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Love, Victor bosses Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger on telling "a different kind of story" with Disney

David Opie
·10 min read
Photo credit: Hulu
Photo credit: Hulu

From Digital Spy

Rainbow Crew is an ongoing interview series that celebrates the best LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Each instalment showcases talent working on both sides of the camera, including queer creatives and allies to the community.

Next up, we're speaking to Love, Victor showrunners Elizabeth Berger & Isaac Aptaker.

For many queer people, watching Love, Simon in cinemas really helped them exhale and let go in the same way that Simon himself does following Jennifer Garner's speech. But detractors were quick to point out that plenty of queer people still couldn't see themselves in Simon.

While no single film can represent everyone effectively at once, it's vital that a wider range of queer love stories are given the opportunity to break out of the indie circuit and play to a wider audience.

Enter, Love, Victor, a TV spin-off that follows a new protagonist who must navigate his queer identity as a half Puerto Rican, half Colombian-American living in the same town Simon did.

Photo credit: Michael Tullberg - Getty Images
Photo credit: Michael Tullberg - Getty Images

Now that Love, Victor is finally coming to the UK, we chatted to showrunners Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger about working with Disney and why it's important to "tell a different kind of story than Simon’s."

What’s the fan response been like since Love, Victor came out last year in the US?

Isaac Aptaker: The fan response has been so cool. There’s been a lot of international people asking when they can legally watch the show [laughs]. So we’re excited to finally have a date for them.

One of the most special parts about doing the movie and then the show is hearing from teenagers who are LGBTQ+, who have used the movie as a tool to either come out or start a dialogue with their parents, and to feel less alone. We get those DMs every week, and they never stop being powerful to us.

Photo credit: Hulu
Photo credit: Hulu

Did you feel pressure to live up to the impact of Love, Simon because of this?

Elizabeth Berger: Absolutely. I think it really gave us pause as to whether we wanted to do this, because it was just such a beautiful experience. The reaction really was overwhelmingly positive, and it really does make you think, "Oh, maybe I should leave this alone now, and do something completely different."

We were really drawn to the opportunity to tell this story, and to continue putting other types of representation on screen. That sucked us back in, I would say.

What made you choose to continue the story of Love, Simon's world as a TV show instead of a direct movie sequel?

EB: We were really excited about the idea of getting to tell a different kind of story than Simon’s, and about a different kind of family.

When we narrowed in on the idea of doing it about a Latinx family, we assembled all of these really brilliant Latinx writers and LGBTQ+ writers in our room. We started listening to their stories and we thought: "OK, this is something that feels of the world, but feels different enough to be really compelling and really exciting to us to take on."

The really great thing about TV is that you just have more time. Obviously, in a film, you are condensing everything into this very specific journey. On a show, you really get to take the time to grow with your characters, and to watch them evolve, hopefully over many, many years. You just get to go on this really long journey.

When Love, Victor first came out, it was originally going to air on Disney+, but then it went to Hulu, and now it’s coming back to Disney+ internationally. Can you shed some light on what happened there exactly?

IA: It’s confusing. When we sold the show to Disney+, we sold it to them straight-to-series. It was before the platform had even launched. They didn’t have any original programming yet. As we were figuring out what the show is, Disney+ was simultaneously figuring out what they were, and what audience they were for.

The show evolved into something that felt like it fit much more on Hulu with their slate of teenage high-school shows that they already had. It was a little bit more mature than the version of high-school that was going to be depicted on Disney+.

But what’s so great about coming full circle now is that Hulu is only available in America. We’ve had so many frustrated fans who love the movie and want the show and don’t have access to it. And now they’re adding this new brand [Star] to Disney+ that’s for slightly more sophisticated stories. We’re just so excited that finally this show that we want everyone to see, is going to be available internationally.

Disney has had its ups and downs when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. What's it been like developing such an intrinsically queer show with them?

IA: They’re tremendous. I think people have to understand – it’s a bummer, but spending this kind of money… this is a big, high-budget show. Writing that kind of a cheque to make something like that, that’s an LGBTQ story, is still something of a leap in this day and age. It shouldn’t be, but it is, and Disney has fully supported it.

They are writing the cheques. They’re saying, "Go make this big, expensive thing because we believe in it. We believe these stories need to be told, and that there’s going to be a big, universal audience for this." We felt so supported by the company.

EB: I think from the very beginning, our feeling was, "We’re going to keep our heads down with our writers and our showrunner, and we’re going to tell the story that you want to tell." And we felt so thrilled that it ended up on Hulu at first, which felt like it had this great, built-in teen audience already. It felt like the perfect home for it.

And now that it’s going to reach so many more people – we just feel so excited. It’s all working out for us in terms of where it’s ending up. We feel very lucky.

Photo credit: Hulu
Photo credit: Hulu

Did Disney ever try to censor your work or did they leave you pretty much to your own devices?

IA: They’re really great. There’s normal stuff but it’s not what you think. It’s about underage drinking. It’s not really related to the gay content. It’s showing brands of cars. It’s boring stuff [laughs]. In terms of supporting the gay love stories on this show, they’re all in.

Love, Victor tells a queer teen love story, and it doesn't shy away from some of the physical elements of that, like kissing. But what would you say to fans who feel that season one might have played things a bit safe, a bit PG, when it comes to that kind of queer physicality?

EB: Our intention was always to make a show that hopefully rang true to teenagers, but at the same time families could watch together. This isn’t ever going to be, for us, a graphically sexual show that you immediately reach for the remote and turn off when your parents walk into the room. We want this to be a show that generates conversation and brings people closer together.

That being said, season one is very much about the beginning of Victor’s exploration, and him figuring out of his identity. That’s been a bit of a slow-burn throughout season one. As we move into season two, for all of our characters, as they move through high-school and fall in love and get into these different relationships, we will be seeing them in different situations.

I don’t want to say too much about that, but, we’ll be really growing up with these characters. So some of that is yet to come.

IA: We really saw Love, Simon as the template for this show. It’s set in the same world. We wanted it to have the same feel. And Love, Simon was not a graphic or sexually explicit movie in any way.

So I think if you’re clicking on Love, Victor and all of a sudden you’re met with the world of Euphoria – which we love, but there’s a disconnect. That does not live in the same universe as the movie. So we hope it feels cohesive with the film.

What's been the most challenging thing about working on Love, Victor?

IA: The most challenging aspect of working on any show right now is the pandemic.

EB: [laughs] Yeah. Season one was sort of a charmed experience – our writer’s room; our cast; our whole crew; everything just worked together beautifully and seamlessly.

Everyone is doing a tremendous job on season two. But obviously we are in the midst of a pandemic. The precautions that people have to take just to step onto set safely are a huge undertaking. Everyone is rising to the challenge incredibly, but making any television right now – or film – is really a big undertaking.

Can you share a filming update on season two?

IA: We can say nothing about when it will premiere. That’s far above our pay-grade. But we’re deep into production.

It’s been a really difficult year for everyone. Watching this talented group of people come together, and come together safely, every day, to create something that hopefully brings some positivity into the world, has been the ultimate silver lining.

You're currently working on season two, but how far have you planned out the show as a whole?

EB: One of the great joys of doing streaming in general is that you get to write everything at once – all of your episodes. So it provides you with this tremendous opportunity to go back once you’re on episode eight, and be like, "Ooh, let’s plant that in episode six, and then people will think we’re great at paying things off."

Photo credit: Hulu
Photo credit: Hulu

You just get to see things as a whole in a way that you don’t always get to do with network television. So that is really exciting and very fulfilling for us as writers, that you really can plan out your novel, so to speak.

And yeah, you’re always looking to next season, and making sure that you’re setting up your building blocks so that you can eventually get to where you hope to go.

IA: I think what’s so great about Love, Victor is – a lot of times, you hear people say, "Why are all the LGBTQ stories that we get, coming out stories?" And with Love, Victor, that’s not what it is. That’s the first chapter of what it is. We hope that this becomes a long-running high-school show where we’re just starting to explore what it is for him to be an LGBTQ+ kid in the world, and it’s not about that first step anymore.

Love, Victor will be streaming on Disney+ from February 23 in the UK and is available on Hulu in the US.

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