so much to worry about that we all have to kind of come together in the end. It’s so much fun working on that show.PRIDE: It feels like these characters will really resonate with young LGBT viewers. What are some of the responses you’ve heard from young people about what these characters mean to them?

Michael Johnston: I guess the difference between Teen Wolf and Slash is that Slash is a more realistic depiction of teenage sexuality and awkwardness and confusion. It’s really rewarding when I get to do a Q&A at a festival and people come up to me and say they relate to my character, they went through something similar. It’s part of what drew me to Slash. I guess in Teen Wolf, it’s more like, my character is gay and that’s it. It’s not really about that. It’s in there, and that’s great, but we’re just trying to stay alive and fight supernaturals. When I get a role, I just try to treat it with as much honesty as I can.

Hannah Marks: I think people are really responding to the fact that we’re not a film about labels. Michael’s character, you could easily call him bisexual, or gay, or pansexual. You could easily put him in to any of the boxes, but the movie never does. And the movie never judges him. My character really points that out, because I’m constantly trying to get him to label. I’m constantly trying to get him to figure out who he is. And it’s cool that he’s pretty accepting that he doesn’t know what he is yet. He likes what he likes, and he’s allowed to have that. I don’t think you see that very much in movies, and I think a lot of movies like this tend to have a big coming out speech at the end, and it’s very tearful and everyone is accepting, and that’s great, but I don’t think it always goes like that. I like that our movie is a little more niche in how we approach sexuality.

PRIDE: It definitely feels relevant when over 50 percent of teenagers are saying they don’t identify as exclusively heterosexual, but they’re not necessarily taking on a label either.

Hannah Marks: Yeah, my friend describes it in an interesting way. Like it’s all a spectrum, and let’s say we all have 100 chips. My friend might have 96 chips with men, and four chips with women, you know? We all have different chips, and we’re all allowed to describe it how we want to describe it. I don’t think we need to have a box that we’re in, and I don’t see why we have to come out. I think in the future people will probably be coming out as straight just as often as they’re coming out as gay.

PRIDE: Yeah, that would be nice.These interviews have been condensed for clarity. Slash is currently playing at select theaters and is available on VOD. Find a theater or rent and download the film here

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